The Evolution of a Classic in Imperial and Soviet Russia
Publication Year: 2002
Published by: Northwestern University Press
List of Illustrations
More than once during the writing of this book have I envied Khlestakov’s ability to get it all down in one evening. As I took my seat over and over again to face the manuscript in one of its seemingly endless variations, this elated image of spontaneous generation often looked marvelously alluring. In retrospect, I can better
A Note on Transliteration, Dates, and Sources
I have taken the Library of Congress system as the standard for transliteration of Russian. However, both in the text and in expository portions of the notes, names and places with commonly used English equivalents (for example, authors such as Gogol and Tolstoy and monarchs such as Catherine the Great and Nicholas I)...
HOW, AFTER ALL, did Nikolai Gogol become a classic? The designation is so much a reflex in Russia’s cultural consciousness that this question seems never to occur.1 And yet, to answer it proves not quite the straightforward task that we might suppose. In point of fact, Gogol’s life and writing correspond only meagerly to the values historically associated with the classic....
Part I: Procession to the Temple of Fame
Chapter One: Preamble to the Afterlife
NIKOLAI GOGOL’S AUTHORIAL CAREER coincided with a period of seismic change in Russian literature. By the late 1820s, when Gogol left his home in provincial Ukraine to seek his fortune in the capital of St. Petersburg, the cultural arrangements that had underpinned the Golden Age of Russian...
Chapter Two: Opus Posthumous
GOGOL FIRST ENTERTAINED the idea of addressing his audience in a new voice in 1845, when, frustrated with his attempts to complete the second volume of Dead Souls, he thought to write a “small work, without a striking title by the standards of today’s society, but useful to many” (12:472–73). Illness prevented him from carrying out his plan immediately, but by the middle...
Chapter Three: Unveiling Gogol’s Life
SATISFIED THAT an exact impression had taken, the sculptor lifted the cast from the dead man’s face. It was morning in Moscow, 21 February 1852, and just minutes earlier Nikolai Gogol had breathed his last. Though alarmed by his behavior in recent weeks—his ceaseless brooding, his refusal to take nourishment, his...
Part II: Going to the People
Chapter Four: Spreading the Word
THE OPENING TALE of Gogol’s collection Evenings on a Farm near Dikan’ka, “The Fair at Sorochintsy,” leads the reader into a world where chaos and discord resolve into momentary harmonies, only to disintegrate again into incomprehensibility or nostalgic longing. Here was the village fair of the early nineteenth
Chapter Five: Parallel Lives
THE WIDESPREAD CIRCULATION of the literary classics, though certainly crucial to the intelligentsia’s goals, did not suffice to integrate the diverse estates of Russian society into a single national community. By themselves, the classic works could no more create a public sphere than a script alone...
Chapter Six: Commemoration and Community
ON 27 APRIL 1909 a ceremonial convocation took place in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The assembly formed part of the Gogol Days, a three-day public celebration organized to commemorate the centennial of Gogol’s birth and to coincide with the unveiling of a monument to him....
Part III: The Classic and the State
Chapter Seven: Twilight of the Idols
IN 1934 THE AVANT-GARDE POET and prose miniaturist Daniil Kharms wrote a comic vignette entitled “Pushkin and Gogol.” The piece was based on a ludicrous and deceptively simple premise. Here is how it begins:...
THE SOVIET MONUMENT to Gogol did not spell the end of his afterlife any more than it arrested the evolution of the classics in Russia. It does, however, mark the culmination of several underlying themes in these twin stories and so provides an occasion ripe for some closing remarks. This book has shown...