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Nikolai Gogol's attitude to his women characters Wilmink, Svetlana

Abstract

Nikolai Gogol has been an enigma that many scholars have attempted to understand. No one disputes his artistic genius, yet no one can satisfactorily define it. Both in his artistic works and in his life, Gogol was original, or rather, he was true to himself, a feat that set him apart from Russian society during Nikolai I's reign. Gogol did not have any love affairs nor did he marry. This fact has led many critics to formulate the opinion that Gogol feared women. Theories of an Oedipal or homo-erotic complex, or regression have been set forth as explanations for this fear. Yet did Gogol fear women and do his works reflect this fear? The Oedipal and regressive theories are justified by selecting examples from Gogol's literary works. However, these attempts, to date, have been usually based on one or two works, while the rest of Gogol's works are disregarded. It is the purpose of this study to give a comprehensive analysis of Gogol's life and works before any conclusions are arrived at. The intent is to be objective rather than subjective. To do this, I have had to rely heavily on actual quotations from the author, his works, and opinions voiced by critics. The study has been divided into four chapters. The first chapter deals with Gogol's biography. His early life, his mother's influence, his aspirations and friendships will be surveyed. The second chapter consists of four summaries of recent critiques of Gogol. These four have been chosen on the basis that they reflect a diversity of present-day opinions of Gogol. Setchkarev analyses Gogol's work from an artistic point of view. Erlich regards Gogol as a great grotesque writer whose works reflect existential problems. Driessen and McLean illustrate what can be done when a psychoanalytical approach is used. The third chapter is an examination of Gogol's method of presenting his women characters. As Gogol developed philosophically and artistically, his attitude to women changed. Therefore I have divided the chapter into four parts, each reflecting a different attitude to the subject, women. The parts are called modes and consist of the lyrical, subjective, caricature and idealized mode. The milieu of the women characters, their physical appearance, actions and functions in the stories will be looked at. The last chapter presents my conclusion. On the basis of a textual analysis of Gogol's works, I have arrived at the conclusion that Gogol had a high regard for women. Women are a completely separate entity from men and should be appreciated for what they are. Gogol finds fault with men for expecting too much from women; rather, men should seek contentment within themselves. However, women as objects to behold are an everlasting pleasure to Gogol.

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