Nikolai Gogol is a famous writer who opened the door to the arcane sides of Russian and Ukrainian culture. Many know his dark and grotesque tales such as “The Nose”, “Viy”, “Dead Souls”. The subject and style of his work made him popular even among foreigners, and many compare him to another master of eerie stories Edgar Alan Poe.
However, not only his literary pieces are shrouded in mystery. Strange occurrences have been following Gogol his whole life and continued happening after his end. Even now some of them have no fathomable explanations.
In early childhood writer was exposed to religion and otherworldly matters. His mother was the one who told the young boy about Christianity, slavic mythology and old pagan beliefs. Gogol was very close to her but rarely opened up to his other siblings or acquaintances. This earned him a childhood nickname “Tainstvenny Karla” which means Mysterious Karla.
Before receiving acknowledgement for his literary work, Gogol tried his hand at acting and government services, but his passion for writing never diminished. It is known that the first creation of his, a romantic poem “Hans Küchelgarten” published under the name of “V. Alov”, received harsh critic that young poet couldn’t bare. He burned all copies of the poem he managed to get his hands on.
Fame was brought to him by the well known piece “Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka”, a collection of short magical stories based on his childhood memories of his life in Ukraine. Inspiration was drawn from local folklore stories, traditions and superstitions described to him by his mother. This work received high praise even from one of the most accomplished Russian poets A. Pushkin. Despite his newfound popularity Gogol stayed a very private person. He was uncomfortable in many social situations and had a tendency to escape the room if someone previously unknown to him entered.
It is also not known for certain wether he had any kind of romantic or sexual relationship with women. This has became the reason of many speculations about his sexual orientation. However, it is highly possible that the lack of love life can be explained by his rigorous religiosity.
Apart from that, the writer had other curious peculiarities. He placed great importance on dreams and thought them to be prophetic. He was terrified of storms, and is known to enjoy knitting scarves and making cravats. Often he rolled pieces of bread into small balls claiming it helps him think. Apparently, Gogol had a sweet tooth, and always had his pockets filled with treats. A favourite drink of his was goat’s milk mixed with rum which he jokingly called gogol-mogol (in Russian language, gogol-mogol is a variation of the name “kogel mogel” – a popular drink from Europe that actually has a different recipe and ingredients).
After a trip to Rome he went though a serious illness, malaria, which worsened his overall physical and psychological state. By the end of his life he suffered from strange visions and claimed to hear different voices in his own head. Day by day his condition worsened. One week before his end, on 12th of February, he was praying ecstatically for half of the night then sobbed in his bed till morning. It is very likely that on this exact night he burned the second book of “Dead Souls”.
Because of the illness, writer would sometimes loose consciousness and wouldn’t wake up for hours. This is why he was terribly afraid of being buried alive and made his friends promise to only put him in a coffin after the body starts decomposing. This is why Gogol was laid to rest only 3 days after his soul left his body. But the story doesn’t end here.
In 1931, 79 years after his end, his grave was exhumed in order to be transferred to another location. After the coffin was opened, soviet writer Vladimir Lidin saw that Gogol’s skull was missing. Others stated that his skull was there, but turned on the side. This has triggered the rumours that the man was indeed buried alive. But there are also those who claim that nothing of the sort happened and the skeleton was in a normal state.
Up to this day it is not clear wether Nikolai Gogol was alive when his coffin was put underground. The mysterious end of Russia’s literary genius still remains unsolved.