St John’s Eve

The train ticket inserted into

suggests that I last finished reading this volume on a train journey from Nottingham to London Kings Cross between 19th June and 18th July 2009. The illustration above is of the title page and frontispiece.

After the preface to Volume I of Evenings on a Farm near Dukonka, yesterday I read ‘St John’s Eve’, the first story in the collection. This dreamlike tale apparently draws on the folk tales of the author’s native Ukraine

Gogol’s beautifully descriptive prose apparently effortlessly deploys luscious language fluently telling of witchery, devilry, practices and customs of days gone by, marriage, clothing, beliefs, and history. Our protagonist struggles with retaining memory of a significant occurrence involving a disappearing and reappearing stranger who no doubt had cast a spell. The writer employs good use of imagery, metaphor, and simile exemplified by “his memory was like an old miser’s pocket out of which you can’t entice a penny”.

Although I have no Russian, Constance Garnett’s translation seems to me to have retained the author’s free fluidity.

Philip Hensher’s introduction is helpful in placing Gogol’s writing in the context of his time and his seemingly horrific childhood.

Peter Suart’s illustrations display the nightmare quality of some of the stories. I will work my way through the book attaching these pictures with each of the tales in turn. The one above shows “He would sit in the middle of the hut … with the bags of gold at his feet”.

When closing the book we can admire the spine and front board designed by the artist.

PS. Please see koolkosherkitchen’s comments below for an important supplement to this review.


  1. Thank you for your book review, Derrick. It sounds like one I would like to read. The illustrations are works of art. The title page alone could have been made into a beautiful tapestry. I love the quote, “his memory was like an old miser’s pocket out of which you can’t entice a penny”. I can relate to that at times. 🙂

  2. Sounds like the author’s words/stories and the illustrator’s art are the perfect duo!
    Those illustrations are so vibrant and powerful!
    (((HUGS))) ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  3. I am impressed by Peter Stuart’s illustrations. He has captured both Gogol’s style and spirit and the folkloric roots of his tales. I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with a better translation for the entire collection, since ‘khutor’ is somewhat of an isolated village, but definitely not a farm. However, this is a traditional translation, even though it shifts the focus of described events since ‘khutors,’ by dint of their isolation, used to be hotbeds of numerous mystical stories based on remnants of pagan beliefs. The title of the story you are reviewing is also traditionally correct but, similarly to the title of the entire collection, it lacks the impact of Gogol’s title which specifies a folk, rather than a religious holiday.

    1. Thank you very much for this important supplement to my review, Dolly. I am adding a PS to alert readers to your comments.

  4. Gogol’s greatest work is “Dead Souls”, of course, We were told that he was as mad as a fish by the end of his life, and died by starving himself to death.
    It’s one of the few books that has ever persuaded me to laugh out loud, though!

  5. Another interesting book to read! Last year, I started using my airplane tickets as bookmarks and left them inside the books once I finished reading them. I hope that many years from now, these tickets will remind me of the trip I took. 🙂

  6. As a kid I would have loved this book. Scary and creepy were right up my wheelhouse, and the marvelous illustrations would have set my mind on fire with ideas. I appreciate them now, of course, but as a kid it would have been magical.

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