Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Gogol. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gogol. Show all posts

14 September, 2013

Nikolai Gogol, "The Nose"

On March 25th, Ivan Yakovlevich finds a nose in his breakfast roll. He recognizes it immediately as belonging to Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov. He wants to dispose of the nose as quickly as possible and throws it into the river from the St. Isaac's Bridge.

Scene shifts to Kovalyov arising in the morning to find that his nose is gone and in its place an "absolutely flat surface." He headed to the police department. He is arrogant and insists that people refer to him as Major as he meets ladies on his daily stroll down the main street of St. Petersburg, Nevsky Avenue.  The narrator addresses the reader several times. Astonishingly, Kovalyov recognizes his very own nose dressed as one who holds the rank of state councillor, 3 grades higher, stepping out of a carriage. The nose had a face!

He follows the carriage to Kazan Cathedral. Kovalyov approaches his nose and we see his attitude
about people who he deems are beneath him in social ranking. Then he is insulted for his low status.
"Judging from your uniform buttons, I should say you're from another government department." Kovalyov is confused and in despair. He decides to go to the police. Despite his situation, when he arrives at the police station, he remains incredibly arrogant.

Next he decides to place a newspaper ad. There many people are placing ads for work, people far below Kovalyov's status. The clerk uses snuff which is quite humorous. His arrogance is still ruling him when he refuses to even give his name because "too many people know me." Thee newspaper clerk tells of an incident the week before when someone placed a satirical ad about a governmental cashier, a certain collegiate assessor. Ha. "This unintentionally thoughtless action made Kovalyov lose patience altogether."

He goes next to the Inspector of Police who is bribed with sugar-cubes and banknotes. Not only is he not helped by the Police Inspector but his status is insulted.

"He arrived home hardly able to feel his feet beneath him." He is so dejected that he says,"If I'd lost an arm or leg it wouldn't be so bad." Then he tries to blame Ivan, his footman. Then, Mrs. Podtochin who wanted him to marry her daughter. "So, to get her revenge, the staff officer's wife must have hired some witches to spirit it away, and this was the only way his nose could possibly have been cut off..."

At long last, the police officer we saw early in the story has arrived at Kovalyov's house and returns his nose and tells him that the barber had it. He tries to put the nose back on but "all his efforts were futile." Ivan brings a doctor to the flat. But the doctor tells him, "Let nature take its course," and offers to buy it from Kovalyov which he refuses.

Next Kovalyov decides to write the staff officer's wife begging her to put it back in its place with her "black magic." The nose caused quite a stir with people showing up to Tavrichesky Park to watch the nose taking its daily stroll.

On April 7, the nose "suddenly turned up, as if nothing had happened, plonk where it had been before..." Kovalyov "as though absolutely nothing had happened..." However, Kovalyov seems to not have learned any humility "and on one occasion even stopping at a small shop in the Gostiny Dvor to
buy ribbon for some medal, no one knows why, as he did not belong to any order of knighthood."

Shifting point of view, 3rd person and sometimes 2nd POV when addressing the reader directly. At the end of the story the narrator addresses the reader using first person and acknowledges that the story is "far-fetched."

There are a couple of notes in my copy that state that in Gogol's day the Kazan Cathedral reference had to be substituted, due to censorship, for Gostiny Dvor, a shopping arcade.

I love this story as it examines class structure and arrogance.

Nikolai Gogol lived from 1809 until 1852. His family was Ukrainian but he lived a good portion of his life in Rome. He was often in  despair and on a spiritual quest.

11 July, 2010

T.C. Boyle, "The Overcoat II"

"The Overcoat II" by T.C. Boyle is a version of the Nikolai Gogol story, "The Overcoat" or "The Cloak." Boyle's story, first published 1981, is included in T.C. Boyle Stories. It follows the original except that Boyle sets "The Overcoat II" in twentieth century Soviet Union instead of Gogol's nineteenth-century Imperial Russia. Both versions are written in a close 3rd person POV. The Gogol story has more of a ghostly haunting ending than the Boyle.

Here is a link to the Internet Archive for an audio recording of the Gogol story.

09 January, 2010

Rebecca Makkai, "The Briefcase," and Nikolai Gogol, "The Overcoat"

Read Rebecca Makkai's short story, "The Briefcase," published in The Best American Short Stories, 2009. It is bleak, realistic in style and written in 3rd person POV. A prisoner in an unknown city escapes when his handcuffs slip off his thin wrists. The guard/soldier grabs an innocent man, a physics professor, from the street to replace the missing man, a chef, so that the count is correct.

The story was first published in The New England Review.

The author, Rebecca Makkai, was interviewed on Selected Shorts and said she had been influenced and recently reading Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat" and that the bleakness felt the same in her story as in Gogol's.

Worked on my new short story. It's a small pile of mess at the moment.