Thankless is the task of the writer who dares reproduce what is constantly passing before the eyes of all, unnoticed by our distracted gaze: all the disgusting little annoyances and trials of our every-day lives; the ordinary, indifferent characters we must constantly meet and put up with. How they hinder and weary us ! Such a writer will not have the applause of the masses; contemporary critics will consider his creations both low and useless, and will assign him an inferior place among those writers who scoff at humanity. He will be declared wanting in heart, soul, and talent. For his critic will not admit those instruments to be equally marvelous, one of which reveals the sun and the other the motions of invisible animalculae; neither will he admit what depth of thought is required to make a masterpiece of a picture, the subject of which is drawn from the darker side of human life….
Those who have analyzed my powers as a writer have not discerned the important element of my nature, or my peculiar bent. Pushkin alone perceived it. He al-ways said that I was especially endowed to bring into relief the trivialities of life, to analyze an ordinary character, to bring to light the little peculiarities which escape general observation. This is, I think, my strong point. The reader resents the baseness of my heroes; after reading the book he returns joyfully to the light of day. I should have been pardoned had I only created picturesque villains; their baseness is what will never be pardoned. A Russian shrinks before the picture of his nothingness.
The cause of that gaiety which one had noticed in my first works was a kind of inner need. I became a prey to fits of melancholy which were beyond my comprehension…. In order to get rid of them I invented the funniest things I could think of. I invented funny characters in the funniest situations imaginable.
I never created anything out of mere imagination. Only in those things was I successful which I took from reality and which were based on the data I knew. I could fathom a man then only when I had seen all the minutest details of his exterior. Yet I never painted a portrait by simply copying it. I created portraits, but I created them on that of mere imagination. The more details I had seen and considered, the better were my productions. My mind is in this respect thoroughly Russian, that is, a mind capable of deriving rather than of inventing.
I saw that in my former works I laughed for nothing, uselessly, without knowing why. If it is necessary to laugh, then let us laugh at that which really deserves to be laughed at by all. In my Revizor I decided to gather in one place and deride all that is bad in Russia, all the evils which are being perpetrated in those places where the utmost rectitude is required from man.
A contemporary author who writes comedies and de-scribes manners must be as far from his own country as possible. No prophet can earn glory in his own father-land. I don’t mind the fact that all classes of society have risen against me; yet it is somewhat sad and de-pressing to see my own countrymen, whom I sincerely love, attack me with no justice, to see in what a perverted way they accept and interpret everything.
None of my readers knows that in laughing at my characters they laughed at myself. In me there was a collection of all possible defects and in a greater quantity than in any other man…. If they had suddenly and all together appeared before my eyes I would have hanged myself…. I began to depict in my heroes my own nastiness. This is how I did it. Having taken some bad feature of mine or other, I persecuted it under a different name and in a different role, endeavouring to make it appear before my eyes as my deadly enemy an enemy who had inflicted a terrible injury upon me; I persecuted it with malice, with irony, with anything I could get hold of. Had any one seen those monsters which came from under my pen at the beginning, he would have shivered with fear.