Dr. Leonard J. Stanton is Professor of Russian Language and Literature at Louisiana State University. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Dr. Stanton is known internationally for his work on Russian religion and literature, as well as his introduction to a new edition of Crime and Punishment.
2006 0-7734-5783-6 The authors present a tripartite thesis in this study. They begin with the fundamental position that the Orthodox religion, though not the Russian Orthodox Church, functions as a sub-text throughout all of Nikolai Gogol’s work, whether fiction, comedy, or essays, the last generally being fiction in another form. There exists, therefore, no separate Gogol of Dead Souls and the tales from Dikanka or Mirgorod or Arabesques, and another Gogol of Selected Passages, the first to be admired and the second to be condemned. There is, instead, a single Nikolai Gogol, for whom religion forms the basic unifying theme in his entire corpus. A second part of the thesis is that Gogol, while writing in the comic vein, both light (The Inspector General) and dark (“The Portrait,” “The Overcoat”), worked neither as a humorist (Mark Twain’s short stories) nor as a satirist (Petronius), but as a moralist, who, like Plato, sought to point to the way toward a general social reformation. Ethical disorder and moral “little failings” would certainly amuse because they were recognized, but the purpose of writing about “little failings” was to move toward a more ordered society where all fulfilled their social obligations. The third part of the thesis concerned Gogol’s literary successors. The authors suggest that Gogol’s overcoat descended not to the Russian Orthodox writers of immense and often Christian novels, but to the Jewish authors of Yiddish tales, often written in the comic style about “little failings” and also attempting to show the way and the need for moral reform of the community.
The authors conclude that Gogol’s work formed a coherent and unified whole, animated by a strong sense of the need for religiously-based reform of the existing social order through attention to social obligations, and this attitude of social reform based upon religion would be repeated within the Russian imperial literary context in the Yiddish tradition of tales and stories.