Posts Tagged ‘Nikolai Gogol’

Governors’ Balls

August 30, 2017

It is impossible to say whether or not the feeling which had awakened in our hero’s heart was the feeling of love; for it is indeed doubtful whether men who are neither too fat nor too thin are capable of falling in love.  Nevertheless, something strange, something which he could not altogether explain, had come over him.  It seemed, as he admitted to himself afterward, as though the ball, with all its tumult and conversation, had suddenly faded away to become something quite remote –that the violins and woodwinds had moved behind some distant hill, and everything seemed covered with a mist, like the carelessly sketched-in background of a mediocre painting.  And out of this misty, roughly sketched background only the delicate features of the ravishing fair-haired girl emerged clearly: her rounded oval face, her slender, slender figure, which is so characteristic of young girls during the first months after they have left school, the simple white dress which so lightly and elegantly draped her graceful young limbs, accentuating the soft lines of her enchanting form.  Her exquisite shape was like a beautifully carved ivory toy, glowing white and translucent against the dull blur of the surrounding crowd.

It seems that things like that actually do happen.  It seems that even the Chichikovs of this world are for a few moments transformed into poets … but the word ‘poet’ is perhaps an exaggeration.

But here to our great regret we must observe that gentlemen of substance and high office are somehow a trifle ponderous in conversation with the ladies.  It is young lieutenants who are far more adept at the game –or, in any case, no officers above the rank of captain.  How they manage it only God knows.  They don’t seem to be saying anything particularly clever, but the young lady rocks and wriggles with laughter in her chair.


Perhaps it’s not surprising that Nikolai Gogol didn’t know the young lieutenants’ secret of success: the strictures of religious orthodoxy weighed upon him with a heavy hand.  But who knows, maybe he originally intended to save the really good stuff for Part II of Dead Souls.  Instead, foolish man, he burned the manuscript and starved himself into an early grave.

Since Gogol can’t tell you, I will: sparkling eyes and a playful tone communicate everything that patriarchal society insists be left unsaid.



And Quiet Flaws the Don

July 17, 2017

“… don’t you think there’s something in this business deal that doesn’t quite conform to the code of civil law and the future prosperity of Russia?”
Gospodin Manilov


Vlad is my Co-Pilot

September 6, 2012

These days some folks think there’s way too much media coverage of trivial, conventional American political posturing.  Well, there’s one man who is bold enough to do something about it.  That’s right:  Comrade Bear to the rescue!

Russian Prime Minister  President Putin stopped off at the Kushavet ornithological research station on the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic on Wednesday en route to [the APEC] summit in Vladivostok.  Once at the station, he met with a [hang glider] pilot, who sat behind him on [a motorized ultralight aircraft] to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight.  Dressed in a white [flight suit] meant to imitate an adult crane, Putin was taking part in a project to teach endangered birds who were raised in captivity to follow the aircraft on their southern migration to Central Asia.

Only one crane followed Putin on his first flight, which he attributed to high winds that caused the hang glider to travel faster than usual.   On the second flight, five birds followed Putin, but after a few circles only two had stuck with him for the full 15-minute flight.

Siberia.  Endangered species.  Raised in captivity.  Flight.  A leader with scant following. … So many deeply Russian themes, but so little poetry in the minds of the masses.

Those cranes may soon be migrating for a reason that has nothing to do with the onset of Siberian winter.

[While in Kushavet ] Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will chair a conference with oil and gas producers operating in the Yamal region.  Putin noted that Gazprom and NOVATEK were operating actively in the region. The state plans to create infrastructure for the operation of Russian companies. “Yamal is a very convenient place from the point of view of fuel transportation; there are good depths here to set up a large port to transport liquefied gas,” the president said.   Professor  Alexander Lobusev of Gubkin Oil and Gas University reported that the area was quite promising from the point of view of its oil and gas potential. “The initial aggregate reserves of gas make up 50 trillion cubic meters, the reserves of oil reach four billion tons, and the reserves of condensate are over three billion tons,” he said.

On the other hand, if the Arctic climate continues to warm, there may be no further need for Siberian cranes to migrate southward in winter.  Think of the time saved!  Perhaps the clever cranes could take up reading Russian literature instead of spending half their lives traveling.

At a meeting with United Russia members in Saratov on Wednesday, President Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he has practically no free time for leisure, noting that he has to travel a lot to different regions and has a rather busy schedule. “But I like it,” he added.  [To pass time on the road] Medvedev said he has been reading Gogol’s “Dead Souls” lately. “This may surprise you,” he said, and admitted that he was “greatly enjoying Gogol’s style.”

Here’s a plot summary for all you Philistines and Chauvanists out there in the Lower 48:

First published in 1842, Dead Souls is widely regarded as an exemplar of 19th-century Russian literature. The title refers to the “dead souls” of Nikolai Gogol‘s characters, all of which visualize different aspects of poshlost (an untranslatable Russian word which is perhaps best rendered as “self-satisfied inferiority”, moral and spiritual, with overtones of middle-class pretentiousness, fake significance and philistinism).

The first part of the novel was intended to represent the Inferno of  [a contemporary] Divine Comedy.  Gogol revealed to his readers an encompassing picture of the ailing social system in Russia after the war of 1812.   The story follows the exploits of Chichikov, a gentleman of middling social class. Chichikov arrives in a small town and quickly tries to make a good name for himself by impressing the many petty officials of the town. Despite his limited funds, he spends extravagantly on the premise that a great show of wealth and power at the start will gain him the connections he needs to live easily in the future. He also hopes to befriend the town so that he can more easily carry out his bizarre and mysterious plan to acquire “dead souls.”

The Russian government taxed landowners on the basis of how many serfs (or “souls”) the landowner had on their records at the time of the collection. Landowners would often find themselves in the position of paying taxes on serfs that were no longer living, yet were registered on the census to them, thus they were paying tax for “dead souls.”  Chichikov seeks to purchase these dead souls from people in the village; he tells the landowners that he has a use for them, and that the sellers would be better off anyway, since selling them would relieve the present owners of a needless tax burden.  Chichikov’s macabre mission to acquire “dead souls” is actually just another complicated scheme to inflate his social standing . He plans to collect the legal ownership rights to dead serfs as a way of inflating his apparent wealth and power. Once he acquires enough dead souls, he will retire to a large farm and [use them as collateral to] take out an enormous loan, finally acquiring the great wealth he desires.

Chichikov assumes that the rural gentry will be eager to sell their dead souls for a pittance.  However, the task of collecting the rights to dead people proves difficult, due to the persistent greed, suspicion, and general distrust of the landowners.

… And madcap hilarity ensues for quite some time.   The novel ends in mid-sentence as the prince who (spoiler alert!) arranged Chichikov’s arrest gives a grand speech that rails against corruption in the Russian government:

“It goes without saying that the prime conspirators ought to undergo deprivation of rank and property, and that the remainder ought to be dismissed from their posts; for though that would cause a certain proportion of the innocent to suffer with the guilty, there would seem to be no other course available, seeing that the affair is one of the most disgraceful nature, and calls aloud for justice.  Therefore, although I know that to some my action will fail to serve as a lesson, since it will lead to their succeeding to the posts of dismissed officials, as well as that others hitherto considered honourable will lose their reputation, and others entrusted with new responsibilities will continue to cheat and betray their trust —although all this is known to me, I still have no choice but to satisfy the claims of justice by proceeding to take stern measures.  I am also aware that I shall be accused of undue severity; but, lastly, I am aware that it is my duty to put aside all personal feeling, and to act as the unconscious instrument of that retribution which justice demands.”
… “As a Russian, therefore —as one bound to you by consanguinity and identity of blood— I make to you my appeal.  I make it to those of you who understand wherein lies nobility of thought. I invite those men to remember the duty which confronts us, whatsoever our respective stations; I invite them to observe more closely their duty, and to keep more constantly in mind their obligations of holding true to their country, in that before us the future looms dark, and that we can scarcely….”

Gee, what’s Comrade Bearcub trying to say?  If only the Prime Minister would clearly state what’s on his mind!