Gogol's Art was published in paperback in 1997 by Bati Publishers, PO Box 263, Leverett, MA 01054. (Price $15). You can reach the author at that address or by email at Tikos@slavic.umass.edu.
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book CD "Gogol and Russian Literature" is built around Gogol's Art:
a Search for Identity by Laszlo Tikos, the best book ever written about
Russia's most enigmatic and intriguing author. Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852)
created a new direction in Russian letters, which was further developed
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20th century by Bely, Bulgakov and Sinyavsky. In addition to Gogol's
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Inspector General, and St. John's Eve by Gogol, plus great books by Dostoeyevsky,
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Belarus (birthplace of Gogol) -- which were originally published as printed
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Among these new tales, Gogol began "The Nose" in 1832; early in 1835, in March, the first version was ready, but was rejected by the Moscow Observer as "filthy". It was finally published, not without further trouble with the censors, in Pushkin's journal,The Contemporary
The story again marks a departure from Cossack topics, as it takes place in St. Petersburg. The site is no longer the Ukraine, but a place in St. Petersburg. The hero is no longer a Cossack, but a particular St. Petersburg figure, a certain "Major" Kovalev. Kovalev is not really a major,1 but since the ranks of Russian civil servants had their military equivalents, he prefers, for the sake of greater prestige, to be called by that title. A bachelor in his late thirties, he has come to the city from the provinces in order to find fame and fortune. In other words, he is a fortune hunter, an opportunist, a womanizer, and a pretender, a hero typical of Gogol's Petersburg phase. This " Major Kovalev" , who is always on the lookout for his best advantage, one day experiences a miraculous transformation: his nose disappears; We remember that in "The Nevsky Prospect ", Schiller's good friend Hoffmann was threatening to cut off his nose. Here the subject of a cut-off nose is elaborated. And if, like most critics, we see in the nose a phallic symbol, this threat of emasculation is a particularly serious matter for the sort of fellow Kovalev is described as being.
The farcical situation is developed into a delightful story: we follow Kovalev's attempts to retrieve his nose; we see how his nose turns up on the street as a vocal individual: "I'm on my own," said the nose . Indeed, its rank and social prestige are higher than Kovalev's own. At last, and as miraculously as it had disappeared in the first place, Kovalev's nose returns to its rightful owner. In the earlier versions there were indications that the events belong merely to a nightmare dreamed by Kovalev. In later versions, Gogol removed the references to the dream origin so that events move in a mysterious world, where the reader is never sure as to the borderline between dream and reality, between fiction and fact.
The device is familiar -- Hoffmann had already exploited it with great success: Gogol's borrowing seems clear. Certainly it was Gogol's intention to mystify and in removing his initial reliance on dreams, he successfully achieved his goal, though there is still enough evidence to reconstruct his earlier intention. Suffice it to say that the story's title, "The Nose " (" Nos " in Russian), is an inverted form of the word son which means "dream". A further clue is the date on which the narrations begins: "On the 25th of March, a strange and unusual thing happened in Petersburg" 2 The date is repeated confusingly in the third and final part of the story (the story is again divided into three parts). The first part explains how the severed nose was found in a loaf of freshly baked bread on the 25th of March, while the reappearance of the nose, in the third part of the story, is dated the 7th of April. If one takes the thirteen-day difference between the two dates as the difference between the new and old calendrical system; in Russia, then March 25 and the 7th of April are identical 3 so that the extraordinary disappearance and reappearance of the nose actually occurs on the same date, that is, while Kovalev lies sleeping -- and, of course, dreaming.
This jockeying with the calendar will later have further implications, but for the time being, we should consider the story's structure. Its three parts deal with a person who may be Ivan Yakovlev, Kovalyov's barber, though as the logic of the story reveals, he could not really have had anything to do with the unfolding of the mystery. Ivan Yakovlev shaves Kovalyov three times a week. The last time was on Thursday, and, as he tries to remember whether at that time Kovalyov still had his nose, his recollection of the "date" of the events adds to the bafflement. The discerning reader who is onto Gogol's delight in sleight-of-hand understands, at last, the Kovalyov's "dream" must have occurred on the night between Thursday and Friday. The dates are thus important, if tricky, to unraveling the "truth" behind the muddling fiction.
At the outset, Ivan Yakovlev awakes, happy in the realization that his wife has baked fresh bread; she has also made coffee, which he would like to have as well, but since he realizes that he cannot have both, he settles for the bread. In this freshly baked bread he is astonished to find a strange object which turns out to be a severed nose. Immediately, he recognizes it as belonging to his customer, Major Kovalev.
Even the most astute of readers must be baffled by this discovery -- provided that the barber has, indeed, cut off Kovalev's nose, how did it find its way into the freshly baked bread? Further, why would Ivan Yakoviev not have any recollection of this extraordinary incident unless, as logic suggests, he was so drunk that he could remember nothing about his client's misadventure?
Here again is Gogol's favorite Romantic device, the unreliable narrator. That Yakovlev's recollection must have been impaired by intoxication brings another rabbit out of the conjuror's hat, so that one is unable to determine whether sleep or some other natural cause is responsible for this most unnatural event, to say whether it is the product of dream or of mundane reality. Whatever the case, Ivan Yakovlev's initial reaction is that he must get rid of the nose, but as frequently happens in dreams, he is unable to drop it anywhere without being noticed. At last, a policeman stops him for suspicious behavior, and here the story ends.
In Part Two, Kovalev wakes up -- just as the barber awoke in the first part -- and on looking into the mirror, finds that his nose is gone. Not only does he have no recollection as to how he lost his nose, but he cannot remember any pain. The next "logical" step is to verify the event; first by checking his mirror and then by dropping in at a pastry shop -- and here the most incredible scene of the story develops: Kovalev faces his own nose, now transformed into an individual (who proudly declares : "I'm on my own" ), and, worse, into his own rival.
Surely, this is a variant on the Romantic concept of the Doppelgaengeras, for instance, in Hoffmann's "The Man Who Lost His Shadow ", 4 and Gogol is having tremendous fun in developing it to the fullest extent: the absurd, frantic efforts to catch up with this surprising alter-ego turn into a classic chase: the man-nose escapes in a carriage -- They stop at the Kazan Cathedral (In the first, censored version, the Cathedral had to be replaced by the Stock Exchange 5 in order to avoid sacrilege 6 ). Here Kovalev finally corners his nose, now dressed in a much finer and more impressive uniform indicating a higher rank than Kovalev's own, thus of course, revealing Kovalev's inflated image of himself as the conversation comes to a close:
"Sir ! I mean, you are my own nose, Sir."
"The Nose looked at the Major and frowned slightly: 'You are mistaken, Sir.I am myself.There can be no question of any intimate relationship between us.'" 7
This carriage chase, so amusingly drawn by Gogol, will resurface in Dostoyevsky's The Double , as a move from one reality to another, where Golyadkin Sr.,will chase his double in the same manner as Kovalev here chases his personified nose.
The next stop is the newspaper office, where Kovalev tries to place an advertisement in the paper about his missing nose. After many high jinx of hilarious slapstick, Kovalev is told that no ad can be placed in the paper because "a respectable man would never have his nose pulled off." Realizing that there is "nowhere to go " ( again, as Dostoyevsky reformulate the existential dilemma this nonsense represents), Kovalev goes home, and there pronounces the well-known sentence, "Lord, oh Lord, why should I have such bad Luck? If I had lost an arm or a leg, it would not be so bad; if I had lost my ears, it would be bad enough, but still bearable; but without a nose, a man is goodness knows what, neither fish nor flesh, nor good red herring -- he isn't a respectable citizen at all." 8 As a final recourse, he tries his luck by writing his lady friend who has tried to catch him for her daughter, Mrs. Podtocina. 9 Herein lies Kovalev's final hope, since "surely" Mrs.Podtocina's witchcraft must be linked to the loss of his nose.
At this desperate point, the policeman who figured in the first part of the story as the official who confiscated the nose, appears to return the nose to the hapless Kovalev. Gogol's handling is that of a master. Kovalev's joy is understandable: "Yes, it is my nose all right....There's the pimple on the left side which I got only the other day. The Major almost laughed with joy." 10 But Gogol adds, immediately, in a memorable sentence, "Nothing lasts very long in the world, and that is why even joy is not so poignant after the first moment. A moment later, it grows weaker and, at last, it merges imperceptibly into one's ordinary mood, just as a circle made in the water by a pebble at last merges into its smooth surface." 11 For Kovalev's joy is dashed at once by a new calamity: the nose will not stick. Not even a doctor who has been summoned, can make it do so. The doctor tries to console the unfortunate victim with a fatuously rationalist argument:"I assure you that without a nose you will be as healthy as with one ! " Dostoyevsky will repeat this argument in The Brothers Karamazov, where the Devil mentions an anecdote about the a nobleman's lost nose.
Meanwhile, the runaway nose has become the talk of the town. Gogol has fun with the grotesque products of the rumor mill; the same sort of rumor mill that will divine Xlestakov as the Inspector General in his later play.
The third part begins oracularly: "The world," Gogol assures his readers, "is full of absurdities." 12 But he casually proceeds to Kovalev's second awakening which, he informs us, "happened on the seventh of April: Waking up and looking quite accidentally into the mirror, he saw -- his nose!" 13
The nose has returned just as miraculously as it disappeared, and Kovalev has been released from his dream. He gets a shave from Ivan Yakovlev (who, we remember, "cut off "the nose " in the first place), gads about town in his new-found happiness, namely, in the knowledge that his nose is in place -- and Gogol finishes the story with an authorial comment, celebrated in Russian literature as an insight into the meaning of literature and the incongruity of reality. The author's task is to lay bare the nature of the incongruities in his writing ; the addendum is wonderfully funny, a monologue delivered by an indignant citizen in much the same manner as the later explanations to The Inspector General will pile nonsense upon nonsense on behalf of indignant theater-goers: "No, I can't understand,I simply can't understand it. But what is even strange and more incomprehensible than anything is that authors should choose such subjects. And yet, in spite of it all, though, of course, we may take for granted this and that and the other may even -- But then, where do you not find all sorts of absurdities? All the same, on second thought, there really is something in it. Say what you like, but such things do happen --not often, but they do happen." 14
The story became one of Gogol's most influential works, as well as the most frequently interpreted by critics of all persuasions. Subsequent variants of commentary would fill volumes. For Gogol's contemporaries, specifically, it mirrored, according to Vinogradov, a general branch of "nosological" literature which included a number of similar tales by different authors, among which Gogol's was only one.
The censors' original objections that the story was "filthy" makes clear that they understood the sexual implications of the dream which actually pictures the loss of a vain bachelor's sexual potency. Dostoyevsky saw in it the prototypical Russian version of the Doppelgaenger. Many of his own situations are borrowed almost literally from Gogol. Indeed, some critics have accused him of having shamelessly stolen Gogol's ideas even while Gogol was still alive (1846). Symbolists, and later, Freudians underscored the dominant role of the subconscious in the tale, especially in the fear of loss of sexual potency which can be especially acute during the onset of middle age, or what is now popularly termed the midlife crisis; but more interestingly, the story also lends itself to religious interpretation with uncanny resonances in another story, The Overcoat, from the same period which Gogol later reworded. These we will subsequently discuss, but we need here to consider the dates Gogol has provided for The Nose . As the discrepancy in calendrical dates reveals, March 15 and April 7 are actually one and the same. No other dates are mentioned elsewhere in the story. These dates may at first seem to have no particular significance , but a look at the Russian Orthodox Calendar, or, for the matter, at any other Christian calendar, indicates that March 25 marks the Orthodox celebration of the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, nine months before Christmas. This is also the beginning of the Easter holidays and the Friday is Good Friday, the night that heralds the Resurrection. Thus, Gogol's date refers obliquely to the mystery of Christ's birth, a birth resulting from an unnatural, immaculate conception and a unnatural resurrection which is the product of an unnatural rebirth -- and thus, on this date, the extraordinary occurs in St. Petersburg, namely, the sexless birth of a person who is "all on his own" .
The first steps of this person "on his own" lead directly to the Kazan Cathedral ( The Temple ) , where Kovalev the "father " catches up with the unrecognized " offspring ",the Nose , and is rejected by him, in something of the same manner that the child Jesus rejects his parents in the Temple .The nose is seen all over town, creates all kinds of confusion, and then disappears into thin air -- or rather, he returns to his "place of origin", that is, to his own "Father". And Kovalev, who is at the same time a father and not a father, who is abhorred, confused and astonished to have been singled out by events normally beyond logic, is the " strange subject ","some writers find it necessary to write about."
Finally, though not last, an existential sadness runs beneath the boisterous fun, a sadness that lies in the realization of the incongruity of the human condition. Of these incongruities Gogol is an acknowledged master, pushing them to painful and dangerous lengths when he reaches even into the basic essentials of Orthodox faith: Christ's birth and resurrection. Though we have no direct evidence of these heretical implications,we can understand"The Nose"and,later," The Overcoat" as links in Gogol's working out of some of his religious doubts -- hiding them, perhaps, even from himself, and certainly from the authorities of the Church. We can also detect the onset here of that spiritual crisis which was to become such a powerful force in Gogol's later life and work.
Indeed " The Overcoat" , which we shall examine next, is justly celebrated and for our purposes an important milestone in his spiritual progress and in his quest for his "own place".
With the possible exception of " The Nose" . "The Overcoat" 15 responds most tantalizingly to critical evaluation.The subject of many interpretations by as many critics, it still stands as a monument to Gogol's enigmatic vision of the complexity of the "Truth". Observing the common elements in the variety of interpretations of this tale, Donald Fanger rightly remarked that nowadays one can distinguish four major schools of thought regarding it: the social, the ethical, the aesthetic and the religious. 16 These broad categories also must accommodate many other groupings and readings -- the psychological, the sexual, the symbolic, among many. 17 Our focus here is on the story's religious undertones. In this respect we are following in the footsteps of such previous critics as Mochulsky, Chizhevsky, Driessen, Schillinger, Hippisley, and, most recently, Schreier. 18
Two assumptions must be basic to our analysis: Gogol's preoccupation with religious matters as evidenced in his letters of the period (1839-42), and certain observations concerning the story's genesis. Gogol's preoccupation with religious matters is complicated and has many sources, the most crucial of which stems from his attempts to establish a new reading of Christianity for himself. He was especially concerned with what it means to follow Christ's example, as, for instance, Thomas a' Kempis attempted in his Imitatio Christi. Patristic literature, both the Old and New Testaments, and the mystical writings of Thomas a' Kempis were much on his mind. In his letters to friends he comments repeatedly on different aspects of Thomas' book. He sends them copies as a gift, and, in general, he insists on giving them all kinds of religious advice. These concerns are reflected in the fictions of the period,among which The Overcoat figures prominently.
As to "The Overcoat"'s genesis, though it was first conceived as a sort of anecdote, it kept moving in a different direction as Gogol worked on it, away from grotesque commentary in the direction of a religious parable.It was Cizevsky who first remarked that the story reads like a parable. 19 The artistic portrayal of the most basic of the Christian parables, embodied in the exegesis of the life of Christ, is not new. It is enough to point to Dostoyevsky's The Idiot 20 which clearly demonstrates both the possibilities and the problems involved in such an undertaking. Dostoyevsky produced a great novel, but he failed to accomplish his religious intention, to prove the applicability of Christian principles in the context of our contemporary world. Hence the novel's title, The Idiot, which can be understood as a "worldly" translation of the concept of the Fool in Christ( yurodivy ) . The hero of the novel, Prince Myshkin, fails in the contest with Rogozhin over money, sex, and power; and in an admission of his failure, he returns to his Switzerland -- perhaps also in admission of the failure of his vision of a Second Coming.
Gogol's The Overcoat can be read along similar lines, and, indeed, to our surprise, follows minutely the stations of Jesus' life -- his appearance, the circumstances of his human birth, his occupation, his teaching, the temptations he faced in the desert, his betrayal and death; and, finally, his Resurrection. In order to investigate the elements which appear to be meaningful for such an interpretation, we should begin with a description of the place where the hero first appears, the "Department".
When Dostoyevsky sent Myshkin back to Russia from Switzerland on a train, he gave the reader a new "translation" of the Biblical journey, creating a new setting for the archetypal situation. Gogol, in presenting "The Department" at the beginning of the story, seems to be doing something similar; the historical connotations and the grotesque, socially critical comments about "The Department" merely provide a contemporary frame of reference for the appearance of the hero, who is clearly "different" from his fellow bureaucrats, who does not belong, and who is a new sort of creature within that context, just as Myshkin will be in the story's spiritual descendant. Here we are introduced to a humiliated, innocuous "barely human" character, as many critics like to point out, isolated from his peers in strange and quasi mythic ways.
After introducing the place in all its local color, Gogol steps back to describe in considerable detail the origin and birth of his hero.Coming from the modest lineage of a Shoemaker (Basmachkin ), this new protagonist thus follows in the footsteps of Jesus, the Carpenter's son. The date of his birth, the 23rd of March, appears to be precise, and, as we have noted in discussing "The Nose" , it is important in the calendar of Russian Orthodoxy, as the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. 21 It may also mark the beginning of the celebrations of Easter week. As no other dates are specified, Gogol appears to be reminding his readers of the two most important Christian mysteries, Jesus' Nativity and his Resurrection. All the details surrounding the hero's birth seem to be important. In describing the family, Gogol mentions only the mother -- the father, like Joseph before him, seems barely to be present. This fact alone opens up an enigmatic question for both the story and for Gogol's religious beliefs in general, as to his understanding of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception and its implications with regard to Jesus' human life on earth.
In "The Nose", the disappearance of the nose -- or the birth of an "independent" and personified nose -- also occurred on March 25. The nose was returned (or reborn) to Kovalev, its "father", on April 7, which, as we have seen, is the same day, owing to the difference between the Gregorian and the Julian calendars. The implications inherent in the "sexless", miraculous procreation become clear: the insistence on the identical date in both stories, coupled with the ambiguous inference as to an immaculate conception, 22 cannot be accidental, and must represent Gogol's agonizing doubt over man's ability to "imitate " Christ -- despite the example of the saints and the Patristic fathers.
The hero's mother is described as "lying on the bed, facing the door". This detail may not appear to be significant, unless we believe that Gogol was intent on the story's metaphorical coherence. That she is "facing the door" may recall the door (tsarskie vrata )leading to the sanctuary in the Russian Orthodox Churches, the Holy of Holies behind the iconostasis, where God is present and to which only His priest, 23 and not the congregation, has access. Thus the impression is created that we are in a church and participating in a religious ceremony. Those present are the Biblical "mighty of this world". Gogol elaborates on these mighty: Ivan Ivanovic Yeroshkin ( yer' is the name of the "soft sign" and yer is the name of the " hard sign ",letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, perhaps suggesting the sexual potency, or a lack thereof, of the worthy gentleman ) who was a chief clerk in the Senate; Arina Semyonova Belobryushkova ("White Bellied", or "Immaculate", perhaps) is the wife of the district police inspector, a woman of "rarest virtue". It takes little effort of the imagination to understand the scene as a borrowing from the baptism of Christ, just as in medieval paintings, where the homely details of the life and death of Jesus are presented as contemporary events in which the medieval imagination conjured up a mythical Palestine and a variety of mangers. We should also remember Gogol's interest in religious paintings in this regard, as well as his tendency to think in pictorial terms.
The most significant information in this context is in Gogol's description of the "name-giving ceremony ", the baptism: "His name was Akaki Akakievich. This may appear an odd name to our reader, and somewhat far-fetched, but we can assure him that no one went out of his way to find it and that, as matters turned out, he simply could not have been called anything else." 24 In the elaborate description of the baptism we can observe a carefully designed play on numbers, a number symbolism significant also in religious literature. 25 Thus, for example, the selection of the name is presented in the form of significant combinations of threes and twos. At the beginning, the mother is given three names among which to choose. All of these she rejects, as "such awful names". Three more are offered, which again displease her. Next, she considers two others as possible alternatives, but rejects them, also , as she does the next two. Finally she herself suggests "the father's name". Thus, ten choices 26 have been rejected until she proposes the "real" name which is to be given to the child. Each of the proffered names belongs to a wise and holy man whose life represented a wide range of Christian and pre-Christian virtues (i.e. Baruch), but each of which also carries with it an implication, or promise, of martyrdom. 27 The mother's fussiness can be interpreted as rising from her desire to avoid the fate implicit in each name -- nomen est omen -- her refusal to give her child a name with the dreadful implications of prophecy and its accompanying urge for supernatural justice and ultimate martyrdom. Her reluctance is understandable as a mother's instinct to protect her new-born child, but of course, like Mary, she must have already realized that her child is no ordinary infant and that inherent in the baptismal ceremony is a fateful sign. She says, "Well, it's plain enough, this is his fate. So we had better call him after his father. He was Akaki, so let's call his son Akakievic. And that's how he became Akakievic." Akaki's father's name, is, nevertheless, laden with serious implications. The word, of Greek origin, indicates "guileless", "innocuous", and "ascetic", the very Christian values so important to any attempt at anImitatio Christi. Should we press the implications, we find in the word "father" the concept of God Himself; thus Akaki Akakievic 28 can best be interpreted as "His Father's Son" and therefore, as a stand-in for Jesus, who referred mystically to his having been incarnated as his own Father's Son.
But does the choice of the name make his mother happy? Not really. Gogol describes her as one who "has accepted fate". Her son, too, reacts to her choice in a similar way: "The child was christened and during the ceremony he burst into tears and made such a face, it was plain that he knew there and then he was fated to be a titular counselor." Gogol adds the narrator's wry comment: "The reason for all this narrative is to enable our reader to judge for himself that the whole train of events was predetermined and that for Akaki to have had any other name was quite impossible." 29 Gogol thus makes his philosophical purpose clear: Subsequent events have been predetermined, "and nothing could be done to alter fate." The hero's dilemma echoes not only the knowledge with which Jesus lived and died, but also his mother Mary's foreknowledge of the predetermined fate of her newborn son.
Akaki Akakievic's life appears in this context to be not so grotesque nor so ridiculous as many critics have averred; instead, it is from the outset full of forebodings and tragic anguish. Cizevsky is correct in his assessment: "Gogol's plot can in no way be termed anecdotal, humorous nor sentimental," he remarks. "Gogol's basic idea here is serious and gloomy; the fate of his hero is terrible and not ridiculous." 30
The first sentence of "The Overcoat ", describing the life of the adult Akaki, presents him as already "a member of the Department". Nothing is said about his childhood -- any more than we know much about the childhood of the historical Jesus. We are told only that Akaki was, like any chair or other piece of furniture, or even any other person, a part of the Department, not an individual with feelings and emotions, nor one without ambitions for advancement in the social hierarchy. All true, were it not for the medieval tradition that the copying of sacred texts, or, to borrow A. Voznessensky's apt expression, "of the heavenly mansions", was considered in former times an activity pleasant in the eyes of the Lord ( bogougodny ) But,some critics object, Akaki Akakievic has not copied any sacred texts.True, but considering the "translation" of the tradition in to Gogol's world, the paradox does not seem insurmountable. In Gogol's view, the tragedy of the world in general, and of Akaki Akakievic in particular, consists exactly in the divorce of form and content. Akaki does what a holy man is supposed to do: he copies the logos , the Word. Not he, but the world which has separated the Word which was in the beginning from its written, now bureaucratic representation, has rendered Akaki's occupation grotesque and ridiculous. A comparison with Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha, "the Knight of the Mournful Countenance", illuminates the point: the chivalrous ideal is upheld by Don Quixote in a world which has turned away from it and ridiculed it, makes Don Quixote grotesque and a figure of fun, but also transforms him into a tragic hero.Gogol develops the same archetypal situation: Akaki is able "only" to copy a given text, but not to change it "even in a insignificant way". In the same way, the monkish values of the Middle Ages prohibited any changing of the"original"(podlinnik ) or the infusion of any artistic or egotistic intention into the text. In other words, presenting Akaki Akakievic as merely a piece of furniture --"exactly when he entered the Department, and who was responsible for his appointment no one can say for sure"--makes of him a man true to his name, humble and innocuous to the point of invisibility, merely the son of his father, a gray personality, or, to use Dostoyevsky's term, a "Myshkin", a "mouse". That he is the butt of all the jokes, that he is not considered to be a normal human being by his fellow cinovniks,is a matter of record; there is no need to quote the details. Nevertheless, we reiterate the fact , that his situation comes close to that of the holy men from the Lives of Saints . His is the occupation of the "holy fool", the "fool in Christ", the yurodivy, as many of the early saints were characterized. Being ostracized and misunderstood in an alien world is the normal fate of the these holy seers. Gogol seems to be reinterpreting the concept of the yurodivy in the innocuous Akaki in much the same way that Tolstoy was to present his own version in Grisha, the chain-wearing imbecile ("Childhood"), or Pushkin in the enigma-chanting beggar, in Boris Godunov.
Much ink has been spilled in critical works over Akaki Akakievic's occupation, over his being a copy clerk whose job it was to reproduce official documents. It has been noted that he was barely alive -- a man like Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), or like a modern-day copying machine, nevertheless,a religious mind with all its medieval resonances, in an atheistic world which has abandoned those values as superfluous. 31
We now know "How Akaki Akakievic's overcoat was done" (Eixenbaum), we know "even" the meaning of "even" (Cizevsky); 32 and we have been told that the overcoat represents a "low passion" (Erlich), or even some kind of "sexual aberration" (Karlinsky). Given a religious context, on the other hand, the overcoat remains merely an overcoat, an aspect of the material world designed to function in a certain way, with all the attributes of materiality, meant to protect our body of this world or what St. Paul called "the body of this death". (Romans 7:24) -- no less and no more. If in copying the official Word, Akaki has fallen victim to history's contradictions because of a divorce of form from content, the overcoat presents a similar dilemma.
Before Jesus went out to teach, he was subjected to the temptations of the Devil in the Wilderness. (Mat. 4) The Evil One presented Him with three temptations: To turn the stones at his feet into bread; to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple; and to assume the power over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus, in rejecting these temptations, shamed the Devil and took up instead His position as the preacher of the Word to the world at large.
The logic of this parable and the dilemma posed by the things of this world to the mind intent on the things of the Spirit has disturbed thinkers and artists over the centuries,in Russia, notably, Dostoyevsky. The accusations later voiced by the Grand Inquisitor against Jesus in The Brothers Karamazov (1880) focus upon the difference between man and Jesus: what is, or was possible for Him, is not possible for the ordinary human being. For Dostoyevsky, the example therefore has no validity in a consideration of the common lot of humanity. "You have demanded too much of man," says the Grand Inquisitor. "...I ask you again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe for one moment that man, too, could face such temptation? Is the nature of men such that they can reject a miracle, and at the great moments of their lives, the moment of their deepest and most agonizing spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of their heart?" 33 Gogol anticipated this anguish over the insoluble: Throughout his work, the Devil's temptations prove to be more powerful than man's ability to resist them, as Merezkovsky and other critics have observed. The overcoat here represents the temptation to which poor Akaki Akakievic is subjected. but before taking up the issue of this temptation in greater detail, we must account for one more problem which lies in the nature of Jesus' teaching: In the Gospels, the temptations are only a preliminary to Christ's ministry: Having passed the test, He can go out into the world sorrowing but absolute in His integrity as well as in His compassion. Gogol, on the other hand, reverses the sequence of events and portrays Akaki Akakievic as first teaching, and only thereafter as subject to temptation.
Akaki Akakievic as teacher ? He barely ever says a word, the narrator records only his mumbling , his muttered "that is"(togo ) and his "even" (dazhe ) and other inarticulate babble , he can never finish a sentence. Only at one point is he quoted as having, if only in his mind, uttered a complete statement, the famous humanitarian question, "I am your brother, why are you tormenting me?" Does his teaching lie in these words? Yes, indeed, as their effect indicates. The young man offending Akaki Akakievic is transformed under their impact, even "if only for a while". The "humanintarian passage"( Cizevsky calls it the " purple patch ") , therefore, bears the full weight of Akaki's teaching, and the young man is none other than Akaki's first disciple -- or is about to become one, were Nature, in the form of the ill-omened Petersburg weather not to intervene. But it does, and effectively cuts short Akaki's "mission", forcing him to concentrate on such mundane matters as getting himself a new overcoat. The Devil's machinations thus are concretized in the guise of the coveted overcoat. The Devil, personified by the Petersburg winter, as an elemental but homely natural force, appears in the fullness of his power to remind mortals of the primacy of matter over spirit in the world, and of the transitory nature of man's brief sojourn on earth. Materiality, by which men are governed, in this case, the bitter weather of St. Petersburg, mocks their higher aspirations (Goethe's "hoechres Streben "). The awesome and destructive power of Nature will again be watched in horror by Dostoyevsky's Prince Myshkin in Rogozhin's house, as he gazes at the dead Christ in Holbein's painting.Gogol's Akaki Akakievic may be too weak to resist temptation, but there is more to the test than that. Only to abstract, moral reasoning does the dilemma appear so simplistic. In Gogol's complex, always realistic fiction, which deals always with man's real nature, the dilemma is recognized as having tantalizing dimensions, and as being existentially tragic. Living in this world, human beings are necessarily subject to the laws of this world, in much the same manner as any other material thing, even an overcoat, which, following the logic of this world's laws, simply disintegrates after a while, presenting the bearer, Akaki, not with a choice, but with a necessity to respond to the coercive power of Nature. According to Gogol, Akaki's situation is a foregone conclusion: caught between a rock and a hard place, as it were, he does not stand a chance. A "free choice" to forego the overcoat would expose him to the Petersburg weather and to the merciless logic of this world. He could freeze to death.But, ironically, accepting the temptation of the prospect of a new overcoat leads him down the selfsame path: he must leave his former, spiritual self, exposed as it is to the bitter winds of winter, and accept the logic of the world he inhabits. In so doing, however, he experiences a change in his entire outlook, his entire personality -- where the new overcoat may have given him a temporary feeling of happiness, warmth and security, the final outcome is as cruel as if he had frozen to death in his old overcoat in the first place.
The apparent miracle, the short-lived feeling of having gained power over Nature, makes him cross the line dividing individuals of the Spirit who "copy heavenly mansions" from persons who inhabit a normal existence within St. Paul's "body of this death", who dream of new overcoats and look under every pretty bonnet, instead of discovering their "own place" , their center of security. Akaki, like the rest of fallible humanity, must live with the cares, pleasures and dangers fated to be his during the time of his mortality.
The individual stations of this transformation need not be recounted here. But we must briefly turn our attention to the agent of the transformation, the Tailor. That the Tailor is the personification of the forces of evil and therefore of the Devil himself, seems on careful reading tobvious. The passages devoted to his personality, his dwelling place, name, habits and the objects which surround him, his relationship to Akaki Akakievic, appear to comprise a perfect vignette, or portrait, of the Devil --in other words, an icon (!) , as he is usually portrayed in medieval Christian art.
Akaki remembers the Tailor only when the Petersburg weather forces him to take a good look at his old overcoat and to realize painfully that it can no longer protect him from the cold: In "two or three places, to be exact, on the back and around the shoulders ,(it) had worn so thin that it was almost transparent and the lining had fallen to pieces." A visit to the Tailor is necessitated, the Tailor who makes a living mainly by repairing the clothing of poor folk when, we are reassured, he is sober and "not hatching some plot in that head of his."
Gogol provides three significant bits of information about the Tailor: his name, his drinking habits, and his relationship to his wife. As to his name and patronymic, Grigory Petrovic, Gogol informs us that he was commonly called only by his first name, as "when he had still been a serf belonging to some gentleman or other..." But later, "...after he received his freedom, people started calling him 'Petrovic'", and he was so affected that " he began to drink rather heavily on every church holiday, at first only on the most important feast days, but later, on every single holiday marked by a cross in the calendar." Though the information may mean little to the English speaking reader, to Gogol's Russian readers this means that while Grigory was the property of a Master, he was called only by his first name, but as soon as he was liberated, he turned haughty and called himself Grigory, son of Peter ( Petrovich ) , an honorific title by Russian standards.
The reference is to Grigory Petrovic's past: he was once the serf of "some Gentleman", or the Lord, in Gogolian terms, and, like Lucifer before his expulsion from heaven, was in the "presence of God" until he was given his freedom (otpusknuyu ). The effect of this liberation has been remarkable: Petrovic has developed a drinking habit, which can be translated as a form of blasphemy in seeking spiritual enjoyment. At first,he drank only on rare occasions, but later, his excesses progressively increased. His obstinate insistence on his rebellion against God thus repeats an "ancestral tradition" with its roots in the fall of Adam.
Further analysis points to the etymology of the Tailor's name, "Gregory" (Russian, Grigory ) is of Greek origin, derived from the word grex, or shepherd; another word from the same root,grego, describes a "sheepskin, a warm overcoat with a hood". The word's connotations caused it to be assumed by many saints and Popes in the Middle Ages who saw themselves as shepherds presiding over their Christian flocks. But that is not all: there is a similar Greek word, gregale, which sounds much the same though it does not stem from the same root. This is the Mediterranean wind, Graecus alis, and perhaps fortuitously reinforces the image of the "Petersburg winter" so important to this tale, since by now we are aware that such equations are not accidental in Gogol's vocabulary. At any rate, Gregory, the name of so many saints and Popes, yields some further interesting historical considerations, as it may refer to one of the Sixteen Popes and to one of the Anti-Popes, most probably Gregory the VII (Hildebrand) who was Pope between 1025 and 1073 and, according to hagiography, was accused of a desire to dominate not only the Church but the world as well. 35 The papal connection is supported by our Grigory's patronymic, Petrovic, or Peter's Son -- who is none other than St. Peter's successor to the throne of the Church. Thus Grigory Petrovic can be taken to mean, Grigroy, the Pope, son of Peter, and therefore successor to the original Pope on whose rock Jesus promised to build His church. If this assumption is correct, then Gogol may have had in mind the struggle between the German Emperor Henry and Pope Gregory VII over the question of papal investiture, that is, the struggle for supremacy in worldly affairs which was acted out symbolically in Henry's humiliation at Canossa. We remember, also, that "Investiture" is the handing down of the mantle (or overcoat) of authority from Pope to Emperor. It is our contention that a symbolic explanation for the "truth" behind this struggle supplies the background for the encounter of Gregory Petrovic and Akaki Akakievic in the matter of Gogol's "Overcoat".
History records that Pope Gregory VII humiliated the Emperor Henry VII by making him cross the Alps in the worst recorded winter in medieval history. When Henry finally reached the Pope's castle, Gregory hesitated to absolve, or even receive the Emperor, who humbled himself on three successive days by standing barefoot before the gate in the garb and attitude of a penitent. Echoes of this encounter are manifold in Gogol's story. Akaki, driven by the winter weather, comes to see Grigory Petrovic, stands before him meekly as a penitent, and begs him to patch his old overcoat and thereby to give his protective power over the elements. Three times Grigory Petrovic rejects Akaki's request, finally proposing a new relationship between tailor and customer by creating a completely new overcoat, and changing the balance of power between then.
Further references to Grigory Petrovic's biography also seem to indicate that in Gogol's opinion, Petrovic, Peter's son and by metaphoric extension, Christ's representative on earth, has strayed from the "right" path and has been corrupted by worldly power, just like his predecessor, Gregory VII among the power-hungry Popes of the Middle Ages.
As to the Tailor's relationship with his wife, Gogol remarks, "In this respect he was faithful to ancestral tradition, and when he had rows with his wife, he called her a worldly woman [a Fallen Angel?] and a German -- that is, also by extension, one who sided with Henry in his struggle with the Papacy.
That such a person must inhabit Hell is clear, and we see that Gogol has offered a translation of the ancient tradition into the vernacular of 19th Century Russia. Thus Petrovic is "living somewhere on the third floor, up some back stairs", and when Akaki Akakievic goes to see him, he finds a "hellish" scene: "These stairs were running with water and slops and were saturated with that strong smell of spirit which makes the eyes smart...The door had been left open as his wife had been frying some kind offish and caused so much smoke in the kitchen that not even the cockroaches were visible." [The italics is mine L.T.] Is it to mock the fish as the Christian symbol that we are given this detail? All else points to an archetypal picture of Hell where the Devil sits on his throne facing the condemned souls who cower at his feet. "Petrovic was squatting on a broad, bare wooden table, his feet crossed under him like a Turkish Pasha," Gogol tells us. As Akaki Akakievic confronts him, "...the first thing that struck him was his familiar big toe with its deformed nail thick and hard as tortoise shell." If a club foot were not enough to give away the fact that this is actually the Devil in disguise, further details corroborate the image: The devil/Tailor sits on his throne surrounded by the tools of his trade amidst general disorder, cursing the darkness. His wife calls him "a one-eyed devil" who, of course, can see only one side of reality. As to his conscious pricing policy, "the Devil only knows what kind of prices" he charges or how he sets them. The Devil's capriciousness and deceptiveness are proverbial in Russian and Ukrainian folklore and need no comment here, except to note that the " devil walks in slippery shoes" .
The conversation between Petrovic and Akaki Akakievic proceeds like the humiliating encounter between Henry and Gregory VII.Instead of answering Akaki's request to repair his overcoat, Petrovic looks him over carefully, sizing him up. He recognizes the coat immediately: "All of this was familiar territory," says Gogol, "as it was his own work." When Akaki repeats his request, Petrovic still does not answer, but instead, reaches for his snuffbox and stuffs his nostrils with tobacco. The snuffbox and the tobacco are by now familiar to us as staple Gogolian metaphors for flaunted masculinity. Akaki Akakievic, the simpleton, has, naturally, never used tobacco. Is Petrovic mocking Akaki Akakievic's a-sexuality, or is he taking an ironic delight in the humiliation of this scion of an "immaculate conception"?--in much the same manner as Dostoyevsky's Rogozhin will enjoy Prince Myshkin's embarrassment over the latter's own lack of sexuality?
The snuff box, round and "bearing the portrait of some general" -- exactly which one, it is hard to say, as"someone has poked his finger through the place where his face ( litso ) should have been ... and pasted it over with a square piece of paper." And, two sentences later, as if to rub the reader's nose in the insult, "Petrovic removed the snuff box lid with the pasted-over general, filled his nose with snuff ..." Oh -- those boxes in Gogol's works! The Mayor's box in "The Inspector General", that he puts on his head instead of his official hat; Korobocka, in Dead Souls, is a little box all by herself; and now, Petrovic's snuff box ! What do they contain? "The Devil only knows," we could exclaim in one of Gogol's favorite phrases, and we would probably not be very far from the truth. But whatever the snuff box contains, its lid, with the general's face pasted over it, is actually an icon representing the Devil, and it is just as well that his face(litso ) is covered. The Tailor does not want to frighten customers away, after all. The time will come when they will find out, as Akaki will all too soon when he faces The General. Meanwhile, a little trick, such as poking a finger through the box's lid and covering up the emptiness with a small square of paper will do.
Bearing in mind the shapes depicted -- the round surface, the General's face, and the four-cornered shape of the covering paper, we suspect that the shapes and their arrangements are intended to remind the reader of some of the most powerful of religious symbols: the resurrected Christ, surrounded by a circular mandala which represents the whole universe, where the faces and wings of the Archangels, framed in a four-cornered field, point to the four Beasts of the Apocalypse. Andrei Rublev of the 15th century painted the resurrected Christ in this manner in his famous icon, The Savior in All His Powers . 36
Back to the snuff box and the overcoat: Still stuffing his nose with tobacco, Petrovic finally pronounces the verdict: "No, I can't mend it. It's in terrible shape. " ( khudoj garderob ) Rejecting Akaki's request three times for a repair, the Tailor thrice repeats his offer to make a new one and names his price: "Three times fifty rubles" or 200 rubles (that is, four times fifty) with a fancy collar. Akaki is released from the audience in an absolute daze. He returns, nevertheless, twice more, on Sundays, but to no avail. The Tailor's verdict is final; Akaki Akakievic "realized that he would have to buy a new overcoat and his heart sank."
The Tailor's cooperation and eager assistance make it easier for Akaki Akakievic to master all hurdles, and the new overcoat is finally delivered by the Tailor himself, who fits it over Akaki's shoulders, thus investing him with the rank of those who possess new overcoats. The Devil has kept his word -- at least for the time being: he has given Akaki protection, that is power, or a semblance of power, over this world. But of course, living in this world, where a man is not his brother's keeper but rather his enemy (homo homini lupus est ) always vying for favor in the eyes of the Lord, he is subject to the laws of this world. New overcoats always attract other men who have no new overcoats ... small, insignificant men, wearing new overcoats and walking home from parties in the middle of the night from unfamiliar parts of the city, instead of remaining at home and copying their beloved documents, risk the danger of being robbed of their new overcoats -- and so it is with the hapless Akaki Akakievic. His leap from the other world into this one proves disastrous, as is frequently the case with Gogol's tragic heroes. We have only to think of "The Diary of a Madman " or of Andrei in "Taras Bul'ba ".
Akaki Akakievic's ensuing frantic attempts to retrieve his lost overcoat, the earthly justice he is blindly seeking, make matters worse. His audience with " The Important Person "( Znachitel'noe litso -- or, in its acronym: zlo ,that is, evil), "The General", completes his humiliation and ushers in his predestined death.
We would wager that the circle closes on Akaki and that "The Important Person", "The General", is none other than the "Tailor" himself, or, for that matter, his personification of the "Petersburg Weather" ; or he may stand in for two people at once, the two who have robbed Akaki of his new overcoat. These transformations are not new in Gogol's fiction. We are reminded of the changing image of the sorcerer in The Terrible Vengeance and are by now fully aware that such sleights of hand are mere trifles to the" Important Person" , the Devil himself. Seeking protection and justice, Akaki Akakievic receives them according to the laws and customs of this world, therefore inadequate, if not downright unjust -- as it was with that other Son of His Father before him.
But, of course, there is still the story's fantastic ending to consider: The ghost -- or ghosts -- which go around robbing overcoats. The problem lies not in seeing a parallel to the resurrection of Christ in the form of ghosts, but rather in accepting the grotesque and paltry nature of the supernatural justice the ghost administers. Limited both in time and scope, it has only a minor effect. But still, Gogol insists, it does have an effect ... despite the disappointments it entails. Instead of a total reorganization of this world or the fulfillment of Christian hopes for the Judgment Day and the coming of the Kingdom of God, the de´nouement consists merely in a tiny correction to the laws and customs of this physical world.
Gogol coined a similar proposition earlier in " The Terrible Vengeance ". Now, to his despair, the logic of God's justice remains as remote and enigmatic as ever. Not having a convenient Switzerland to return to, like Myshkin, Akaki Akakievic, sans overcoat, merely fades away into the mist of the Petersburg winter "as if he had never existed."
Finally," The Carriage " is a minor production in comparison with " The Nose" and "The Overcoat", and seems more of a left-over from the provincial Ukrainian offerings than an integral part of the new Petersburg series. It has links to the representation of military life in " Ivan Sponka " as well, where Gogol was concerned with a hero whose military service is without distinction -- in contrast to that of the morons who are the very image of poslost', yet who are said to have served bravely.
" The Carriage " opens in the middle of a major event in the provincial town of B. This boring wasteland of provincial tepidity is electrified by the news that a cavalry regiment is to be stationed in the village. Here, indeed, is a new version of the Ukrainian Paradise Lost, rejuvenated by poslost' . Gogol is at his best in describing the excitement and bustle caused among the local dignitaries by the regiment's impending arrival -- the judge, the mayor, the members of the local nobility are all here, in short, the characters who will make their way presently into "The Inspector General" and "Dead Souls" . The center piece of this excitement is a dinner thrown by them for the military; most active in these preparations is a certain landowner:Pythagoras Pythagorasovic Certouckij The name is a strange hybrid: Pythagoras the son of Pythagoras, is evidently a strong proponent of classical Greek values (whatever these may be !), while his family name, Certouckij, may hint at a geographical locality, perhaps Hell. He must be, therefore, Hell's, or the Devil's own son. And indeed, he is a provincial dare-devil; a desperado intent on recognition, on making his mark, on letting the world notice he is there and has not fallen asleep along with the other provincial nobodies ( poslyaki) .His blend of a braggart and rabble-rouser foreshadows certain characters in "Dead Souls", Nozdryovand the sentimental dreamer Manilov. He also combines elements of the town gossips Bobcinskij and Dobcinskij in "The Inspector General".Here we find a whole panoply of arch-Gogolian characters. Certouckij himself, is a military officer, retired after a scandal because "either he was hit in the face by someone or he hit someone in the face." He is happily married to a typically mindless Gogolian beauty, a cardboard cross between the stereotypical dumb blonde and the Ukrainian theater's refined lady, utterly sweet and mindless. Her dowry has been promptly dissipated by her husband in the purchase of some "absolutely necessary" items in the Ukrainian provinces, which include six excellent horses, a tame monkey, a French house servant, and gold-plated door-handles. Since he likes to live in style, he has managed to finagle the necessary cash by mortgaging her property. Here are all the makings of quick financial ruin which were ubiquitous in Gogol's homeland. Gogol's observations also lie at the heart of the ethical and social suggestions conveyed in the "Selected Passages.." which were greeted with so much hostility by radical Russian activists on down the political road of the future.
This Certouckij is the tale's hero. To his great joy, he is invited to the dinner. As he mingles with the officers, the festivities are conducted with great propriety until afterwards when the General presents his new horse to his guests. The horse's name is a woman's honorific: Agraphena Ivanovna. Now Certouckij volunteers to show the General a carriage which he claims to have just acquired and which would be an appropriate match for the horse. "never mind that the horse is a riding horse," the General remarks. Certouckij has brought up the subject of the carriage for no logical reason, but merely in the interests of showing off. He begins a monologue, which strongly resembles the monologue of Khlestakov at the Mayor's dinner (in "The Inspector General" ) and with every sentence his carriage becomes more special.He even invites the General, no, all the officers, to come to dine at his house and then to take a look at the carriage. The anecdote's outcome is to be expected. Certouckij remains, even though he realizes he should go and prepare the dinner to which he has invited the assembled company; he gets home at three o'clock in the morning, dead drunk. The next day, his wife wakes him up to tell him that the general and a group of officers have arrived, expecting dinner. Of course, he has completely forgotten that he had invited them. Ordering his servants to tell the General that he is not at home, he runs into the carriage shed in order to hide from the visitors. Here he hides in the very carriage about which he was bragging at the officers' dinner. Surprised that Certouckij is not home, the General and the officers go to look at the carriage anyway, and there, on their opening the carriage's apron, the General finds Certouckij hiding in the corner. The General's reaction is completely unexpected: "Ah, there you are," he says anticlimactically; whereupon he departs with his officers.
The story proceeds anecdotally, like a scenario for a puppet theater -- "The Nobleman Who Hid in the Carriage ". It contains a single element of comic relief where the General finds Certouckij's hiding in the carriage unsurprising -- but perhaps he has been aware that Certouckij has been bluffing from the very beginning.
So what is the story about? In retrospect, it appears that Gogol has been experimenting with various aspects of poslost ' producing a sketch by a writer whose pen is now well-trained to present the wasteland of the Russian-Ukrainian countryside. His vision is no longer adolescent, but sure: and he sees that everything is hopelessly wrong here: painfully evident to him are the boredom of provincial life and the aesthetic morass of the hopelessly ugly and dilapidated town, the stupid mindlessness of the economic ruin caused by scatter-brained decisions of the gentry and their puppet wives in their frantic attempts to escape this hell-hole of boredom by any means whatsoever -- even by lying, which is presumably against their code of behavior. Gogol has discovered -- and Dostoyevsky will soon transform his discovery into a literary theory -- that telling lies is the result of a psychological need to escape the harsh realities of humdrum life. " The Carriage " thus introduces a veritable Pandora's box of pathological liars which are to figure in subsequent Russian literature. Certouckij is certainly one of the prototypes: his name, Pythagoras, suggests that his lies are as basic to the human need for escape as Pythagoras' axioms were to Geometry while the classical world waned and the structured formulations of the Greeks disintegrated.
The series closes with a long fragment which Gogol wrote in Rome and bears the city's name, "Rome". 37 A delightful story, unfortunately unfinished, it purports to tell of an intrigue between a Roman beauty, Annunziata, and an Italian prince named Minenti. But in the forty-five odd pages, Gogol barely gets down to an outline of the developing love story, since the text is really about Gogol's own experiences in Rome after he left Russia, and his observations of life in Italy, France, Paris, and, specifically, the Eternal City.
Gogol's contemporaries have described his life abroad late in 1836 (in Veresayev's collection ). 38 From their accounts, and from Gogol's own letters from the period, we know that he was enchanted with Rome and that, despite his periodic trips away from the city, he felt really at home only there. He was a proud and happy guide to visiting Russians who testified to his expertise on Roman life and history. "Rome ", however unfinished, is a tribute to this discovered Rome, presented in a thinly disguised fictional form. It includes topics and reminiscences form early work, especially theArabesques , and deals with the nature of artistic creation, architecture, painting, the history of the Middle Ages and of the Mediterranean world, as well as religious considerations.
Gogol compares the heroine, Annunziata, to antique statues in much the same tone as he did in the article on "Woman " in the Arabesques. But before we learn much of her, we are told of the Prince Minenti: how he grew -- in almost the same way as Pushkin's Onegin at the hands of " Monsieur I Abbe" in Petersburg; how he became restless and took his Wanderjahre in France; how he lived four years in Paris ... Gogol's descriptions are vividly reminiscent of his years in Paris -- and he takes the opportunity to provide many wonderful autobiographical vignettes of landscape and the towns through which the young prince travels, as well as an account of the enchanting life of Paris with its theaters, cafe´s and restaurants. He speaks of lectures at the University; but his admiration turns to animosity as he discovers the capitalist mentality of the French. His responses are not unlike Dostoyevsky's later diatribes against the West in his "Winter Notes on Summer Impressions " 1864 , which will record his trip to Western Europe. At any rate, life in France becomes intolerable to Gogol's critical eye because the French character he once admired appears to him basically flawed, for the French seem to profess only "references to thoughts but not thoughts themselves" . It takes him two days to travel from Paris to Marseilles -- vividly we picture Gogol sitting in the carriage, in the manner so many of his letters to friends describe. In Marseilles, his hero boards ship soon to land in Genoa. From there Gogol provides a marvelous travelogue of his passage through Italy until, six days later, he finds himself back in his beloved Rome.
In Rome the prince discovers that everything has changed since he left as a young man, returning now at the advanced age of twenty-five! His father has died, leaving him a debt-ridden estate. Gogol's description of the father's mismanagement of the estate the prince has now inherited is remarkably similar to his earlier description of mismanagement in the Ukraine and in Russia. The prince's father has mindlessly spent all his property, has lost his servants and the hangers-on who remained with him out of laziness and habit. Gogol presents a perestroika as the young prince divests himself of horses and servants and disposes of all material luxuries, to set himself up frugally and to start a new life. One of his new objectives is to become acquainted with his native, eternal Rome -- Gogol's descriptions are probably those he has been supplying to his visiting Russian friends and provide the best guide to our understanding of his reasons for preferring to live outside Russia. Plainly, he enjoyed the city which embodied his youthful dreams of history, art, architecture, and, especially, painting -- about all of which he has continued to write since launching his vision in "Hanz Kuekhelgarten ". About architecture, he now says, "And the deeper he penetrated the little side streets, the more numerous were his discoveries of palazzi and the architectural creations of Bramante, Dellaporta, Vignioli,Bonnaporti. And finally, he understood that" here, and only here in Italy, can one understand architecture and its greatness as an art form"
About the beautiful paintings everywhere to be seen, he exclaims: "Art elevates the soul of man, giving it nobility and a wonderful flexibility to the movements of the soul." 39 Indeed, he observes, "living in such an atmosphere, the young are as if drunk on art and beauty to the exclusion of politics and social issues." 40 And there were " frequent conversations in which the human [soul] opened up in place of boring conversations about social issues and political considerations which have exiled the heartfelt expression from (people's) faces." Gogol adds that he is spending his life in the study of nature in the Roman countryside, as well as of the art and history of antiquity. He soon came to the conclusion that politicians and people in general were mistaken when they looked for History's moving forces in human intelligence instead of recognizing the great Pointing Finger of the Creator ", which dictates the course of historical events.
This insight is not new to him, but it is in keeping with the increasingly religious cast of his writings. His studies of the history of Italian art and its influence on artistic expression in the rest of the world led him to contemplate the very purpose of beauty as the source of art, and the precedence of art in all other forms of human expression. His prince speaks for him and arrives at a contemplation of the greatness of God: "In such festive moments he became reconciled to the destruction of his fatherland, and in everything he saw the seeds of eternal life, of a better future which is eternally prepared for the world by its eternal Creator." 41
An outline of the love intrigue then takes over, and the prince sets forth to find his Annunziata during Carnival, the local feast celebrating the end of Lent. His detailed observations of the Carnival are wonderfully vivid -- one can see how much Gogol must have enjoyed watching this boisterous Roman celebration. The prince is accompanied by a local courtier, a certain Peppe, who provides Gogol with the opportunity to describe with great gusto the life of the average Roman on the street. Peppe, by the way, is reminiscent of the servants in the plays of Goldoni, as well as being a meticulous observer of the contemporary scene. At the end of the fragment, both the Prince and Peppe look back at Rome from the top of a mountain to eulogize the city lovingly. The piece is unique in Gogol's oeuvre, set apart as it is from his usual preoccupations. Here, under the direct influence of the whole burden of Italian art, culture and the history about which he had theorized in the youthful exuberance, Gogol leaves the Ukraine far behind, though the bulk of his Petersburg stories was rewritten and brought to fruition during his stay in Rome. In this admirable piece, Gogol has tried his hand at something different, though his Italian fiction 42 does not really fit into his developing concerns, so that he will leave this marvelous piece unfinished in order to push on to his major work.
Footnotes to Chapter Six
1. Gogol calls him a "Caucasian major". i.e. the sort of fortune-hunter "hero", who joined the war "down south" in the Caucasus, for the sole purpose of securing advantags for himself back at home.
2. N.V. Gogol': Poln. Sobr. Soch. (1938) t. 3 str. 65. In English: N.V. Gogol: The Diary fo the Mardman and Other STories, tr. and intr. by Ronald Wilks, Penguin Books, 1972, p. 42. In some cases I preferred Wilks' translation to L. Kent's. The reference to Wilks' translation are given as : Wilks' op. cit. My own translations are indicated by my initials L.T.
3. "Until February 14, 1918, Russia adhered to the Julian, or Old Style calendar, although other European countries ... had long since adopted the Gregorian, or New Style calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, in 1852. The Julian itself superseded the old Muscovite Calendar in 1699. It was ten days behind the Gregorian during the 18th century ... and by March 1, 1900, the difference had increased to thirteen..." McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Russia and the Soviet Union, ed. M. Forinsky, NY, 1961, p. 83.
4. E.T.A. Hofmann: The Tales of Hoffmann. tr. M. Bullock, Ungar, NY. 1963
5. Major architectural landmarks in St. Petersburg.
6. David Magarshack: Gogol: A Life. Grove Press. NY. 1957. p. 125
7. N.V. Gogol': Noln. Sobr. Soch. (1938) t. 3. str. 65 L. Kent. op. cit. v. 1.
8. Kent. op. cit. v. 1. p. 221.
9. ibid. The name can be derived from the etymology fo the words: podtochit', podtachivat' -- meaning to "undermine one's strength, helath", or perhaps, from tekat', tech', "to flow, to have a discharge", and the prefix pod "under" ("to leak"), not a very complimentary association with the lady, indeed, it seems to be a direct reference to VD, as also is the case of the "noseless beggar women" begging in front of the Chatedral's entrance.
10. L. Kent. op. cit. v. 1 p. 223
11. L. Kent. op. cit. v. 1 p. 223
12. L. Kent. op. cit. v. 1 p. 225
13. L. Kent. op. cit. v. 1. p. 229
14. L. Kent. op. cit. v. 1 p. 229-230
15. N.V. Gogol': Poln. Sobr. Soch. (1838) t. 3: In English: Wilks, tr. op. cit. The Russian title "Shinel'", is translated differently as "Overcoat", "Greatcoat", etc. But it basically means either a uniform, an "overcoat", worn by the military or by civil servants in Russia or, what is more important for our interpretation, a "habit" as worn by monks.
16. D. Fanger: The Creation of... op. cit. p. 35
17. See also: E. Trahan: ed.: Gogol's Overcoat (An Anthology of Critical Works), Ardis. 1982. James B. Woodward: The Symbolic Art of Gogol (Essays on his Short Fiction), Slavica, 1981; Richard Peace: The Enigma of Gogol (An examination of N.V. Golgol and HIs Place in the HIstory of Russian Literary Tradition), Cambridge University Press, 1981; also the well known works of Setschkarev, Karlinsky and others.
18. K. Mochul'skiy: Dukhovnyy Put' Gogolya, YMCA Press. Paris, 1976; D. Cizevski: About Gogol's Overcoat, in R.A. Maguire: Gogol from the Twentieth Century, Princeton University Press, 1974. p. 314-passim; F.C. Driessen: Gogol as a Short Story Writer (A Study of His Technique of Composition), Mouton Co., The Hague, 1965; John Schillinger: Gogol's Overcoat as a Travesty of Hagiogrpahy, SEEJ, v. 16. Spring, 1972, p. 36-41; Hidegun Schreier: Gogols religioseses Weltbild und sein literarisches Werk (Zur Antagonie zwischen Kunst und Tendenz), Otto Sagner, Muenchen, 1977; Antony Hippishley: Gogol's Overcoat: A Further Interpretation, SSJ, 1976. v. 2. p. 121-129.
19. Cizevsky: op. cit. p. 314; also in Mochulskiy: op. cit. p. 59. passim. See also: Marina Bogoyavlenskaya: Religioznyy Pik Gogolya v Novom osveshchenii, Mahopac, NY, no date. p. 103. also Schillinger, op. cit. p. 88-89.
20. See: Richard Peace: Dostoyevsky: An Examination of the Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1971, p. 91. passim.
21. Vladimirskiy Pravoslavnyy Russkiy Kalendar' no 1969 g. NY. 1968, -. 38. "The Feast of Annunciation is the remembrance of the mystical, but real historical event on EArth, nine months before Christ's birth" (my translation, L. T.) See also: Ernest Benz: The Eastern Orthodox Church: Its Thought and Life, Anchor Books. NY 1963. p. 60, passim (Chatp: The Dogmatic Position of Mother of God)
22. For an intereting discussion fo the problem of "immaculate birth" see" Robert Graves, Joshua Podro: The Nazarene Gospel Restored, Doubleday, 1954, p. 49, passim. The authors point out that prechristian civilizations knew about "immaculate birth" by "mortal mothers and immortal fathers, but this concept... excited the horror of the Palestinian Jews and the ridicule of the Romans and Greeks, who naturally concluded thta Jesus was a bastard". Also: "The Jews maintained that their God did not father sons on mortal maidens in the style of Zeus and if Mary had already been contracted in marriage to Joseph efore he found her pregnant, this would in Jewish law (Deuteronomy, XXII, 13-21) have bastardized her child even if the marriage had been consummated" p. 49. Pushkin treated the subject in his long narrative poem: Gavriliiiada" in a similar fashion.
23. E. Benz: op. cit. p. 27-28.
24. N.V. Gogol': Poln. Sobr. Soch. (1938) t. 3. str. 143, also: Wilks, tr. op. cit. p. 73. Further obvious referencs to the text will not be marked in these footnotes.
25. Number symbolism figures prominently in The Overcoat. So, i.e. Akaki Akakievich receives a bonus of 40 rubles, instead of the 60 rubles; his mind was preoccuped wit the new overcoat for 6 months, the tailor charged 12 rubles for his labor, etc. For the significance of number symbolism in art see: Heinz Meier: Die Zahlenallegorie im Mittelalter. Fink Verlag, Muenchen, 1975.
26. The nubmer 10 in number symbolism usually symbolizes God, The One. One multipled by ten indiates the begining and the end of the decimal system, the Alpha and the Omega, etc.
27. The names rejected by the mother are the following:
Mokki (probably from Mucius or Mocius): "Christian priest, died 304 A.D. suffered at Constantinople, during hte persectuoin of Diocletian... on the occasion of the feast of Bacchus he overthr3w the deity's altar, was arrested and burned alive... but hte flames would not harm him, therefore he was finally beheaded." (Butler's Lives of Saints, Thurston and Atwater, vol. II. p. 27.) Sossi: Martyr of the 4th c. A.D. "ws a diakon of the church". (Poln. Pravosl... op. cit. Izd. Sokina St. Petersburg, 1913, v. II. p. 2098. Khozdazat: Martyr, Gogol's remark int he text. Triphili (Triphilius) Bishop of Ledra (Leutron) in Cyprus, 4th c. A.D. "Lawyer... enjoyed great reputation for his rhetorical powers... on his conversion he gave up worldly advancement and placed himself under the teachings of Spiridon, the shepherd bishop of Cyprus... wrote the "Life of His Master" (Smith: Dictionary of Christian Biography. AMS Press, NY 1967, vol. IV, p. 1054)
Dula (Probably from Dules) "... a prefect of Cilicia... deposed form office for his Chrisianity and most horribly tortured to death under the procurator Maximilius." (Smith, p. cit. vol. 1 p. 910)
Varakhasi (Probably from Barakhias = The Blessed by YHWA) "...hermit near Antiokh, 5th C. A.D. After many years of seclusion in a cell so small that he could neither stand nor lie in it, he was last induced by the bishop Theodotus of Antioch to come forth. He appeared wrapped in skins from head to foot, with the exceptoin of his mouth an d nostrils. He was consulted by the Emperor Leo..." (Smith, op. cit. vol. 1, p. 243)
Pavsikhakhi;" A blind man, healed under the invocation of "St. Thecla." (Smith, op. cit. vol. IV p. 280)
Varadat: "A holy Syrina hermit of the 5th C. A.D. St. Theodorit tells of his Life in his History of Godlloving People (Istoriya ogolyubtsev) Varadat lived in a wooden box, self-made, so mall that he could neither live down nor sit in it comfortably. The box was open, so that he was not protected from rain or sun... he was well known for his learning. (Poln. Pravosav. op. cit. vol. i. p. 440)
Varukh: (The Hebrew Baruch, the Blessed On) "... 6th c. scribe of Jeremia, a devote disciple of Jeremia who dictated to him a scroll containing his discourses." (J. Comay: Who is Who in the Old Testament, NY 1971,. p. 65). It should also be noted that Gogol appears to have worked hard on this list of names, and that they don't seem to be a random selection. In the first version extant (Isd. A.N. SSSR, op. cit. p. 446) the text of the baptism is completely missing. In the next version Gogol lists a selection of name which are only partially identical with the names appearing in the final version: Yevvul , Mokki, Tevlogy, Varakhasi, Trephili, Varadat, Pharmurphy, Pavsikhakhi, and Frumenty.
Eikhenbaum, commenting on the names sees in them only "a special phonic expressiveness", which according to him lead Gogol to change the final list of the names: The sound-semantic of the name: Akaki is prepared further by a whole seris of other nams, which also possess a special phonic expressiveness and which are obviously selected, "contrived" for just that purpose". (Trahan, ed. op. cit. p. 26). We, on the other hand, believe that the final list of the names emphasizes common features, since they all belong to a historical period -- form the rth to the 6th c. when Christianity was freshly established in the Roman Empire, and the still strong pagan environment looked at Christian values with bewilderment and suspicion. Very much as Akaki Akakievich's fellow "chinovniks" looked with ridicule and scorn at the strange creature who shared their office. Also, several of the names are associated with "copying the Word" (Logos), as a godpleasing activity. Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe, is one of the alternate neames the mother was briefly considering as acceptable. The other alternate, Varadat, is associated with ascetism.
28. The adjective akakos (from the noun akakios, means "guileless, simple, ascetic", but also a "simpleton" or a "slow-witted" person. Thus it comes close to the Russian word yurodivyy, frequently translated as "a holy", or "fool in Christ". (See i.e. Dostoyevsky's synonym as "the idiot") G.W. Lampe: A Patristic Lexicon, Oxford, 1961. p. 58. Lampe lists eight different holy men with the name Acacius. (Latin for the Greek Akakios), as saints of the early Christian church. Schillinger (op. cit.) mentions also several Acacius, but finally identifies Gogol's hero with St. Acacius of Sinai (6th c. A.D.), whose Life seems to show similarities to the life of Akaki Akakievich. It is, of course, a moot question to debate which Acacius Gogol could have in mind in fahsioining the features of his hero, but we believe that another Acacius may be more relevant to Gogol's story, namely a certain Acacius of Cesarea (Bishop of Cesarea in 340 A.D.). He played an important role in the doctrinal debates of the period concerning the issue of the Trinity. "He taught that the Father and Son were alike..." (Lampe, op.cit. p. 58). This argument seems to be close to the mother's argument, when she finally decided to baptize the child by the "father's name".
29. Akakij Akaievich's "title" as " Titular Councilor" may also refer to the "Father-Son" relationship from the Bible. The Father being, of course, the "real" Councilor!
30. Cizevski: (Trahan ed.) op. cit. p. 57.
31. A. Voznesensky: Antiworlds and the Fifth Ace. Baic Books, NY 1966. p. 113.
32. See R. Peace: op. cit. p. 69
33. K. Mochulsky emphasizes the "medieval" nature of Gogol's religious views: "...down the flames of Hell, aboave the Incorruptible Judge; everywhere the breath of death and ahead -- the Judgement DAy! A picture reminiscent of a medieval mystery play. INdeed, it is not by chance: Gogo's outlook is medieval." (my translation L.T.) op. cit. p. 67
34. Trahan, e. op. cit. p. 52, passim
35. F. Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov, Norton, 1976. p. 237
36. It is interesting to note that during Gogol's stay in Rome the ruling Pope was Gregory XVI. Gogol in his letters from 1837 to 1846 makes a nubmer of comments on the Peope, mostly the nature of daily news, none of them are hostile or derogatory.
37. See: Eric John, ed.: The Popes, a Concise Biographical History, Hawthorne Books, NY 1864. p. 188.
38. Nik. Goleyzovskiy, Saveliy Yamschikov: Rublev i ego shkola. Isd. Izobr. Ussk. M. 1978. str. 20.
39. N.V. Gogol': Poln. Sobr. Soch. op cit. p. 240, passim, my translation (L.T.)
40. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v Zhizni. op. cit. p. 231.
41. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v. Zhizni. op. cit. p. 147.
42. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v Zhizni. op. cit. p. 164.
43. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v Zhizni. op. cit. p. 165.
44. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v Zhizni. op. cit. p. 167.
45. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v Zhizni. op. cit. p. 172.
46. V.V. Veresaev: Gogol' v Zhizni. op. cit. p. 172.
47. The Hungarian scholar T. Baroti published an
intriguing study in Studia Slavica Hungarica, XXIX, 1982. p. 172-183. Tradiciya
Dante i povest' Gogolya "Rim", in which he proposes the thesis that Gogol's
"Rome" is part of Gogol's preoccupation wit the Dantean theme of man's
pilgrimage from darkness of sin to Paradise.
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Epilogue, Bibliography
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