The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogolby Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky
Using, or rather mimicking, traditional forms of storytelling Gogol created stories that are complete within themselves and only tangentially connected to a meaning or moral. His work belongs to the school of invention, where each twist and turn of the narrative is a surprise unfettered by obligation to an overarching theme.Selected from Evenings on a Farm
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Using, or rather mimicking, traditional forms of storytelling Gogol created stories that are complete within themselves and only tangentially connected to a meaning or moral. His work belongs to the school of invention, where each twist and turn of the narrative is a surprise unfettered by obligation to an overarching theme.Selected from Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, Mirgorod, and the Petersburg tales and arranged in order of composition, the thirteen stories in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogolencompass the breadth of Gogol's literary achievement. From the demon-haunted “St. John's Eve ” to the heartrending humiliations and trials of a titular councilor in “The Overcoat,” Gogol's knack for turning literary conventions on their heads combined with his overt joy in the art of story telling shine through in each of the tales.This translation, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is as vigorous and darkly funny as the original Russian. It allows readers to experience anew the unmistakable genius of a writer who paved the way for Dostevsky and Kafka.
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Weddings in the old days were no comparison with ours. My grandfather's aunt used to tell us--oh, ho, ho! How girls in festive headdresses of yellow, blue, and pink stripes trimmed with gold braid, in fine shirts stitched with red silk and embroidered with little silver flowers, in Morocco boots with high, iron-shod heels, capered about the room as smoothly as peahens and swishing like the wind; how young women in tall headdresses, the upper part made all of gold brocade, with a small cutout behind and a golden kerchief peeking from it, with two little peaks of the finest black astrakhan, one pointing backward and the other forward, in blue jackets of the best silk with red flaps, stepped out imposingly one by one, arms akimbo, and rhythmically stamped away at the gopak. How young lads in tall Cossack hats and fine flannel blouses with silver-embroidered belts, pipes in their teeth, bobbed and pranced before them, cutting all sorts of capers. Korzh himself couldn't hold back, looking at the young ones and remembering bygone times. With a bandore in his hands, puffing on his pipe and humming at the same time, the old fellow put a glass on his head and, to the loud shouts of the revelers, broke into a squatting dance. What people won't think up when they're tipsy! They used to dress in disguises--my God, they no longer looked like human beings! No comparison with the costumes at our weddings nowadays. How is it now? They just copy the Gypsies or the Muscovites. No, it used to be one would dress up as a Jew and another as a devil, and first they'd kiss each other and then grab each other's topknots . . . God help us! you had to hold your sides from laughter. They'd get dressed up inTurkish or Tartar costumes: everything on them blazes like fire . . . And when they start fooling and pulling tricks . . . well, saints alive! A funny thing happened with my grandfather's aunt, who was at this wedding: she was dressed then in a loose Tartar dress and went around offering glasses to the guests. The devil put one of them up to splashing some vodka on her from behind. Another--no flies on him either--struck a fire straight away . . . the flame blazed up, the poor aunt got frightened and started pulling her dress off in front of everybody . . . Noise, laughter, turmoil arose, like at a street fair. In short, the old people remember no merrier wedding ever.
Pidorka and Petrus started living like lord and lady. Everything in abundance, everything shining . . . However, good people shook their heads slightly, looking at their life. "No good can come from the devil," everybody murmured with one voice. "Where did he get his wealth, if not from the seducer of Orthodox people? Where could such a heap of gold come from? Why, suddenly, on the very day he got rich, did Basavriuk vanish into thin air?" Now, just tell me people were making it up! Because, in fact, before a month was out, nobody could recognize Petrus. What happened to him and why, God knows. He sits in one place and won't say a word to anyone. He keeps thinking and thinking, as if he wants to remember something. When Pidorka manages to make him talk about something, he seems to forget it all and starts to speak, and even almost cheers up; then he glances inadvertently at the sacks and cries out: "Wait, wait, I forgot!" and falls to thinking again, and again strains to remember something. Once in a while, after sitting in the same place for a long time, he fancies it's all just about to come back to him . . . and then it all goes again. He fancies he's sitting in the tavern; they bring him vodka; the vodka burns him; the vodka's disgusting to him. Somebody comes up, slaps him on the shoulder . . . but then it's as if everything gets misty before him. Sweat streams down his face, and he sits back down, exhausted.
What didn't Pidorka do: she consulted wizards, she poured out a flurry and boiled a bellyache--nothing helped. So the summer went by. Many Cossacks had reaped their hay and harvested their crops; many Cossacks, the more riotous sort, had set out on campaign. Flocks of ducks still crowded our marshes, but the bitterns were long gone. The steppes were turning red. Shocks of wheat stood here and there like bright Cossack hats strewn over the fields. On the road you would meet carts piled with kindling and firewood. The ground turned harder and in places was gripped by frost. Snow had already begun to spatter from the sky, and the branches of the trees were decked with hoarfrost as if with hare's fur. On a clear, frosty day, the red-breasted bullfinch, like a foppish Polish gentleman, was already strolling over the snowdrifts pecking at seeds, and children with enormous sticks were sending wooden whirligigs over the ice, while their fathers calmly stayed stretched on the stove, stepping out every once in a while, a lighted pipe in their teeth, to say a word or two about the good Orthodox frost, or to get some fresh air and thresh some grain that had long been sitting in the front hall. At last the snow began to melt, and the pike broke the ice with its tail, and Petro was still the same, and the further it went, the grimmer he became. As though chained down, he sat in the middle of the room with the sacks of gold at his feet. He grew wild, shaggy, frightening; his mind was fixed on one thing, he kept straining to remember something; and he was angry and vexed that he could not remember it. Often he would get up wildly from where he sat, move his arms, fix his eyes on something as if wishing to catch it; his lips move as if they want to utter some long-forgotten word--and stop motionless . . . Fury comes over him; like a demented man, he gnaws and bites his hands and tears out tufts of his hair in vexation, until he grows calm, drops down as if oblivious, and then again tries to remember, and again fury, and again torment . . . What a plague from God! Life was no longer life for Pidorka. At first she dreaded staying alone in the house with him, but later the poor thing grew accustomed to her misfortune. But the former Pidorka was no longer recognizable. No color, no smile: worn, wasted, she cried her bright eyes out. Once someone evidently took pity on her and advised her to go to the sorceress who lived in Bear's Gully, who, as rumor had it, could heal any illness in the world. She decided to try this last remedy; one word led to another, and she talked the old hag into coming home with her. This was in the evening, just on the Baptist's eve. Petro lay oblivious on the bench and did not notice the new visitor at all. And then gradually he began to raise himself and stare. Suddenly he trembled all over, as if on the scaffold; his hair rose in a shock . . . and he laughed such a laugh that fear cut into Pidorka's heart. "I remember, I remember!" he cried with horrible merriment and, swinging an ax, flung it with all his might at the hag. The ax sank three inches into the oak door. The hag vanished and a child of about seven, in a white shirt, with covered head, stood in the middle of the room . . . The sheet flew off. "Ivas!" Pidorka cried and rushed to him; but the phantom became all bloody from head to foot and lit up the whole room with a red glow . . . Frightened, she ran out to the front hall; then, recovering a little, she wanted to go back and help him--in vain! The door slammed shut so tightly behind her that it was impossible to open it. People came running; they began to knock; they forced the door: not a soul. The whole room was filled with smoke, and in the middle only, where Petrus had been standing, was a heap of ashes from which smoke was still rising in places. They rushed to the sacks: instead of gold coins there was nothing but broken shards. Eyes popping, mouths gaping, not daring even to move their mustaches, the Cossacks stood as if rooted to the spot. Such fright came over them on account of this marvel.
What happened after that, I don't remember. Pidorka made a vow to go on a pilgrimage; she collected the property left by her father and a few days later was indeed no longer in the village. Where she went, no one could say. Obliging old women had already sent her to the same place Petro had taken himself to; but a Cossack come from Kiev told that he had seen a nun in the convent, all dried up like a skeleton and ceaselessly praying, in whom the villagers by all tokens recognized Pidorka; that supposedly no one had yet heard even one word from her; that she had come on foot and brought the casing for an icon of the Mother of God studded with such bright stones that everyone shut their eyes when they looked at it.
Sorry, but that was not the end yet. The same day that the evil one laid hands on Petrus, Basavriuk appeared again; only everybody ran away from him. They knew now what kind of bird he was; none other than Satan, who had taken human form in order to dig up treasures--and since treasures can't be taken with unclean hands, he lured young fellows away. That same year everybody abandoned their dugout homes and moved to the village; but there was no peace from the accursed Basavriuk there either. My late grandfather's aunt used to say that he was vexed with her the most, precisely for having abandoned the former tavern on Oposhnyanskaya Road, and he tried with all his might to vent his anger on her. Once the village elders gathered in the tavern and were having, as they say, a proper conversation at table, in the middle of which stood a roast lamb of a size it would be sinful to call small. They chatted about this and that, about all sorts of marvels and wonders. And they fancied--it would be nothing if one of them did, but it was precisely all of them--that the lamb raised its head, its mischievous black eyes came to life and lit up, and that instant a black, bristling mustache appeared, twitching meaningfully at those present. Everybody recognized the lamb's head at once as Basavriuk's mug; my grandfather's aunt even thought he was about to ask for some vodka . . . The honorable elders grabbed their hats and hastily went their ways. Another time the church warden himself, who liked now and then to have a private little chat with an old-time glass, before he even reached the bottom, saw the glass bow to the ground before him. Devil take it! he began crossing himself! . . . And then another wonder with his better half: she had just started mixing dough in a huge tub when the tub suddenly jumped away. "Stop, stop!"--but nothing doing: arms akimbo, with an imposing air, it broke into a squatting dance all around the room . . . Go on and laugh; but our grandfathers were in no mood for laughter. And even though Father Afanasy walked around the whole village with holy water and chased the devil down all the streets with the sprinkler, all the same, my late grandfather's aunt complained that as soon as evening came, somebody started knocking on the roof and scratching at the wall.
Not only that! Now, for instance, on this same spot where our village stands, everything seems quiet; but not so long ago, my late father and I still remembered that a good man couldn't pass by the ruins of the tavern, which the unclean tribe kept fixing up at their own expense for a long time afterwards. Smoke poured from the sooty chimney in a column and, rising so high that your hat would fall off if you looked at it, poured hot coals all over the steppes, and the devil--no need to mention that son-of-a-dog--sobbed so pitifully in his hovel that the frightened jackdaws rose in flocks from the nearby oak grove and with wild cries dashed about the sky.
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Nikolai Gogol was born in the Ukraine in 1809 and died in 1852. Originally trained as a painter, he became interested in the theater and was soon known for his plays and short stories, notably "The Diary of a Madman" (1834), "The Nose" (1836), and "The Overcoat" (1842). Dead Souls, his novel, was published in 1842.Richard Pevear, a native of Boston, and Larissa Volokhonsky, a native of Leningrad, are married and live in France. Their translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize.Also translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, (and also available from Vintage Books) are Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol; and Crime and Punishment, Demons, and Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
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