GOGOL: HIS LIFE AND WORKS by Vsevolod Setchkarev


Email this review


As Setchkarev, a Russian-born professor of Slavic literature at Harvard, points out in his preface, both the efforts of non-Russian critics and the available translations of Gogol ""communicate only a very faint idea of what Gogol is really like as an artist."" This book, although, intended as a ""summary of the previous literary scholarship,"" rather than an original scholarly investigation, attempts to provide, a critical perspective for Gogol's works, mainly through an elucidation of their formal qualities. A little over one third of the book outlines the life of this ""clever, and strange, and sick creature"" (as Turgenev described him). The rest consists of Setchkarev's close, generally persuasive readings of Gogol's works. He traces Gogol's literary method, through which ""nonsense looks like reality, or reality ""back to Lawrence Sterne, and indicates themes and effects which seems to be nonsense, were to appear in the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, the surrealists and even the existentialists. Setchkarev attempts to rescue Gogol from ""social"" and ""realistic"" criticism, as well as earlier moralistic distortions, deriving Gogol's unique value from the ""how"" of his illusionism, rather than the ""what"" of his vision. At times this leads him to an extremely narrow interpretation of the words ""social"" and ""realistic."" (Gogol's failure to idealize the downtrodden central character of ""The Overcoat,"" for example, could be attributed to a realistic concern, rather than to a lack of ""social"" sympathy.) Still, and despite an often clumsy style, possibly the result of translation, this is an illuminating survey, especially valuable for its analysis of Gogol's formal devices.

Publisher: New York Univ. Press