Taras Bulba and the
Jewish Literary Context
Walter Scott, Gogol, and Russian Fiction
To better understand Gogol's representation of the Jew in Taras Bulba, it is important to contextualize it culturally and historically. As Vinogradov has shown in his noteworthy study of the creative history of Gogol's famous story “The Nose” (Nos), Gogol was acutely aware of the literary and cultural developments of his time and incorporated, albeit in his own original and parodic manner, many current themes, ideas, and styles.1 Gogol called Walter Scott, his favorite foreign writer, a great genius (velikii genii) (6:170), the most complete, universal genius of the nineteenth century (“polneishii, obshirneishii genii xix veka”) (6:182).2 He was unquestionably familiar with Scott's hugely popular historical novel Ivanhoe,3 in which Jews play an important historic and ideological role.4 Gogol's interest in Scott could hardly have diminished when he conceived of writing a historical fiction of his own.
It has been argued that The Iliad and the French historical romances had a more pronounced influence on Taras Bulba than the historical novel in the manner of Walter Scott. Gogol uses few historical sources, in some cases completely ignoring the historical record. He shapes his narrative to conform to nineteenth-century Russian nationalist and Slavophile ideology and