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About Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol

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Nikolai Gogol began writing the play we now know as "Marriage" in 1833 when he was 24. This dates it to the same period as some of his most famous short stories including "Diary of a Madman".

In its early draft the title was "The Suitors" (elsewhere translated as "The Bridegrooms") and was completed in 1834. In this version, which was never performed, the action centred squarely on the prospective bride, a provincial noblewoman who in keeping with Russian tradition has employed a matchmaker to find her a suitable husband. Four suitors duly arrive, exchange insults and then in turn each propose to the heroine. In her confused state she accepts all four of them. Clearly unsure of the play, Gogol abandoned it to work on "The Government Inspector", which received its premiere in April 1836. Soon after Gogol was to leave Russia and tour Europe , with the sound of the audience's laughter from "Inspector" ringing in his ears. Critics panned it, but audiences flocked to it, including Tsar Nicholas. There was a hype and a hysteria provoked by the play that Gogol was simply unprepared for.

I am going abroad to shake off the sorrow that my countrymen daily inflict upon me.

Unhappy with the response to the play Gogol penned an imaginary dialogue amongst members of the first-night audience entitled "Leaving the Theatre After the Presentation of a New Comedy" (published in 1842) and addressed their criticisms and even their laughing. Ever the perfectionist Gogol sought to inspire the right kind of laughter "not the easy laughter which furnishes people with idle diversion and entertainment, but the laughter which wings upward from man's luminous nature.which lends profundity to a subject".

Finally settling in Rome in March 1837 Gogol began work on his epic novel "Dead Souls", but also on a revised version of "The Suitors". This rewrite would be closer in spirit to his short stories, like them it would be firmly be set in St Petersburg , characters would describe streets and houses and shops which would be familiar to the audience. Perhaps he felt the satire would work better with a more concrete setting than in the vague and undisclosed location of "The Government Inspector". He would introduce stronger male characters: the pompous and indecisive suitor Podkolyosin and his friend the manic, yet slightly sinister, Kochkaryov, and while the basic idea of suitors calling on a young woman would remain the same, the most radical departure from the original draft would be the ending, which subverts the entire genre of romantic comedy and led to the audience hissing the play as the curtain fell on its opening night. Podkolyosin is set up as the hero, he addresses the audience in the opening scene and we quickly discover that he has employed a matchmaker, however he soon fades into the background as competing comic forces come into play and Gogol unveils a gallery of satirical grotesques. Each suitor (as well as Kocharyov who entertains an unhealthy obsession with his friend's marital status) have their own motives for marrying, and none have much to do with Agafya, the girl at the centre of the action. It is the marriage business that Gogol is seeking to expose and it is a bitter irony that the efforts of both Kocharyov and Fyokla, the official matchmaker, come to nought.

Gogol was still based in Rome when "Marriage", as the play was now called, received its premiere in December 1842. It had a chilly reception but it soon established itself in the repertoire of Russian theatre and while never achieving the widespread success of "The Government Inspector" it paved the way for the appearance of another Gogolian short play "The Gamblers" in 1843. Critics have noted its influence on the work of Ostrovosky and Nabakov was later to praise it, translating the title as "Getting Married" - which is perhaps more appropriate as a actual marriage itself is perhaps the last thing that any of these dysfunctional characters deserve. Today the play stands as a testament to Gogol's comic flair and genius in creating memorable characters.

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