Born and raised in an obscure corner of the Ukraine, Nikolai Gogol owed his masterpieces to the cosmopolitan centers of St. Petersburg and Rome, to which he made successive escapes in a life haunted by hardship and paranoia. Paradoxically, it was in Petersburg that he penned his early stories from Ukrainian life, and in Rome that he turned his attention to Petersburg and the generic Russia of his novel Mertvye dushi. He was educated at the gymnasium of Nezhin (1821-28); all of his education and writings were in Russian, except for one epigram and one letter in Ukrainian. Immediately after completing his course of study he set off for Petersburg in order to become a writer. In 1828 he published his first works: a poem, “Italiia, ” and a narrative poem entitled “Gants Kiukhel'garten, ” which was so unsuccessful that he bought up and burned all the copies he could find. After taking a short trip to Germany he turned his background to his advantage by exploiting the Romantic fashion for depictions of the “folky” Ukraine, together with its native manners and belief in supernatural forces. His first collection of short stories, Vechera na khutore bliz Dikan'ki (two volumes, 1831-1832), attracted the attention of the Petersburg literary elite, especially Pushkin, whose friendship and patronage were especially important for Gogol. He had an abortive stint as lecturer in history at the university (1834-35), publishing several historical articles and planning a history of the Ukraine. The disastrous outcome of this venture confirmed his aspiration to become a professional writer of fiction.
In 1835 he followed his debut with a “continuation” entitled Mirgorod (the region where he was born), which included more mature works such as “Taras Bul'ba” (a rousing depiction of Cossack life) and “Vii.” In 1835 he also published a volume of essays, Arabeski, which included articles on Ukrainian culture. Thereafter he turned increasingly to Petersburg for inspiration, creating a