The work of Gogol—one of the greatest of Russia’s literary geniuses—has become fairly well known in America but has seldom been understood. There have been many unfortunate translations of his work in English and few good ones. Critics have often tried to label him “the Russian Dickens” or viewed him as a forerunner of our own literary champions of the oppressed. In this brilliant study, Vladimir Nabokov shows us that Gogol’s comedy was not Dickensian, but biting and salty, textured throughout by a use of the irrational not duplicated by any other writer; that in the play The Government Inspector and Dead Souls, a novel, his depiction of the frauds of bureaucracy and the vagaries of Russian serf-owners were not so much intended to hasten social change as to serve as a framework for displaying the fantasies of the human spirit. Nabokov, whose own uniqueness is known through his many novels, brings the singularity of Gogol’s genius to life—the strange, unhappy, self-deluding man and his extraordinary literary methods and achievements.
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