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The Nose

Ian Dreiblatt

Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov awakens one morning to discover that his nose is missing, and immediately launches a search around St. Petersburg to find it. Finally locating it in Kazan Cathedral, he learns his nose has acquired a higher rank in the civil services than he has—and that it refuses to return to his face.

A razor-sharp satire on the stratification of St. Petersburg society—which Nikolai Gogol, a Ukrainian from the provinces, observed as a critical yet ambitious outsider—The Nose is also a masterpiece of the Russian “fantastic” movement, whose literary heirs in the twentieth century would include Kafka and Bulgakov.

Ian Dreiblatt’s brilliant new translation restores a sense of how not only Kovalyov’s nose but the entire world of the novella is characterized by surrealistic dissociations and distensions—in which the absurdity and madness of literature pale in comparison with the absurdity and madness of life.

Nikolai Gogol was born on March 31, 1809, in the Ukrainian Cossack village of Sorochintsy. Seeking literary fame, he went to St. Petersburg at age eighteen to self-publish an epic poem, which was so ridiculed that he fled the city. He eventually returned and began writing stories influenced by Ukrainian folklore. Collected as Evenings on a Farm Near Dilanka, they were an enormous success. New friends, including Pushkin, encouraged him, and in stories such as “The Overcoat” and “The Nose,” and novels such as Dead Souls, Gogol developed a bitter realism mixed with ironic humor and surprisingly prescient surrealism. In 1836, fearing he’d offended the tsar with his satirical play The Inspector General, Gogol left Russia for a twelve-year European hiatus. Upon returning, he published an essay collection supporting the government he’d always criticized, and was so mercilessly attacked by former admirers that he became despondent. Falling into a state of questionable sanity, he renounced writing as an immoral activity, and in 1852 burned his last manuscript, a sequel to Dead Souls, just days before dying of self-imposed starvation.

Ian Dreiblatt has translated Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych and Nikolai Leskov’s The Enchanted Wanderer for The Art of the Novella series.