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Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was born in the Ukraine on March 31, After leaving school, where he edited a manuscript periodical, he went to St Petersburg with the intention of becoming an actor. But his voice was not sufficiently strong and he was obliged to give up this ambition.
Purveyors of Dead Souls?
He worked briefly as a clerk in a government department but soon resigned the position. His first published work was a poem written under a pseudonym, but it was ridiculed so much by reviewers that he bought up all the copies he could find and burned them.
In Gogol published Evenings at the Farm of Dikanka , a collection of stories about Ukranian rural life, which was well received.
At this time he met Pushkin, who admired his talent and encouraged his literary ambitions. His plan never carried through to write a history of the Ukraine won him a Chair of history at St Petersburg University, but it was an absurd appointment. He was entirely unsuited to an academic life and soon resigned. In the meantime he had published a new series of stories including Taras Bulba , a Homeric prose poem, and his famous story The Cloak , which has been recognised as the starting point for the Russian novel.
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The Tsar, Nicolas I, not only gave his permission for the piece to be acted, but roared with laughter and led the applause. He sent Gogol a gift of money, insisting he was not to be told where it came from in case he should feel obliged to adopt a more respectful point of view in future.
After the production of The Revizor, Gogol went travelling abroad, and spent most of the rest of his life away from Russia. His Selected Passages from a Correspondence with Friends, published in , provoked considerable debate. He was bitterly attacked by the radicals who felt betrayed by him.
In he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in search of peace for his tortured spirit, but failed to find the comfort for which he yearned and returned to Russia. In Moscow he fell under the influence of a fanatical priest who persuaded him that his fictional writing was sinful.
He gave away everything he owned of value and went about with his few possessions, including his hostile newspaper reviews, in a small bag. He became depressed and destroyed a great deal of his work, including much of the second part of Dead Souls.
He spent his last days praying and fasting, and died on February 21, Sadly, the second part of the novel is far from complete. At the end of his life, suffering from mental anguish and religious fervour, Gogol came to repent what he had written and burned several chapters of Part Two.
Chichikov's scheme soon encounters obstacles, but he is never without resource, and as he stumbles forward as best he can, Gogol paints a wonderfully comic picture of Russian life that also serves as a biting satire of a society as corrupt as it is cynical and silly. At once a wild phantasmagoria and a work of exacting realism, Dead Souls is a supremely living work of art that spills over with humor and passion and absurdity. Donald Rayfield's vigorous new translation corrects the mistakes and omissions of earlier versions while capturing the vivid speech rhythms of the original.
It also offers a fuller text of the unfinished second part of the book by combining material from Gogol's two surviving drafts into a single compelling narrative. This is a tour de force of art and scholarship—and the most authoritative, accurate, and readable edition of Dead Souls available in English.
Nikolai Gogol, Donald Rayfield. Gogol's Dead Souls has achieved a magnificent re-birth