There is a famous story, told by all Gogol’s biographers, about his obsession with food. In March, 1839, Pogodin and his wife arrived in Rome for a visit and Gogol proudly showed them the sights of his beloved city. At two p.m. he took them to a restaurant near the Piazza di Spagna but refused all food, saying that his stomach troubles were out of hand and he could eat only lightly. Knowing that Gogol dined every evening at the trattoria Falcone, Pogodin and a few others hid out in the back room of that restaurant to spy on him.
“He ordered macaroni, cheese, butter, vinegar, sugar, mustard, ravioli, and broccoli. The waiters went running all over the place, fetching this and that. His face all aglow, Gogol took the dishes from the waiters’ hands and ordered still more. Now before him stood green salads piled high, flagons filled with pale liquids. There was agrodolce, spinach and ricotta ravioli, melezane impanata, pesto chicken wings, zuppe di’ fosou, frittura mista. An enormous plate of spaghetti was set before him, and thick steam arose from it when they removed the lid. Gogol tossed a lump of butter onto the pasta, liberally powdered it with cheese, assumed the pose of a priest about to offer a sacrifice, seized a knife and dug in. That’s when we flung open the door and rushed in, laughing. ‘Ah-ha, so your appetite’s gone and your stomach’s all upset?’”
Food was one of his few extravagances. Gogol lived frugally in Italy, but inevitably he would run low on money. After resigning his teaching position at St. Petersburg University in 1835, he did not have a paying job for the rest of his life. He was a freelance writer, but he never made enough from his published works to support himself, let alone help out his mother and sisters, who were in constant financial straits back in the Ukraine.