Essays on Russian Novelists/Gogol

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Nikolai Vassilievich Gogol was born at Sorotchinetz, in Little Russia, in March, 1809. The year in which he appeared on the planet proved to be the literary annus mirabilis of the century; for in that same twelvemonth were born Charles Darwin, Alfred Tennyson, Abraham Lincoln, Poe, Gladstone, and Holmes. His father was a lover of literature, who wrote dramatic pieces for his own amusement, and who spent his time on the old family estates, not in managing the farms, but in wandering about the fields, and beholding the fowls of the air. The boy inherited much from his father; but, unlike Turgenev, he had the best of all private tutors, a good mother, of whom his biographer says, Elle demeure toujours sa plus intime amie.[1]

At the age of twelve, Nikolai was sent away to the high school at Nezhin, a town near Kiev. There he remained from 1821 to 1828. He was an unpromising student, having no enthusiasm for his lessons, and showing no distinction either in scholarship or deportment. Fortunately, however, the school had a little theatre of its own, and Gogol, who hated mathematics, and cared little for the study of modern languages, here found an outlet for all his mental energy. He soon became the acknowledged leader of the school in matters dramatic, and unconsciously prepared himself for his future career. Like Schiller, he wrote a tragedy, and called it The Robbers.

I think it is probable that Gogol's hatred for the school curriculum inspired a passage in Taras Bulba, though here he ostensibly described the pedagogy of the fifteenth century.

"The style of education in that age differed widely from the manner of life. These scholastic, grammatical, rhetorical, and logical subtleties were decidedly out of consonance with the times, never had any connection with and never were encountered in actual life. Those who studied them could not apply their knowledge to anything whatever, not even the least scholastic of them. The learned men of those days were even more incapable than the rest, because farther removed from all experience."[2]

In December, 1828, Gogol took up his residence in St. Petersburg, bringing with him some manuscripts that he had written while at school. He had the temerity to publish one, which was so brutally ridiculed by the critics, that the young genius, in despair, burned all the unsold copies--an unwitting prophecy of a later and more lamentable conflagration. Then he vainly tried various means of subsistence. Suddenly he decided to seek his fortune in America, but he was both homesick and seasick before the ship emerged from the Baltic, and from Lubeck he fled incontinently back to Petersburg. Then he tried to become an actor, but lacked the necessary strength of voice. For a short time he held a minor official position, and a little later was professor of history, an occupation he did not enjoy, saying after his resignation, "Now I am a free Cossack again." Meanwhile his pen was steadily busy, and his sketches of farm life in the Ukraine attracted considerable attention among literary circles in the capital.

Gogol suffered from nostalgia all the time he lived at St. Petersburg; he did not care for that form of society, and the people, he said, did not seem like real Russians. He was thoroughly homesick for his beloved Ukraine; and it is significant that his short stories of life in Little Russia, truthfully depicting the country customs, were written far off in a strange and uncongenial environment.

In 1831 he had the good fortune to meet the poet Pushkin, and a few months later in the same year he was presented to Madame Smirnova; these friends gave him the entree to the literary salons, and the young author, lonesome as he was, found the intellectual stimulation he needed. It was Pushkin who suggested to him the subjects for two of his most famous works, Revizor and Dead Souls. Another friend, Jukovski, exercised a powerful influence, and gave invaluable aid at several crises of his career. Jukovski had translated the Iliad and the Odyssey; his enthusiasm for Hellenic poetry was contagious; and under this inspiration Gogol proceeded to write the most Homeric romance in Russian literature, Taras Bulba. This story gave the first indubitable proof of its author's genius, and to-day in the world's fiction it holds an unassailable place in the front rank. The book is so short that it can be read through in less than two hours; but it gives the same impression of vastness and immensity as the huge volumes of Sienkiewicz.

Gogol followed this amazingly powerful romance by two other works, which seem to have all the marks of immortality--the comedy Revizor, and a long, unfinished novel, Dead Souls. This latter book is the first of the great realistic novels of Russia, of which Fathers and Children, Crime and Punishment, and Anna Karenina are such splendid examples.

From 1836 until his death in 1852, Gogol lived mainly abroad, and spent much time in travel. His favourite place of residence was Rome, to which city he repeatedly returned with increasing affection. In 1848 he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for Gogol never departed from the pious Christian faith taught him by his mother; in fact, toward the end of his life, he became an ascetic and a mystic. The last years were shadowed by illness and—a common thing among Russian writers—by intense nervous depression. He died at Moscow, 21 February 1852. His last words were the old saying, "And I shall laugh with a bitter laugh." These words were placed on his tomb.

Most Russian novels are steeped in pessimism, and their authors were men of sorrows. Gogol, however, has the double distinction of being the only great comic writer in the language, and in particular of being the author of the only Russian drama known all over the world, and still acted everywhere on the Continent. Although plays do not come within the scope of this book, a word or two should be said about this great comedy; for Revizor exhibits clearly the double nature of the author,—his genius for moral satire and his genius for pure fun. From the moral point of view, it is a terrible indictment against the most corrupt bureaucracy of modern times, from the comic point of view, it is an uproarious farce.

The origin of the play is as follows: while travelling in Russia one day, Pushkin stopped at NizhniNovgorod. Here he was mistaken for a state functionary on tour among the provinces for purposes of government inspection. This amused the poet so keenly that he narrated all the circumstances to Gogol and suggested that the latter make a play with this experience as the basis of the plot. Gogol not only acted on the suggestion, but instead of a mere farce, he produced a comedy of manners. Toward the end of his life he wrote: "In Revizor I tried to gather in one heap all that was bad in Russia, as I then understood it; I wished to turn it all into ridicule. The real impression produced was that of fear. Through the laughter that I have never laughed more loudly, the spectator feels my bitterness and sorrow." The drama was finished on the 4 December 1835, and of course the immediate difficulty was the censorship. How would it be possible for such a satire either to be printed or acted in Russia? Gogol's friend, Madame Smirnova, carried the manuscript to the Czar, Nikolas I. It was read to him; he roared with laughter, and immediately ordered that it be acted. We may note also that he became a warm friend of Gogol, and sent sums of money to him, saying nobly, "Don't let him know the source of these gifts; for then he might feel obliged to write from the official point of view."

The first performance was on the 19 April 1836. The Czar attended in person, and applauded vigorously. The success was immediate, and it has never quitted the stage. Gogol wrote to a friend: "On the opening night I felt uncomfortable from the very first as I sat in the theatre. Anxiety for the approval of the audience did not trouble me. There was only one critic in the house — myself — that I feared. I heard clamorous objections within me which drowned all else. However, the public, as a whole, was satisfied. Half of the audience praised the play, the other half condemned it, but not on artistic grounds."

Revizor is one of the best-constructed comedies in any language; for not only has it a unified and well-ordered plot, but it does not stop with the final fall of the curtain. Most plays by attempting to finish up the story with smooth edges, leave an impression of artificiality and unreality, for life is not done up in such neat parcels. The greatest dramas do not solve problems for us, they supply us with questions. In Revizor, at the last dumb scene, after all the mirth, the real trouble is about to begin; and the spectators depart, not merely with the delightful memory of an evening's entertainment, but with their imagination aflame. Furthermore, Revizor has that combination of the intensely local element with the universal, so characteristic of works of genius. Its avowed attempt was to satirise local and temporal abuses; but it is impossible to imagine any state of society in the near future where the play will not seem real. If Gogol had done nothing but write the best comedy in the Russian language, he would have his place in literature secure.[3]

One must never forget in reading Gogol that he was a man of the South — homme du Midi. In all countries of the world, there is a marked difference between the Northern and the Southern temperament. The southern sun seems to make human nature more mellow. Southerners are more warm-hearted, more emotional, more hospitable, and much more free in the expression of their feelings. In the United States, every one knows the contrast between the New Englander and the man from the Gulf; in Europe, the difference between the Norman and the Gascon has always been apparent — how clear it is in the works of Flaubert and of Rostand! Likewise how interesting is the comparison between the Prussian and the Bavarian; we may have a wholesome respect for Berlin, but we love Munich, in some respects the most attractive town on earth. The parallel holds good in Russia, where the Little Russians, the men of the Ukraine, have ever shown characteristics that separate them from the people of the North. The fiery passion, the boundless aspiration of the Cossack, animates the stories of Gogol with a veritable flame.

His first book, Evenings on a Farm near the Dikanka (Veillees de l'Ukraine), appeared early in the thirties, and, with all its crudity and excrescences, was a literary sunrise. It attracted immediate and wide-spread attention, and the wits of Petersburg knew that Russia had an original novelist. The work is a collection of short stories or sketches, introduced with a rollicking humorous preface, in which the author announces himself as Rudii Panko, raiser of bees. Into this book the exile in the city of the North poured out all his love for the country and the village customs of his own Little Russia. He gives us great pictures of Nature, and little pictures of social life. He describes with the utmost detail a country fair at the place of his birth, Sorotchinetz. His descriptions of the simple folk, the beasts, and the bargainings seem as true as those in Madame Bovary — the difference is in the attitude of the author toward his work. Gogol has nothing of the aloofness, nothing of the scorn of Flaubert; he himself loves the revelry and the superstitions he pictures, loves above all the people. Superstition plays a prominent role in these sketches; the unseen world of ghosts and apparitions has an enormous influence on the daily life of the peasants. The love of fun is everywhere in evidence; these people cannot live without practical jokes, violent dances, and horse-play. Shadowy forms of amorous couples move silent in the warm summer night, and the stillness is broken by silver laughter. Far away, in his room at St. Petersburg, shut in by the long winter darkness, the homesick man dreamed of the vast landscape he loved, in the warm embrace of the sky at noon, or asleep in the pale moonlight. The first sentence of the book is a cry of longing. "What ecstasy; what splendour has a summer day in Little Russia!" Pushkin used to say that the Northern summer was a caricature of the Southern winter.

The Evenings on a Farm indicates the possession of great power rather than consummate skill in the use of it. Full of charm as it is, it cannot by any stretch of language be called a masterpiece. Two years later, however, Gogol produced one of the great prose romances of the world, Taras Bulba. He had intended to write a history of Little Russia and a history of the Middle Ages, in eight or nine volumes. In order to gather material, he read annals diligently, and collected folk-lore, national songs, and local traditions. Fortunately out of this welter of matter emerged not a big history, but a short novel. Short as it is, it has been called an epical poem in the manner of Homer, and a dramatisation of history in the manner of Shakespeare. Both remarks are just, though the influence of Homer is the more evident; in the descriptive passages, the style is deliberately Homeric, as it is in the romances of Sienkiewicz, which owe so much to this little book by Gogol. It is astonishing that so small a work can show such colossal force. Force is its prime quality—physical, mental, religious. In this story the old Cossacks, centuries dead, have a genuine resurrection of the body. They appear before us in all their amazing vitality, their love of fighting, of eating and drinking, their intense patriotism, and their blazing devotion to their religious faith. Never was a book more plainly inspired by passion for race and native land. It is one tremendous shout of joy. These Cossacks are the veritable children of the steppes, and their vast passions, their Homeric laughter, their absolute recklessness in battle, are simply an expression of the boundless range of the mighty landscape.

"The further they penetrated the steppe, the more beautiful it became. Then all the South, all that region which now constitutes New Russia, even to the Black Sea, was a green, virgin wilderness. No plough had ever passed over the immeasurable waves of wild growth; the horses alone, hiding themselves in it as in a forest, trod it down. Nothing in nature could be finer. The whole surface of the earth presented itself as a green-gold ocean, upon which were sprinkled millions of different flowers. Through the tall, slender stems of the grass peeped light-blue, dark-blue, and lilac star-thistles; the yellow broom thrust up its pyramidal head; the parasol-shaped white flower of the false flax shimmered on high. A wheat-ear, brought God knows whence, was filling out to ripening. About their slender roots ran partridges with out-stretched necks. The air was filled with the notes of a thousand different birds. In the sky, immovable, hung the hawks, their wings outspread, and their eyes fixed intently on the grass. The cries of a cloud of wild ducks, moving up from one side, were echoed from God knows what distant lake. From the grass arose, with measured sweep, a gull, and bathed luxuriously in blue waves of air. And now she has vanished on high, and appears only as a black dot: now she has turned her wings, and shines in the sunlight. Deuce take you, steppes, how beautiful you are!"[4]

The whole book is dominated by the gigantic figure of old Taras Bulba, who loves food and drink, but who would rather fight than eat. Like so many Russian novels, it begins at the beginning, not at the second or third chapter. The two sons of Taras, wild cubs of the wild old wolf, return from school, and are welcomed by their loving father, not with kisses and affectionate greeting, but with a joyous fist combat, while the anxious mother looks on with tears of dismayed surprise. After the sublime rage of fighting, which proves to the old man's satisfaction that his sons are really worthy of him, comes the sublime joy of brandy, and a prodigious feast, which only the stomachs of fifteenth century Cossacks could survive. Then despite the anguish of the mother--there was no place for the happiness of women in Cossack life--comes the crushing announcement that on the morrow all three males will away to the wars, from which not one of them will return. One of the most poignant scenes that Gogol has written is the picture of the mother, watching the whole night long by her sleeping sons--who pass the few hours after the long separation and before the eternal parting, in deep, unconscious slumber.

The various noisy parliaments and bloody combats are pictured by a pen alive with the subject; of the two sons, one is murdered by his father for preferring the love of a Capulet to the success of the Montagues; the other, Ostap, is taken prisoner, and tortured to death. Taras, in disguise, watches the appalling sufferings of his son; just before his death, Ostap, who had not uttered a word during the prolonged and awful agony, cries out to the hostile sky, like the bitter cry "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" "Father! where are you? do you hear all?" and to the amazement of the boy and his torturers, comes, like a voice from heaven, the shout, "I hear!"

Fearful is the vengeance that Taras Bulba takes on the enemy; fearful is his own death, lashed to a tree, and burned alive by his foes. He dies, merrily roaring defiant taunts at his tormentors. And Gogol himself closes his hero's eyes with the question, "Can any fire, flames, or power be found on earth, which are capable of overpowering Russian strength?"

In its particular class of fiction, "Taras Bulba" has no equal except the Polish trilogy of Sienkiewicz; and Gogol produces the same effect in a small fraction of the space required by the other. This is of course Romanticism rampant, which is one reason why it has not been highly appreciated by the French critics. And it is indeed as contrary to the spirit of Russian fiction as it is to the French spirit of restraint. It stands alone in Russian literature, apart from the regular stream, unique and unapproachable, not so much one of the great Russian novels as a soul-thrilling poem, commemorating the immortal Cossack heart.

Gogol followed up the "Evenings on a Farm near the Dikanka" with two other volumes of stories and sketches, of which the immortal "Taras Bulba" was included in one. These other tales show an astonishing advance in power of conception and mastery of style. I do not share the general enthusiasm for the narrative of the comically grotesque quarrel between the two Ivans: but the three stories, "Old-fashioned Farmers," "The Portrait," and "The Cloak," show to a high degree that mingling of Fantasy with Reality that is so characteristic of this author. The obsolete old pair of lovers in "Old-fashioned Farmers" is one of the most charming and winsome things that Gogol wrote at this period: it came straight from the depths of his immeasurable tenderness. It appealed to that Pity which, as every one has noticed, is a fundamental attribute of the national Russian character. In "The Portrait," which is partly written in the minute manner of Balzac, and partly with the imaginative fantastic horror of Poe and Hoffmann, we have the two sides of Gogol's nature clearly reflected. Into this strange story he has also indicated two of the great guiding principles of his life: his intense democratic sympathies, and his devotion to the highest ideals in Art. When the young painter forsakes poverty and sincerity for wealth and popularity, he steadily degenerates as an artist and eventually loses his soul. The ending of the story, with the disappearance of the portrait, is remarkably clever. The brief tale called "The Cloak" or "The Overcoat" has great significance in the history of Russian fiction, for all Russian novelists have been more or less influenced by it. Its realism is so obviously and emphatically realistic that it becomes exaggeration, but this does not lessen its tremendous power: then suddenly at the very end, it leaves the ground, even the air, and soars away into the ether of Romance.

Although these stories were translated into English by Miss Hapgood over twenty years ago, they have never had any vogue among English-speaking people, and indeed they have produced very little impression anywhere outside of Russia. This is a misfortune for the world, for Gogol was assuredly one of the great literary geniuses of the nineteenth century, and he richly repays attentive reading. In Russia he has been appreciated, immensely respected and admired, from the day that he published his first book; but his lack of reputation abroad is indicated by the remark of Mr. Baring in 1910, "the work of Gogol may be said to be totally unknown in England." This statement is altogether too sweeping, but it counts as evidence.

Despite Gogol's undoubted claim to be regarded as the founder of Russian fiction, it is worth remembering that of the three works on which rests his international fame, two cannot possibly be called germinal. The drama "Revizor" is the best comedy in the Russian language; but, partly for that very reason, it produced no school. The romance "Taras Bulba" has no successful follower in Russian literature, and brought forth no fruit anywhere for fifty years, until the appearance of the powerful fiction-chronicles by Sienkiewicz. It has all the fiery ardour of a young genius; its very exaggeration, its delight in bloody battle, show a certain immaturity; it breathes indeed the spirit of youth. With the exception of "The Cloak," Gogol had by 1840 written little to indicate the direction that the best part of Russian literature was to take. It was not until the publication of "Dead Souls" that Russia had a genuine realistic novel. This book is broad enough in scope and content to serve as the foundation of Russian fiction, and to sustain the wonderful work of Turgenev, Tolstoi, and Dostoevski. All the subsequent great novels in Russia point back to "Dead Souls."

No two books could possibly show a greater contrast than "Taras Bulba" and "Dead Souls." One reveals an extraordinary power of condensation: the other an infinite expansion. One deals with heroes and mighty exploits; the other with positively commonplace individuals and the most trivial events. One is the revival of the glorious past; the other a reflection of the sordid present. One is painted with the most brilliant hues of Romanticism, and glows with the essence of the Romantic spirit--Aspiration; the other looks at life through an achromatic lens, and is a catalogue of Realities. To a certain extent, the difference is the difference between the bubbling energy of youth and the steady energy of middle age. For, although Gogol was still young in years when he composed "Dead Souls," the decade that separated the two works was for the author a constant progress in disillusion. In the sixth chapter of the latter book, Gogol has himself revealed the sad transformation that had taken place in his own mind, and that made his genius express itself in so different a manner:--

"Once, long ago, in the years of my youth, in those beautiful years that rolled so swiftly, I was full of joy, charmed when I arrived for the first time in an unknown place; it might be a farm, a poor little district town, a large village, a small settlement: my eager, childish eyes always found there many interesting obje cts. Every building, everything that showed an individual touch, enchanted my mind, and left a vivid impression. . . . To-day I travel through all the obscure villages with profound indifference, and I gaze coldly at their sad and wretched appearance: my eyes linger over no object, nothing grotesque makes me smile: that which formerly made me burst out in a roar of spontaneous laughter, and filled my soul with cheerful animation, now passes before my eyes as though I saw it not, and my mouth, cold and rigid, finds no longer a word to say at the very spectacle which formerly possessed the secret of filling my heart with ecstasy. O my youth! O my fine simplicity!"

Gogol spent the last fifteen years of his life writing this book, and he left it unfinished. Pushkin gave him the subject, as he had for "Revizor." One day, when the two men were alone together, Pushkin told him, merely as a brief anecdote, of an unscrupulous promoter, who went about buying up the names of dead serfs, thus enabling their owners to escape payment of the taxes which were still in force after the last registration. The names were made over to the new owner, with all legal formalities, so that he apparently possessed a large fortune, measured in slaves; these names the promoter transferred to a remote district, with the intention of obtaining a big cash loan from some bank, giving his fictitious property as security; but he was quickly caught, and his audacious scheme came to nothing. The story stuck in Gogol's mind, and he conceived the idea of a vast novel, in which the travels of the collector of dead souls should serve as a panorama of the Russian people. Both Gogol and Pushkin thought of "Don Quixote," the spirit of which is evident enough in this book. Not long after their interview, Gogol wrote to Pushkin: "I have begun to write "Dead Souls." The subject expands into a very long novel, and I think it will be amusing, but now I am only at the third chapter. . . . I wish to show, at least from one point of view, all Russia." Gogol declared that he did not write a single line of these early chapters without thinking how Pushkin would judge it, at what he would laugh, at what he would applaud. When he read aloud from the manuscript, Pushkin, who had listened with growing seriousness, cried, "God! what a sad country is Russia!" and later be added, "Gogol invents nothing; it is the simple truth, the terrible truth."

The first part of his work, containing the first eleven chapters, or "songs," was published in May 1842. For the rest of his life, largely spent abroad, Gogol worked fitfully at the continuation of his masterpiece. Ill health, nervous depression, and morbid asceticism preyed upon his mind; in 1845 he burned all that he had written of the second volume. But he soon began to rewrite it, though he made slow and painful progress, having too much of improductivé slave either to complete it or to be satisfied with it. At Moscow, a short time before his death, in a night of wakeful misery, he burned a whole mass of his manuscripts. Among them was unfortunately the larger portion of the rewritten second part of Dead Souls. Various reasons have been assigned as the cause of the destruction of his book—some have said, it was religious remorse for having written the novel at all; others, rage at adverse criticism; others, his own despair at not having reached ideal perfection. But it seems probable that its burning was simply a mistake. Looking among his papers, a short time after the conflagration, he cried out, "My God! what have I done! that isn't what I meant to burn!" But whatever the reason, the precious manuscript was forever lost; and the second part of the work remains sadly incomplete, partly written up from rough notes left by the author, partly supplied by another hand.

Dead Souls is surely a masterpiece, but a masterpiece of life rather than of art. Even apart from its unfinished shape, it is characterised by that formlessness so distinctive of the great Russian novelists—the sole exception being Turgenev. The story is so full of disgressions, of remarks in mock apology addressed to the reader, of comparisons of the Russian people with other nations, of general disquisitions on realism, of glowing soliloquies in various moods, that the whole thing is a kind of colossal note-book. Gogol poured into it all his observations, reflections, and comments on life. It is not only a picture of Russia, it is a spiritual autobiography. It is without form, but not void. Gogol called his work a poem; and he could not have found a less happy name. Despite lyrical interludes, it is as far removed from the nature and form of Poetry as it is from Drama. It is a succession of pictures of life, given with the utmost detail, having no connection with each other, and absolutely no crescendo, no movement, no approach to a climax. The only thread that holds the work together is the person of the travelling promoter, Chichikov, whose visits to various communities give the author the opportunity he desired. After one has grasped the plan of the book, the purpose of Chichikov's mission, which one can do in two minutes, one may read the chapters in any haphazard order. Fortunately they are all interesting in their photographic reality.

The whole thing is conceived in the spirit of humour, and its author must be ranked among the great humorists of all time. There is an absurdity about the mission of the chief character, which gives rise to all sorts of ludicrous situations. It takes time for each serf-owner to comprehend Chichikov's object, and he is naturally regarded with suspicion. In one community it is whispered that he is Napoleon, escaped from St. Helena, and travelling in disguise. An old woman with whom he deals has an avaricious cunning worthy of a Norman peasant. The dialogue between the two is a masterly commentary on the root of all evil. But although all Russia is reflected in a comic mirror, which by its very distortion emphasises the defects of each character, Gogol was not primarily trying to write a funny book. The various scenes at dinner parties and at the country inns are laughable; but Gogol's laughter, like that of most great humorists, is a compound of irony, satire, pathos, tenderness, and moral indignation. The general wretchedness of the serfs, the indifference of their owners to their condition, the pettiness and utter meanness of village gossip, the ridiculous affectations of small-town society, the universal ignorance, stupidity, and dulness--all these are remorselessly revealed in the various bargains made by the hero. And what a hero! A man neither utterly bad nor very good; shrewd rather than intelligent; limited in every way. He is a Russian, but a universal type. No one can travel far in America without meeting scores of Chichikovs: indeed, he is an accurate portrait of the American promoter, of the successful commercial traveller, whose success depends entirely not on the real value and usefulness of his stock-in-trade, but on his knowledge of human nature and the persuasive power of his tongue. Chichikov is all things to all men.

Not content with the constant interpolation of side remarks and comments, queries of a politely ironical nature to the reader, in the regular approved fashion of English novels, Gogol added after the tenth chapter a defiant epilogue, in which he explained his reasons for dealing with fact rather than with fancy, of ordinary people rather than with heroes, of commonplace events rather than with melodrama; and then suddenly he tried to jar the reader out of his self-satisfaction, like Balzac in "Pere Goriot."

"Pleased with yourselves more than ever, you will smile slowly, and then say with grave deliberation: 'It is true that in some of our provinces one meets very strange people, people absolutely ridiculous, and sometimes scoundrels too!'

"Ah, but who among you, serious readers, I address myself to those who have the humility of the true Christian, who among you, being alone, in the silence of the evening, at the time when one communes with oneself, will look into the depths of his soul to ask in all sincerity this question? 'Might there not be in me something of Chichikov?'"

This whole epilogue is a programme--the programme of the self-conscious founder of Russian Realism. It came from a man who had deliberately turned his back on Romanticism, even on the romanticism of his friend and teacher, Pushkin, and who had decided to venture all alone on a new and untried path in Russian literature. He fully realised the difficulties of his task, and the opposition he was bound to encounter. He asks and answers the two familiar questions invariably put to the native realist. The first is, "I have enough trouble in my own life: I see enough misery and stupidity in the world: what is the use of reading about it in novels?" The second is, "Why should a man who loves his country uncover her nakedness?"

Gogol's realism differs in two important aspects from the realism of the French school, whether represented by Balzac, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, or Zola. He had all the French love of veracity, and could have honestly said with the author of "Une Vie" that he painted 'humble verite. But there are two ground qualities in his realistic method absent in the four Frenchmen: humour and moral force. Gogol could not repress the fun that is so essential an element in human life, any more than he could stop the beating of his heart; he saw men and women with the eyes of a natural born humorist, to whom the utter absurdity of humanity and human relations was enormously salient. And he could not help preaching, because he had boundless sympathy with the weakness and suffering of his fellow-creatures, and because he believed with all the tremendous force of his character in the Christian religion. His main endeavour was to sharpen the sight of his readers, whether they looked without or within; for not even the greatest physician can remedy an evil, unless he knows what the evil Gogol is the great pioneer in Russian fiction. He had the essential temperament of all great pioneers, whether their goal is material or spiritual. He had vital energy, resolute courage, clear vision, and an abiding faith that he was travelling in the right direction. Such a man will have followers even greater than he, and he rightly shares in their glory. He was surpassed by Turgenev, Dostoevski, and Tolstoi, but had he lived, he would have rejoiced in their superior art, just as every great teacher delights in being outstripped by his pupils. He is the real leader of the giant three, and they made of his lonely path a magnificent highway for human thought. They all used him Tolstoi could hardly have written The Cossacks without the inspiration of Gogol, Turgenev must have taken the most beautiful chapter in Virgin Soil directly from Old-fashioned Farmers, and Dostoevski's first book, Poor Folk, is in many places almost aslavish imitation of The Cloak—and he freely acknowledged the debtin the course of his story. The uncompromising attitude toward fidelity in Art which Gogol emphasised in The Portrait set the standard for every Russian writer who has attained prominence since his day. No one can read Chekhov and Andreev without being conscious of the hovering spirit of the first master of Russian fiction. He could truthfully have adapted the words of Joseph Hall:—

I first adventure: follow me who list,
And be the second Russian Realist.

  1. For the facts in Gogol's life, I have relied chiefly on the doctor's thesis by Raina Tyrneva, Aix, 1901.
  2. Translated by Isabel Hapgood.
  3. The first production of Revizor in America (in English) was given by the students of Yale University, 20 April, 1908. For all I know to the contrary, it was the first English production in the world. It was immensely successful, caused subsequent performances elsewhere, both amateur and professional, and attracted attention in Russia, where a journal gave an illustrated account of the Yale representation.
  4. Translated by Isabel Hapgood.