The Nose by Nikolai Gogol

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Show Notes

This week, Matt and Cameron take on “The Nose,” by Nikolai Gogol. Written in 1835-6, “The Nose” tells the story of a mid-ranking St. Petersburg bureaucrat who loses his nose. The story recounts how Major Kovalyov’s nose takes on a life of its own, how he is not of high enough rank to talk to it, and, finally, how he gets it back.

Major themes: Table of Ranks, Peter the Great, Magical Realism, Phallic symbolism.

The music used in this episode was “soviet march,” by Toasted Tomatoes. You can find more of their work on Bandcamp and Youtube.


Cameron 0:17
Hello, and welcome to Tipsy Tolstoy: Russian literature or the inebriated.

Matt 0:23
I'm Matt Gerasimovich, resident PhD student,

Cameron 0:25
And I'm Cameron Lallana, unemployed.

Matt 0:28
This is a podcast, not necessarily about Tolstoy. Why did we name it that? Alliteration. This is a podcast where me and my good pal Cameron get to explore different areas of Russian lit that we've, you know, read in class, or that we've wanted to read for a while. Today, we're talking about "The Nose" by Gogol. Probably one of my favorite and most ridiculous stories I've ever read in my entire life.

Cameron 0:53
We will refrain from covering Gogol's life, although we may do that at some point in the future. This was written in 1836 in Imperial Russia. So as a general overview, if you are not familiar with Russian history, this is prior to the Russian Revolution during the time of the czars. I do not know exactly who was ruling in 1836. But Czarist Russia was a very stratified society, officially so, and that's going to be a fairly big feature of the characters in "The Nose" when we get into it.

Matt 1:25
It's Nicolas I by the way, I looked it up.

Cameron 1:29
You should have just voted Nicolas I and really impressed everyone with your just on command knowledge of czars in different areas

Matt 1:34
I won't take that, I haven't earned it.

Cameron 1:38
How do you earn it?

Matt 1:40
Probably by finishing my PhD on time.

Cameron 1:45
Okay, well, at that point, at that point, you get the right to lie about where you learn something.

Matt 1:51
Yeah, that's what I'm looking forward to. Also looking forward to not really having to be right, and people just thinking I might be.

Cameron 1:58
Well, then you just delve into some obscure literature until you find your point.

Matt 2:03
Well, that's what we're doing here today. So…

Cameron 2:05
Exactly. That's the fun.

Matt 2:07
First impressions. What'd you think? How'd it make you feel? We haven't talked about any of this prior to the podcast. I'm genuinely curious because I know you're not a 19th century kind of guy. Not that I necessarily am either. But

Cameron 2:19
No, I am very much not a 19th century guy. I have in the past rejected reading a lot of literature from this era, because I cannot stand reading it. This is a great piece of surrealist short fiction. I really enjoyed it. I had a fun time, even outside of analyzing it for deeper connotations. It's just, it's just fun. It's like reading Kafka, but not as soul crushingly depressing.

Matt 2:41
Yeah, yeah.

Cameron 2:42
Yeah. I don't know. How did you come away from

Matt 2:44
For me, it is. And I don't know that this is necessarily the case, I thought it was, in World Literature, probably one of the first instances of magical realism or at least a precursor to magical realism. I don't know a ton about the genre. So I don't know if I can definitively say this is it. But it is an intensely realistic story about a man who loses his nose. So it has just the real aspects of Russian society in 1836, but it's just about a guy who loses his nose, which is just like the most absurd thing.

Cameron 2:46
In a genre, full of writing about Petersburg, either as the greatest city that Russia has, or as just a trash pit. Gogol found the third way. And the third way is completely absurd.

Matt 3:43
Do you want to give a short synopsis about what what what happened? What is "The Nose"?

Cameron 3:48
Yeah, absolutely. I'll go into a little bit and I'll probably throw this to you in a little bit since I'm sure it'd be better than just talking this whole way through. The story opens up with Ivan Yakovlevich, who is a barber who lives on Voznessensky Avenue. His surname is unknown, who one morning wakes up to discover that in his hot bread, the nose of one of his clients is located and he recognizes the nose of his client quite immediately because he uses noses to hold onto as he shapes them.

Matt 4:20
Now you hate that… to find someone else's nose, in your hot bread in the morning. I will say. So that's something that we can relate to even probably as like a modern audience. Like you're digging into your bread, the last thing you want to find is your client's nose.

Cameron 4:35
Absolutely. I don't want anything to do with my clients much less than noses at breakfast time.

Matt 4:40

Cameron 4:41
Yeah. So his wife gets really angry at him, understandably. You know, if you find it your husband, Sweeney Todd, I wouldn't be pleased either. So she tells him to get rid of it. So he does, and while walking along the streets of Petersburg eventually finds his way to I think it's St. Andrews - excuse me - St. Isaac's bridge and throws the nose into the river Neva before a police sergeant comes up to him. And then at this point, his story fades into the mist. And we join a much more important citizen Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov. And I will let Matt take it from here.

Matt 5:19
Yeah,so Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov is the backbone of the story, he is the one who has lost his nose. And we kind of follow him through the rest of the story trying to figure out what happens. And it starts kind of with a description about who he is, what his rank is. And for those who are unfamiliar with Imperial Russian ranks, they are the most important thing to everybody at this time, the higher your rank, the more important you are. And this was brought on by Peter the Great in his attempt to kind of reform Russia, to westernize Russia. And what's most important about it is that if you get to a high enough rank, you can become hereditary nobility, which that's pretty sweet. That's pretty good deal for civil service, that is. You don't have to do military service. That's part of part of what's new.

Cameron 6:19
Right? There was an equation between like all these ranks. There's like civil ranks, army ranks, Navy ranks, court ranks, even clergy ranks and they're all like, on a 1 to 14 scale more or less.

Matt 6:29
Yeah. But Kovalyov he is the rank of Collegiate Assessor. But he makes it pretty clear that he does not want to be called Collegiate Assessor. He wants to be the military rank Major. Because he, I'm pretty sure, he was in the military.

Cameron 6:49
I don't know if he's in the military, but he's certainly, that's his equivalent rank.

Matt 6:53
Yeah, I don't know if it's actually clear whether or not he was.

Cameron 6:59
Now that I read the passage where it's mentioned that he likes going by Major it does not clarify, so he definitely he might have.

Matt 7:06
Yeah, all it says is that he was a Caucasian Collegiate Assessor. It's really not important. Really, it just to me, it says a lot about who he is as a person. He's somebody who likes to charm people. He wants you to know that he's a Major. He thinks that that's an impressive rank. And it like kind of is. It's pretty good. It's not the best, as we'll see in the story, as he's kind of… as he's going through the Petersburg streets trying to find his nose. So he covers himself up with a handkerchief. And he's, he's walking around.

Cameron 7:39
I will say, just to break in real quickly. Going by Major, I think, as a civil servant in his status is the moral equivalent to those people who are married to someone in the military and demand that you address them by their SO's rank.

Matt 7:53
Yeah. It could be, could be. You know anybody who does that?

Cameron 7:57
No, but I, I, okay. I'll walk that one back. I don't know if anyone actually does that. But I've seen a lot of people making fun of people that do that. So I'm hoping that at the source of that there is a real person and not just like some sort of baudrillardiant self-replicating force where the meme has overtaken any semblance of reality.

Matt 8:18
Mm hmm. No, well, we'll take it as fact, because that sounds relevant. So the first place he runs into his nose is where.. Kovalyov is, he's going to get pastries, right?

Cameron 8:31
I think he's walking around the city hiding his nose from everyone. And he ends up seeing him. I think he's just left a coffee house.

Matt 8:41
Gotcha. Yeah. But it's just like happenstance, you know. And he sees his own nose. And he notices that the nose is wearing the uniform of somebody who I think is three ranks higher than him. He's a State Councilor, which is a fifth rank. So that's, that's pretty high, that is the rank at which you are granted hereditary nobility in the Russian Empire, so it, it prevents him from being able to interact with the nose throughout the story basically, is kind of gist of it. He runs into it at the coffee house, he runs into the nose at church. And the whole story just traces him trying to get people to believe that he has in fact lost his nose. I think the first passage that I really want to focus on is probably the one at church because that's really where they start to talk. Yeah, I don't know how you felt about that one. I thought it was thought was pretty funny.

Cameron 9:38
I think it's really instructive for both this character and the major themes of the story.

Matt 9:43
Yeah, I have a passage. Basically, that sums that up, as he's trying to hype himself up to go talk to his nose. So Kovalyov, he's thinking to himself, he says "it's clear from everything from his uniform from his hat. He's a State Councilor. I'm damned if I know how to do it, how to talk to him." And this leads to him being just an absolute idiot trying, trying to talk to him. And he goes through. He basically just bumbles through a whole introduction. He lists everybody in society that he knows as an acquaintance. The nose is like, What are you talking about? And he finally says, I mean, you're my own nose and the nose looks at him frowns. And he says, your mistaken sir, I'm myself. And the nose says back to him, I see, sir, from the buttons of your uniform that you were serving in a different department. And the nose just walk away from him. And Kovalyov just absolutely, absolutely just doesn't know what to do with himself in the church.

Cameron 10:53
And he immediately tries to hit on the girl next to him after not knowing what to do until he remembers he does not have a nose. And freaks out so much that he needs to leave.

Matt 11:04
Yeah, that goes to one of my favorite like, themes of the story or potential readings of it, which maybe we can get to at the end. But that's an interesting one to hold on to and come back to. So after the church, he goes to where does he go? He goes, he tries to see the police commissioner. And that doesn't that doesn't work out for him, police commissioner is not home. So he goes to the newspaper office. And it doesn't, that also doesn't work out for him.

Cameron 11:37
As he tries to put in an advertisement for his own nose, which, as you've said, doesn't work out for a variety of reasons.

Matt 11:45
Yeah, he yeah, the person that's taking his advertisement thinks that he's talking about somebody that has has robbed him of a sum of money, Mr. Nosov. So he basically just adds an -ov and makes it a Russian name. It shows really a breakdown of communication between ranks of society, which the whole of it is, you know, that's kind of the main point. And this is probably the, to me the funniest part of it.

Cameron 12:12
Yeah, of course, I think followed by one of the funniest parts in the whole short story when Kovalyov reveals to this guy that he does not have a nose when he takes off his handkerchief. And the guy's like, that sucks. Do you want some snuff?

Matt 12:32
Yeah, yeah. That made me actually laugh out loud when I read it the first time probably. So obviously he doesn't he doesn't do well to newspaper office. He goes from the newspaper office, where does he even…

Cameron 12:46
So at this point, Major, as he prefers to go by Kovalyov, gets home and thinks back on his nose and thinks how weird this is and decides that Mrs. Potochin, who is the mother of a girl who's flirting with but is refusing to marry, must have done this to him. And he believes, quote, "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. No one had visited him in his flat. His barber, Ivan Yakovlevich, had shaved him only last Wednesday and the rest of the day and the whole Thursday his nose had been intact." So you hear referring back to your earlier point about Russian his obsession with the ranks and society. Mrs. Potochin, she's the staff officers wife. And while he's thinking about this he's interrupted by the police sergeant from the beginning of the story and comes into return his nose who, although the nose was about to flee to Riga in a stagecoach, the police sergeant fortunately had his spectacles and although he initially mistook the nose for a gentleman came to realize that it was only a nose and took hold of it and brought it back to Kovalyov. And Kovalyov is overjoyed. He pays the guy bribe in old Russian a 'nos,' which might be related to a point about the story as a whole, pays the pays the seargant a bribe to leave I guess, and is just happy. And he called that's the point at which he calls the doctor to reattach his nose At which point, Matt…

Matt 14:32
Yeah, the doctor says I can't put that nose back on your face. And that's basically, it's a page and a half of the Major trying to convince the doctor to do it. The doctor saying no, it'll only make it worse. But maybe put it in a in a bottle of vinegar. Maybe that would help preserve your nose. And the Major really doesn't like that. And I can understand why. I wouldn't I wouldn't like that answer either probably.

Cameron 14:57
But the doctor also suggest that the Major sells him, the doctor, his nose, and I also would not like my doctor offering to buy my nose.

Matt 15:06
Yeah, that's true. You don't. Yeah, that's Yeah, I wouldn't I wouldn't want that too much either I don't think

Cameron 15:13
If I went into the doctor's office and he started like, feeling my hand and was like, this is a good hand. How much do you want for it? I'd be very, very concerned.

Matt 15:21
Yeah, but how much would you say?

Cameron 15:24
I don't know. If it was my left hand, like probably at least $30.

Matt 15:29
Mm hmm.

Cameron 15:30
Right hand, definitely important. At least 500.

Matt 15:35
500? Wow. That was a big jump.

Cameron 15:36
Yeah. I know. It can cover almost half of my rent. So that'd be really cool.

Matt 15:42
For you, nice. Almost half. Yeah. For half your hands. Yeah.

Cameron 15:47
Seems like a fair trade.

Matt 15:48
Yeah, more or less. But he doesn't sell his nose. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it would have been a little funny. He instead, he writes a letter to Mrs. Potochin, saying, how could you do this? How could you have my nose cut off just because I didn't want to marry your daughter and flirted with her a lot. And she writes back and says, what are you talking about? If you mean by that, that I wish to put your nose out of joint that, is to give you a formal refusal, uh, no, that's, that's no, I wanted… she wanted him to marry her daughter all along. So we can safely rule her out. Not enough incentive, or means to slice off this man's entire nose. I don't think

Cameron 16:42
A guilty person could never write that letter, as Kovalyov reasons.

Matt 16:46
Sure, sure. Also, that's ridiculous. Yeah, so. So at this point, I guess everybody in Petersburg has figured out that he has lost his nose. And so basically the rest of part two is people kind of going around various parts of St. Petersburg trying to see the nose, which is probably what I would do too. That would be absolutely ridiculous.

Cameron 17:20
I mean, we lived in St. Petersburg. And if we had heard that today, we would have have taken time out of our very busy days doing very important things to go look for that.

Matt 17:30
Probably. Probably.

Cameron 17:35
Okay, I think we're both thinking about what we're doing that day and depending… you know.

Matt 17:41
You know, yeah. So you wanna go through part three? That's the last part. It's pretty short.

Cameron 17:47
So while the world is out there looking for the nose. Some are indignant as to how these stories could gain such currency in their enlightened century. With enough time, Kovalyov one day wakes up, and on the seventh of April, he happens to glance at the mirror and realizes his nose is back. And after much exclaiming and calling in his serf to make sure that he still has it, he's got his nose back, it's just on it's reappeared. And he goes immediately to get a shave from Ivan Yakovlevich, with whom we started the story. Ivan Yakovlevich is also shocked that the nose is back. And he gives Kovalyov perhaps gentlest shave of his life.

Matt 18:36
He doesn't even grab him by the nose.

Cameron 18:40
As he normally would. And at that point, Kovalyov becomes, as he was before, and he quote, "as though absolutely nothing had happened, his nose stayed in the middle of his face, and showed no signs of wandering off. After that, he was in perpetual high spirits, always smiling, chasing all the pretty girls. And on one occasion, even stopping at a small shop in the Gostiny Dvor, to buy a ribbon for some medal. No one knows why, as he did not belong to any order of knighthood." And at that point, the very end of the story you have the author, potentially Dostoevsky [Gogol], but maybe just the vague author of the story, writing to you, the reader about the strangeness of this story and whether or not it actually could have happened.

Matt 19:25
The author who?

Cameron 19:27
I'm not certain at the very end, it's directed to you the reader and it's like, you know, I don't I don't know if this could have happened or not. I don't know if it's supposed to be Gogol or merely just a vague…

Matt 19:36
Sorry. You said Dostoevsky, and I was like, wait…

Cameron 19:38
Oh did I say Dostoevsky? I meant Gogol. You can see the wine getting to me.

Matt 19:44
Yeah yeah yeah. This is my second time reading "The Nose" and I never actually thought about how long he had been without his nose. It's about two weeks and you kind of lose the sense of it throughout the narrative. I kind of thought like, you know, this is a couple of days, maybe. This is not that bad, but two weeks with no nose? That's that's pretty significant.

Cameron 20:08
That's pretty important.

Matt 20:09
Yeah. So that's "The Nose." That's the long summary of it.

Cameron 20:15
That is what happened. But what does it mean?

Matt 20:18
What does it mean? Cameron, what do you think it means?

Cameron 20:21
Okay, so this is the part where I'm I was reading this and like looking desperately for themes because I'm actually go up against a PhD candidate in literature and talk about themes. In short, we can talk about like, in longer form later, I mostly kept reading this as basically, Gogol making fun of appearance-obsessed Petersburg, especially revolving around the idea of rank in society. And the way I kind of read losing nose as almost a metaphor for losing face. And how much that despite Kovalyov's rank, affects his standing in day-to-day life and that he is reduced to going to Kazan Cathedral, arguing with his own knows that he knows, you know, X and Y person in society, and that's why his nose should give back on his face. And like, I guess kind of addressing the thinness of like, how much this rank actually means when you take away some basic things. How did you read it?

Matt 21:27
No, I mean, that's, I think that's basically the gist of it. That's probably the majority reading. The main takeaway is not even just the differences in ranks, but also just a complete breakdown of communication between people who are not the same ranks. And Major Kovalyov is interesting, because he totally brings this on himself in different ways. I can't remember exactly where in the story, but I remember he says that, in the theater, I think he was saying that he thinks that jokes and attacks about people that are lower ranks than him are pretty funny. But anything in his rank or above, the government probably shouldn't allow that-they should censor it. So he is a victim of the system that he's absolutely trying to uphold throughout the entire story. And so it's funny trying to see him kind of reconcile with that, because it really doesn't go well for him.

Cameron 22:26
Yeah, which I think if you're going with that reading, you could relate it back to in Kazan Cathedral, which you bookmark earlier, or put a flag in earlier. When he is finished talking to his nose, he sees a young woman who he tries to hit on in church, and then remembers that he doesn't have a nose. And that's the only thing that holds him back from trying to like, just to start to start to womanize in the middle of an actual… in the middle of one of the biggest cathedrals in Petersburg, which is an achievement because there are a lot of big cathedrals in Petersburg.

Matt 23:00
Yes, yes. So I think that brings me to like the secondary reading that well, it's not maybe a secondary in terms of adherence to it, but it's a reading that we learned about when I was taking a Russian literature class, that having read it again, there's definitely more hints at it. You probably saw this, like looking around with the idea of Major Kovalyov of having like a castration complex. Like the nose is metaphor for his penis. And that's, that's one of the major problems for him, because he is somebody who likes to hit on women, and he can't. He can't flirt with the other lady's daughter. He can't hit on the woman in church. Even being called major doesn't even really matter too much him anymore. Because he, you know, there was a part where they were explaining why he likes to say major, and it was because he wants women to think that he, you know, was in the military, that he's not just a civil servant that he's masculine. And it fundamentally takes away a large portion, probably the only real characteristic that he's assigned throughout the story.

Cameron 24:08
Right. There's nothing more specific about this character than that he's a collegiate assessor. That is his life, his rank, his everything. I think at some point, I don't remember exactly what page this was on in my copy, but it says that Major Kovalyov was not averse to marriage, as long as his bride happened to be worth 200,000 rubles.

Matt 24:28
Yeah, I mean, I mean, yeah, that's… 200,000 rubles. And that's fine. Yeah, that's who he is.

Cameron 24:36
Yeah, so I can definitely see that. I've seen… I saw in other readings of it, an equation or equating his nose to both his penis and also toxic masculinity, which I thought toxic masculinity in the nose being a metaphor for that is an interesting reading. But given that Gogol wrote this in like 1836, I do not think that was on his mind.

Matt 24:59
Probably not in the we understand it today.

Cameron 25:01
No, no, no. Yeah, exactly.

Matt 25:03
But it does. Yeah, it does cut to who he is as like a man and his position in society. Which is, I think that's a really interesting reading. I think there is enough evidence to say that is a legitimate reading of it. I think Gogol was really, really clever. And that's really what he was known for in, like, literature society, is for his satires, and for just being a funny guy. And it really comes through in this. This is probably, I don't know, I've read a lot of stuff by Gogol, but this is probably one of the ones that's just like, it's short, it's compact, it's funny, all the way through.

Cameron 25:43
Yeah, I have not read as much Gogol, I assume. But of Gogol's pieces I have read this is definitely compelling in the sense that it's it's really funny the whole way through, as compared to a little… you find a lot of condemnation, implicitly in his other work, which is here, but it's very funny.

Matt 26:05
Yeah, I think he's able to go through just like a lot of parts of Russian society really quickly. It's not just he's talking to other people of high rank, like, I mean, he's going through, you know, the newspaper office, he's, you know, writing letters, he's going through a lot of different characters that Gogol is able to really kind of characterize very quickly in the page and a half, maybe, or two pages that's dedicated to each of them. And yeah, I mean, the people, at least not really that in depth, it's largely a caricature of them, but it's fun.

Cameron 26:39
Yeah, I mean, you get to see for each of them, you know, with Ivan Yakovlevich, you get to see his home life of the moment, something weird, like finding a nose in his bread happens, which his wife immediately begins to accuse him of, of like, assault, assaulting his customers.

Matt 26:59
And oh, yeah, that's, I mean, that's where it starts. It starts with the barber. His wife is ready to turn him into the police within like the first page. This guy, he can't even have coffee and bread for breakfast. His wife makes him choose one of the two. You get immediate… It's funny from from the very beginning.

Cameron 27:21
Yeah, it also has one of my favorite lines from the whole piece, which is Ivan Yakovlevich, "like any honest Russian working man was a terrible drunkard.

Matt 27:32
Yep, yep. Yep.

Cameron 27:34
And although we spent all day shaving other people's beards, he never touched his own." I just love those two sentences. It's one of my favorite parts. But you know, every time you meet someone, they become, I guess, representative of something bigger, the police officer won't go away until Kovalyov off bribes him. The clerk at the the newspaper is afraid of libel. So he will not publish Kovalyov's advertisement because he's afraid that the censors are going to get angry at them and think it's a metaphor for something else. You know, even like, I don't know, the doctor, I mean, maybe the doctor you could read as the only principled character through the whole thing who refuses to do something that he could do but thinks it's bad for Kovalyov… still trying to buy his nose. Which, not as weird, not as outright funny as the rest, but still.

Matt 28:23
See, I don't know. I don't think the doctor really… Principled? I don't know, I think he is lazy. Like, well, because the doctor, he lies to him. He says I could put on your nose. But trust me, it would be worse. I don't know what he means by that. I don't know how he was planning to reattach this man's nose. I don't know that I have that much faith in him.

Cameron 28:44
That's fair. I mean, I think the level of which medical professions were valued at this time, far exceeded their ability to actually do things. But that didn't really stop a lot of them. I think if he were to do it would be horrifying. It would be really bad time.

Matt 28:58
Yeah, I think the extent of his medical expertise is probably to dip something in vinegar.

Cameron 29:04
Well, this is Russia. So it's rubbing vodka on it.

Matt 29:06
It could be, yeah. I mean, they're in Petersburg, so maybe it's a little bit better. But certainly, I don't know that they're at, like nose surgery.

Cameron 29:17
Yes, yeah.

Matt 29:18
Something else that I have heard and have found. It's not necessarily a reading of it, but it's more of a genre or narrative topic. And it's something that I hate when writers do now, but it's a little different reading something that was written so long ago. To see something similar employed would be interesting, I think, which is, I said at the beginning that this could be an example of an early work of magical realism. And it is very, like realistic all the way through. But there is a case that could be made that none of it actually happened, that it was all a dream. Every single part it fades into this fog. And Gogol could have just that not written that, but that's included for a reason and it's worth kind of looking into because it doesn't need it. Narratives move on their own, whether you say that a fog descended, or everything's shrouded in fog. And we don't know what happens next. It feels like the narrative is kind of moved in that way.

Cameron 30:24

Matt 30:25
I don't know if you thought about that or noticed that. That was something that I've just heard before.

Cameron 30:31
I don't, I hadn't thought about that previously. But if I wanted to connect it to what I, my my reading, or at least what I took away from it, like, at the end of the story, nothing changes, right. Kovalyov learns absolutely nothing. Not entirely dissimilar to how in a dream, you walk away, you wake up and your life is exactly the same as it was before, regardless of any lesson you might have learned in that dream.

Matt 30:52
Yeah, that's absolutely part of it I feel like. For something so dramatic and out of the ordinary, you think that the character, the main character is going to learn some sort of lesson: I'm going to be a better person, I'm gonna do whatever… I don't know. And the Major learns, none of that. It's just completely unchanged, like you said.

Cameron 31:14
And in fact, he meets Mrs. Potochin and her daughter who he has been flirting with for some period of time, and he talks to them for a while then like huffs his snuff and says, that'll teach you both you hold hens. I'm not going to marry your daughter simply par amour as they say, if you don't mind. And then walks off. And he's like, maybe a bigger dick now that he's got his nose back.

Matt 31:39
Yeah, he absolutely is. I think that's the only thing that made him an interesting characters throughout it is that he doesn't have his nose. So if he, you know, if he had it the whole time, it probably wouldn't have been that interesting of a story. You really wouldn't have been… I mean, I was like rooting for him to at least, like find it. I was like, Alright, how much does this guy have to endure, you can just get his nose back and stop running into that bakeries dressed up in the fifth rank as nobility. But then at the end you're like… ah he just kind of sucks.

Cameron 32:13
Which maybe it leads into either the idea of it's a dream relating to the lack of impact it has on his life as a whole or just, you know, even if you take away the rank of these people who are so obsessed with it, it doesn't change anything about them. I did have a question for you. How do you read the very end? In the last page you do have the author of this piece addressed you directly?

Matt 32:37
Oh, yeah.

Cameron 32:37
How do you how do you read that? How do you come away from that?

Matt 32:42
I don't know. This is very, to me, this is very characteristic of Gogol. If you read Dead Souls, which is probably his main work, what he's known for, or his his longer work that he's known for, I guess. He does this a lot. This is a very Gogol sort of thing to just break and kind of address the reader in a way that's pretty funny. I think it fits his genre, it fits his style of writing. It's just a very stylistically, it's a very Gogol thing to do. I don't know that you see that in a lot of writing at this time. Like I said, I'm not a 19th century specialist. So I don't know that I can say that. But definitely, from my own experience, and what I've read that this is… that Gogol is definitely the funniest writer at the time. And this is definitely something that is characteristic of his work, and is present at the end of it. I don't know, what did you think of it?

Cameron 33:39
I didn't know initially what to think of it. I mean, like you said, it's deeply funny he, halfway through the the paragraph at the end, he starts asking questions like: How did the nose disappear? And how did it turn up in Ivan's bread? And then he's like, I don't understand it. Not at all. But the strangest most incredible thing is that authors should just write about such things. Thus that I confess is beyond my comprehension. And he ends on, I think, this is one of my favorite story endings I've ever read: "However, when all is said and done, one can concede this point or the other, and perhaps you can even find, well, then you won't find much that isn't on the absurd side. Will you?" And I, first of all, it's really cheeky and very funny. After some thought, I kind of read it as almost, I don't know, like, not a note to the censors, but a note, which is to the reader in such a way that they can make a point that gets past the censors, like in the original version, of the story… something if you do not know at this time censors were, in Russia, very prevalent for anything that was printed.

Matt 34:44
Yeah, everything that was printed was read first.

Cameron 34:46
Yeah. So in earlier versions, some places in the story, Kazan Cathedral and one other, I think real, I think it's a coffee shop or another type of shop. They had to be censored because they were not… the censors are not down with that. So that had to be changed to like a general market or [?]. I kind of read that as him, just a general statement that our society, which I am writing about is a bit absurd. You know, nothing you'll find isn't on the absurd side. But since he's ostensibly writing about the story, it's not something that they might necessarily, the censors, would necessarily jump on.

Matt 35:19
No, that's a good point. I mean, that that makes a lot of sense. Like I said, magical realism really does describe a lot of what this is because he's able to see the absurd, and the grotesque really, in very ordinary events. Like the craziness of the story is the fact that he is talking to his own nose. But what's so ridiculous is that he can't even talk to his own nose, because of the rank difference. And, yeah, so I mean, that makes a lot of sense. I think it's interesting, you brought up the censors, because this is what I thought when I read Gogol at first too, I was like, Gogol is radical. He really wants to go against the grain, and look at society from a different point of view. And what I did not realize was that Gogol really actually was fairly conservative in his political leanings, and even in his later works, he became… people didn't like him after he wrote some of his essays, like, he was really in favor of the monarchy and the Orthodox Church and did a lot of things that people wanted to reform or just outright get rid of. And so I thought it was interesting that not only this work, but he has a lot of other works that people thought were just like, really radical that he himself did not read them that way, or didn't necessarily intend them to be read that way. I just thought it was an interesting little point.

Cameron 36:55
Right. I mean, there might be a more interesting point about Russia as a whole that, at that time, even relatively conservative thinkers were kind of like, pushing back upon maybe the censors, upon them specifically, in such a way that they might have just been thinking of this is a little bit silly. But other people who were significantly more against the system read as much more radical than was actually intended.

Matt 37:17
Yeah, he really did support the system in general. I mean, obviously, he saw aspects of it that were wrong. And he did want to see some level of reform, but he wasn't like, let's tear it all down, start over again, kind of radical.

Cameron 37:33
I was talking to my friend a while ago, and I was like, conveying to him this old Russian meme about, like, how different authors see Petersburg. And like Gogol… it's like this big, you know, like, it looks like Mordor and, you know, Pushkin sees this flowery paradise. And Dostoevsky sees a trash can. And I think it's interesting that if we were to, like… a lot of Russian authors write about Russia in a way, that is like, almost like they are kind of disgusted by their society in a way that they're, like, still really nationalistic, but are very critical of it in a way that if you were to read that in, I think American literature, almost always you'd see someone writing that from like, the fringes of society of like, I don't know, some, like far right wing literature about tearing society down and all these things that discussed them. But this is not that far out of the mainstream in Russian literature in various periods.

Matt 38:24
No, it really wasn't. I mean, he was, he was praised by literary critics in Russia for a lot of his works, kind of until the end, when he came out as being more conservative and having those views more and more explicitly in his writings. I mean, they were, I'm pretty sure they were they were like essays. So it was like, here is what I think. It's a different point of view. It's still, it's still incredibly culturally relevant, especially his views on Petersburg and his relation to other writers. I mean, Gogol was one of the biggest influences in Russian literature going forward from this period, especially on Dostoevsky. And you mentioned Kafka earlier who also cited Google as one of his major influences.

Cameron 39:14
Yeah. I think… I don't have anything more to say about that. I think that was a great place to kind of wrap it up.

Matt 39:19
Yeah, I'm good with that.

Cameron 39:21
The music used in this episode was "soviet march" by Toasted Tomatoes. You can find more of their stuff on toastedtomatoes.bandcamp.com and also on YouTube under the same username. If you enjoyed the episode, first of all, that makes us happy. But also grad school doesn't pay very well and neither does unemployment. So if you happen to have a few dollars to spare, you can find us on Patreon at patreon.com/tipsytolstoy. It'll help us buy the books we'll be reading in the future.

Matt 39:50
Yeah, thank you for listening to Tipsy Tolstoy: Russian literature for the Inebriated. I'm Matt Gerasimovich.

Cameron 39:58
I'm Cameron Lallana. And Matt, before we go, I've got one last questions for you. 1 to Yeltsin: how drunk are you?

Matt 40:04
I'm really only a 2 right now. I gotta say.

Cameron 40:08
Oof. Alright you gotta catch up. I'm at easily a Gorbachev.

Matt 40:14
Birthmark and all.

Cameron 40:23
You'll hear from us again next week.