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.