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The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

by Nikolai Gogol

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,397139,239 (4.32)74
A new translation of stories by a 19th century Russian master. One story is on a madman convinced that a dog can tell him everything he needs to know, another is on a downtrodden clerk whose life is changed by a new overcoat.

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» See also 74 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I think his stories probably sound like all stories sound to children before they are told how the world works.
( )
  Peter_Scissors | Jun 21, 2016 |
I really loved Dead Souls so I took this book off the TBR with a great deal of anticipation. And a suitably odd collection it is, suitable for Gogol that is to say. Divided into "Ukrainian Tales" and "Petersburg Tales," it of course includes his most famous stories (which I'd read before): "The Nose" and "The Overcoat". Beyond that, supernaturalism vies with surrealism, humor with tragedy, horror with love. I'm glad I read Russian Magical Tales from Pushkin to Platonov first because it introduced me to some of the witches and devils that inhabit Russian folklore -- and that Gogol does with what he will.

Some of the tales collected here are really creepy; "The Terrible Vengeance," "Viy," and "The Portrait" spring to mind, but others have elements of creepiness too. Some are humorous, such as "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikoforich" and "The Carriage." In the Petersburg stories especially, Gogol satirizes the rankings of clerks and skewers the pretensions of the general class consciousness of Petersburg society.

I read this book over several weeks, so what stands out in mind is a story I read last night, "The Portrait," which as I noted above is very creepy. It tells the tale of a struggling artist who buys (very cheaply) a portrait of a dark man clothed in Asian robes with piercing eyes that seem to follow him everywhere. Later, after a supernatural event, he acquires a bag of gold coins. This, as would seem obvious, changes his life. He squanders his talent and becomes a society portrait painter, gaining ever more wealth. Later, upon viewing the work of a painter who followed the true path of an artist, he questions his decision but finds he can no longer paint the way he used to. He goes mad and dies. In the second part, the true story of the portrait of the man with the piercing eyes comes out. He was a moneylender whose loans to people ended in madness or tragedy for them (and here a tad of antisemitism comes in, because a throwaway line reveals he was Jewish). His portrait was painted by a religious artist in search of a model for the devil. What happens to the artist, and subsequently to all who owned the painting, is horrifying.

But I enjoyed all the stories in this collection.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Feb 28, 2016 |
I was pleasantly surprised by Gogol's short stories, as they were much more fun to read than I was expecting. Especially when it comes to short stories (not usually my favorite medium) and the great writers of western canon, I expect the pieces to be well-crafted, but also tending toward the more formal, and not necessarily entertaining. Gogol's short stories are not just well-written, but varied in subject matter, creative in execution, and are very entertaining to boot.

Gogol's Dead Souls didn't work for me. It was excellently written, and funny in parts, but the structure was repetitive, and the joke was subject to diminishing returns. These short stories emphasize what is best in Gogol's writing, and avoids many aspects I found irritating in his longer work. For one, they are not at all repetitive- on the contrary, they feature impressive variety. The first few stories in this collection focus on folklore, other stories paint a portrait of country life, other stories look at the bustle of cities. Some stories are funny, others creepy (Viy, The Portrait), still others bizarre (The Nose, The Diary of a Madman), and even a couple sad tales are thrown into the mix (Old World Landowners, The Overcoat). Gogol furthermore explores different formats with his stories, as some have a frame narrative (St. John's Eve), others have a chatty narrator (Nevsky Prospect), another is epistolary (Diary, obviously). Every story in this collection is different, and not just on the surface, as the stories have different tones and moods as well. I didn't think there was a dud in the bunch (well, The Carriage was essentially a dozen page long joke, and not a laugh-out-loud funny one at that, but even it managed to be amusing). By the time I finished this collection Gogol's writing had inspired a range of emotions in me, as well as given me a full image of Ukrainian and Russian life in the 1800s, from the corrupting cities to the witch-haunted countryside.

The collection is also great fun to read in that Gogol's stories are a clear inspiration to many of the authors that came after him. Reading The Night Before Christmas can't help but remind you of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. The Nose is a less unnerving but still surreal precursor to the works of Kafka. It's easy to imagine that Oscar Wilde read The Portrait sometime prior to writing his own story on the subject. It's equally easy to imagine that Lovecraft read The Portrait, and probably The Terrible Vengeance too given its depiction of man as insignificant pawns toyed with by greater powers that are indifferent to our fate. Gogol is one of the big names in Russian literature, not just for the quality of his writing, but for blazing a trail that many later authors followed, and noticing these influences gave me another layer of enjoyment in his writing.

That isn't to say that his works are flawless, however. A few stories, namely Nevsky Prospect and The Portrait, felt like two tales shoved together despite differences in tone that didn't mesh well together. A few of the stories felt unfinished, like both of the Ivan stories (though one was explicitly left unfinished, and to be honest, what annoyed me the most about that story was that I wanted to know the ending, which is pretty much the weakest criticism there is). As already mentioned, The Carriage wasn't quite up to snuff with the other works in this collection. All that being said, however, the collection was still excellent overall. I haven't read enough Chekhov yet to say for sure, but as of right now I'm putting Gogol above both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as the finest writer of Russian short stories I've yet come across. Definitely give this collection a read. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Good collection of short stories by a Russian master writer. Too bad Gogol seems to have been forgotten. America could benefit by embracing him. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
God, what is our life! An eternal discord between dream and reality!This Everyman's Library edition collects all of Nikolai Gogol's short stories. The Ukrainian-born Gogol wrote in the nineteenth century and is considered to be the bridge between Russian romantic fiction and modern realism. He influenced the likes of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Kafka. The collection is divided into two sections: Ukrainian Tales and Petersburg Tales.

Given that Gogol came from the rural Ukraine and later moved to the city, one might think the two types of tales reflect these different times in his life. In fact, though, Gogol's portrayal of Ukrainian peasant life is inaccurate and largely made up by the author, despite its authentic-seeming folkloric framework. See, Gogol was the type of writer who just kind of winged it as he went along. This can make for entertaining reading, as one is constantly surprised by what happens next in a story.

In these tales, Gogol's prose presents itself as an erratic blend of magical realism, absurdity, and satire. Gogol apparently was unimpressed with Petersburg and, with the inspirational help of his government work, quickly set about lampooning urban society with a gleeful viciousness. Minor officials are openly mocked for their vanity and pettiness. People lose their noses. Dogs talk and even write letters. Plot is tangential to Gogol's prosaic meandering. It's almost as if one can point to the sections of a story where he got bored and decided to shift gears. He doesn't hide this.

One can only imagine the deep impression Gogol's writing must have had on other writers of his time who were beginning to yearn for a break from the staid sentimentality of existing fiction. Gogol was a rule-breaker, and these tales show a writer intent on following his crazed muse far and beyond the existing literary boundaries of the time. Recommended for fans of all the other modernist writers who eschewed literary conventions while indulging in robust satire of the absurd mess we call modern society. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nikolai Gogolprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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St. John's Eve, The Night Before Christmas, The Terrible Vengeance, Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka & His Aunt, Old World Landowners, Viy, The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich, Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Carriage, The Portrait; The Overcoat.

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