Simon Karlinsky was born in 1924 to a Russian-Jewish family living in Manchuria. He came to America when he was 14. His father, who was sympathetic to the Soviet Union, prudently decided not to return there.
At first it seemed that Simon Karlinsky would make his mark as a composer. His “Five Piano Pieces” are still occasionally performed. But his superb language skills impelled him to become a professor of Russian philology, a topic he pursued in many years of teaching in the Department of Slavic Languages at the University of California, Berkeley.
Karlinsky’s masterpiece is his monograph “The Sexual Labyrinth of Nikolai Gogol” of 1976. Through careful readings of the Ukrainian writer’s most famous works, Karlinsky argues that Gogol's homosexual orientation—which Gogol himself could not accept or forgive in himself—may provide the missing key to the riddle of Gogol's personality. This work is no simple excercise in “outing” but a subtle exploration of the possibility that sexual repression may be the key to understanding this tormented personality--a personality that is responsible for some of the most brilliant works of world literature.
In an obituary announcement his Berkeley department acknowledged that it "is difficult to imagine the contemporary study of early Russian drama, Gogol, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, Russia's gay literature and culture, Stravinsky, Nabokov, Tsvetaeva, and the Russian emigration in general without Simon's pioneering efforts."
Karlinsky’s work on the history of homosexuality in Russia was published at several venues, including the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality.
Simon Karlinsky died peacefully at home on July 5, 2009, at the age of 84. He is survived by his husband, Peter Carleton.
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