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Hailed by Nabokov as "the greatest artist that Russia has yet produced," Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) left his mark as a playwright, novelist, and writer of short stories. Gogol's works remain popular with both writers and readers, who prize his originality, imaginative gifts, and sheer exuberance. This collection offers an excellent introduction to the author's works. Opening a door to his bizarre world of broad comedy, fantasy, and social commentary, the title story portrays a petty official's mental disintegration as he struggles for the attention of the woman he loves. Set during the repressive rule of Nicholas I, it satirizes the bureaucratic excesses of the era. Additional tales include "The Nevski Prospect," a portrayal of the feverish pace of St. Petersburg street life, and "The Portrait," a gripping depiction of a soul's perdition.