Do you remember that bit in Through the Looking glass where the Red Queen turns into a sheep Oh, much better cried the Queen, her voice rising into a squeak as she went on Much be etter Be etter Be e e etter Be e ehh The last word ended in a long bleat, so like a sheep that Alice quite started.She looked at the Queen, who seemed to have suddenly wrapped herself up in wool Alice rubbed her eyes, and looked again She couldn t make out what had happened at all Was she in a shop And was that really was it really a sheep that was sitting on the other side of the counter When I was a kid I was obsessed by this passage That a writer should make things up was something I accepted instinctively nothing could benatural than to invent incidents, people, even whole species, for a story But that the basic preconditions of reality the laws of physics, the relationship between senses and experience that these could be simply ignored, or blended at will that a queen could become a sheep, mid sentence, with no explanation considered necessary that just blew my mind.I reread this little section endlessly, amazed by how I would fall for the sleight of hand even while aware of it And that nonsensical line of speech Be etter Be e e etter Be e ehhis, silly as this sounds, one of the most talismanic in all literature for me It represents something fiction can do that cannot be done by any other medium A Terrible RevengeCarroll had the device down perfectly, and I reckon that s why the Alice books, despite being written for children, have such a hold over literary history It is easy to see that a queen becoming a sheep in 1871 is not far away from a salesman waking up as a giant insect forty four years later Reading Gogol s The Nose was therefore a bit of a join the dots moment for me, because here we have the literary ancestor of all such techniques I especially loved that exquisite moment where our noseless narrator first glimpses a familiar figure in the streets of Petersburg Something inexplicable took place before his eyes a carriage was stopping at the entrance, the carriage door flew open a gentleman in uniform, bending down, sprang out and ran up the steps What was the horror and at the same time amazement of Kovalyov when he recognised that this was his own nose At this extraordinary spectacle it seemed to him that everything was heaving before his eyes he felt that he could scarcely stand but he made up his mind, come what may, to await the gentleman s return to the carriage, and he stood trembling all over as though in fever Two minutes later the nose actually did come out He was in a gold laced uniform with a big stand up collar he had on chamois leather breeches, at his side was a sword From his plumed hat it might be gathered that he was of the rank of a civil councillor Everything showed that he was going somewhere to pay a visit He looked to both sides, called to the coachman to open the carriage door, got in and drove off.What makes this so wonderful is the matter of fact prose Kovalyov may be astonished, but the narrator is not In the unlikely event that such a scene would even occur to any other writer, it s very easy to see that, in less skilful hands, paragraphs of description might be dedicated to convincing you of how a two inch nose can have become a six foot personage capable of wearing clothes and of moving of its own accord Gogol makes no attempt whatever to convince, to persuade He just relates the impossible.For him, clearly, this epistemological malleability is something that has been inherited from folktales The earliest stories in this collection are basically Ukrainian folk stories, and I found them mostly tiresome and overblown Only later, when you get to the good stuff, do the earlier stories becomeinteresting in retrospect, because you can see where a lot of his techniques originated St John s EveThe unrestrained demonic hijinks of his earlier stories are gradually brought under control and funnelled into specific themes and ideas as in The Portrait , for instance, where a strong element of supernaturalism is used as a means to comment on artistic integrity Even in the straighter stories, though, an underlying uncertainty bubbles up into a sense of genuine weirdness, especially in the later works there s an almost Nervalian, unhinged quality that manifests itself in odd little unexplained narrative devices There is certainly something eerily convincing about A Madman s Diary , with its progressively insane dating system I don t remember the date, one entry is headedThere was no month eitherThe Nevsky ProspectThis collection culminates in the very influential The Overcoat , a story that oozes with proto Freudianism and that seems, despite its comic philosophical flourishes, to be papering over some underlying terror Neverthless, The Nose remains my favourite piece It is just so odd, so resistant to any satisfactory interpretation, and the idea that it might just be intended at face value is almost frightening What is utterly nonsensical, Gogol asserts with appealing simplicity, happens in this world This particular edition from the Folio Society comes with eleven beautiful iconographic illustrations from Peter Suart, a few of which are scattered above They complement Gogol s brand of formal weirdness perfectly. Nikolai Gogol, based on the image results my Google search spat back, reminds me of that quietly excited classmate who s usually game to tag along with you for some mischief making Whoopee cushions and joy buzzers presumably hadn t been around then, so one shudders at the tricks his imagination must ve improvised From his eyes shines a look too knowing not to have exposed his hastily planned cover ups and landed him in a few or hundred detentions, spent here sweeping grounds and there copying lines In short my kinda guy Russian literature, since books began making me feel things, has been for me that scary mountain whose lack of obvious footholds has sent me running home into the squishier bosoms of easier genres, whose peak is peopled with happy campers roasting marshmallows while animatedly discussing scenes from this Dostoevsky classic or that Tolstoy epic What sure hand would, as soon as I attempt the climb, save me from tripping over the first loose rock and snap my neck Gogol s, while mindful to point out where not to step, wouldn t hold mine, yet what convinced meto turn to his works first of all was learning of the ripples they caused that soon impacted on others in waves We all came out of Gogol s Overcoat , some dude said, which, prisoner to that tedious no stones left unturned school of thought that I am, rather finally shut the case.No gripes to be had here about that, to be on the same page, as evident by how finding noof the book to savor left me so restless my withdrawal dissipated only when I spent half an hour the next day at the bookstore, head deep inside The Inspector General a similar collection of another company included and, along with several other shorts, this one has omitted for crimes against humanity convenience Let s come back to the point the hype It s real Where Gogol s praisers have stumbled is that they haven t been louder about it Each of the stories, 13 in all andbesides that lay scattered elsewhere , springs from a mind able to hop between moods as simply as switching socks and,impressively, capture all that in writing that not so much reads as flows By no means, mind, does Gogol here achieve infallibility St John s Eve, where the roller coaster rolls out of the station, and The Terrible Vengeance get so twisty and turny I had to read the latter twice before heads and tails could be made of it The Carriage, fangirled over to no end by Anton Chekhov, fell short of my hopes, which, granted, the preceding unbeatable trifecta kicking off the second half of the book set impossibly high The Overcoat, too, didn t much measure up to those same expectations People, at least in the earlier parts, are either regularly found with their arms akimbo or perennially vexed But for all that, any misgivings don t matter so much theI think on them If they re not because my attention wandered, they re a placement issue if not that as well, then nitpicks Where there are strike outs, Gogol makes up for a hundredfold in home runs.The Night Before Christmas is hugely fun and entertaining, the vibe throughout fit for a 90 s Saturday morning cartoon, albeit one soon headed for the chopping block on account of complaints from parents outraged at their bumpkins being exposed to such degenerate content as a devil who had one last night to wander about the wide world and teach good people to sin. Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt contains the strangest dream sequence that, contrasted with the mundane goings on its characters face in the waking world, not enough weed will ever exist to help make sense of it Old World Landowners, even without witches and devils, is still plenty captivating with two old couple, developed masterfully, taking center stage The second scariest short of the lot, Viy, proves books can take years off such scaredy cats as me as well as that closet scene The Ring have long sucker punched unsuspecting viewers with Wrapping up the first half of Gogol s colorful re imagining of his country s rural life is The Quarrel, which boasts of a higher laugh per page rate than any other short to dateExcuse me for appearing before you in my natural state,says thecorpulent main character called Ivanovich Nikiforovich after being barged in on by his friend, neighbor, and soon to be bitter rival St John s Eve, either, doesn t lack for bright spots, and even those are soon outshone into white oblivion by a passage of just astounding imagery in The Terrible Vengeance that describes the Dnieper river to musical perfection Gogol s genius, aimed at the then capital, burns even hotter While not as inventively and unapologetically fantastic and outrageous as their Ukrainian predecessors, the Petersburg Tales, far from stumbling for their lack of broomstick riding witches, moon stealing devils, and the odd incest, are likelier than the former to worm their way into the collective subconscious to there make a permanent home The devil, representative in Gogol s wacky world of the ubiquitousness of bad influences whose seduction every day tempts us, lurks even in the city, but almost as an afterthought what need have we of the ultimate troublemaker when man himself can beat the master at his own game In the majority of the shorts, no puppet master hides behind purple curtains, pulling levers and pushing buttons to nudge events his way The result is often spectacular Nevsky Prospect throws a knockout from the opening bell, soaking us with ejaculations the narrator makes over what a great place Nevsky Prospect is, and then magnifies the microscope over two acquaintances, each different in their approaches, chasing after two women spotted there Gogol, at one point, shows so powerfully what it is to fall in love that it would still be aeffective form of communication than if telepathy were possible The Diary of a Madman, as the title gives away, takes us into the mind of an apparently healthy everyman whose mental deterioration should well satiate that morbidly curious class of gawkers by who gravitate towards car accident sites Dogs exchanging letters and talking politics aren t even the weirdest things here Next, The Nose seems straightforward enough, almost too straightforward someone finds someone else s nose inside his bread one morning and, after his story sor less wrapped up, we trail the said noseless man as he tries to locate it No other story, however, has ever so completely robbed me of my words, myself prostrate with awe at Gogol s audacity, as this one where he blindsides you with the last expectation you can think of It s a tough act no one wants to follow, so The Carriage, with its relatively normal happenings, can be forgiven for not wowing some people The Portrait, on the other hand, picks things up and Gogol is back where he s comfortable keeping therapists in business by sending to their recliner chairs us traumatized readers The story, separated into two parts, details the rags to riches to ruin life of an artist called Chartkov, whose painting skills are moderate and potential unmistakable, who happens upon a mysterious portrait of a creepy old man His stare, which Gogol s description gives major heft, is worse to imagine than to watch the best horror has to offer cinema In a nutshell there s gold hidden behind the portrait s frame that Chartkov exploits to better his position in society and that in the end destroys him The second part delves fully into the portrait s origins and is no less mesmerizing Along the way, Gogol touches on the artist s life and their creative process, social manipulation and superficiality, competition and obsolescence It s a meaty story with something for everyone and, as with most of his works so far, to relish anew with every reread The Overcoat, the last in line, continues the supernatural element The Portrait brought back, but dominated by thedown to earth routines of mediocre, bullied outcast Akaky Akakievich, it takes a backseat After his tatty overcoat, a source of ridicule at work, became useless as protection against the brutal Russian winter, Akaky gets another made, which gains him confidence and popularity His moment in the sun doesn t last, though, and from there does the story return tofamiliar grounds doom and gloom This second bookend may have suffered from the same positional problem The Carriage did the lesson here short story collections read from cover to cover are bound to favor some and hurt others , but hindsight is its friend There s a matter of fact, deadpan quality to the narration that gets funnier in retrospect A long suffering tone there also can t be missed when the writing takes great pains to explain how Akaky Akakievich came by that name, the purpose of which section is obvious and hilarious when Wikipedia to the rescue you read later that it is the Russian equivalent of John Johnson as well as sounds like the Russian word obkakat or kaka, meaning to smear with excrement, that makes it read as Poop Poopson The idea that the likes of Dostoevsky wasn t above toilet humor warms these cockles greatly Then, on the aforementioned Russian winter, it s not generally that it s the enemy of poor people, but that it s the enemy of people earn ing a salary of four hundred roubles or thereabouts. The exactitude is killer Another An order was issued for the police to catch the dead man at all costs, dead or alive. Added to Gogol s in jokes and humor is a question that, if given any consideration, is an easy road to a panic attack what s your overcoat Another character features in the story that goes by no other name than the important person, and in answer, he would probably bring up his rank, which is as much smokes and mirrors as Akaky s overcoat is that masks their total ignorance about certain workings of the world The balance between such introspective moments and the satirical asides in this story and the others is, if you ask me, not a half bad explanation for why Gogol is ducking awesome. First this is not The Complete Tales The unlearned distinction between Collected Complete has angered completists the world over Collected means incomplete a mixtape of works that constitute, critically, the best this writer has to offer Complete means the totted up totality, depending upon what is being completed, i.e Complete Works is ambiguous and open to omissions, depending on what is classed as a work prose plays Just assume a fuller completion when it s Complete, not Collected Except in those rare moments when Collected means Complete In the case of Gogol, Yale U Press have the one Complete Tales in print, in two volumes, incorrectly lumped with the Collected Tales eds This beautiful Everyman s hardcover edition and, presumably, the paperback equivs omit a slab of material from Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, which only exists as an old Oxford paperback conflated with Mirgorod stories, suggesting the work is so lacklustre it doesn t bear reprinting For the sake of tedious exactitude, this edition omits all the story fragments, and, from Evenings The Fair at Sorochints , May Night or the Drowned Maiden, The Lost Letter, A Bewitched Place From Mirgorod, Taras Bulba is omitted available as a separate book from the Modern Library These tales, presumably, are found in Yale s Complete Tales The tales in this Collected Tales perform the Gogol mixtape function perfectly, from the rambling horror of Viy and The Night Before Christmas to the hilarious sinister satire of The Nose and The Overcoat Not all the tales spark and sizzle, like the slight St John s Eve and Old World Landowners, but the best of these, the bestest, are, at their bestestest, some of the premier examples of the Russian short story chilling and macabre, thigh splitting and mad. To those interested in the short fiction of Gogol, I couldn t recommend a better collection All the masterpieces are here, the selection is representative, the translation is vigorous, and the introduction is informative and helpful.Of course the masterpieces of the St Petersburg period are here The Nose, The Diary of a Madman, Nevsky Prospect, The Overcoat , Gogol s macabre and satiric depictions of humiliation and madness among the bureaucrats of Russia s capital city, but the masterpieces of Gogol s Ukrainian period are here also St John s Eve, The Night Before Christmas, The Terrible Vengeance, Viy , those exuberantly improvisational riffs on folklore themes filled with witches, wizards, and exorcisms plus a czarina s slippers, a flight on the back of a devil, and a monster whose eyelids stretch all the way down to its feet The St Petersburg tale s are well known, but the Ukrainian tales are an equally valid andvivid and high spirited expression of Gogol s genius.I am, however, happy to see that some of the lesser tales fine stories, only lesser when compared with Gogol s best are here too, giving the reader abalanced and representative sampling of the author s work From the Ukraine, we have themundane accounts of Ukrainian small town and country life Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt, Old World Landowners, The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich which show us a somewhat sunnier side of Gogol, and from St Petersburg, we have two memorable tales The Carriage and the Portrait , the first slightly marred by an abrupt ending, the second by an excess of moral seriousness.The translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the husband and wife team best known for their translations of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy As is usual with their collaborations, this translations seeks a perfect balance between faithfulness to the original Russian idioms and a natural, flowing English style And is usual with their translations, they often find it.Pevear himself wrote the introduction to this volume, and it is a helpful, for he understands Gogol s contradictory nature an improvisational genius, entranced both by the marvelous and the realistic, yet haunted by the fear that he had failed to achieve what was for him a sacred task Gogol was made uneasy by his works They detached themselves from him and lived on their own, producing effects that he had not foreseen and that sometimes dismayed him He would write commentaries after the fact, trying to reduce them tocommonplace and acceptable dimensions But their initial freedom stayed with them It was inherent in his method of composition, and in his astonishing artistic gift astonishing first of all to himself. I m a Gogol admirer I ve given five stars to other Gogol works collections, so why four this time Well, possibly because of the translation I know I m in the minority here, but I wasn t captivated by the Pevear Volokhonsky version I ve read quite a few of these stories before, and I remember liking them muchlast time around.I ve heard the opinion that their work istrue to the original does this mean I don t like Russian literature as much as I thought I did Only time will tell I suppose it s only an opinion after all, and there are lots of different translations of Russian works that I have enjoyed.Perhaps the above issue contributed towards my veryslow reading on this one, but I don t think time matters when they are individual short stories On a positive note I hadn t read The Portrait before, and that was one of my favourites. My first reaction to Gogol was bewilderment It s funny, and engaging to read, butwhat the hell is it about I m not sure what the point of Diary of a Madman is, although I know I enjoyed it.Pevear and Volokhonsky s intro is helpful, although it contains a number of minor spoilers Their point is that if you try to understand Gogol, you are failing Gogol himself didn t understand Gogol We still do not know what Gogol is, says some guy they quoted PV write that Gogol, as compared to traditional storytellers, has nothing in mind Memory plays no part in his work He does not know where the act of writing will lead him Pushkin, an early and ardent supporter, wrote, Here is real gaiety honest, unconstrained, without mincing, without primness And in places, what poetry What sensitivity All this is so unusual in our present day literature that I still haven t recovered And that seems fair to me It s still unusual now although at least we have Borges maybe we should shut up about what it means and just have a good time with it.2017 11 17 Diary of a MadmanThe madman is a clerk, and right away hears two dogs chatting One belongs to the directir s hot daughter Never mind, never mind Silence The dogs are corresponding by letter he steals the letters to find outabout the daughter Meanwhile, Spain is in turmoil the throne is vacant It cannot be, he says, that there was no king A state cannot be without a king There is a king, only he s somewhere unknown luckily our clerk realizes that he is actually indeed the king of Spain Around this time the dates on his diary entries start gettingroyal from Dec 8 to the 86th of Martober, to date none The day had no date He is eventually returned to Spain, which bears a passing resemblance to an insane asylum, where he is shaved and beaten and possibly murdered. There s not a bad story in this batch But I especially loved Nevsky Prospect and The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich These are long stories, but they are cozy and full of life stories that I want to read out loud by a campfire Nobody alternates between the absurdly comical and the frightfully chilling like Gogol The first half Ukrainian Tales tellsstories that are mystical in nature, sounding sometimes like folktales, dealing with witches and devils The second half Petersburg Tales have some of that as well, butsurreal unexplained occurrences like The Nose and other oddities Gogol makes hilarious observations about his characters and their hypocrisies He also inserts his own or his persona s storyteller voice in almost every story, wedging himself inside of them sometimes the narrator s voice adds a whole new dimension to the basic story would hardly work for any other writer but Gogol is not just any other writer Ah, but before we go on, we should first acquaint the reader somewhat with this remarkable character, Nikolai Gogol When Pushkin First Read Some Of The Stories In This Collection, He Declared Himself Amazed Here Is Real Gaiety, He Wrote, Honest, Unconstrained, Without Mincing, Without Primness And In Places What Poetry I Still Haven T Recovered More Than A Century And A Half Later, Nikolai Gogol S Stories Continue To Delight Readers The World Over Now A Stunning New Translation From An Award Winning Team Of Translators Presents These Stories In All Their Inventive, Exuberant Glory To English Speaking Readers For The First Time, The Best Of Gogol S Short Fiction Is Brought Together In A Single Volume From The Colorful Ukrainian Tales That Led Some Critics To Call Him The Russian Dickens To The Petersburg Stories, With Their Black Humor And Wonderfully Demented Attitude Toward The Powers That Be All Of Gogol S Most Memorable Creations Are Here The Minor Official Who Misplaces His Nose, The Downtrodden Clerk Whose Life Is Changed By The Acquisition Of A Splendid New Overcoat, The Wily Madman Who Becomes Convinced That A Dog Can Tell Him Everything He Needs To KnowThese Fantastic, Comic, Utterly Russian Characters Have Dazzled Generations Of Readers And Had A Profound Influence On Writers Such As Dostoevsky And Nabokov Now They Are Brilliantly Rendered In The First New Translation In Twenty Five Years One That Is Destined To Become The Definitive Edition Of Gogol S Most Important Stories 3.8.Many of the Ukrainian Tales are almost physically painful to read, though they contain a few moments which made me laugh out loud Starting with Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt , the stories begin to get a lot of fun I was particularly struck by Gogol s descriptions of the titular characters friendship and its end in How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich , and found that it closely mirrored some of my own experiences with friendship Diary of a Madman is both hilarious and moving, especially the last paragraphs Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt contains one of the greatest dream sequences I ve ever read This is one of my first experiences with nineteenth century Russian literature, and I m glad I chose Gogol. Even if he had published nothing but Dead Souls, Gogol would still have a claim to be one of Ukraine s all time greatest novelists Luckily for us, he kept writing, and these excellent short stories show that his transition to becoming aRussian writer did not dampen his humor or invention one bit This collection shows off both sides of Gogol s output first, the strange, magical Ukrainian stories full of drunken peasants, quarreling landowners, hilarious religious bigotry, and fantastical adventures that he wrote to exoticize his homeland to his new Russian friends Second, there s theconceptual St Petersburg stories, which haverealist settings but no less surreal plots, with maddening bureaucracies, inexplicable transformations, and copious humiliations for the unfortunate denizens of the Russian capital The second half has thefamous stories like The Nose and The Overcoat, which show Gogol s gift for presenting absurd situations in a straightforward, even poignant way, but even the earlier stories have their touches of genius, often coming across as minor theatrical masterpieces or as undiscovered fairytales Almost no one was better at taking a mundane scene, adding an outlandish twist, and then following that wherever it led to emerge on the other side as a savage social critique.
was born in the Ukrainian Cossack village of Sorochyntsi, in Poltava Governorate of the Russian Empire, present day Ukraine His mother was a descendant of Polish nobility His father Vasily Gogol Yanovsky, a descendant of Ukrainian Cossacks, belonged to the petty gentry, wrote poetry in Russian and Ukrainian, and was an amateur Ukrainian language playwright who died when Gogol was 15 years old.In 1820 Gogol went to a school of higher art in Nizhyn and remained there until 1828 It was there that he began writing Very early he developed a dark and secretive disposition, marked by a painful self consciousness and boundless ambition Equally early he developed an extraordinary talent for mimicry which later on made him a matchless reader of his own works.In 1828, on leaving school, Gogol came to Petersburg He had hoped for literary fame and brought with him a Romantic poem of German idyllic life Ganz K chelgarten He had it published, at his own expense, under the name of V Alov The magazines he sent it to almost universally derided it He bought all the copies and destroyed them, swearing never to write poetry again.Gogol was one of the first masters of the short story, alongside Alexander Pushkin, Prosper M rim e, E T A Hoffmann, and Nathaniel Hawthorne He was in touch with the literary aristocracy , and was taken up by Vasily Zhukovsky and Pyotr Pletnyov, and in 1831 was introduced to Pushkin.In 1831, he brought out the first volume of his Ukrainian stories Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka , which met with immediate success He followed it in 1832 with a second volume, and in 1835 by two volumes of stories entitled Mirgorod, as well as by two volumes of miscellaneous prose entitled Arabesques At this time, Gogol developed a passion for Ukrainian history and tried to obtain an appointment to the history department at Kiev University His fictional story Taras Bulba, based on the history of Ukrainian cossacks, was the result of this phase in his interests Between 1832 and 1836 Gogol worked with great energy, though almost all his work has in one way or another its sources in his four years of contact with Pushkin Only after the presentation, on 19 April 1836, of his comedy The Government Inspector Revizor that he finally came to believe in his literary vocation.From 1836 to 1848 he lived abroad, travelling throughout Germany and Switzerland, as well as spending the winter of 1836 1837 in Paris.Pushkin s death produced a strong impression on Gogol His principal work during years following Pushkin s death was the satirical epic Dead Souls Concurrently, he worked at other tasks recast Taras Bulba and The Portrait, completed his second comedy, Marriage Zhenitba , wrote the fragment Rome and his most famous short story, The Overcoat.After the triumph of Dead Souls, Gogol came to be regarded as a great satirist who lampooned the unseemly sides of Imperial Russia However, Dead Souls was but the first part of a counterpart to The Divine Comedy The first part represented the Inferno the second part was to depict the gradual purification and transformation of the rogue Chichikov under the influence of virtuous publicans and governors Purgatory.His last years were spent in restless movement throughout the country He intensified his relationship with a church elder, Matvey Konstantinovsky He seems to have strengthened in Gogol the fear of perdition by insisting on the sinfulness of all his imaginative work His health was undermined by exaggerated ascetic practices and he fell into a state of deep depression On the night of 24 February 1852, he burned some of his manuscripts, which contained most of the second part of Dead Souls He explained this as a mistake, a practical joke played on him by the Devil Soon thereafter, he took to bed, refused all food, and died in great pain nine days later.
- 435 pages
- The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol
- Nikolai Gogol
- 19 March 2019 Nikolai Gogol