Christmas Eve

The snow blizzard setting the atmosphere of this story on which a devil snatches the moon owing much more to Ukrainian folklore than to the date of the Christian festival. We have witches as well as devilry, a love sick jealous blacksmith, the seductive self-obsessed village beauty, her possessive parent, gleeful girls and lively lads celebrating the night, and rich elements of traditional farce.

Much of the Western world merges pagan traditions with the modern religious festival. In that sense Gogol’s work is not that unusual, yet he does weave original magic.

The comings and goings of hidden characters, and almost pantomime searching are reminiscent of a Whitehall Farce from Brian Rix – not one of the modern parliamentary kind.

A devil steals the moon, yet the darkness outside looks bright light from inside.

My review of the first story in this collection offers an example of one of Gogol’s many similes. Today I give one of a metaphor – “the blizzard soaped his beard”. We also have details of clothing and practices of the time, for example we learn what young girls wore and that the poorer peasants shaved with a broken piece of scythe blade.

It was only as we neared the denouement that I realised this was set in the time of Catherine the Great and Potemkin.

The frontispiece, already posted as the earlier header, illustrates “The triumph of his art was a picture painted on the church wall in the chapel”