Monday, 25 February 2008

Reading Gogol in the 21st century

Pic by the author, for more visit PICTURESQUE
I am already more than six months old in St. Petersburg living on Vasilivsky Island and working not very far away from the Nevsky Prospect but I could get to read the two most haunting short stories I have ever read- 'The Nose' and 'The Overcoat' by Nikolai Gogol just yesterday.

'The Nose' is surreal and bizarre story of Major Kavaliov who finds one fine morning that his nose has disappeared. He does not believe it at the first instance but the reality slowly sets in. He goes out in the city streets to look for his nose and to register a complain with the chief of the city police about his lost nose. At Kazan cathedral he finds his nose praying dressed in the attire of a state councillor which is of higher rank than a major. He is awe struck and gingerly approaches his nose to return to its right place but the Nose refuses to even recognize him. Baffled he goes to a newspaper office to put advertisement about his lost nose but the newspaper office refuses to entertain his request fearing loss of credibility for the newspaper. Finally the major mired in hopelessness retires to his apartment but there is a knock on the door and a policeman comes up with his dried and dead nose. Major Kavaliov calls the best doctor to put his nose back but the doctor declares it impossible. The major drowns in despair but in the morning he finds his nose intact as it always was. He goes around in the street courting women once again with a new vigour.

'The Nose' has many conotations. It is surreal, it is satarical but most of all it is about faith. The dates 25th March(when the major loses the nose) and 7 April (when he finds the nose) are the same day acrroding to the old Julian calendar and the new Georgian calendar and that day is celebrated as the day of 'Ascension' by the Orthodox church.

The Overcoat is a masterpiece and has all the elements of a great story. It tells about the society's obsession with the small material things, ranks,medals, social status etc. and the pervailing spritual vaccum in our lives. His tales become even more relevant in our times as we increasingly encounter material forces clapsing us all in its jaws. The Overcoat is a mirror for the humanity where we can see our indifference , atrocity and apathy to the fellow human beings because of our obsession with material things and lack of spritual consciousness.

The protagonist of 'The Overcoat' is Akaky Akakievich, a copying clerk who is a bald, middle aged, mediocre, unmarried St. Petersburger. Everybody at work makes fun of him and he always finds himself in wrong places at wrong times. He is almost subhuman in his old tattered overcoat and has only one desire i.e. to get his overcoat repaired but the tailor refuses to do the job and insists that Akaky Akakievich gets a new overcoat. With this begins the year long preparations for stitching a new overcoat- selecting the material for the overcoat, comparing prices, selecting the material for the collar etc. Akaky Akakievich saves money and invests all his energy to get a new overcoat and one fine day when he gets it he finds himself on the top of the world. His colleagues at the work do not take lightly to his share of happiness. They insist that he should throw a party to them and when he shows liitle interest in doing so then one of his juniors decides to throw a party and invites him to add some insult to Akaky Akakievich. Reluctant Akaky Akakiviech goes to the party but does not how to behave himself as he had never been to a party. While on the way back home his new overcoat is taken away by some hooligans in the street. Akaky Akakiviech is shocked and can't believe it. He goes to the police but of no use. The overcoat that lit up his life for a moment is taken away. His only light of life, his only hope is robbed and he catches high fever and dies after a few days. His ghost appears in the streets of St. Petersburg and snatches the overcoat of a high official who had burst over him when he had gone to him to complain about his lost overcoat.

Gogol was born in Sorochintsy, Ukraine on 1st April 1809. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1828 where he worked as a civil servant for a brief time and later as a history teacher. He wrote 'The Nose' between 1833-34 and 'The Overcoat' in 1842. He wrote his great play "The Government Inspector" in 1836 and his novel "Dead Souls", which he wrote in Rome, was published in 1842.

Gogol's work today seems to be of great importance to me and I'll read his other works soon and post reviews.

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Blogger Chhaya said...

hey Abhay

found ur blog through 1verse's...
like ur writing style.. i have always liked the russian lit (translated in Eng ofcourse)... and gogol.. found him witty always..

lemme check ur poems.. i have just started writing them too.. have a look at my place whenever u feel like

love and greetings from back home

27/2/08 7:56 am  
Blogger Abhay K said...

Welcome to Ideas & Universe Chhaya!
Russian literature is one of great treasures for the humanity and Gogol has become my favourite after I read his short stories. I like Bulgakov too and his work 'Master & Margarita'is enchanting!
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's prose and poems opened to me the sufferings of humanity in Siberian gulags and the central message that hope never can be beautiful even in the harshest conditions...
I'll post more on Russian literature...

27/2/08 3:33 pm  
Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

I've not read any of these but from whatever written about the story and about the character Akaky, I find a great story over there. In fact a character as endearing as him is going to be around my next book. He will be the narrator about whom I have just posted a snippet in my blog.

Thanks, Abhay, for sharing this.


5/3/08 9:14 pm  

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