Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“The Cloak” by Nikolay Gogol
Card picked: The Four of Hearts
From: Great Russian Stories, selected by Isai Kamen. I own this as a 1960s Vintage paperback that I’m fairly sure I picked up out of a freebie bin in downtown Lincoln.
Poor Akaki Akakiyevich. He’s a low-level cog in the Russian bureaucracy machine. He’s paid little and is not respected by his co-workers even though he does his job very well. He’s just plodding through life, generally minding his own business, until his cloak wears out.
At first, getting a new cloak is a major hassle. He has to deal with his drunken tailor neighbor *and* the tailor’s wife. A major pain for a social inept. And it’s going to cost a small fortune; Akaki Akakiyevich is just an “official” working in a “department.” But as Akaki Akakiyevich saves up for it, denying himself everything he can, even going hungry, he let’s himself dream about the new cloak. How nice and warm it will be. How fashionable. He gets rather excited by the prospect and is very pleased by the garment once it’s made and paid for. For Akaki Akakiyevich, it’s the nicest thing he’s ever owned.
It becomes pretty obvious that among his peers, Akaki Akakiyevich is still pretty shabby. He’s still bottom rung. But, not quite. Still below him on the social scale are the bearded men who waylay him on the way back from a coworker’s fancy party and steal his cloak. No one with any measure of power within the bureaucracy is willing to help Akaki Akakiyevich and he dies.
This might be a story about the dangers of overreaching position (how dare an official in a department yearn for something beyond his cabbage soup!), but Gogol has an epilogue. For a while a ghost haunts the streets of St. Petersburg, snatching off the cloaks of officials and Prominent Personages alike…
Published in 1842, “The Cloak” (or “The Greatcloak” or “The Overcoat,” depending on translation), this story is very linear and takes a while to get where it’s going, though Gogol’s narrative fourth-wall-breaking embellishments struck me as funny.
As we have mentioned his wife, it will be necessary to say a word or two about her.
As a note: Much is made about the St. Petersburg weather in this story. A guy I knew from St. Petersburg gave up smoking the winter he lived in Lincoln, Nebraska because the wind was too damn cold to be standing outside smoking in it.
Previously: I haven’t read much/any Gogol previously. This story in particular seems to be considered a linchpin of Russian literature, even though there is some controversy because Gogol was *gasp* born in the Ukraine. It will be interesting to see if Gogol’s wry humor is carried on by some of the later authors on my list.