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The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

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Show Notes

This week, Matt and Cameron explore “The Overcoat,” by Nikolai Gogol. Once called, “the greatest Russian short every written,” by Vladimir Nabokov, this story has been adapted into plays, ballets, and over a dozen movies—all of which are a testament to the power of Gogol’s writing, though none are more so than the text itself. Join us as we jump into the story of Akaky Akakievich’s technicolor coat.

By popular request of my mother, I have censored some cursing in this episode.

Major themes: Petersburg winter, German beaver pelt, unconfirmed foot fetish

00:00 - If you’re interested in knowing more about the Russian Table of Ranks, here’s a short article about the topic published by James Hassell in the Cambridge Slavic Review: https://doi.org/10.2307/2493380

02:17 - *in the US, I should amend.

21:25 - At least a K-5, actually. I mistakenly conflated civilian ranks and military ranks here (the military rank of General begins at K-4, but according to Hassell, civilian ranks K-5 though K-1 were considered of “general” grade).

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

Transcript

Cameron 00:16

Hello and welcome to Tipsy Tolstoy: Russian Literature for the Inebriated.

Matt 00:21

I am Matt "vlogging in 2013" Gerasimovich.

Cameron 00:26

And I'm Cameron Lallana, my new thing this week: baking bread.

Matt 00:30

Oh! Well, this is a podcast where me and my good pal Cameron get to unwind from our week with some Russian literature and a drink or two or however many you want. This podcast does not judge. This week, we're going back to our roots with a short story from Nikolai Gogol once called the greatest Russian short story ever written by Vladimir Nabokov. And tonight we are reading "The Overcoat."

Cameron 00:52

Yes. But before we get into that, Matt, what are you drinking?

Matt 00:57

I am drinking a $12 red wine from Target that I picked up just this morning. Yes, I had to get carded at before 10am when I was at the store. I would not refer to it as alcoholism, I would call it planning ahead. And while I'm on the subject, I'm calling myself the 2013 vlogger this week, because I'm trying to put some content onto our YouTube channel. And that involves some vlogs making me feel like I'm living in the year 2013.

Cameron 01:24

That would be ideal.

Matt 01:25

Cameron, what are you drinking this week?

Cameron 01:27

This week, I am drinking the desert wine Solera In Perpetuum from the winery Ruby Hill. And I mentioned that specifically because here's a fun little fact for you all that don't live in California or know much about wine. Although California is most reputed for its Napa Valley region. Napa is only one of many wine countries throughout California. And in my personal opinion, Napa is... it's fine, it's good. But it's really expensive. And there are many other wine countries which are just as good and a lot less expensive. And Ruby Hill is in... around the town of Livermore, which is kind of in my backyard from where I grew up. And I am very fond of Ruby Hill because Ruby Hill was the very first winery I went to when I turned 21. And this very bottle of wine, Solera In Perpetuum was the very first legal drink I ever bought. I was going to keep it until I graduated. And then I graduated into a pandemic and I didn't have anyone to open it for. So my roommate and I just opened it to celebrate the end of the awful awful year 2021 [sic], and now I'm drinking $30 I spent two years ago.

Matt 02:33

Wow, that's like $35 now. That's crazy. That's a nice story. Why are you breadmaker this week? What have you started on?

Cameron 02:44

Yeah, I currently... my housemate and I can't leave the house due to quarantine reasons. So we are down to like the end of how much... how many groceries we bought. And we're resistant to ordering more. So because we're out of bread, I decided to start making my own because we have flour and peanut butter but no bread. So I solved that problem.

Matt 03:04

That sounds like you just being a good roommate, if you ask me. I would have loved if any of my previous roommates would have started baking bread.

Cameron 03:12

It's to make up for my other shortcomings as a roommate. As my roommate told me the other day. I often when I'm editing this podcast, I often finish very late at night. And I didn't realize this because I thought he was asleep. But he often hears me recording the music used in this episode lines at like 1am. So this is like a belated apology for that and also never filling up the Brita.

Matt 03:38

Yeah, well, we all got stuff.

Cameron 03:42

So let's get into the "The Overcoat."

Matt 03:45

Please.

Cameron 03:46

Same as last time, we're not going to talk too much about Gogol himself. It's not super relevant for this episode. But I do want to draw your attention back to the Table of Ranks. And if you listen to our "The Nose" episode, which I assume you did, because that's by far our most listened episode, the Table of Ranks was a formal list of positions that was instituted by Peter the Great in the early early 18th century, which was sort of an attempt to create a better bureaucracy, a system of incentive for people to work upward, etc, etc. Throughout the military, throughout the clergy, throughout the public service, the same tables from like 14 to one were instituted. And if you were at like rank K-8, which was the rank of our old Collegiate Assessor friend, Kovalyov, then you would be technically the same rank as a Major, which is also K-8 in the military. So if you get high enough into this table of ranks, then you actually are granted hereditary nobility, which is a great thing to have in Imperial Russia because it was not great. Not great to be living in Imperial Russia at this time as especially if you were in a capital it could be very, very difficult, as we will expand upon in this story. Even people in the Table of Ranks, even public servants were not earning a whole lot of money until they got higher up. So there was a lot of competition to get higher up. And if you listen to "The Nose" episode, you saw how much that affected daily life when people are trying to figure out what department and what rank people are, you know, as like a copier in order to see how much respect they should give someone. But that's gonna be pretty important for understanding the story itself. And for that, I will throw it over to Matt.

Matt 05:30

Alright, so I'm gonna do a quick summary of "The Overcoat" here. Hopefully, it'll be quick, I think there's actually a lot to get into. But I will do my best to keep it short and concise. The intro starts with a very typical Gogolian riff, if you will. It's something that comes up through this entire story, it's something we talked about in "The Nose," the way that Gogol kind of either is trying to get around censors, or is just trying to be funny in general. He is very, very vague. He opens it with in the department, dot, dot dot, but perhaps it is just as well not to say in which department. There is nothing more touchy, and ill-tempered in the world than departments, regiments, government offices, and indeed, any kind of official body. And so he attempts to start the story. But instead goes on a paragraph-long digression which is pretty typical that we will see throughout the entire story. And the narrative actually starts with our hero Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin. And he is a copier for the government. Basically all he does is make copies. We start with the very beginning of his life at birth, when his mother is trying to give him a name. She's looking at the saints that are honored and venerated that day. And she says, I don't really like any of these names. They're kind of weird. And so eventually, he, as she says, is fated to be Akaky, just like his father. And as Gogol kind of narrates, he says Akaky, could not have been born any other way. He was born basically into being a Titular Counselor. He looks like one he acts like one and he cries like one since the beginning of his life. And it eventually, you know, fast forwards after his birth scene, and it goes right into his job, which is making copies of documents for the government. Nobody respects Akaky at all. The young clerks, they play pranks on him, they rip up pieces of paper and throw it over him and they call it snow. And everybody is just really mean to him. Even though he does nothing. He's incredibly meek. All he does is make copies. He likes to do that, he takes his work home with him and he makes copies at night. Sometimes he even makes copies for fun if he has no work left to do. However, one day after a very long period of service, Akaky's superiors try to give him some sort of promotion, some sort of increased work to show that he is able to potentially go up ranks. All he has to do is retitle a document and change the tense of the verbs. And this gives Akaky almost a nervous breakdown and he says, You know what, I cannot do it. And so Akaky is forever destined to just stay at his same rank, which he is honestly quite content with. He's happy just making copies. That's what he is. The narrator then points out that the biggest difference between Akaky and the other civil servants is that he does not care about his appearance. In the winter, especially when it's extremely cold in Petersburg, Akaky is fine wearing his coat that he has which the narrator affectionately or ironically called a cape to describe basically how much coverage it's actually giving Akaky. He has to run from building to building from home to work because it's so cold and he is not really wearing a warm enough coat. And eventually he starts to realize this and he goes to his friend Petrovich, who is a tailor near him. And Petrovich says I cannot mend this... you basically are giving me scraps, there's no way that I can make this back into a coat. Instead, I'm going to need 150-200 rubles to make a new coat. That is a problem for Akaky because his annual salary is only 400 rubles which would be... which would mean that he has to take about half his salary for a coat. Fortunately, he knows he could convince Petrovich to do this word for only about 80 rubles. However, he only has about 40 rubles after years of savings. With a rare stroke of luck, Akaky gets a bigger-than-expected holiday bonus. And in addition to saving on skipping meals, and all sorts of other kind of ridiculous things that he has to put himself through, he's able to save up and the coat is beautiful when it's finally made. They're able to make it out of things that look expensive, but are kind of budget items in a way. It's super beautiful. Akaky loves the coat, everybody at his office loves the coat, they demand that he throws some sort of party to celebrate himself getting the coat. And he obviously does not want to do that because he is not much of a partier, as we have established. And so a clerk in his office offers to throw him a party in his honor. And he goes to this party, he feels pretty uncomfortable. He's not used to being in the Petersburg social scene. Usually he just goes home, eats a little bit, and makes extra copies. So he doesn't really know what to do when everybody starts playing cards, and eventually he sneaks out to go home. On the way home on the street, on a relatively deserted street, he sees some men who mug him and steal his coat. He goes over to the policeman who's nearby to say, Hey, did you just see those people steal my coat? And the policeman says, No, I didn't say anything. Oh, well, I saw those two men that you were talking with and I thought they were just your friends perhaps or something. But I don't know. Maybe you should take it up with the Police Commissioner or somebody else.

Cameron 10:50

The amount that this man cared about this was that... I think Akaku was actually thrown into the snow by these two guys. So yeah, that's the watchman saw that all go down.

Matt 11:01

Yeah, yeah. What pursues is basically... or what ensues is basically Akaky trying to take this up the ladder and nobody really caring. He eventually, he petitions the Police Commissioner who was a step up from this man, the watchman, and he's no help. He's so depressed, he takes a day off from work. One of the clerks to impress him or to impress his superiors, tells Akaky that he should go to a Very Important Person for help. And this is what we were... what I was saying before about Gogol kind of evading, not really giving anything too specific about characteristics. And so Akaky goes to this VIP, as I will dub him and tries to get some help from him. But this person is in a meeting with a childhood friend and it's just a really bad time and he doesn't want to deal with Akaky. And so unfortunately for him, when Akaky enters the room, the VIP is so furious that Akaky hasn't gone through the formal channels, which of course, he tried. And he yells at Akaky and chastises him for doing that for not following procedure. This causes Akaky to faint, he becomes ill, and he dies. Now, where you would think that would be the end of the story is not where Gogol lets that be the end of the story. No, it is not. Instead, Akaky's ghost comes back to haunt Petersburg. Probably the funniest and pettiest ghost I've ever heard of in my entire life comes back and just starts ripping off people's overcoats. And eventually he comes to the VIP who was the one who ultimately killed him. And he steals his overcoat, and only then can he rest. And that is "The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol. Cameron, what were your first impressions? How did you feel about it? Was this... I think you said it was your first time reading it?

Cameron 12:51

This was my first time reading it. I had a great time. I didn't really know what to expect from "The Overcoat." I am distantly familiar with it. But the 19th century is not my period of choice, usually for literature. But I was kind of impressed at how interesting Gogol was able to make formal society of this time, I feel like I learned a fair bit. And also he brought his trademark humor into just... there were so many moments that appealed to me as sort of an amateur writer myself, or even just, you know, as someone who enjoys humor. There's one of the opening lines when he's talking about Petrovich, which I just I had to like write down even though it's not really relevant to this at all. I just love it so much. Gogol writes, after describing Petrovich, it is not necessary to say much about this tailor. But as is the custom to have the character of each personage in the novel defined, there is no help for it. So here's Petrovich, the tailor. And then he goes on to describe more details about this guy. Just in terms of like, someone who's written a fair bit myself, that one is really... I love that of the eternal struggle of how much do you describe this minor character who doesn't mean anything. And also when Akaky the ghost appears, the police begin to hunt him down to prevent, you know, clerks around Petersburg having their coats stolen. And Gogol writes, arrangements were made by the police to catch this corpse, alive or dead, at any cost and punish him as an example to others in the most severe manner, which... his his kind of acerbic wit really comes through here, and I just had so much fun with it. So I was very impressed on that front.

Matt 14:29

I really enjoyed the absurdity, especially in the ghost bit. However, that same kind of humor, like you were saying comes out in a lot of other parts of the story, which I found made it very enjoyable, even on the second or maybe it was my third time reading it.

Cameron 14:44

Right. Yeah. And before we actually get into like a hard analysis of this, I just wanted to extend a quick thank you to a friend of ours who we met when we started this podcast, actually, they reached out to us and we have been very much enjoying our conversations. They offered to send me a paper they wrote on "The Overcoat," and reading that really helped me orient my thinking about this going into this episode. So thank you. I won't say their name because I didn't talk to them beforehand about mentioning them. So not gonna mention any details. But thank you so much.

Matt 15:14

Surprise. You're on the Podcast.

Cameron 15:17

Thank you for sending me your essay that was super helpful.

Matt 15:19

And I would like to not extend to thank you just because they had really good opinions. And they were talking about some of the things that I wanted to talk about. So no thank you for taking for stealing my thunder on one of the things I was going to mention. But good on you for picking that up.

Cameron 15:39

Speaking of those topics, Matt, what did you take away from this?

Matt 15:43

So much. There's so much to take away from "The Overcoat." The first thing that I picked up on and I started to go a little bit too much into it during my summary was the digressions of the narrator. And now I would like to see what you kind of thought about it, because I always struggle when I read Gogol to figure out exactly what the point of it always is. I think, to me, it seems that he's just kind of funny. I think it's just a mark of his humor that sometimes... it's one of the parts of his humor that translates very well, because it's something that English authors as well can do when they're trying to be funny and satirical. And this story, especially, I mean, it was in "The Nose" when we talked about it, it's in Dead Souls a lot, which we haven't read, but I've read... It just makes the whole thing really funny, it almost makes it feel like the action that's happening is not actually happening. It's a very weird sensation. I talked about last time when we talked about "The Nose," how I thought that it could almost be read as a dream, I think you can almost do the same thing in "The Overcoat" the way that things are described both very specifically and non specifically at the same time. It's a very interesting sensation.

Cameron 16:58

Right. I think it's also really interesting because it creates a greater sense of an outside world even to the characters themselves. Because if you read older novels, and I mean, like really old novels, like Don Quixote forward, you don't see a sense of the world outside of the character, like, it very much is the world exists around them, even if the world is kind of, theoretically, not really there as is the case of Don Quixote, which is, you know, an entire novel making fun of the main character. But this one gives a greater sense of world where characters have independent thoughts, actions, and feelings. I really want to highlight one clerk who this is a little aside which didn't need to exist at all. But one clerk upon Akaky meekly defending himself when they're making fun of him in the office, he suddenly has this moment where he hears like the other words that Akaky didn't say, of, you know, why are you making fun of me and the words he didn't say are I am your brother. And then he immediately feels a deep sense of shame, and carries this throughout his life going forward and thinks about... and shudders to think about how much inhumanity there is in Gogol's words, how much savage coarseness is concealed beneath delicate, refined worldliness, and even oh, God in that man the world acknowledges and honorable and noble soul. There's a minor moment of reflection from a clerk on how not real the delicacy he thought was true of his coworkers, which is why he befriended them. That's an aside that doesn't need to exist at all, but it creates a much greater sense of world.

Matt 18:25

There's just a lot of... I feel like digression overall. It's a very, very unique narrative style. And that's what I personally like about it. And it's not one, for instance, compared to Tolstoy, where you really have to be focused in on what you're reading, you can almost read this just for fun. I'm not saying Tolstoy is not fun, but it's probably not most people's idea of fun sitting down and reading an 800 page novel. This is just... it was 40 pages in my copy of big text. It was quick, very impactful. And even though there was so much digression, I felt like all of it really contributed to that overall sense. And one of the things that I thought it was contributing to was kind of mocking this idea of fatalism or poking fun at it. It's something that's a part of a lot of Russian novels, especially at this time, but kind of just in general. The whole intro scene being nestled right after that initial digression in that paragraph where Gogol's kind of saying, well, this could have taken place anywhere. I think he's saying, this is an attitude that Russians at this time have, which is, oh, well, my life sucks. Well, I must have been fated to have had this kind of life. And I think that is an even deeper and more profound criticism of Russian society at that time than I had even thought originally because I think that if you were to try to justify being an aristocrat at that time, you must have had to believe in something like that. Well, like, God wanted me to be an aristocrat. That's why I was born that way. And well, Akaky wanted to be a copier. That's why he was born that way. He was just fated to be that way. And like you were saying earlier, the digressions helps us kind of point to the fact that, hey, that's kind of a stupid idea, isn't it?

Cameron 20:09

Yeah. And this, this facade, which the world has built around itself is ultimately false as that one clerk discovers. So speaking of these kinds of very surface level facades, which drive society, there are two major lines of inquiry, which have a lot of... are basically umbrellas for other lines of inquiry. And I would personally see that as a.) obviously, the role of the overcoat in this story, that's the major one. And we will definitely get to that in a little bit. But I wanted to highlight the two major characters of the story, which I kind of see as the other major line of inquiry here. That being a relationship of both Akaky and the VIP to their society, because they kind of play against each other, they're two people who are very bound into their roles. This idea that I'm about to put forth to you is one I've slightly adapted from the idea that our friend put forth in their essay. So thank you, I'm stealing your ideas and slightly changing them.

Matt 21:03

Thank you for carrying the Podcast.

Cameron 21:06

So you have Akaky, who is a Titular Councillor, which is a rank K-9, which is pretty low in the Table of Ranks. You would probably get there in your 20s, Akaky is upwards of 40. He's just never been promoted. And then you have the VIP who is a General, I don't know if it's more clear on the Russian version, but that would mean he's at least a K-4. And, you know, he could be all the way up to you know, like a K-1. But he is incredibly bound up by his role-as they both are. The VIP is introduced as a very nice man, a very thoughtful man, all those kinds of things. But then it goes on to qualify that by saying the role he was put in made him feel uncomfortable with society. When he was among his peers of the same rank or above, he was very funny, he was intelligent, he was open, but when he's with anyone below him, which given that he is a general, almost everyone is below him, he is uncomfortable, he's reserved, he's cold and distant. And the way he actually acts in the story is totally in contrast to how he is described even though he's repeatedly described as a good man, you know, ultimately, you know, a nice man with a good family all that kind of stuff, a respectable person. He, when Akaky comes to him, he's almost done meeting with his friend, his friend is about to leave, but to show off his power to his friend he, you know, makes Akaky wait for a while until they almost forget about him and then invites Akaky in. And when Akaky explains the whole thing to him, he gets raging mad, and when he dresses down Akaky so much that Akaky faints, he has this reaction: The prominent personage, gratified that the effect should have surpassed his expectation, and quite intoxicated with the thought that his word could even deprive a man of his senses, glanced sideways at his friend in order to see how he looked upon this, and perceived not without satisfaction, that his friend was in a most uneasy frame of mind, and even beginning on his part, to feel a trifle frightened. First of all, that's something a psychopath does. That's not that's not how I impress my friends. Certainly. And even later on in the story, when he meets the now dead Akaky who tries to take his coat, he's leaving a party and going to see his mistress. And story even notes...

Matt 23:15

Whoa, whoa, whoa, my... in my version, it says a woman with which he only has strictly friendly relations. Are you telling me that was a lie? I guess we've all learned things today.

Cameron 23:33

Yeah, so he's repeatedly described as this upstanding man, even though he's cheating on his wife and an absolute dick to everyone.

Matt 23:41

Literally, everybody.

Cameron 23:42

Literally everybody. So you kind of have these people who are constrained by their roles, and theoretically, he might be a good person. That's what the story certainly would, if you believe the text would want you to believe, but that's not how he acts because of his role. Well, not entirely, because his role... Because he uses that role to justify his behavior in that, you know, if he's among his peers, obviously they're equals and he'll be the best person he wants to be. But with everyone else, he has to play a role. And, you know, he practices his yelling, it mentions in the story, he practices all these mannerisms that he doesn't need to do. He didn't need to be angry at Akaky. He didn't need to, frankly, kill him. But he did just to show off his power and Akaky in contrast to that has absolutely no personal life outside of his job. And basically what the bureaucracy is doing here is collapsing any difference between a personal life and the bureaucratic life, his whole personality is his job. And that's something that's kind of liked but not exactly rewarded. And it's not until he gets the coat, that you start to see an emergence of a personal life. And that kind of is what paints a target on Akaky's back now, even if that is perhaps the only real joy he's ever felt in his life, that being able to separate himself from that bureaucratic system, which forces the collapse of personal and professional life.

Matt 25:08

And I think it's worth taking just a small step backwards before we move on, on the idea of personal versus professional, because it's something we have talked about, but not explicitly defined, or talked about this specific part is that the narrator's function, which is something that I am at this point is completely zoned in on... the narrator is rank-neutral, the narrator is even perhaps above everybody in the story. That is what creates so much of the humor for me is when the narrator starts every description of everybody by saying, oh, they're a good man, except if you take into account the way that they act towards, I don't know, literally everybody in the story, except people that they want to impress. So it's a way that Gogol can criticize, and it makes you read between the lines a little bit... not that hard, quite frankly. But it's an interesting effect that the narrator who has no rank but is kind of a fly on the wall in all of these situations is able to portray to the reader. And then we can go on to the legs, or the feet, whatever it was.

Cameron 26:15

Let's start with the coat and then we'll go to the legs. We'll work our way down.

Matt 26:18

Okay. All right.

Cameron 26:19

So there's the coat.

Matt 26:21

Tell me about it.

Cameron 26:24

It was... so about Joseph's multicolored coat... Technicolor coat.

Matt 26:31

You're fired. Get in the new host.

Cameron 26:34

We need someone who can on demand remember which one the technical coat is the first time around.

Matt 26:39

Yep, yep, yes. That was number one in the LinkedIn ad.

Cameron 26:46

So Akaky's relationship with his coat actually begins about six months before he even gets his coat. Because before he gets his Christmas bonus, which was way above what he was expecting, he initially decides to pay for this coat by skimping on paying for everything else, which is, as Matt mentioned, meals, even candles, he would do his work by the light of his neighbors' apartmets or his landlady's apartment. Everywhere he can skimp, he does. And interestingly, he starts to feel a sense of pride in being able to do this. It mentions that he almost feels a sense of satisfaction as if he were married, which is a really interesting comparison for him to make. I don't know if you drew anything from that particular, but this is sort of the emergence of his own personality, so to speak, really even as minor as it is.

Matt 27:37

The turning point for me was this line when he talks about a spiritual transformation saying that he was spiritually nourished by the thought of his overcoat, his future overcoat. It's that his whole existence, indeed, seemed now somehow to have become fuller, as though he had gotten married. Now, I have never had a coat in my life that has made me think, oh, this is about as good as a wife. But for Akaky, even the thought of it makes him think that and so it is like you were saying it is a complete transformation. It is the beginning of a separation between his work and his personal life. And that gets carried on throughout the entire rest of the story.

Cameron 28:20

Yeah, because it's not just he orders the coat and six months later, he's got the money to pay for it. Over the course of that six months, he's working very closely with Petrovich to make that coat. They're going out on a monthly to weekly basis to check out stores, look for sales, to compare materials. This is the first time as far as the story tells us, he goes out and does things for himself. And he's expressing himself not only in desires, but also in action.

Matt 28:46

He worked hard for that coat, he puts a lot of thought into it.

Cameron 28:49

Yeah, which is how he gets such a nice coat because they're buying everything on sale. They know appropriate, cheaper alternatives to the really nice thing. So even in the end, when he brings his coat in everyone has this impression of this incredible coat. It's using a lot of budget materials, like you said, but it creates the same effect, which is perhaps I don't know if this is intended, but it's also kind of a funny commentary on how the surface level analyses that people make of each other in this very image driven society is that he could use any cheap old material, and as long as they put in the work to make it appear grander than it actually is, people respond to it as if it is the grander material.

Matt 29:28

I think that's... I think that's part of it. I think that's part of why "The Overcoat" is so significant. It's just that it doesn't actually matter what material it is and what it's made out of. What matters is that it looks the part.

Cameron 29:40

And when Akaky first brings the coat in, everyone loves it, they all crowd around him. In my copy, and I'm reading the Constance Garnett translation and she did it in like I don't know 1910 1920. So, obviously, a bit antiquated. But the clerks around him, tell him that he needs to have a party to christen his coat. I don't know if it's the same in your addition.

Matt 30:02

I think it might be.

Cameron 30:04

Okay. Yeah. So like, on the level of having a child is kind of how they're treating it, somewhat jokingly, but they do want him to throw that party. And actually, it's one of his bosses that eventually throws the party because he wanted to appear magnanimous for deigning to have a party with his inferiors. And then when Akaky is coming home from that party, late at night, is when he's robbed. And at that point, robbed of the thing which made everyone like him, suddenly he runs into walls, and suddenly the whole society is basically not helping him at all. And I think it's also worth pointing out, and I don't know if this is what Gogol intended, but Akaky does not live in a very good area. In fact, he's robbed when he's coming back home. But when he goes to the party, for the very first time, he's going to a part of Petersburg, which is... has a nightlife and people are there and he goes from where he lives, which is dark, there are no lights in the streets, no one goes out at night to people are out until 12, or one in the morning on well-lit streets, where people are walking around and going to bars and in perhaps like the most personal moment of the whole story, Akaky stops in front of a some kind of store. And he looks into the window where there's a picture of quote, a handsome woman who had thrown off her shoe, thereby baring her whole foot in a very pretty way. And then Akaky laughs over something. And the narrator says, you know, another person might have laughed over X or Y thing about the French, but Akaky actually had nothing internally, he just was taking on the mannerisms of the people around him. And he continues on, which I think is interesting for a number of reasons. And there's a lot of ways you can read that. And I, Matt, you certainly have your idea about that. I thought it was very interesting that the narrator mentioned that, internally, he didn't actually have what everyone else around him might have been thinking when they had the reaction, but only he took on their mannerism in an empty way. But what... you ever thought about that, Matt.

Matt 31:53

My thought was just that this was the first time the story that he seemed to express any sort of sexual desire or arousal. The coat functions in a very similar way, that the nose functions and the story "The Nose," in that it gives him this sense of masculinity. It gives him the sense that he can be a man and he can do the things that are expected of a man in society at this time. And so that's kind of what this part was about to me. So I want to swing back to just one last Akaky thought before we start wrapping it up. And it's just how I feel so bad for Akaky, because at the end of the story, and this kind of ties together, I think all of the thoughts that we have had here, the department sends for Akaky. They send somebody to his apartment to say, Where have you been? You've been gone for four days. And the landlady answers and says he's been dead for four days and nobody had noticed. And so Akaky is just continually undertreated, I guess is the way to say it. He, even though he had this overcoat that was nice, it doesn't actually change any of the substance of his relationships between any of the other people. And that brings me to my final point on the humor and the fatalism and the everything of Akaky. I don't know if this is in scholarship, but one of my professors when I first took this class about the overcoat, said this, and it is the funniest thing a professor has ever said to me so far. And he says, Akaky Akakievich, which, if you don't know the middle name, or patronymic in Russian means son of, and so he says, Akaky Akakievich, which means shit, son of shit, and that is why his whole life is shit. And that was the funniest thing a professor has said to me. And honestly, it kind of is telling as to what happens.

Cameron 34:02

I think that's a great place to wrap up. Maybe you can see why, even until today, "The Overcoat," which is the story of a man who never really gets what's coming to him, in a good way still relates... he's still related to by so many people.

Matt 34:15

Cameron, before we completely wrap up this episode" on a scale from one to Yeltsin, how drunk are you this week?

Cameron 34:22

Unfortunately the wine I'm drinking... psychologically I can't more than sip it so I'm about as dry as Akaky Akakievich is for the majority of the story. How about you? Where are you at on a scale of one to our favorite Russian president?

Matt 34:37

Now I don't want to say that I have reached a full Yeltsin because I feel like we may have to stop the podcast. But what I will say is drinking half a bottle of wine before the Podcast and then a half a bottle of wine during the Podcast will get you very very close to a full Yeltsin and that's about where I'm at this episode.

Cameron 34:58

How close are you to trying to find Pizza Hut in your underwear?

Matt 35:02

Well, I guess I maybe haven't reached a full Yeltsin in that case, but I'm quickly approaching.

Cameron 35:08

Ordering McDonald's in your underwear also accounts.

Matt 35:10

Well, good enough. All right, I'm there.

Cameron 35:15

Okay.

Matt 35:21

Cameron, boy, I got to tell you, we have a special episode lined up for next week. We are finally getting to Dostoevsky. People have been banging down my apartment door asking me Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt. Matt, why aren't you reading any Dostoevsky? And I don't have a good enough answer. So we're going to do an episode next week. And we're doing it with our good friend who runs the account Dostoevskyordoesntshe on Instagram. Her name is Kaitlin. She is wonderful. She has a PhD in comparative literature focusing on Dostoevsky from the University of Texas at Austin. Super, super knowledgeable, and she's going to try to guide us illiterates through "Notes from the Underground." So if you have a chance to read a story about a man who desperately needs to see a dentist, then you should come along with us next week, and maybe learn a little something along the way. I know I will be.

Cameron 36:19

The music used in this episode was "soviet march" by toasted tomatoes. You can find more of their stuff on toasted tomatoes.bandcamp.com and also on YouTube under the same username. If you enjoyed the episode, well, first of all that makes us happy but also grad school doesn't pay very well. 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. If you're looking for other places to find this, you can also follow us on Instagram at TipsyTolstoyPodcast or visit our website, tipsytolstoy.com.

Matt 36:55

You'll hear again from us next week.