The Automatic Novel Chapter
The story goes that Gogol, the great Gogol, wrote each of his major masterpieces (the novel Dead Souls, the story “The Overcoat,” and the play, The Inspector General) in response to light, playful prompts from Pushkin. “Someone should write a story about a guy who tries to accrue a fortune by acquiring the deeds of title to deceased serfs.” (Dead Souls). “A poor and very cautious man acquires and then loses a new overcoat, which kills him.” (“The Overcoat.”) “A man is mistaken for a government inspector by a provincial town; hilarity ensues.” (The Government Inspector).
Nobody but Gogol could have written those masterpieces. Their genius is not in these superficial plot elements but in the way Gogol dealt with them – in the blanket of style and humor and excess he draped over that basic furniture.