Dostoevsky called Gogol the demon of the guffaw

From Antal Szerb’s essay on Nikolai Gogol, translated in Reflections in the Library: Selected Literary Essays 1926-1944.

In Gogol, every character carries his own ghost within him.  They are the portraits of two devils, said Pushkin of Khlestakov and Chichikov…. It is the cast of Gogol’s imagination that makes ghosts of them.  He does not invent new lineaments, but hones the existing ones to the point of ghostliness. “In me everything has moved away from its place,” he writes in one of his letters.  “If, for example, I see someone trip up, my imagination at once appropriates this image and develops it into some dreadful vision, which torments me so much that I am unable to sleep and feel sapped of all my strength.”  Here the point is that the most ordinary workaday reality turns ghost-like if we stare at it long and hard enough: one of Gogol’s secrets is that he releases the dread that lurks in the workaday.  Dostoevsky called Gogol the demon of the guffaw.

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