Gogol's Afterlife: The Evolution of a Classic in Imperial and Soviet Russia

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Northwestern University Press, Dec 26, 2002 - Literary Criticism - 214 pages
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The evolution of Russian authorship as exemplified by Gogol's social and aesthetic reception from 1829 to 1952.

Nikolai Gogol's claim to the title of national literary classic is incontestable. Since his lifetime, every generation of Russian writers and readers has had to come to terms somehow with his ingeniously suggestive and comically virtuosic art. An exemplar for popular audiences no less than for the intelligentsia, Gogol was pressed into service under the tsarist and Soviet regimes for causes both aesthetic and political, official and unofficial. In Gogol's Afterlife, Stephen Moeller-Sally explores how he achieved this peculiar brand of cultural authority and later maintained it, despite dramatic shifts in the organization of Russian literature and society.

Beginning with Gogol's debut and extending well into the twentieth century, this elegantly written and meticulously researched work offers nothing short of a sociology of modern Russian literature. Together with the history of Gogol's social and aesthetic reception, it describes the institutional evolution of Russian literature and the changing relationship of the Russian writer to nation, state, and society. Moeller-Sally puts a wealth of historical material under a finely calibrated critical lens to show how the rise of the reading public in nineteenth-century Russia prepared the ground for a popular nationalism centered around the literary classics.

Part I charts the historical and cultural currents that shaped Gogol's reputation among the educated classes of late Imperial Russia, devoting particular attention to the models of authorship Gogol himself devised in response to his changing audience and developingauthorial mission. Part II takes a panoramic view of the social milieu in which Gogol's status evolved, describing the intelligentsia's efforts to propagate his life and works among the newly literate populations of post-Reform Russia. Finally, Part III examines the place of the classics in Soviet culture, with a focus on Gogol's role in the cultural revolution and his peculiar relationship with state power under high Stalinism.


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Part IIGoing to the People
Part IIIThe Classic and the State

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Page 6 - ... while others are deprived of it. A private letter may well have a signer - it does not have an author; a contract may well have a guarantor - it does not have an author.
Page 8 - Russia, soaring along even like a spirited, never-tobe-outdistanced troika?. ...Whither art thou soaring away to, then, Russia? Give me thy answer! But Russia gives none. With a wondrous ring does the jingle-bell trill; the air rent to shreds, thunders and turns to wind; all things on earth fly past and, eyeing it askance, all the other peoples and nations stand aside and give it the right of way.
Page 3 - A true classic, as I should like to hear it defined, is an author who has enriched the human mind, increased its treasure, and caused it to advance a step; who has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth, or revealed some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered; who has expressed his thought, observation, or invention, in no matter what form, only provided...
Page 4 - A mature literature, therefore, has a history behind it: a history, that is not merely a chronicle, an accumulation of manuscripts and writings of this kind and that, but an ordered though unconscious progress of a language to realize its own potentialities within its own limitations.
Page 3 - ... definitions and to widen their spirit. A true classic, as I should like to hear it defined, is an author who has enriched the human mind, who has really augmented its treasures, who has made it take one more step forward, who has discovered some unequivocal moral truth, or has once more seized hold of some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and explored ; who has rendered his thought, his observation, or his discovery under no matter what form, but broad and large, refined,...
Page vii - Who lasts a century can have no flaw, I hold that wit a classic, good in law.

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About the author (2002)

Moeller-Sally is assistant professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Stanford Universities

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