J. V. Yakubina
Memoirs as a source of M. Gogol’s biography
У статті розглядаються спогади сучасників Гоголя, які містять відомості про письменника і є важливою складовою його життєпису.
Ключові слова: мемуари, біографія, Гімназія, середовище, гімназична творчість.
В статье рассматриваются воспоминания современников Гоголя, которые содержат сведения о писателе и являются важной составляющей его жизнеописания.
Ключевые слова: мемуары, биография, Гимназия, среда, гимназическое творчество.
The article deals with the memoirs of Gogol’s contemporaries, which contain information about the writer and form the important part of his biography.
Key words: memoir, biography, Gymnasium, environment, high-school activity.
Multivectorness is the main feature of modern Gogol studies. However, despite a large number of papers including biographical ones, today there is no a complete scientific Gogol biography, based on all the accumulated knowledge, which could demonstrate a new point of view on the writer and sense of his spiritual quest. The authoritative researchers note that the problem of "... the scientific Gogol biography is still open" [1, p. 321].
The first attempt of a biographical research, the essay "Several features for Biography of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol" by P. A. Kulish, published in 1852, with the following works of the biographer laid the foundation of the scientific writer’s biography. Kulish underestimated formal role of the high school in formation of Gogol’s creative personality during the Nizhyn period of the writer’s life. He wrote not taking to consideration level of Gogol’s success and emphasizing his intellectual self-
development: "... we already find him as a real writer, journalist and even a great actor in Nizhyn Gymnasium" [2, p. 192]. This categorical statement entirely corresponded to the concept of Kulish "... to follow the biography of Gogol’s mind", based on "the hagiographic model" with accentuation on such fragments of his life that would confirm the idea of the Divine dispensation: the wonderful birth, suffering, understanding of own purpose and asceticism. Research of Gymnasium documentary base and study of the impact of the school on Gogol’s development were not a priority task. This approach laid the algorithm, which formed the distinct direction of scientific interests of the first biographers and scholars: Gogol’s formation and creativity in the period of his study in Gymnasium of High Sciences.
Gogol’s statements about the wasted six years in " the silly institution" (the letter to his mother on March 1, 1828), for the first time published by P. A. Kulish, contributed the fixation of negative opinion about the formal role of Gymnasium. Gogol's mentions about the school years in "The Author's Confession", the genre of which excluded the element of insincerity, intensified negativism "... it must be said that I have got rather a bad education in the school", "... I was sure that there were a lot of those, who was badly educated in the school like me" .
Gogol’s words very often are interpreted as evidence of failure of Bezborodko Gymnasium of High Sciences. Thus we point out that he said about his education and, first of all, moral formation in the context of his later spiritual quest. Confirmation of it is in the same "The Author's Confession": "I have watched over mуself, as a teacher over the student, not in book learning, but also in the simple moral one, looking at myself as at a schoolboy. I put some of these tricks on myself in the book of my letters, not in order to show off something (and I do not know what to show off here), but from the desire of good: maybe it will benefit to somebody" (VIII, p. 444). Obviously, it's not about Gymnasium as a source of knowledge. Gogol concerned about the problems of another level, he was interested in the origins of his moral and spiritual maturation, looked at his past experiences from the position of the spiritual turning point of the 30–40's, that determined the direction of his creative work in the last decade. It is clear that neither the Gymnasium program nor the environment of knowledgeable mentors and classmates could not meet the spiritual needs which subsequently embodied in the form of apostolic service by means of literature.
It is hard to imagine writer’s biography without the memories of his contemporaries. This also applies to Gogol. The modern scholars emphasize on the need to publish a complete systematic collection of Gogol documentary evidence (memoirs, epistolary, diary). Start has been made by publication of the first volume of the studies that summarize more than 150-years period of collecting and researching such materials .
Biographical works of the XIX-th century about the writer contained the memoirs which as a kind of nonfiction are characterized by subjectivity in selection, coverage and evaluation of facts, sometimes prejudgment of author’s evaluation, together with basing on facts, eventfulness, documentality [5, p. 524]. The first memoir statements about Gogol, published in the 50-ies years of the XIX-th century, are memories about the time of his staying in Gymnasium of High Sciences. "The kinds of memoirs quality in the adequate forms were finally established and process of its genre crystallization was completed" exactly at that time [6, p. 221]. There were also qualitative changes. As modern scholars note, memoirs "... won the "democratic" rights: anyone can be the author of a memoir autobiographical work. Interest of modern times to the individual caused change of self-conceptions and expanded sphere of self-image. Everything is interesting in a person – it means that everyone is interesting in principle" [7, p. 153–154].
The memories of the former teacher I. G. Kulzhynsky and the supervisor N. F. Perion contained rich material for specialists in Gogol and together with publication of "Experience of Biography of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol. The First Period" and "The Notes on Life of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Composed of the Memories of His Friends and Familiars and His Own Letters" by P. A. Kulish laid the foundations of Gogol biography.
A special place in the history of memoir Gogol studies belongs to the edition of "The Prince Bezborodko Lyceum" (1859), in which biographies of teachers and individual pupils and applications with the lists of graduates from different years with the bibliography of their works were placed. As the historian of Gymnasium M. O. Lavrovskiy noted, this collective work of Lyceum graduates included "the biographies based more on personal memoirs, ... than on local archive documents".
However, these memoirs are rich for the details of Gymnasium everyday life, features of student life, today they are still important as valuable source of information about the Nizhyn period of Gogol biography, when his life and creative guidance was formed.
In general, the memories about Gogol and his school years appeared for various reasons that affected the content and character of narration (subjective assessments, degree of probability). In one case, they were written as a word of gratitude to alma mater, otherwise they positioned the author on background of his famous classmates (it concerns also the memoirs, written by outsiders from the words of Gogol’s familiars and published lately). However, the texts of memories also keep important information about the authors, who sometimes showed bias opinions and beliefs.
Each era brings its own requirements for the memories, requires its own view on the documents of the past and strives for re-inventory of a source base and to formulate their own assessments of the facts and events. It should be noted about the role of memoir evidence in Gogol biography of Nizhyn period that its assessment was changed in the paradigm of time. So, the Latinist I. Kulzhynsky, the only Nizhyn teacher who left the memories about Gogol in Gymnasium, concluded: "There were many great talents among the pupils at that time. Kukolnik, Redkin, Basili, Gogol and later Grebinka were at the wheel. The last two were my pupils and the last one also was my favorite. Such popularity in our literature was least expected from Gogol" [8, p. 114]. The teacher’s memories were built by the scheme "Me and Gogol", which, however, didn’t receive proper critical evaluation of the first explorers of writer’s creative work.
Kulish marked Kulzhynskiy’s story about the gymnasium pupil Gogol as interesting one. The biographer V. Shenrok singled out the memoirs of the teacher-Latinist from others as the most important one. The historian of Gymnasium P. Zabolotsky characterized his memories as plain and outspoken and he agreed with the explanation of Kulzhynsky about attitude of teachers to glory of their pupil ("Gogol was a talent, unknown for the school"). The professor of Gymnasium M. Speransky also was inclined to define nature of relationships between Kulzhynsky and Gogol in the paradigm of "a conscientious teacher – a negligent student".
The opinion of Gogol’s friend and classmate A. Danilevsky was diametrically opposed. His memories were written by V. Shenrok in the afternoon of his life and contained many details about gymnasium life. A. Danilevsky considered the memoirs of Kulzhynsky, who was the object of mockery in the Gogol’s letters, as completely unreliable, so that distorted reality and therefore could not be used.
The Soviet literary criticism considered the memoirs of the Gymnasium teacher as secondary ones with doubtful unreliable facts, and therefore they were not included in the publication "Gogol in the Memories of His Contemporaries" (M., 1952).
Modern look at the figure of Kulzhynsky as a writer, lecturer, ethnographer allows us on base of several studies to come to conclusions about his influence on Gogol and the other pupils of Gymnasium.
It is recognized that atmosphere of the institution and everything outside of it was important for formation of young generation. Range of reading of pupils, who experienced literary trends of their time, is well-known today. Gymnasium pupils subscribed periodicals, acquainted with the latest literature, organized literary societies and published handwritten journals.
About two dozen of writers whose names then began to appear in the pages of periodicals studied in Nizhyn simultaneously. Today there is every reason to speak about the literary school (P. V. Mykhed) in Russian literature with very distinct features. And her two undisputed leaders: Gogol and Kukolnik. The problems of "complete reconstruction of creative relationships" between these individuals, traditionally interpreted as antagonistic ones, are the issues that need to be solved.
The researchers of Gogol biography repeatedly appealed to the memoir essays of N. Kukolnik. V. Shenrok cited some fragments as evidence of condescending attitude of the Director I. S. Orlay to Gogol.
The Gymnasium historian P. Zabolotsky emphasized that the memories of N. Kukolnik opened "a number of new details of Gogol’s school life". The autograph of the memoirs of the inspector K. A. Moyseev, recently published, contains the reference to Gogol and Kukоlnik who were friends in the high school [9, p. 69].
It must be said, that there is no objective assessment of N. Kukolnik’s memoirs for today. Thus, not all memories of "odnokorytnyky" of the future writer available at that time were included into the previously mentioned collection of the mid-twentieth century "Gogol in the Memories of His Contemporaries". The compiler of the collection S. Mashynsky remarked that "the gymnasium period in memoir literature was represented incompletely" and "the case of freedom of thought" "found no reflection" at all, while the memoirs of N. Kukolnik, who was often at epicenter of events, were not taken into consideration. Speaking about Gimnasium the critics of Kukolnik was the rule of "a good form" for a long time, but his memoirs enlightened Gymnasium life, teaching, creative atmosphere among the students.
The opinion of Nestor Kukolnik created the proper assessment of activity of the professor of Russian literature P. I. Nikolskiy, though he had the reputation for a decisive old believer. This, in turn, allows us to see nature of Gogol’s liberal education from another angle. Kukolnik admitted: "He disputed with us, as the saying goes, to tears <...> We were much obliged to Parfeniy Ivanovich. He positively made us to study Russian literature till Pushkin and negatively involved us in studying newer literature. Anyway, he with his beliefs, energy, inspiration and other qualities instilled an appreciation for literary studies". The first student of Gymnasium also reminisced that Parfeniy Ivanovich "brought many benefits by his accessibility, kindliness, finally opposition to modern aesthetic trends, <...> preached ex cathedra the importance and value of epopee of ancient forms and publicly defined Byron’s Poems of that times as tales" . By the way, both talented representatives of Nizhyn literary school Gogol and Kukolnik paid tribute to ancient epopees in their creative work. The first one was fond of Homer; his influence was manifested in many writer’s works, that caused a certain discussion around this issue. The second one devoted to this issue his student work (its original has not been published yet) and was a supporter of Torquato Tasso – in Gymnasium he began to write the play about the creator of new epos oriented on "The Iliad".
The researchers of Gogol’s Gymnasium years skip in Kukolnyk’s memoirs the episode about intellectual atmosphere in Gymnasium, its educational methods, textbooks and manuals, which were used by all universities of Europe. But this information enriches understanding of Nizhyn period of Gogol’s life.
Also it should be noted that studying of Gogol’s autographs, supplemented by the memoir evidence, are indicatives of Gymnasium creative work of the future writer. The title of one of his works, the satire "Something about Nizhyn, or Law is not Written for Fools" was reported by P. A. Kulish with refferings to the classmate G. Vysotsky.
The Gymnasium essay "Something about Nizhyn ..." is based on the device of comic "slices" of society, which Gogol used later, besides in the comedy "Vladimir of the 3rd Degree" and the poem "Dead souls".
Concentration of action within the bounds of the same city tested in satire was also important for further Gogol’s works. G. V. Samojlenko paid attention to the historical life background of the satire making an attempt to "... recover facts that could form the basis of each chapter of the work" [11, p. 162].
It should be noted that the memories of Gogol’s gymnasium friend G. Vysotsky, presented by P. Kulish, fixed the object of representation – "typical faces of different classes", and the method selected by Gogol – "... it was taken a number of special events during which one or the other class showed the most characteristic features". The other fact, no less important for understanding of Gogol’s early creative work, allows us to determine the events that defined an unique image of Nizhyn according to the titles of chapters indicated in the memoirs of G. Vysotsky: 1) "The Consecration of the Church in the Greek Cemetery"; 2) "Elections to the Greek Magistrate" and 3) "The Omnivorous Fair", 4) "The Dinner at the Marshal (of the Nobility) P***", 5) "Dismissal and Departure of students". A specific action or process of cyclic life of the provincial town is accented in each of the titles; it is a sign of "residence time" (M. M. Bakhtin) with depicting of certain features of inhabitants that jointly gives the characterization of "Something about Nizhyn". It can be argued with certainty that the myth of a town in Gogol art world becomes outlined only taking the country town of Nizhyn into consideration.
Thus, memoir evidence serves as an important source of a biography that is confirmed by modern scientific researches, authors of which are often appealing to memoirs of contemporaries of an outstanding person, already commenting on them from the position of the present.
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