Gogol, Theory and the Fantastic

Few writers have been as frequently misunderstood and mislabelled as Nikolai Gogol (1809−1852). Ever since he came to prominence in czarist Russia of the 1830s, various groups and critics have recruited him as a foot-soldier for their own particular battles, and he has proven most useful for these extra-literary machinations. This is why Gogol has been described as a realist, fabulist, humorist, moralist, romantic, social-realist, surrealist, imperialist, anti-imperialist, proto-socialist, and any number of other more or less conflicting appelations. None of these fits perfectly, most of them fit occasionally.


The blame for this cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of infelicitous critics, as there is within Gogol’s oeuvre a fundamental ambiguity that accommodates incongruous readings. Gogol’s stories tend to have inconclusive endings as well as middles and beginnings, open on several levels, whether that of semantics, philosophy or mimetic ontology, and the author’s intentionality is rarely apparent because his narratives tend to be choral arrangements, tapestries of a number of voices, prefiguring Dostoevsky’s dialogism. I want to consider Gogol as a writer of the fantastic. His Petersburg tales are less wildly fantastic than his earlier stories of Ukrainian folklore, but I have chosen to discuss a few of these purely on aesthetic grounds, since they are considered superior to the early work, an assessment one would find it hard to disagree with.


The fantastic

What is ‘the fantastic?’ The etymology of the word is interesting; it is derived from Greek by way of the Latin phantasticus, meaning to ‘make visible’ or ‘manifest’.[1] All telling or representation is in this sense fantastic according to its mimetic nature. Obviously, to locate a more operable definition, we must narrow down the parameters of the term to what it generally means today. Here’s one: The literary fantastic is the literature in which a representation of the world is given in which the real, as we understand it, is violated or extended by unfamiliar entities or events. In Roger Caillois’ words, ‘The fantastic narrative is always a breach in the acknowledged order.’[2] The rules of nature become temporarily or permanently dissolved or modified, thereby creating existential (or ontological) instability. Fantasy may invert the real but it cannot escape it. In Rosemary Jackson’s view, it ‘exists in a parasitical or symbiotic relation to the real.’[3] This is because fantasy exists not so much as the antithesis of the real, but as its mirror-image: it is a sudden extension of what already is. As soon as you judge an event to be fantastic, you are revealing your sense of the real.

Fantasy is unsettling because it denies the solidity of the structure of the real, it illumines the yet unknowable, thus making reality itself an ambiguous space. It is an assault on the reader’s empirical understanding of what can and what cannot occur. Each reader surely has his or her own personal ideas about what constitutes the boundaries of the real. Consequently, the fantastic is created and conditioned by the reader’s response. For example, an orthodox Christian will not read Christ’s resurrection or the Belshazzar’s Feast episode (‘The Writing on the Wall’) as fantasy or as unreal, and although he or she will probably acknowledge that these events are unnatural according to how the world usually functions, it will readily be accepted as a token of the (very real, for that reader) power of God. A secular reader will of course view these things as instances of fantastic literature. Therefore it may be said the fantastic establishes a culture’s understanding of what the real is. However, there is an essential ambiguity in the ontology of the fantastic, the un-real,because it exists somewhere between being and nothingness.

Such a broad definition of the fantastic (simply a violation of what we consider real) means that an implausibly large and amorphous number of literary works would fall in the category of the fantastic, from Homer and Ovid, to Dante and Shakespeare, to Kafka and Pynchon. This promiscuity is why I would like to argue that the fantastic cannot be a genre, as opposed to, say, fantasy, which is a literature in which an alternative world or reality is operative and there is no friction between the real and the unreal, since the laws of that reality are already established as being more permissive than ours. The religious imagination, thus, is more akin to fantasy than to the fantastic.

TodorovTzvetan Todorov (in The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre), on finding such an inclusive definition of the fantastic useless, attempts to establish it as something more comprehensible, i.e. a genre, an ineluctably reductive enterprise. This rigid reductiveness is why Todorov’s appellation of the fantastic as a ‘genre’is problematic, as it appropriates a broad and generic term (‘fantastic’) to something restricted (genre) based on something arbitrary (‘hesitation’). In fact, Todorov calls both the novel and the fantastic a ‘genre,’ when surely the novel is a form, a superstructure that contains genres, and the fantastic is in my view more accurately considered as a mode. But this may be a semantic issue and is perhaps more aptly to be debated by genre theorists than here.

A generic definition of the fantastic seems preferable since the literary fantastic resists reduction to genre. Rosemary Jackson posits another term, the aforementioned ‘mode,’which seems more accurately operative in relation to the literary or artistic fantastic, as this kind of literature appears comes out less as a genre fetish than authentic aesthetic creation.

It could be suggested that fantasy is a literary mode from which a number of related genres emerge,’ Jackson writes.[4]

A number of smaller tributary streams of literary nuance seem to converge with, and become a part of, the fantastic: the grotesque, the uncanny, the absurd, the surreal, the gothic, among others. It is a mark of the ambiguity of the fantastic that even these more narrow terms are not easily described and are quite often interchangeable. For instance, a literary passage that is absurd, could often be argued to be really something else, say, grotesque or surreal. This is shaky ground upon which critics fear to tread.

These nuances of representation, being elusive, are more easily ignored than contemplated. It is perhaps one of the reasons that studies of the fantastic and its relatives were few and far between until well after the World War II, since when an increasing number of critics have made attempts at understanding and exegeses of the mode(s). This is perhaps because the fantastic modes seem supremely appropriate for a representation of modern life. It is a strange paradox that the fantastic, something already described as violating reality, should be the most acute mode of representation of the real, an indication of the increasing gulf between the individual and the external world, the existential alienation so prominent in literary art since the nineteenth century. I’ve called this elsewhere the transmogrification of truth into fantasy, and vice versa. Another reason for the dearth of serious critical treatments of the fantastic has been the cultural hostility to the irrational since at least the Enlightenment, which meant that ‘fantastic’ became a pejorative term, an inferior literary mode.

One of the earliest serious analyses of fantastic literature is Freud’s long essay ‘The Uncanny’ (Das unheimliche, 1919), which primarily treats of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story ‘The Sandman’. Freud’s essay is a linguistic study almost as much as a literary analysis. He begins by establishing the etymology of the German word for uncanny, unheimlich and that which it negates, Heimlich: the homely. He comes up with such a vast array of shades of meaning (unfamiliar, secret, hidden, sinister, etc) that he even locates an example in which heimlich can mean exactly the same as the opposite, unheimlich. ‘Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite,’[5] Freud writes. This ambivalence is by now a familiar feature of anything connected to the fantastic. In finding the example of the word heimlich where it coincides with its opposite, Freud concludes that the uncanny occurs when ‘something familiar that has been repressed’ comes to light, the familiar having been made strange. The uncanny is that which excites fear, usually something novel or unfamiliar. Freud admits that everything novel is not automatically frightening, but ‘what is novel can easily become frightening.’[6] The uncanny is something ‘one does not know one’s way about in.’ This is the central event of the fantastic: the intrusion or recognition of the unfamiliar. By extension, we can deduce that in Freud’s view all fantastic events contain the potential element of the uncanny, simply by virtue of the unfamiliar entity.

A prominent instance of Freud’s uncanny occurs when there is doubt in a story whether an inanimate object (a doll, automaton, etc.) is really human and vice versa. He mentions other motifs that conjure the uncanny, such as the phenomenon of the double, the recurrence of things, dismembered limbs, etc.

Todorov’s discussion of the fantastic is an attempt at devising a more rigid framework, delineating genres by certain structural affinities imbedded in individual literary works. Although his schema of what constitutes the fantastic leads to a fallacious reduction in my view, Todorov’s book is nonetheless valuable and stimulating. I will here only give an incomplete outline of its argument.

In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world,’[7] he says, in agreement with definitions cited above. He then introduces his key thesis: ‘The fantastic must fulfil three conditions,’ the first two are the hesitation of the implicit reader and a character, respectively, between a rational and an irrational explanation of the fantastic event, and the third condition is that the actual reader ‘must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text’[8], to what has gone on. The first and the third ‘constitute the genre,’ while the second condition is optional.

The person experiencing the event must opt for one of two possible solutions,’ either the event is a figment of imagination or it has really taken place, and the limits of possibility appear to be unknown. The fiction which sustains this hesitation to the end can be called the ‘pure fantastic’. He locates the fantastic in relation to other genres and ‘sub-genres’, which occasionally overlap. Here is a diagrammatic sketch of these neighbouring distinctions:

Uncanny | Fantastic-Uncanny | Fantastic-Marvellous | Marvellous

According to Todorov, the pure fantastic may be represented ‘by the median line separating the fantastic-uncanny from the fantastic-marvellous… a frontier between two realms.’[9]

The fantastic-uncanny is his term for the sub-genre in which ‘events that seem supernatural throughout a story receive a rational explanation at its end.’[10]

The fantastic-marvellous is the story in which events that seem supernatural are ultimately accepted as supernatural, but without real explanation.[11]

The uncanny and the marvellous are according to Todorov bordering on the fantastic and not part of it, because they only fulfil the required conditions as described by him.

Todorov comes up with remarkably few examples of the pure fantastic, which is probably a token of the artificial severity of his definitions.


Gogol as fantasist 

No single literary category is inclusive enough to contain the whole of Gogol’s creative impulse. Much like the fantastic itself, his work seems impervious to categorical theorising. In my discussion of some of his tales, the uncanny, the absurd, caricature, the surreal and the purely fantastic can all come into play, but the term that seems to be most consistently suitable is the grotesque.

The grotesque may not only be a function of a purely fantastic kind (as a representation of something literally grotesque, supernaturally so) but can also be merely a linguistic phenomenon, a descriptive mode merely given to exaggeration. Gogol’s linguistic inventiveness is so pronounced that his prose style has some kinship with the baroque[12], since it is highly metaphorical, ornate and ultimately distorting, i.e. grotesque. As Mikhail Bakhtin wrote, ‘Exaggeration, hyperbolism, excessiveness are generally considered fundamental attributes of the grotesque style.’[13]

There is a co-presence of the ludicrous and the monstrous in the grotesque. A central aspect of the grotesque, in Philip Thomson’s definition, is to be found in the reader’s response, which usually consists in seemingly incompatible reactions[14], e.g. laughter and unease. Therefore the grotesque can be both comic and uncanny―both functions increased or accentuated by the very friction between such opposing ‘principles.’

Thomson echoes (and quotes in his book) Wolfgang Kayser’s view that ‘the grotesque is the expression of the estranged or alienated world, i.e. the familiar world is seen from a perspective which suddenly renders it strange (and, presumably, this strangeness may be either comic or terrifying, or both). Gogol’s grotesque is often both.

As an offshoot of the fantastic, the grotesque was also for a long time a pejorative term, and the style a curiosity, it was considered a ‘vulgar species of the comic’[15] or merely frivolous or gratuitous caricaturing. Instances of the grotesque were often merely tolerated in the highest prose art, such as that of Rabelais, Sterne and Gogol. It is only in the 20th century, with Kafka, that the grotesque becomes ‘respectable’, and avant-garde. Gogol’s descriptive exuberance often results in pure grotesques, even if his characters are situated in our world, there is always a mimetic strangeness at odds with the quotidian reality, whether of physical limbs, social structure or something entirely other. The Russian modernist Andrei Belyi said Gogol’s tales exemplify the ‘fragmentary, the grotesquely proportioned and unresolved.’[16]

His work, according to Nabokov, ‘as all great literary achievements, is a phenomenon of language and not one of ideas.’[17]


The Nose

The Nose’ is one of Gogol’s strangest tales. It is a story supremely resistant to interpretation. Pushkin, who first published it in his journal[18] called it an inspired ‘jest’,[19] while others have offered psychoanalytical interpretations, satirical, allegorical or deemed the story purely absurd, i.e. meaningless. At any rate, the story is a puzzle, one ‘without a key.’[20]

In a world clearly our own, a barber wakes up and is given a loaf of bread by his wife, and when he breaks the bread he finds a nose in it, one he even recognises. As a barber, he suspects he’d accidentally cut it off. His wife scolds him for it as though he’d done some childish mischief (here is co-presence of the comic and the monstrous). Terrified of being discovered and accused, he tries to get rid of it. Focus is then put on one Kovalev who wakes up and finds instead of his nose, ‘a smooth place.’ Mortified and incredulous, he runs out in search of his nose, and when he espies it, it is the full figure of a man of some importance. He follows the nose into a church and attempts a conversation, but he is hesitant on account of the nose’s apparent higher rank. Kovalev speaks obsequiously and tries to reason with the nose, telling ‘him’ that he ‘should know [his] place’.[21] But the nose does not understand, either deceitfully or earnestly, and Kovalev loses sight of it. One of the most grotesque aspects of the story is the nose’s determination to be a person, ‘his’ willpower. From the time he appears in a loaf of bread to the encounter in the church, an interval of mere days, he has risen already to the rank of state councillor, higher than Kovalev’s collegiate assessor. Kovalev’s pleading that the nose should know its place was a twofold prayer: the nose should obey the laws of nature, that is, it should reside on Kovalev’s face, but also that its social self-importance is a violation of imperial societal structure. This may suggest social anxieties on the part of Kovalev, but no reading is solid enough to be definitive.

A strangeness comes out of an authorial ellipsis: the nose is never described when humanoid. The reader hesitates between imagining a huge, man-size nose, or simply a regular nose attached to a foreign body.

At first nobody notices that Kovalev’s nose is missing and the reader is tempted to opt for a diagnosis of insanity or delusion for Kovalev, but when at last people see it (the newspaper clerk and the doctor) they are all rather bizarrely nonchalant, and the doctor even suggests that Kovalev put it in a jar and sell it, like any common commodity. Kovalev attains the semblance of insanity in his conduct, particularly in his letter to the lady whom he accuses of having robbed him of his nose through witchcraft, a letter which would be the height of hilarious paranoia if the nose had not actually disappeared. Then finally, one day Kovalev wakes up to find the nose back in its place, returning like a prodigal son after a few weeks of adventure.

The grotesque proceeds inevitably from the central event of the tale: the disappearance of the nose. All subsequent action becomes grotesque because it must relate to that basic premise, and all reference to, and discussion of, the absconded nose is subsequently comic and monstrous, the dual features of the grotesque structure. The nose is Kovalev’s more successful double, richer and more dashing, certainly a thorn in the side of the libidinous Kovalev who on several occasions yearns to go and dally with the ladies but is prevented to do so by the monstrous absence of his nose. The nose itself is in this sense a condensation of Kovalev, a potent fist of muscle and essence.

Gogol’s story offers itself readily to a Freudian reading, mainly due to the presence of the irrational and the seemingly subconscious. Many such readings have been made, particularly discovering an impotence complex or fear of castration (on the part of either Gogol or Kovalev). More relevant to the present discussion are some of the arguments made in Freud’s ‘The Uncanny,’ several of which find fertile ground in ‘The Nose.’ We have mentioned Freud’s assertion that dismembered limbs are potentially uncanny. Here the limb is not only severed, but it has severed itself and become a person, one that Kovalev equates with his selfhood, a kind of double. Without the nose he is nothing, it is arguably his very soul that has detached itself. It is also an inanimate object that has become animate, a person of substance. This psychological fragmentation is reflected in the prose itself and the narrative technique. Although omniscient, the narrator tells at several points ‘here the incident becomes totally shrouded in mist’[22] and the episode tapers off.

Todorov places ‘The Nose’ in the purely ‘marvellous’ sub-genre, on account of the absence of interpretative hesitation[23] even though Kovalev is constantly in doubts about what has happened to him. Distrusting his own mirror, he goes into a pastry shop for a second opinion as though the mirror there might tell otherwise, as though it might have skills of interpretation. It seems fantastic-marvellous is a better assignation in Todorov’s model, since here the fantastic is accepted as having happened but it is not explained.

There is a sense of the Bakhtinian carnivalism taking place too. From the morning of the nose’s disappearance, the world seems upside down and the impossible is possible, the nose becomes more eminent than its owner. Suggestively, it is sleep that frames the time of the fantastic: the opening is the barber’s waking from sleep (and discovery of the detached nose) and the ending is Kovalev’s waking from sleep (and discovery of the nose in place). The ‘romantic grotesque,’ is according to Bakhtin, ‘in most cases nocturnal, darkness not light is typical of it.’[24]

Another interesting fact is that the story begins on March 25th and ends April 7th, the gap between these twelve days is precisely the chronographic gap between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Both of these dates are the day of the Ascension, the first according to the Julian calendar and the second according to the Gregorian.[25] A dialogic reading of the dates could imply that the story begins and ends on the same day. Could this suggest no lapse of time? Or an event lost in a crack of time? An oneiric mass hysteria?

Gogol at first intended the story to be explicitly explained as merely a dream, but luckily he refrained, since that would limit interpretation and reduce the tale to a dreamer’s folly. (The story does still seem to function by the special, convoluted logic of dreams.) Instead he ends the story on an ironic note with the narrator’s jeremiad against fantastic fiction, he says it is ‘implausible,’ ‘indecent, inept, injudicious,’ and most incomprehensible of all ‘is how authors can choose such subjects,’ since there is ‘no benefit to the fatherland.’ And then, as if desiring to correct his philistine implicit speaker, defending his own subversive art-for-art’s‑sake, Gogol writes ‘once you reflect on it, there really is something to all this.’

The Overcoat

The most famous of Gogol’s tales is ‘The Overcoat’, his last performance in the short form, published in 1842. Its protagonist, another of the downtrodden dead souls that populate Gogol’s universe (like Poprishchin in ‘The Diary of a Madman’), is a nonentity, a person whose whole personality is so intertwined with his work that ‘outside the copying nothing seemed to exist for him.’[26] The automaton-like clerk is often Gogol’s leitmotif, the present tale’s Akaky Akakievich being the prime specimen.

Personally, Akaky Akakievich is the diagonal opposite of the clerk in the ‘The Diary of a Madman (a would-be parvenu whose vain ambition destroys his own sanity). Akaky has the meekness of a saint and has no ambitions or desires beyond the monotonous drudgery to which he is devoted religiously. The story is concerned with a dreary everyday reality of almost Kafkaesque bureaucratic offices populated by myriad civil servants and it is told in what Donald Fanger calls ‘comic-grotesque narration’[27] The descriptions of the copy clerk glean both pity and laughter from the reader, the tone being ambivalent, and the detail always bordering on the grotesque, but without being entirely unrealistic up to the story’s coda. Akaky has been reduced to a vanishing point. Unresponsive to the outside world, he has been alienated by endless text which he sees everywhere and is only brought to reality when he literally bumps into something, ‘only then would he notice that he was not in he middle of a line, but rather in the middle of the street.’[28] And yet for all his handling of language, he ‘expressed himself mostly with prepositions, adverbs, and finally such particles as have decidedly no meaning.’[29] His existence bordering on non-consciousness, he is essentially an emendation. He is roused from his spiritual slumber when it becomes necessary for him to buy the story’s eponymous overcoat, his old one having become threadbare. At first, perhaps fearing the novel, the unfamiliar, as much as dreading the costs, he is appalled, but after a while the new overcoat extends his life, ‘His heart, generally quite calm, began to throb.’[30] The coat changes him, it becomes something of a replacement of his work (so much so, that when he wears it for the first time in the street his absentmindedness, formerly on account of copying, is now due to his happiness at having the coat), he comes alive and salubrious, and this is suggestive of a sexual awakening. After a party thrown in his honour, the tale suddenly turns darker when he is attacked in a square and robbed of his precious coat. His world crumbles. His once contented life had been replaced by a happiness based on material, temporal goods and now with that coat went the happiness. Someone suggests to him to go see a powerful man, known nebulously as the important person. The important person is naturally ‘a kind man at heart’[31] but he is a victim of his own power and becomes tyrannical when speaking to men below his rank. This is absurdly involuntary, something like demonic possession. When Akaky comes to plead his case and ask for help, the important person gives him such a thunderously savage dressing-down that Akaky falls ill and soon thereafter dies.

It is at this point, nearly at the end of the tale, that the story gains a fantastic coda, it is an ‘unexpected’[32] development, the narrator says matter-of-factly. A corpse, a ‘dead man’ (but not a ghost apparently) is said to be roaming the streets attacking people and taking their coats. Someone recognizes Akaky, and thus he finally becomes a person of importance, someone people dread and talk about. His being dead but not a ghost suggests perhaps an absence of soul, (a disembodiment that had taken place long before death) and underscoring his mechanical role in life. And it suggests that the body cannot rest without the coat. Is the coat a kind of soul for Akaky? A redemptive aura?

The important person is something of Akaky’s doppelganger. In the story there is a sense that the two men are two sides of the same coin, representing the top and the bottom of bureaucracy but essentially the same man in opposing circumstances, a nonetheless fundamental difference which alters character. The dead Akaky attacks the important person and steals his coat in vengeance, disappearing from then on, seemingly at peace. At the very end we are told of an encounter between a policemen and, seemingly, Akaky, but a close reading reveals this ‘much taller’ man with an ‘enormous moustache’ to be the very man who stole Akaky’s coat, either a tragic or comic irony, the reading is open, in the Gogolian way. A nice coat becomes magical in a soulless, materialist world.

This story has some distinct Freudian uncanny aspects, particularly towards the end when Akaky terrorises the citizens of St Petersburg. There are recurrences (coats stolen), doubles, and Akaky himself is depicted as an automaton (a motif Freud identifies as uncanny), even if not literally so, to say nothing of the dead returning to haunt the world of the living. For Todorov, this story, like ‘The Nose’, would probably fall into the marvellous category, since there is an absence of hesitation between rational and supernatural interpretations, and acceptance of the aberrant supernatural occurrences. Until the fantastic ending, the story deals with sober, realistic subject-matter, although in Gogol’s characteristic grotesque descriptive mode.


The strangest prose-poet

Nabokov called Gogol ‘the strangest prose-poet Russia ever produced.’[33] His strangeness is his frequent creative abandon, his compositions having an element of improvised performance, thus allowing an irrational streak which broadens the field of interpretation considerably. This basic ambivalence is not so much on the level of language as on the level of overall ‘meaning’ or intention. In his tales, there is a discrepancy between the signifier and the signified, the latter obscured by a multiplicity of voices and layers of possibility.

The basic definitive element of the fantastic, one that critics tend to agree on, is the occurrence of a violation of the natural order. The discourse on the fantastic is full of ambiguities and a monolithic consensus has been impossible so far. Agreement has been achieved on only the broadest outlines of what constitutes it, the said violation of the perceived real, but also a general ambiguity of super-meaning (very apt with regard to Gogol), while there is no agreement on what the fantastic is as a category: a form, genre, mode, or something else. I have argued against Todorov’s postulation of the fantastic as a genre because he usurps a generic term ‘fantastic’ and bends it to seemingly arbitrary parameters (‘the necessity of hesitation’). While his attempt is laudable, he should perhaps have chosen a narrower term for his narrow definition.

Certain themes recur in the discourse, the world in which the fantastic event occurs must from the outset be our world, otherwise there cannot be the necessary friction; the reader’s response is an important consideration, in both Todorov and Freud, as well as other critics, and hesitation in particular (though Todorov goes farther than others in his insistence on this condition); the appearance of something unfamiliar is reiterated, and usually results in the uncanny or grotesque, if not the fantastic.

Although Gogol uses the fantastic, always self-consciously mentioning that a violation has occurred, thereby revealing an attitudinal ambivalence, a distrust, sometimes questioning the very purpose of such a mode of writing (as in ‘The Nose’), I have attempted to argue that the grotesque is his most characteristic mode. The expanded space of operation allowed him to unfold his deepest talent: the depiction of the absurd and grotesque. The grotesque is related to the fantastic if only because it violates the real by subverting it, by way of exaggeration and alienation of the referent, a tactic permeating all of Gogol’s work.

There is a kind of perverse beauty in that towards the end of his life, Gogol became a gargoyle, a religious fanatic, a lean, preposterous maniac who starved himself to death. He’d become his final grotesque.

[1] Jackson, Rosemary: Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, p. 13

[2] Quoted in Tzvetan Todorov: The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, p 26

[3] Jackson. p. 20

[4] Jackson, p. 7.

[5] Sigmund Freud: The Uncanny, p. 226.

[6] Ibid. p. 221

[7] Todorov, p. 25

[8] Todorov, p. 33

[9] Ibid, p. 44

[10] Ibid, p. 44

[11] Ibid, p. 52

[12] The word baroque is directly related to the grotesque, as ‘baroque’ was originally used to describe certain oddly-shaped, grotesque, jewels. (OED)

[13] Mikhail Bakhtin. Rabelais and His World, p. 303

[14] Philip Thomson, The Grotesque, p. 7

[15] Thomson, p. 13

[16] Quoted in Donald Fanger, The Creation of Nikolai Gogol, p. viii

[17] Nabokov, Nikolay Gogol, p. 150

[18] Donald Fanger, p. 75

[19] Ibid. p.120

[20] Ibid. p. 119

[21] Gogol, Collected Tales, p 307

[22] The Collected Tales, p. 304

[23] Todorov, p. 75

[24] Bakhtin, p. 41

[25] Peter C. Spycher, ‘N. V. Gogol’s The Nose: A Satirical Comic Fantasy Born of an Impotence Complex’, p. 362

[26] The Collected Tales, p. 395

[27] Fanger, p. 155

[28] The Collected Tales, p. 398

[29] Ibid, p. 402

[30] Ibid, p. 407

[31] Ibid, p. 416

[32] The Collected Tales, p. 421

[33] Nabokov, p. 1




Gogol, Nikolay. The Collected Tales, London: Granta Books, 2003 [1998]

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World, Indiana University Press, 1984

Fanger, Donald. The Creation of Nikolai Gogol, Harvard University Press, 1979

Freud, Sigmund. ‘The Uncanny’, in the Collected Psychological Works vol. 17, London: Hogarth Press, 1973

Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, London: Routledge, 1988 [1982]

Nabokov, Vladimir. Nikolay Gogol, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973 [1941]

Shapiro, Gavriel. Nikolai Gogol and the Baroque Heritage, Slavic Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, Spring 1986, pp. 95 – 104.

Peter C. Spycher. N. V. Gogol’s The Nose: A Satirical Comic Fantasy Born of an Impotence Complex, The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 7, No 4, 1963 pp. 361 – 374

Thomson, Philip. The Grotesque, London: Methuen, 1972

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001 [1975]

Elvis Bego was born in Bosnia, fled the war there at twelve, and now lives in Copenhagen where he earned an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Threepenny Review, Agni, Squawk Back, Electric Literature (online), and Bookslut.

3 replies to “Gogol, Theory and the Fantastic

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  3. Hello,
    I really enjoyed to read this essay about ‘Gogol’s fantastic’. It really helped me on my seminar paper about N.Gogol. Have you an advice for me, where I can find more literature about Gogol’s “Viy” ?

    Best regards