In fragmented fever dreams of St. Petersburg’s cityscape and during frenzied flights on country roads, Nikolai Gogol represents imperial Russia with a unique, often disorienting descriptive prose, which has been considered both striking in its realism and protomodernist in its abstraction. This article examines Gogol’s visual poetics within the context of Russian culture’s late, self-conscious appropriation of Renaissance perspective, drawing on contemporaneous developments in Russian art history and twentieth-century aesthetic theory. As seen in several key moments in Dead Souls (Mertvye dushi, 1842), the concept of perspective—linear perspective and deviations from it—shapes Gogol’s literary view of the Russian countryside, making possible new ways of seeing rural reality that would impact the rise of realism in literature and painting. The article concludes that Gogol’s simultaneous assimilation and critique of Western spatial systems reflect not only the conditions of Russia’s uneven historical and cultural development, but also a distinctly Russian, and surprisingly modern, point of view.

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