Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said
This is my own, my native land!
This time around I was very conscious of the ways Gogol refuses to keep to any recognized literary formula. Not only is Chichikov an anti-hero, but the author himself keeps intruding into the narrative to remind us of his characters’ failings (not just Chichikov, all the characters) and to plead for our sympathy. He mourns, in particular, the negative reception his protagonist is sure to find among critics and general public and how that will all bounce back on him, the author. Oh, poor me! An author such as I, “who dares to bring all that he sees into the open,” is much to be pitied!
All those things that an indifferent eye fails to notice—all the slimy marsh of petty occurrences into which we sink, all the multitude of splintered everyday characters who swarm along the drab, often painful road of life—he shows them clearly in relief, thanks to the power of his merciless chisel, so that the whole world may view them. This author will not receive world-wide acclaim, nor will he see tears of gratitude or feel the unanimous enthusiasm of hearts he has stirred; no sixteen-year-old girl will throw herself at him, giddy with admiration for her hero; it is not for such as he to become drunk at the sweet sound of his own words; and, of course, he cannot avoid trial by his contemporaries, a hypocritical, unfeeling court, which will pronounce the characters he has created with such care insignificant and vile, will assign him a dishonorable place among authors who have insulted mankind, will ascribe to him the traits of his own characters, and will rob him of his heart and soul and of the divine flame of talent. This is so because his contemporaries will not recognize that microscopes ... are just as wonderful as telescopes....
I laughed. Somehow in the context of the novel -- and though passages like these leave the story to one side for as long as they last, and so are not really “in the context of the novel” – somehow even these passages come through time as comedy, as if Gogol, dressed as a clown, pushes Chichikov off-stage for a few minutes, takes center stage himself, and cries the tears of a clown for a laughing audience before going over to drag Chichikov back into the spotlight.
It’s difficult to see what Chichikov would have done for two more volumes and what kind of conclusion the author could have found for his tale. No matter, I say. I find this novel ever so much funnier and more believable and satisfying than Gogol’s famous short stories.
The haven was familiar, just as the inn was – the kind of provincial inn where, for two rubles a day, a traveler can get a quiet room, with cockroaches peeking out of every corner like raisins....
|Earth keeps turning, sun keeps shining....|