Nikolai Gogol: Poetry & Plays

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

The world of literature is filled with influential Russian authors, one of which is Nikolai Gogol. Read this lesson to learn about the poetry and plays he wrote in his career.

Nikolai Gogol: A Man with a Plan

What is the purpose of literature in our society? Is it purely for entertainment? Notorious Russian author, Nikolai Gogol, had a different purpose in mind.

Born in March of 1809, Gogol became popular by writing novels full of satire and irony. He died in March of 1852 in Moscow.

Having middle-class parents, Gogol had his heart set on an illustrious career in literature. Unfortunately, he met with failure after failure in his early adulthood. Suddenly, he became famous with the success of several novels.

Image of Gogol as an adult
Nikolai Gogol

Many of his works fall under the realm of satire, which is using criticism, irony and dark humor to point out the inconsistencies or injustices in society. Gogol's personal goal was to use literature, particularly laughter, to reveal abuses in the real world, hoping to trigger a more righteous way to live. His novels, in particular, had a major influence in Russian literature; however, Gogol's creative juices slowly declined throughout his life. He died at the young age of 42 with rumors flying of his semi-madness.

Poetry

Ironically, Gogol became an accomplished writer, but only ever published one poem. This poem, titled Hans Küchelgarten was published in 1829. Desperate for some success in the literary world, he paid to have it published himself. It received terrible criticism, and in response, Gogol collected every copy he could find and burned them all.

Due to his rash reaction, no copies of the poem exist today. However, we do know that the poem was an idyllic poem. An idyll is a poem focusing on rustic or pastoral scenes. These works aim to create a peaceful mood, suggesting that a rustic life is where true happiness will unfold.

Unfortunately, this disastrous endeavor into poetry led to Gogol giving up the genre permanently.

Plays

In contrast to poetry, there are several surviving plays written by Gogol. All of them focus on ridiculing human folly in some way.

The Government Inspector

This first play is perhaps Gogol's finest work. It was approved by the Tsar himself, and first performed in April of 1836. The Government Inspector was an instant success.

Before we get into the plot of the play, look at a quote from Gogol himself outlining his goal in writing this masterpiece.

''I resolved to gather into one heap everything that was bad in Russia…all the injustices being perpetrated… and tried to hold them all up to ridicule… Through the laughter, which I had never before vented with such force, the reader could feel my deep sorrow.''

Simply put, Gogol wanted to use satire, or dark humor, to expose all the injustices occurring in Russian high society at the time.

The overall plot centers on mistaken identity set in a rural town in Russia. The officials happen upon a dapper fool arriving in town and mistake him for the inspector from the government. They entice, beguile and pamper him in an attempt to distract him from the evils of the administration.

The officials succeed, and the dapper fool leaves town. Just then the real inspector appears, much to the chagrin of the officials. This play is a well-known farce. In it, Gogol shows his distaste for the overall politics in Russia at the time.

Marriage

Gogol's second play turns the institution of marriage into a charade. Marriage, which premiered in 1842, opens with a young woman looking to wed. However, she isn't looking for love, but merely a means of advancing her social situation. A matchmaker comes up with six eligible bachelors, one of which is a man whose friend is also pushing him to marry. Ironically, the friend is extremely unhappily married.

Anyway, the bachelor wins the lady's hand, if not her heart. However, on the way to the alter each goes back and forth. Finally, on the wedding day, our knight in shining armor gets cold feet and jumps out the first floor window. Clearly, Gogol is directly opposing most of the stories of the time, which all have a happy ending. In this way, Gogol is ridiculing the members of the social class who vie for station, money and power.

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