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From the Publisher“The greatest artist that Russia has yet produced.”—Vladimir Nabokov
“Behind his laughter you feel the unseen tears.” —Alexander Pushkin
Includes "The Nose", "The Overcoat", among others. 192 pp.
DIARY OF A MADMAN
AN unusual occurrence took place to-day. I got up rather late in the morning, and when Mavra brought in my cleaned boots I asked her the time. Being told it was long past ten, I hastened to dress as quickly as possible. To tell the truth, I would rather not have gone to the Department at all to-day, knowing the sour face the chief of my section would show me. For a long time past he has been saying to me: "Why is it, my good fellow, that your head is all topsy-turvy? Sometimes you rush about like mad, and make such a muddle of your work that the Devil himself could not make head nor tail of it, and write the Imperial title with a small letter, and forget to put in the date and reference number." The damned stork! he must be jealous of me that I sit in the Director's study and mend His Excellency's pens. In a word, I should never have gone to the Department had it not been for the hope of meeting the treasurer and, with luck, extracting out of that Jew some part of next month's salary. There's a creature, that treasurer! Do you expect him to give you your month's pay in advance, once in a way? Good Lord! you would have to wait till doomsday. You may beg till you burst, you may be on the verge of starving,—the grey-haired devil won't give you a farthing. At the same time, all the world knows that his cook at home boxes his ears. I can't see the advantage of serving in a Department: there are absolutely no opportunities in it. Now, in a provincial police-board, or in a civil tribunal, or in a local treasury-branch it is quite a different matter. There you may sometimes find a fellow scribbling away squeezed up right in a corner; a nasty old coat on him; an ugly mug you would like to spit on; but you should see the villa he rents! Don't attempt to offer him a gilt china cup. "This," he will say, "is good for a doctor." What he expects is a pair of pedigree horses, or a carriage, or a beaver-coat worth three hundred roubles. He looks quite harmless, and asks you in such a refined way: "Will you kindly oblige me with a penknife to allow me to mend my pen," and after that he will fleece the petitioners so that they will be happy to escape with their shirts on their backs. On the other hand, one has to admit that our work here is much genteeler: everything is kept cleaner than it can ever hope to be in a provincial office; the tables are all mahogany; and your chiefs address you in the second person plural. Indeed, I must confess that if it were not for the gentility of it I should have left the Department long ago.
I put on my old cloak, and took my umbrella, as it was raining hard. There was no one in the streets: only a woman pulling her skirt over her head, or a bearded merchant under his umbrella, or an office messenger, would meet my eye. Of the gentry I saw no one except one of ourselves, a government clerk. I saw him at a street corner. As soon as I saw him I said to myself: "Oho! Don't tell me you are going to your Department, my dear fellow. You are running after that girl who walks in front of you, and enjoying the sight of her ankles." What rascals we government clerks are! I'll swear, each of us may give points to any officer: let a female in a hat pass, and he'll be after her at once. As I was making these reflections, I saw a brougham drive up to the shop I was passing. I recognized it at once: it was the brougham of our Director. "But he cannot be going out shopping," I thought, "it must be his daughter." I flattened myself against the wall. The footman threw open the carriage door, and she fluttered out, like a bird. How she glanced to the right, and then to the left, how her eyes and eyebrows flashed past ... Good God! I am done for, hopelessly done for! But why should she be going out in such rainy weather? Don't go on telling me any more that women have not a boundless passion for all this frippery! She did not recognize me, and I did my best to muffle myself up, because I had a very dirty cloak on, and an old-fashioned one at that. Now cloaks are worn with long collars, while mine has short collars one above the other, and the cloth is not sponged. Her little dog, who was too late to get through the shop-door, was left in the street. I know the dog—her name is Madgie. Scarcely a minute passed before I heard a thin little voice: "Good morning, Madgie." Upon my word! Who could that be speaking? I looked round and saw two ladies walking along under an umbrella, one old and the other young. They had passed me already; and again I heard beside me: "Fie, for shame, Madgie!" The devil! I saw Madgie sniffing at the dog that was following the two ladies. "Oho!" I said to myself. "Can it be I am drunk? That does not happen very often to me." "No, Fidèle, you should not talk in that way," said Madgie—I saw her say so with my own eyes. "I have been, wow, wow, I have been, wow, wow, very ill." You rascal of a little dog! How do you do it! To say the truth, I was quite amazed to hear her talking human language; but on considering the matter I ceased to wonder. Indeed, a number of similar cases have been reported from different parts of the world. In England, I am told, a fish put its head out of the water and uttered two words in a language so strange that scholars have been busy three years trying to identify it, and have not yet come to a solution. I also read in the papers about two cows who came into a shop and asked for a pound of tea. But, I own, I was still more amazed when I heard Madgie say: "I wrote to you, Fidèle; Polkan must have forgotten to carry my letter!" The devil! Never in all my life did I hear of a dog being able to write. Only a gentleman can write correctly. To be sure, there are a few merchants and accountants, and even some of the servile class scribble sometimes; but their writing is for the most part merely mechanical: no commas, no stops, no style.
It amazed me. I must confess that for some time I have been seeing and hearing things such as no one has seen or heard before. "I will follow that dog," I said to myself, "and see what sort she is and what her views are." I opened my umbrella and started after the two ladies. They passed into Gorokhovaya Street, turned into Meschanskaya Street, then into Stolyarny Alley; until they stopped in front of a large house by Kokushkin Bridge. "I know that house," I said to myself, "it is Zverkov's house." What a building! How many people don't live in it: cooks, and strangers, and as to government clerks like myself, they swarm like dogs, one on the top of another and driving him on with a third one. A friend of mine also lives there, who is very good at playing the horn. The ladies went up to the sixth floor. "Good," I thought, "I won't go in this time, but I will note the place and I will take advantage of the first opportunity."
TO-DAY is Wednesday, so I was in the Director's study. I came early on purpose, sat down and did not stop till I had mended all the pens. The Director must be a very clever man. His whole study is lined with bookcases. I read the titles of some of the books: such learning, such learning! quite beyond a chap like myself,—all either in French or in German. And if you look into his face: my, what dignity shines in his eyes! I have never heard him utter a word too much. Only sometimes when I hand him the letters, he will ask: "What's the weather like?" "Damp, your Excellency." Yes, we're no match for him. He's a statesman! However, I seem to notice that he has a special liking for me. If his daughter, too ... Damnation! ... But no, no, not a word!
Read The Bee. What a silly nation the French are! What are they after? If I had my way I'd have every one of them soundly thrashed! In the same place I read a very pleasant description of a ball, by a Kursk squire. The Kursk squires are good writers. After that I noticed that it was half-past twelve and that the Director had not yet come out of his bedroom. But about half-past one an event occurred that no pen could describe. The door opened. I expected to see the Director, and jumped up from my chair with the letters ready; but it was she! her own self! Holy saints! how she was dressed! The dress she wore was white like a swan,—oh, how sumptuous! And when she looked at me, it was like sunshine, upon my soul, like sunshine! She bowed and said: "Hasn't Papa been here?" Oh, oh, oh! What a voice! A canary, a regular canary! "Your Excellency," I was going to say, "don't have me beheaded, or if you will have me beheaded, then behead me with your own lordly hand." But my tongue would not obey me, and I could only say, "No, Madam." She glanced at me, glanced at the books, and dropped her handkerchief. I dashed forward, slipped on the damned waxed floor, and just missed smashing my nose. But I picked myself up and picked up the handkerchief. Saints of heaven, what a handkerchief! The finest cambric,—amber, perfect amber! The very perfume of nobility! She thanked me with a smile, so faint that her sweet lips were scarcely disturbed by it, and went away. I stayed another hour, when there suddenly came in a footman who said: "You may go home, Aksenti Ivanovich, the master has gone out." I cannot stand these footmen: they loll about in the hall and won't bother to turn their heads when one passes. That's not enough: one of the rascals had the cheek once to offer me his snuff-box without getting up from his seat. But do you know, you stupid serf, that I am an official, and of gentle birth? However, I took my hat and put on my cloak myself, because these gentlemen will never help you on with it, and went out. At home, I lay for the most part on my bed. Then I copied out some very good poetry:
An hour without my darling
Seemed as a year to me.
What care I for existence,
If I am rent from thee?
It must be by Pushkin. In the evening, wrapped up in my cloak, I went to the front door of Her Excellency's house, and waited there for a long time on the chance that she might come out to get into her brougham, and I might have another glimpse of her. But no, she did not come out.
I GOT very angry with the Chief of Section. When I came into the Department, he called me up and spoke to me in the following manner: "Now, just tell me, my man, what is it you are trying to do?" "How do you mean?" I said, "I am not trying to do anything." "Now look here. You are over forty—it is time you had a little sense. What do you imagine yourself to be? Do you suppose I am not aware of all your tricks? You are paying court to the Director's daughter, aren't you? Come, look at yourself, consider what you are. You are a nobody, an absolute nobody. You have not got a penny to your soul. Look at yourself in the looking-glass,—are you fit to think about such things?" Damn it! Because his face is like a medicine bottle, and he has a tuft of hair on his head that curls and sticks out, and he pomades it with I know not what rose-stuff, he imagines he may do anything. I quite understand why he detests me so. It is out of envy: he must have noticed the signs of benevolence I get in preference to him from His Excellency. But I spit on him! Tremendously important, indeed! An Aulic Councillor! Wears his watch on a gold chain, and orders boots at thirty roubles, the devil be with him! Am I a plebeian, a tailor's apprentice, or the son of a non-commissioned officer? I am a gentleman. There is no reason why I should not rise in the service too. I am only forty-two—just the age to be beginning one's career. Wait a bit, my friend! You shall see us a colonel too, and, with good luck, something even better than that. We shall have a flat, and maybe better than yours. Ha! do you imagine that no one is a decent man but yourself? Give me a fashionable suit from Rutsch's, let me wear a cravat like yours, and you wouldn't be good enough to clean my shoes for me. Poverty—ah, that is the trouble!
WAS at the theatre. The play was about the Russian clown, Filatka. Laughed quite a lot. There was also another vaudeville with some amusing couplets about the attorneys, especially about a certain Collegial Registrar, very outspoken; I even wondered that the censorship should have passed them. As to the merchants, it was said of them in plain words that they cheated the public, and that their sons behaved disreputably and tried to insinuate themselves into the gentry. There was also an amusing couplet about the journalists, saying that they were fond of abusing everything and everybody, and that the author begged the public to defend him against them. Very amusing plays are being written by authors nowadays. I like being at the theatre. As soon as I have a penny in my pocket, nothing can keep me from going. But others of our friends the Government clerks are such swine that they will never go to the theatre, unless, perhaps, you give them a free ticket. An actress sang very nicely. I thought of her ... damnation! But no, no, not a word!
AT eight o'clock I went to the Department. The Chief of Section put on a look as though he did not see me come in. I, too, behaved as though nothing had passed between us. Looked through and checked some documents. Left at four. As I passed the Director's door I saw no one. After dinner, for the most part, lay on my bed.
TO-DAY I sat in the Director's study. I mended twenty-three pens for him, and for her ... Oh! Oh! for Her Excellency, four pens. He likes to see a lot of pens standing on his table. My, he must have a head! Never a word, but all the time he must be turning over everything in his head. I should like to know what he thinks most about. What is being matured in that head? I should like to see at closer quarters the life of these gentlemen, with all their equivocations and courtier's tricks. How they behave and what they do in their own set—that is what I should like to find out. I have several times intended to start a conversation with His Excellency, but there! my tongue won't obey me: all I can bring myself to say is that it's cold, or that it's fine, and then I get stuck. I should like to get a view of the drawing-room, which I can only occasionally see through a half-opened door, and another room beyond it. My goodness, what sumptuous furniture! What mirrors and porcelain! I should like to have a look at the other rooms, inhabited by Her Excellency— that I should! to see her boudoir, and how all those little jars and bottles are arranged, and such flowers that one is afraid to breathe on them, and to see her dresses lying scattered about, more like thin air than dresses. I should like to have a look at her bedroom ... there, I expect, there must be marvels, a paradise, such as is not even to be found in Heaven. To look at the stool on which she puts her foot when she gets out of bed, and the way a snow-white stocking is put on that dainty leg ... Oh, oh, oh! But no, no, not a word!
To-day, however, a light dawned on me: I remembered that conversation of the two dogs in the Nevsky. "Good," I thought to myself, "now I will find out everything. I must get hold of the correspondence of the wretched dogs. There I am sure to find out something." To tell the truth, I went so far as to call Madgie to me, and said to her: "Look here, Madgie; here we are alone. If you like I shall shut the door, too, so that no one shall see us talking. Tell me all you know about your mistress: what she is and how she behaves. I swear I won't tell any one." But the mischievous beast put her tail between her legs, doubled herself up, and sneaked away to the door as though she hadn't heard. I have long suspected dogs of being far more intelligent than human beings; I was convinced that they had the gift of speech, only they are singularly obstinate. They are great politicians: they notice everything, one's every step. No, whatever happens, I will go to-morrow to Zverkov's house, I will question Fidèle, and, if possible, I will seize all the letters she has received from Madgie.
Excerpted from Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol, THOMAS CRAWFORD. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted August 6, 2005
The DIARY OF A MAD MAN is an insightful story by Gogol that is full of humor, sadness, tragedy and hope. The literary style is first class and fully exposes the inner turmoil of a man with a conflict in his soul. HOUSE OF THE DEAD, UNION MOUJIK, POOR FOLKS, explore that depth of human suffering that leads to depravity for individuals or groups of people.
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