It was in February, 1852. Ivan Turgenev was attending a meeting of a charitable society in St. Petersburg. It was the usual dreary business. Not much had to be accomplished but no one could cut through the blather and get things wrapped up. Everyone in attendance deemed it imperative that he have his say. Everyone talked. On and on, to no end.
Then Turgenev noticed that I.I. Panaev, socialite, journalist, novelist of the Belinsky circle, was circulating about the room, stepping gingerly on his tiptoes, his face lit up in a strange glow of elation. With a convulsive sort of haste Panaev skipped from one person to the next, bent low to whisper something in each ear he came to. Upon which the face of the owner of the ear lit up in amazement and then fell. Taking great satisfaction, even joy, in the news that he was delivering into those ears, Panaev went tiptoeing on.
When he reached Turgenev, he bent toward the proferred ear and said: “Guess what just happened? Gogol has died in Moscow. That’s right, that’s right. Died. He burned all his papers, he took to his bed, and then he croaked.”
Nobody could believe the news. Died. They all had heard the stories about Gogol. How he was blocked and would write no more. How he still was working on the next volume of Dead Souls but could never seem to finish it. How he was deranged in the head, had thought of going into a monastery and becoming a monk. And much much more. How, for example, he had gone to Jerusalem, to pray at the tomb of the Savior, but had returned disillusioned. How he had left instructions that after his death he was not to be buried immediately, for fear of being buried alive. Much more. But still, death, somehow, despite the deaths that take place on a daily basis, all over the world, people still can’t believe it when they hear it. Death? No. For after all, the thing that people marvel at most of all on earth, the thing they always and ever refuse to believe, is death. And Gogol? He was not even ill, except in his own hypochondriac mind. Not Gogol, no, not the pride of Russian literature. He was only forty-two years old.