On March 4, 1852, prominent Russian writer, playwright, poet, critic and publicist of the 19th century, Nikolay Gogol died.
The story of Nikolay Gogol’s death has always been shrouded in mystery. Firstly, Gogol himself had always been haunted by the fear of death, or more specifically, of falling into a lethargic sleep and being buried alive. For the last ten years of his life, he never slept lying down and only took naps, cuddled in an armchair. In a letter to a friend he requested that his body be committed to the ground only after it had shown the obvious signs of decay.
Secondly, for almost half of his life Gogol had been sick, and always due to unknown causes. His illness was very likely of psychiatric origin, since he often experienced times of euphoria and creative upsurge which alternated with spells of profound dejection. These changes exhausted Gogol and might have been the reason for his multiple physical maladies. During moments of depression, he would lie down, without taking his clothes off; he would refuse food and continue to lie motionless for hours. To fight depression, Gogol tried traveling, but it didn’t bring him the strength and inspiration he desired.
Being a very religious person, he inferred that his ill-being was imposed on him for his unrighteous existence. He intensified his relationship with a church elder, Matvey Konstantinovsky, whom he had known for several years. Father Matvey had instilled in Gogol the reverend awe by condemning all of Gogol’s imaginative work and pronouncing it sinful. Exaggerated ascetic practices undermined his health and plunged him into a deeper depression.
Following Father Matvey’s advice to renounce literature, Gogol burned the second part of the Dead Souls, took to bed, resorted to self-starvation, and died in great pain nine days later.
Gogol was buried at the Danilov Monastery, but in 1931, Moscow authorities decided to demolish the monastery and had the author’s remains transferred to the Novodevichy Cemetery. Gogol’s body was discovered lying face down, which in fact gave rise to the story that Gogol had been buried alive. This theory, though fervently refuted by many scientists, still has not been totally disproved.