Nabokov allowed that the real Gogol was found only in "The
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OCTOBER 3, 2009
The Rich Fabric of Invention
Gogol's 'The Overcoat' has weathered the test of time
By WILLIAM AMELIA
In his short, tormented life, the Russian novelist Nikolai Vassilyevich Gogol (1809-1852) managed to write for the ages. His oeuvre is huge. Among the familiar masterworks are "Dead Souls," the first great epic Russian novel; "The Inspector General," a dramatic success; and volumes of Ukrainian and Petersburg tales, rich in folklore and culture with a froth of the supernatural. He is regarded as one of the major influences in the development of realism in Russian literature.
But it is "The Overcoat," the last story that Gogol wrote—perhaps his finest and most famous—that particularly characterizes his legacy. It is a remarkable piece of literary art, displaying Gogol's gift of caricature and imaginative invention. With "The Overcoat," Gogol introduced the short story as a literary form in Russia, providing a new model for other writers of the time. No one said it better than Dostoevsky: "We all came out of Gogol's overcoat."
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Vladimir Nabokov allowed that the real Gogol was found only in "The Overcoat." "When he tried to write in the Russian tradition," Nabokov said, "he lost all trace of talent. But in the immortal 'The Overcoat' he let himself go and became the greatest artist that Russia has yet produced."
—Mr. Amelia is a writer living in Dagsboro, Del.
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