by Nikolai Gogol
1836 / short story
Rating – 9
This is a VERY peculiar short story about a barber who finds a nose in his bread and the man who has lost his nose. The nose gets some action, too – actually, it becomes a character. I think nobody knows if there’s a “meaning” to the story or not – it’s been interpreted in a number of ways from sheer nonsense to pointed social satire. Even the character of The Nose has been interpreted as a man’s penis. The work has been called a forerunner of magical realism. So what with all that buzzing around, I’m sure I can’t figure out any really satisfactory meaning if 200 years worth of scholarship can’t.
What I will say is that to me, The Nose is fantastical satire and I suppose Gogol is spoofing the snooty civil servants around St. Petersburg at the time. But this is not satire which is critical of the government or the church – the satire is of people, of the “noses” which are up in the air about what they do, who they think they are because of their title. Gogol wrote quite a lot satirizing the civil servants and their uppity ways and he also wrote a few other stories with fantastical or surrealistic or dream-like elements.
And I thought the story was hilarious and really quite enjoyable. The idea of Civil Servants walking around St. Petersburg with their noses all up in the air! It would serve them right if they were just pinched off. – LOL – What would happen?
Gogol must have enjoyed this theme of nose-in-the-air type Civil Servants because The Overcoat, Dead Souls and The Government Inspector are based on it – I think more but I haven’t read them. Gogol worked in Civil Service for awhile after his early literary efforts failed. There is a certain humanity in The Overcoat (we feel sorry for Akaky) but there seems to be a very critical undertone in the other two I mentioned. Perhaps beneath Gogol’s fantastical devices there is a very serious commentary on St. Petersburg’s supercilious bourgeoisie and their followers, the petit bourgeois clerks and barbers.
In The Nose Jakovlevitch, the barber, recognizes whose nose it is – “…he saw at once that this nose could belong to no other than to Kovaloff… ” (Fwiw, Gogol had a large nose – long and pointy, very distinguishable – he even wrote about noses in other books – and the smells of Rome amazed him.) Kovaloff likely has good smelling – “Your hands always smell, Ivan Jakovlevitch!” the latter answered, “What do they smell of?” “I don’t know, my friend, but they smell very strong.” Ivan Jakovlevitch after taking a pinch of snuff would then, by way of reprisals, set to work to soap him on the cheek, the upper lip, behind the ears, on the chin, and everywhere.
So then the nose owner is totally intimidated by the Nose’s title and trappings when he sees it on the street. The owner is much too preoccupied with what people will think of him without a nose.
A very good essay or thesis or something on Gogol and magical realism: