Monday, May 19, 2014

The Enigma of Gogol

Nikolai Gogol is the most enigmatic, puzzling, astonishing of all Russian writers. Of the literary figures who associated with him during his lifetime, the great majority of them (Pogodin, Zhukovsky, Pletnyov, etc.) left no written account of their association with him. Why not?

Probably because they simply did not know what to make of him. What was the man really like? Hard to say. How did this man they associated with (the finagler, manipulator, prevaricator) write the great literary works (Dead Souls, The Inspector General, "The Overcoat")? No idea.

Not so surprising, since Gogol himself, the man, had no idea where the wellspring of his talent was. He wrote astonishing literary works, then went about trying to interpret them. His ex post facto interpretations were ridiculous. The Gogol of the mind-boggling talent was a Gogol who had nothing in common with Gogol the man. Amazing.

There is probably no other writer in Russian literature whose creative, dazzlingly brilliant side is more at variance with the side that is the man walking the streets in velvet, baby blue waistcoat.

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