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The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol

The Night Before Christmas

by Nikolai Gogol

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What a delightful little story this was. Charles Dickens had a miser and ghostly visits which allowed him to travel in time; Gogol has a witch, a devil, and men chasing after women with some wink-wink references for adults. While Dickens writes the chaste story of spiritual enlightenment, Gogol writes a madcap, magical, almost ribald adventure, drawing inspiration from Ukrainian folktales. The introduction says the book is still read aloud to children on Christmas Eve in Ukraine and Russia – interesting! I think that would be a lot of fun, and would recommend this beautiful little edition, which also has illustrations (mostly by 19th century artist Konstantin Makovsky), which add to its charm.

On the devil:
“As soon as the moon disappeared into the devil’s pocket, it became so utterly dark that no one could have found his way to the village tavern, let alone the deacon’s house. The witch, finding herself surrounded by blackness, shrieked in fear, but the devil sidled up to her, took her gently by the arm, and whispered what men all over the world whisper to the fair sex. Can you believe it – the devil flirting? But that’s life – everyone strives to imitate everyone else.

Every living creature wants to get on in the world, and the devil was no exception. The most grating aspect of his behavior was that he obviously fancied himself a sharp-looking fellow, whereas in truth it hurt one’s eyes to look at him. But then the sky and everything below it grew so hopelessly dark that we couldn’t tell you what happened between the handsome couple.”

“The frost was increasing. Up in the sky it had become so cold that the devil couldn’t keep still and hopped from hoof to hoof, blowing on his numb fingers – understandable behavior in someone who spends his days in front of an enormous fire roasting sinners, just as our housewives roast sausages for Christmas.”

“In the meantime, the devil had thoroughly relaxed at Solokha’s. He covered her arm with kisses, clutched at his heart, sighed and moaned, and finally announced that unless she agreed to satisfy his passion, he’d go and drown himself, ruining his immortal soul. Solokha wasn’t that cruel, and besides, they really were birds of feather. She greatly enjoyed having a train of suitors, but this evening she expected to be alone, since every prominent villager was going to the deacon’s. Only now this plan changed: no sooner had the devil declared his passion than they heard the voice of Dikanka’s village head demanding to be let in. The hostess rushed to open the door, and the devil promptly jumped into the smallest of the coal sacks.”

I love the feeling evoked by this one:
“During the devil’s brief excursion out of and back into the chimney, his little side pouch got untied – and the moon slid out and rose slowly into the sky. The whole world changed. The blizzard died down, the ground lit up like a silvery desert, and even the cold seemed warmer. Bands of girls and boys carrying sacks with treats poured into the streets, and Christmas carols filled the air. What a gorgeous night! How can one describe the fun of mingling with the carolers? It’s nice and warm under the sheepskin, the cold paints the young cheeks brighter, and the devil himself goads youngsters into mischief.”

And this one as well:
“At first Vakula felt uneasy flying so high above the ground; passing under the crescent moon, he actually had to duck. But little by little he recovered and began to tease the devil, who sneezed and hiccupped every time Vakula touched his little cypress cross.
Everything glittered in the bright moonlight; the air was a transparent silvery mist. One could see everything that was happening in the sky: a wizard racing in his cauldron, stars playing hide-and-seek, a group of ghosts hanging together like a cloud, a devil dancing in the moonlight, a broomstick returning home after transporting a witch … All kinds of riffraff flew past them. Every creature slowed down to take a look at the blacksmith riding a devil, then continued on its way. Suddenly they saw a whole ocean of light – they had reached St. Petersburg. On approaching the city gate the devil turned into a magnificent mount, and Vakula rode horseback into the capital.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Dec 24, 2015 |
This tale written by Nikolai Gogol in 1831 is full of humor. A devil, a witch, a very vain beautiful girl, a very devout blacksmith, love, jealousy and revenge are all wrapped up in this neat little adult fairy tale. One funny scene has the witch, who is the blacksmith's mother, hiding one suitor after another in big sacks as another suitor comes to the door. I wouldn't think it would be suitable for children, but the description says that it is still read aloud to children on Christmas Eve in Ukraine and Russia.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Read December 2014 ( )
  NanaCC | Jul 26, 2015 |
Gogol's story opens on Christmas Eve with the scene of a witch and a devil who are up to no good. The devil has in mind to foil the plans of devout local blacksmith, Vakula, to pay court to the village beauty, Oksana. Oksana is as dreadfully vain as she is beautiful, and has chased off all her many suitors, mistreating them and playing hard to get, not to mention spending more time with her mirror than with them. Frustrated by the continual rebuffing of his advances, Vakula has nearly given up on Oksana and life itself, when he comes up with one last risky gambit to win her affections.

I'll say no more for fear of giving away overmuch, but I was thoroughly charmed by Gogol's remote village where carolers traverse the town on a cold, crisp Christmas Eve, singing for treats from the townspeople. Besides the witch and the devil and the unfortunate Vakula, the town is populated by a cadre of important men made laughable by their foibles, a crowd of fierce housewives, and gaggles of laughing girls. Despite the less than traditional Christmas content, I found Gogol's story to be a delicious and humorous little folk tale of his own creation and a welcome departure from the Christmas norm. ( )
  yourotherleft | Nov 29, 2014 |
bookshelves: winter-20132014, shortstory-shortstories-novellas, slavic, published-1830, translation, noir
Recommended to ☯Bettie☯ by: Don
Read on December 17, 2013

Listen here

Thanks Don!

Oh! there's more, some films: Nikolai Gogol: Magical Ukrainian Fairy Tale on Christmas Eve

Not one for the kiddies, this is a tale of witches, devils and mischief

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4* The Mysterious Portrait ( )
  mimal | Jan 1, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 081121947X, Paperback)

Nikolai Gogol's hilarious and macabre tale of a Christmas Eve with a devil and a romantic twist.

It is the night before Christmas and devilry is afoot. The devil steals the moon and hides it in his pocket. He is thus free to run amok and inflicts all sorts of wicked mischief upon the village of Dikanka by unleashing a snowstorm. But the one he’d really like to torment is the town blacksmith, Vakula, who creates paintings of the devil being vanquished. Vakula is in love with Oksana, but she will have nothing to do with him. Vakula, however, is determined to win her over, even if it means battling the devil.

Taken from Nikolai Gogol’s first successful work, the story collection Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, The Night Before Christmas is available here for the first time as a stand-alone novella and is a perfect introduction to the great Russian satirist.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:03 -0400)

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