Le Dong Hai Nguyen

M.S. Candidate in Foreign Service

Nikolay Gogol: Getting around 19th-century Russian censorship

Le Dong Hai Nguyen | November 7, 2020

Amidst the repressive regime of Tsar Nicholas I, Russian author Nikolai Gogol published a satirical novel in the form of a fictional diary supposedly kept by a minor civil official who descended into madness. Masqueraded as a primary account of a madman, Diary of a Madman is in fact a brutally honest and highly reflective criticism of Russian society in the 19th century. It is an overexaggerating depiction of a human mind trapped in a helpless desire to find purpose, sanity, and their place in a configured circumscribed world – ironically to the point of driving insane.

Through the façade of a farcical first-person narrative of a madman, Gogol had cleverly and subtly criticized the intense obsession with prestige and class of the Russian society at the time when censorship was highly invasive – even the character Poprishchin himself wonders how the vaudeville “written quite freely” get “passed the censors”