The Inspector General (also known as The Government Inspector) has proved one of Gogol’s most enduringly popular works, and has been translated into other media such as film and opera. To an extent it prefigures Gogol’s masterwork, Dead Souls, in that its central trope is the arrival of a stranger in a small town, and the reactions of its inhabitants as they jostle selfishly to milk the situation for their own benefit.
The idea for the play was supplied to Gogol by his friend Alexander Pushkin. In 1835 Gogol importuned Pushkin for a subject for a comedy, and Pushkin gave him one that he was going to write himself: a nobody arrives at a provincial town and is mistaken for an important dignitary. This was based on an experience Pushkin had had when visiting Nizhny Novgorod, when he had been taken for an envoy from Moscow on a secret mission and fêted accordingly. The theme, though, had already been treated by several other Russian writers. There was even a play by Polevoy, published three years before, called The Inspectors General, or, Who Comes from Afar May Lie All he Likes: a title which puts Gogol’s play in a nutshell.
Ehre, Milton: Gottschalk, Fruma: Gogol: Plays and Selected Writings (1994)
Troyat, Henri: Divided Soul: The Life of Gogol (1973)