Gogol (burning the manuscript of the second part of “Dead Souls”). Wood enrgaving. 1934. Credit: Nikolay Dmitrevsky.
As days go, this was not a good one for Nikolai Gogol. On February 24, 1852 the Ukrainian-born author and dramatist threw a handful of his manuscripts in the fire. When all was said and done, the second part of Dead Souls mingled in the ash heap. Dead Souls (or The Adventures of Chichikov, as it was initially published under Russian censorship) was his satirical masterpiece. Ultimately it was indented to be a modern-day echo of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.
So why’d he set the second book ablaze? Well, as he told friends, it was a practical joke played on him by the devil. He took to bed, not long afterwards, and died March 4, 1852.
You know, before his decline, he spent much time with a certain Matvey Konstantinovskyhe, an elder of the Russian Orthodox monastery. Konstantinovskyhe decried all of Gogol’s creative work as sinful. As penance, Gogol undertook extreme self-denial, which broke his health and hurled him into a deep depression.
In that, I can’t help but wonder if, at the end of Konstantinovskyhe’s life, and he stood before his maker, if he found the joke was really on him. But, I suppose that’s another topic, for another time . . .