The bitterness and exaltation of this world aroused by fantasy subsided in NV Gogol (1809-1852), the absolute master of realism. He approached fiction with tales full of life, in which one breathed nature (Veglie at the farm near Dicanca, 1830-32), then stroked the popular sensibility with the sanguine and full-bodied (1835). So far Gogol was dear to everyone, but suddenly, in the same year, he started the Stories of Petersburg, which ended in 1842 with the masterpiece The Coat, and represented that Inspector General (1836) who left all the upper middle class astonished. Russian, submerging it in “ridicule”. An absolute masterpiece, the Inspector General unleashed a narrow and infamous reaction against him. Gogol left Russia and wrote almost all Dead Souls (published in 1842) in Rome. Russia was anatomized in all its age-old evils in the manner of Flaubert. But if Flaubert seemed to look at his heroine from the outside, Gogol appeared as the protagonist and victim in that extraordinary portrait gallery that revealed to the world the misery of a country where the people languished without hope. Pushkin after reading the first part of the work exclaimed “How sad our Russia is!”.
Gogol himself was distressed and was suffering from persecution mania so much that after writing a second part of Dead Souls he burned it in a night of delirium, only to die soon after. If Russia with Gogol had made its examination of conscience, with AI Herzen (1812-1870) it discovered its ideals. With his book Past and thoughts (1861-67), a unique testimony, written “with blood and tears” in which all the human pain caused by injustice palpitates, Herzen was able to give the indication for a higher sense of human dignity. Meanwhile, the great strand of realism was enriched with prestigious names: IS Turgenev (1818-1883), FM Dostoevskij (1821-1881), IA Gončarov (1812-1891), ME Saltykov-Ščedrin (1826-1889), LN Tolstoj (1828 -1910) and the poetry was entrusted to AA Fet Šenšin (1820-1892), FI Tjutčev (1803-1873), NA Nekrasov (1821-1877); the critics, after Belinsky’s disappearance, worked with NA Dobroljubov (1836-1861) and NG Černyševskij (1828-1889), also an excellent novelist. Suddenly all the bitterness that had been accumulating in this people, who had always endured the pain of living, flowed into narratives that attacked the heart and tightened the throat in an indelible reality. Goncharov published his Oblomov in 1859.
Russia finds itself inert, passive, unable to live and to renounce living. Turgenev from 1847 to 1875 published the Memoirs of a Hunter, a collection of stories whose unity was given by the narrator who depicted a humanity and a painful world in which even the most delicate feelings ended up contaminated or in tragedy, causing endless controversies with Fathers and children, a novel in which the clash of generations became the symbol of an outdated Russia, destined to open up by force to the new man. The nihilists, the idealists, had to remake Russia, the Russia that AN Ostrovsky (1823-1886) in his plays, the highest of which remains The Forest (1871), sees reflected in the collapse of the nobility and in the vitality of the people who create forces new. The “poet of vengeance and pain”, NA Nekrasov chorused him with the poem Who lives well in Russia? (1865-76) reached disconsolate conclusions about the desperation of the people, reaffirmed in Frost, Red Nose (1863). Militant of popular redemption, Nekrasov was also the editor of the Sovremennik (The contemporary) and the Otečestvennye Zapiski (Annali patri), periodicals that advocated progress and freedom. Through Černyševskij and his manifesto novel What to do? and ME Saltykov-Ščedrin with his I Pompadour e le Pompadour (1873), a picture of the disintegration of the social system, and above all with The Golovlëv family (1873-74) we are at the heart of a literary high expression in the two greatest storytellers of the century: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.