Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman

Photo of Nikolai Golgol

By Doctor P. Limon

Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) had an extraordinarily important influence on Russian literature. A contemporary and friend of Pushkin, he left his mark in several areas as playwright, novelist, and short-story writer. Every Russian writer to come after him acknowledges and reveres Gogol, from Dostoevsky to Bulgakov, and on.

Diary of a Madman
Starring Alan Jordan
Remaining preview performances May 1- May 3
Fri, May 1, 7pm,
Sat May 2, 3pm and 7pm
Sun, May 3, 3pm
150 pesos
Teatro Centro Cultural Allende
Ancha de San Antonio 22
Wine and beer will be available a half hour before the show

Diary of a Madman shows us the disintegrating psyche of a minor civil servant during the era of the repressive rule of Nicholas I. Gogol had problems with Nicholas’s censors (who were as vigilant as Stalin’s), and he didn’t exactly ingratiate himself with this depiction of bureaucratic malaise.

In Diary of a Madman, Gogol is saying a great deal about Russian society and the human condition. The story basically involves us in a humorous, at times capricious, adventure but the humor is infused with a great deal of pathos, to the point where we can almost call Diary of a Madman a tragicomedy

The other main characteristic of Gogol’s writing is his impressionist vision of reality and people. He saw the outer world romantically metamorphosed. His people are caricatures, drawn with the method of the caricaturist, which is to exaggerate salient features and to reduce them to a geometrical pattern. Hence the naïve set design and art of Juan Ezcurdia and the creative lighting by Victor Zapatero enhance the original concept.

In April 1848, Gogol returned to Russia from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and passed his last years in restless movement throughout the country. Exaggerated ascetic practices undermined his health, and he fell into a state of deep depression. On the night of February 24, 1852, he burned some of his manuscripts, which contained most of the second part of Dead Souls. He explained this as a mistake, a practical joke played on him by the Devil. Soon thereafter, he took to bed, refused all food, and died in great pain nine days later.

With Gogol, who seems to be concealed rather than revealed in his writings, it is much more difficult than with other writers to see the link between the man and the work. He has always been a puzzle. He is indeed more evasive than his creatures. His writings float free of himself, as if he had deliberately snapped the cord of his inspiration and, having set his invented world in motion, had retreated from it.

Nikolai Gogol’s many works include The Overcoat, The Inspector General, Taras Bulba, and Dead Souls.



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