Born in the Ukraine to small-time nobility, Gogol moved to St Petersburg in 1828. There he taught and wrote a number of short stories set in St Petersburg and Ukrainian folk-tales, and began to enjoy sporadic success as a writer. In 1836 he produced the satirical farce The Inspector General in 1836, which caused much controversy and he fled to Rome.
He spent the next 5 years in Germany and Italy and produced the first volume of his best known work, Dead Souls. Seeking a spiritual regeneration to match that of his main character and continue the novel, he subjected himself to a strict regime of prayer and fasting, but only succeeded in nervous collapse and burnt his work. He spent the next seven years attempting to continue the novel, but became even more influenced by Orthodox Christianity, fell under the influence of a priest named Father Matthew Konstantinovski, who viewed his literary work - and his confessed homosexuality - as an abomination and prescribed abstinence from food and sleep to cleanse his 'inner filth'. Gogol again burnt his work and, despite the efforts of his friends, died of starvation... He was 43.
His work was a major influence on Dostoevsky and later, 20th Century Russian authors. Complex and original, his work, which uses elements of the fantastic and grotesque, social realism and humour, is permeated by his repressed homosexuality, especially in the fear of marriage that is a constant theme throughout.