Head Detail from Andreev Statue of Nikolai Gogol, Nikitsky Boulevard, Moscow
During the second half of the decade of the 1830s Gogol began doing what he did so well for the rest of his life: reading his works aloud to enthralled private audiences. One of his early performances took place in May, 1835, at the Moscow home of Pogodin, where he read an early draft of his comedy, The Marriage. S.T. Aksakov, who was to become one of Gogol’s most fervent admirers, was too ill to attend that event, but he reported on it secondhand.
“Gogol’s reading, or better to say acting out, of his play was so masterful that many people, those well-versed in such matters, are still saying to this day that—notwithstanding the excellent work of the actors on stage—this comedy remains not as complete, not as substantial, and far from being as funny as it is when read by its author . . . . The listeners laughed so hard that several of them almost became ill.” The host of the reading, Pogodin, who later became disillusioned with his “friend” Gogol, was equally full of praise in recalling the evening.
“At my house Gogol once read, to a large throng of listeners, his play “The Marriage.” He came to the part where the prospective groom and the bride are declaring their love—asking inane things like ‘What church did you go to last Sunday? What is your favorite color?’ Three times in a row there is an interval of silence between the questions, and he so masterfully expressed the silence, it so showed on his face and in his eyes that all of the listeners à la lettre went off into rollicking laughter. For a long time they could not restrain themselves, while he maintained that silence as if nothing were going on around him, and just let his eyes wander about the room.”
In January, 1836, Gogol gave another reading, this time of his Inspector General, at Zhukovsky’s residence in St. Petersburg. Among those attending were Pushkin, Count Vielgorsky— father of the young man who Gogol was later to nurse and cherish on his death bed in Rome, Josef Vielgorsky—and Prince P.A. Vyazemsky (1792-1878), poet and critic, a highly educated and cultivated man. Once again, Gogol read brilliantly, with great success. Possibly by this time Pushkin and Zhukovsky, who, in the beginning, had treated young Gogolyok largely as a figure of fun, were beginning to realize their mistake.