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Gogol, Nikolai (1809-1852)  
 
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Nikolai Gogol's repressed homosexuality is reflected obliquely in nearly all of his works, especially in the fear of marriage that permeates his stories and plays.

Playwright, humorist, and novelist, Gogol was born on April 1, 1809, in Sorochintsy, Ukraine. His father was a dreamy country squire, proprietor of 200 serfs and author of pseudo-folkloric Ukrainian comedies in verse. His mother, née Maria Kosiarowska, instilled in Gogol a morbid religiosity that emphasized hellfire and retribution rather than Christian virtues.

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The future writer's greatest attachment in his early childhood was to his younger brother Ivan, who died when Nikolai was ten. His closeness to Ivan haunted Gogol's memory as a lost paradise, which he strove to regain with his lifelong search for an equally ideal male friend and companion.

Between the ages of twelve and nineteen, Gogol stayed at an all-male boarding school in the town of Nezhin. There, he began to write prose and poetry for the school's literary journal, had great success in school theatricals, especially in the parts of comical old women, and formed a sentimental attachment to his older fellow student, Gerasim Vysotsky.

Vysotsky graduated two years before Gogol and departed for St. Petersburg. During the two years Gogol had to wait for his own graduation, he yearned to join his friend and wrote him a series of amorous letters. But their reunion in 1828, when Gogol, too, moved to St. Petersburg came to naught--the first instance of Gogol's later infatuations with heterosexual men unable to respond.

Gogol brought to St. Petersburg a book-length narrative poem, Hanz (sic) Kuechelgarten, the result of his reading of the German Romantics. He published it at his own expense in 1829, and it was a total failure. Apart from some uncanny passages of surrealistic fantasy, the poem is indeed inept.

Then came an odd work, "Woman," part-story, part-parable, which was meant to be a paean to women's beauty, but ended up as an incoherent dream about man's longing for spiritual and physical union with other male entities.

With the publication in 1830 of the Ukrainian folk tale "Bisavriuk," an early version of "St. John's Eve," Gogol found his path to recognition and success.

Not initially interested in his Ukrainian heritage, Gogol understood after coming to St. Petersburg that this was a valuable literary asset. Through the efforts of Russian romantic poets and fiction writers, Ukraine had assumed in the Russian imagination the same position that Scotland had taken in English literature because of the popularity of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Here was an area and a nation, exotic yet familiar at the same time, with colorful customs, music, costumes, and folklore.

Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka

Gogol's questioning of his mother and of her older female relatives gave him the material for his novellas about a fairy-tale-like Ukraine of olden times, novellas that were collected in two volumes (1831 and 1833), with the general title Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. This book made Gogol a national celebrity by the time he was twenty-four.

The first of these eight novellas, "St. John's Eve," launched Gogol's cardinal theme, which was to reverberate through his writings until the very end. Love, marriage, or desire for a woman always lead to death or assorted dangers for the male protagonists. A happy end in a tale or play by Gogol consists of a man's escape from impending matrimony.

The women in his tales are not villains (except in "Viy"), and in his later work live women may be replaced by female-gender objects--a carriage, an overcoat, or a deck of cards. The fatal law of retribution invariably becomes operative when the male fails to escape the female sway.

The illogicality of this pattern was wrapped up in colorful operatic merriment in Gogol's early tales and in absurdist or surrealistic comedy in later ones--like Lautréamont (Isidore Ducasse) and Lewis Carroll, Gogol was an absurdist and a surrealist before these categories were invented.

Mirgorod

Gogol's next cycle of tales, Mirgorod (1834) consisted of a rural idyll ("Old World Landowners"), a comic social satire ("The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarelled with Ivan Nikiforovich"), a military romance ("Taras Bulba"), and a supernatural horror story ("Viy").

Despite their generic and thematic variety, these four tales are variations on the same framework: the happy existence of one man, two men, or a group of men is wrecked when one of them comes under the sway of a sexually emancipated female. The females are a pet cat in the first tale, an ugly battle-ax in the second, a loving and kindly Polish noblewoman in the third, and a beautiful but lethal witch in the fourth.

Gogol's fear of his own homosexual desires, involuntarily revealed in Mirgorod, somehow led him to view all sexuality as fraught with danger.

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