Friday, March 31, 2017

Born Today March 31: Nikolai Gogol


Ukrainian writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was born on this date in Sorochintsy, which was then part of the Russian Empire, and is now located in Ukraine.  The village was then made up almost entirely of Ukrainian Cossacks. His father, who died when Nikolai was only 15, was a writer in both Ukrainian and Russian, and had plays in the Ukrainian language--then considered (much as now)  not a proper literary language--though the elder Gogol was proud of his Ukrainian language work.  By this time, the younger Gogol already had experience in staging Ukrainian language plays; an activity that he shared with his uncle.  In 1820 Nikolai went to Nezhin to study higher education in the arts (the university there is now named after him).  Though not the most popular of students, he did develop a few lasting friendships at school and dealt with mockery by becoming a mimic of the first rate--which probably lead to his nickname of "Mykola."  He left the school in 1828 and headed for St. Petersburg, there he began to write on his own.  He published his first work there as well, a romantic style poem written in the German language.  Though magazines did publish the work, it was not well received and embarrassment caused him to buy as many copies as he could to destroy, also vowing never to write any sort of poetry again.  He then managed to get a story published which was much better received and ended up with his being introduced to writer Pushkin in 1831.  Also in the 1831, he self-published a volume of stories that he had written in Ukrainian.  His play writing then took off, with him concerning himself with subjects on topic with romanticizing the lives of Ukrainian Cossacks.  Despite this, he had not fully committed to a career as a professional writer--he had kept himself afloat by working in various minor government jobs.  Also, curiously, during this time there was an insistence that he wholly reclassified as a Russian writer.  It was after the successful staging of his play The Government Inspector in 1836, that he decided to devout his energies writing full time.  For more than a decade 1836-1848, Gogol spent living abroad, mostly in Germany and Switzerland, traveling most of the time.  He returned to Russia after his friend Pushkin's death.  Given the stature of Gogol in the modern literary world, it is hardly surprising that dozens and dozens of films have been made from his work--8 these came in the silent era.  The first was produced in 1909 with the comedy short Dead Souls, made in pre-revolutionary Russia.  The first full sound film produced from his work came out of Germany:  The Town Stands On It's Head was released in 1933.  Ironically, given the popularity of his works for modern film screenplays, it took until the year 1938 for an English language film using his work for source material to come out.  The Rebel Son was a British production.  The most recent released film from his work came out earlier this year; The Shadow Of Two Flies Upon A Pin is about 30 minutes in length, and in English and Russian.  Two films are in the works as well, with the most recent being an animated version of The Overcoat, slated to be released later this year.  A lot of speculation surrounds Gogol's decline and death.  One thing that seems clear, is that he suffered from ever worsening depression.  In most places his actual cause of death is listed as "self imposed starvation"--not suicide, owed to his mental state and state of mind on spiritual matters.  But he is reported to have died in great pain some 9 days after taking to his bed and refusing all food--that might speak to another underlying condition for which he was not properly diagnosed.  Whatever the real cause, he died at home in Moscow on the 4th of March in 1852 at the very young age of 42.  The intrigue didn't stop after his death either.  He was initially buried at a monastery in Moscow.  The Soviets decided to demolish the monastery in 1931, so they moved his tomb to Novodevichy Cemetery, but they removed the large Russian Orthodox cross and replaced it with a bust of Gogol.  When moving the tomb, it was discovered that Gogol body was lying face down--this sparked persistent claims (none proven to be more than speculation) that he was buried alive.  In 2009, the Russian Federation removed the bust on his grave to the museum at the cemetery and replaced it with a new Orthodox cross.  

His Soviet era grave in Moscow

The 2009 refit of his tomb

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