A Madman’s Diary & The Nose

These next two tales in the Folio Society’s collection of Gogol’s Stories belong together in my series of posts. Schiller, in “The Nevsky Prospect”  has already pleaded that “i don’t want a nose! Cut off my nose!”

In “A Madman’s Diary” and the following story our author presents a world where the boundaries of existence are redetermined by a maniac, perhaps Gogol as he sees himself, who in “The Nose” states that “What is utterly nonsensical happens in the world.

It seems that the terrors of his abusive childhood were at last catching up with him, and perhaps to stimulate his suicide at aged 41.

Peter Sturt has provided an illustration for each story.

The madman talks to dogs, and reads their private letters; claims to be the king of Spain; and is carried metaphorically in a straitjacket to be kept in hospital subjected to what he experiences as torture.

The owner of “The Nose” wakes up without it; conducts a search; finds it dressed up in splendid clothes.

Perhaps this is the author’s parody of the imbeciles who he believed could be promoted beyond their competence in his Russia, or anywhere else in the world.

Attempting to alleviate his position Kovalyov seeks to persuade a clerk to publish an advertisement for the discovery of his olfactory member; we see sick humour in the official offering him his snuff box when he had not the capacity to sniff. Was his desperate, lonely cry “My God, my God! Why has this misfortune befallen me?” a reference to Jesus on the cross?


  1. Stuart’s illustrations are remarkable. The last name of the madman Poprischin, derived from ‘poprische,’ which means vocation, a true path in life, gives us an insight into his tortured psyche. Gogol’s protagonist inspired the great Russian artist Repin to create several sketches and finally, this painting: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poprishchin_by_Repin.jpg?uselang=ru. Repin’s works were not meant as illustrations and thus were exhibited as independent works of art, similar to some more of his paintings inspired by Gogol’s stories and novels.
    “The Nose” was considered such a sharp satire on the social injustices of Tzar Nicholas I Russia that magazine editors refused to publish it. Kovalyov’s cry has been inadequately translated. In the original, he does not exclaim, “Why has this .misfortune befallen me?” as befitted an aristocrat, even an impoverished one; instead, he screams, “The devil! What kind of crap is this?” There are volumes of literary analysis written about this one phrase as the true portrait of the character.

    1. Such important observations and excellent painting, Dolly, Once again, I will alert readers with a PS. Thank you so much.

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