From Devichye Polye to the Danilov Monastery. A Guide to Gogol’s Moscow

From Devichye Polye to the Danilov Monastery. A Guide to Gogol’s Moscow
In 2019 we celebrate the 210th anniversary of Nikolay Gogol’s birth.

Nikolay Gogol had a special relationship with Moscow. The Russian capital was his love at first sight, and the place where he spent the last years of his life. Let’s talk about the major locations in Moscow that connect us to one of the most famous and mysterious Russian writers.

The Pogodinskaya Street: the place where “Taras Bulba” was created

Gogol’s first visit to Moscow happened in 1832. During that visit he became acquainted with Mikhail Pogodin, a publisher, historian and literary enthusiast. They were both interested in history and subsequently traveled over Europe together. Gogol fell in love with Moscow at first sight. During his later visits he took great pleasure staying in his friend’s estate. A sizeable Pogodin Manor was located in Khamovniki, at the edge of Devichye Polye. Today the Pogodinskaya Street that took its name from Pogodin Manor, is one of the most famous Gogol-related locations in Moscow.

Special lodgings were given to Gogol in the loft of the Manor’s main building. The writer liked it there and worked in the loft a lot. The Pogodin Manor was where he originally read the first book of “Dead Souls” to his friends. “Litigation” and “Taras Bulba” were also created there. Later Pogodin’s son wrote in his memoir that in the Manor Gogol was surrounded with respect and admiration, and that the writer himself on his visits there was jovial, fooled around a lot and was great with children.

Only a small part of Pogodin’s Manor survived: a tiny wooden cabin built in the traditional Russian style, the so-called Pogodin’s Hut. It’s located at 12a, Pogodinskaya Street.

The Maly Theatre: the place of the first showing of “The Government Inspector” in Moscow

Gogol wrote “The Government Inspector”, his famous play mocking provincial officials and nobles, in 1835. Next year, the play was brought on stage at the Maly Theatre. From the beginning, they invited the writer to direct rehearsals, but Gogol refused. The play was shown at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg before, but he didn’t like how it turned out.

The writer entrusted his friend, actor Mikhail Shchepkin, to run the show in Moscow. On stage, Shchepkin also starred as Skvoznik-Dmukhanovsky. Gogol liked Shchepkin’s interpretation of the role, but the rest of the actors disappointed him. He felt like they didn’t take time to thoroughly feel and understand their characters and establish their motivations, so their work felt more like a caricature than an authentic work of art. The audience didn’t like Shchepkin’s interpretation of the play either. After that Gogol decided to leave the country.

In 1843 the Maly Theatre showed Gogol’s plays “Marriage” and “The Gamblers”. A year earlier they also attempted a stage adaptation of the “Dead Souls”. Shchepkin starred in “The Gamblers” as Uteshitelny. For the “Marirage”, he started as Podkolesin, but soon figured out that the part didn’t suit him. He tried himself as Kochkarev, the role that he played earlier in the Alexandrinsky Theatre. All three stage shows were warmly received by the critics.

Gogol House: the place where the writer spent the last years of his life

In December 1848 Nikolay Gogol, who was then 39 years old, came back to Moscow after his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Count Alexander Tolstoy and his wife offered the writer their hospitality. Gogol met them during his trip abroad.

As it turned out, his new acquaintances were living in an old manor at Nikitsky Boulevard. The house’s history stretched back to the early 17th century. Among its owners in various periods were Stolnik Ivan Buturlin, the noble Plokhovo family, Maria Saltykova, a Lady-in-Waiting, and Collegiate Assessor Dmitry Boltin. Alexander Talyzin, Major General of the Izmaylovsky Reginemt, bought the manor in 1816. He decided to expand it with a stone piazza with overhanging balconies. A year after Talyzin died in August 1847 the manor became occupied by Count Alexander Tolstoy, who initially used only the top floor. Later, after Count got full possession of the property, he decided against refurnishing it, leaving it pretty much the same as it was under its former master.

The Talyzin – Tolstoy Manor

Gogol was given three mid-sized rooms on the first floor with a private entrance off the anteroom: a hallway, a dining room and an office/bedroom. The guest was showered with affection: breakfast, lunch tea and dinner were served wherever he wished, his clothes were immaculately seen to, and in general, the writer enjoyed every comfort imaginable. Despite the respect shown to him, however, Gogol was going through very depressing times: his book “Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends” was poorly received; Anna Vilyegorskaya, a daughter of a high ranking court noble, refused to marry him, and his friend Ekaterina Khomyakova, whom Gogol valued dearly, died. By the way, Tolstoy’s residence was the place where Gogol burned the second book of the “Dead Souls”.

In January 1852 the writer fell sick. Suspecting meningitis, his hosts moved him to the best heated room at the first floor. Neither care nor doctors’ services helped much though: Nikolay Gogol died soon after.

After the Revolution the Talyzin-Tolstoy estate was given to communal housing. Since 1966 it housed a library. Many authentic furniture items were lost. In 1974 the library was named after Nikolay Gogol, in 2005 it became a memorial centre. The Gogol House, an official museum, was established in Moscow on March 27, 2009. Today its exposition includes 6 rooms; the furnishing was restored according to the memoirs of Gogol’s contemporaries.

The Danilov Monastery: Gogol’s greatest mystery

Gogol was buried at the cemetery of the Danilov Monastery. As the witnesses remembered, “Untold multitudes of people from every way of life followed the casket without an end in sight”. The grave was initially marked with a plain bronze crucifix and later with a gravestone consisting of two parts: a Calvary stone supporting the crucifix, and a black marble sepulcher. Gogol himself wrote in 1847, “I instruct to not mark my grave with any stones and not even think about any such nonsense unworthy of a Christian”.

In 1930 the Monastery was closed and the cemetery destroyed soon after. Gogol’s remains were exhumed and transferred to the Novodevichy Cemetery. At the same time the hair-raising gossip started spreading around that allegedly, the coffin’s lid was scratched from the inside and the writer’s corpse was found in an unnatural, twisted position.

Gogol’s greatest fear was, incidentally, related to his own burial: he was paralyzed by the thought that one day he was going to wake up in a casket and die slow, torturous death from hunger and lack of oxygen. When he was alive, he asked his friends repeatedly to not bury him until they are sure that his body shows signs of decomposition. He wrote, “I mention this because at the time of illness I was intermittently overcome with numbness of my body, my heart and my pulse sometimes stopped beating”.

Monuments to Nikolay Gogol

The idea to make a bronze visage of one of the greatest mystics of the Russian literature appeared in 1880. The Society of Lovers of the Russian Literature that Gogol was voted into while he was still alive, was doing fundraisers all over Russia. Their goal was not the easiest to achieve though: in ten years the Society managed to only accumulate 50 thousand rubles. The first meeting of the monument construction Committee was held in 1896, when the monument fund grew to 70 thousand rubles. They decided to install the monument at the Arbatskaya Square and announced a project competition. The starting condition was that Gogol’s figure should be seated.

Many famous sculptors offered their projects, but in the end the contract went to Nikolay Andreev, who, by the way, hadn’t even entered the competition. By the time the project was approved, the place for the monument was moved to the start of the Gogolevsky Boulevard (then Prechistensky Boulevard).

Nikolay Andreevich Andreev, sculptor

Andreev’s work went for four years. He was very thorough, studying every image of Gogol he could get his hands on, gathering all materials that could be of help. The monument was opening on April 26, 1909. To the general public Gogol was shown as hunched down and depressed, lost deep inside his own thoughts. Opinions differed radically when it came to Andreev’s work: some thought him a genius, some a hack. In 1951 the monument was removed to the Donskoy Monastery, that at the time housed the Museum of the USSR Academy of Architecture. Several years later it was moved again to the Nikitsky Boulevard.

A new monument, made by Nikolay Tomsky (sculptor) and Leo Golubovsky (architect) was installed at Gogolevsky Boulevard. This time the festive looking writer was placed on a high pedestal with a pompous inscription: “To Nikolay Vasilyevich Gogol, a great artist of the Russian word, from the Government of the Soviet Union”. Initially, the citizenry felt put off by the new monument, but later they come to love it. In 1959 Bella Akhmadulina mentioned it in her “Laughless” poem with true tenderness:

Like poor thin Gogol presiding over  the boulevard,

Lonely near the existential ice hole.