Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852), the son of a gentleman farmer who was the author of Ukrainian folk comedies, was born in the Ukraine and grew up on his mother’s family estate. He attended a variety of boarding schools, where he proved an indifferent student and made few friends but was admired for his gifts as a comic actor. In 1828 he moved to St. Petersburg and began to publish stories, and by the mid-1830s he had established himself in the literary world and been warmly praised by Pushkin. In 1836, his play The Inspector-General was attacked as immoral, and Gogol went abroad, where he remained for most of the next twelve years. During this time he wrote two of his best-known stories, “The Nose” and “The Overcoat,” and in 1842 he published the first part of his masterpiece Dead Souls. Gogol became ever more religious as the years passed, and in 1847 he fell under the sway of an Orthodox priest on whose advice he burned much of the second part of Dead Souls and soon gave up writing altogether. After undertaking a fast to purify his soul, he died at the age of forty-two.
Donald Rayfield is emeritus professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary, University of London.
“Gogol's Dead Souls, has achieved a magnificent re-birth. . . . Rayfield's translation is one that Vladimir Nabokov would unreservedly admire. . . . A big, beautiful book and a mould-breaking classic reinvigorated.”
-William Boyd, The Guardian