I laughed and giggled throughout my reading of The Nose by Nicolai Gogol. It is that hilarious. The story, in three parts, is about a a man who loses his nose. In part one, a barber, Ivan Yakolevich, finds a nose in his breakfast bread. Upon close observation, he realizes that the nose belongs to one of his clients, Kovalev. He decides to throw the nose in the Neva River but is caught by a police officer. In part two, the reader is introduced to the owner of the missing nose. Kovalev, wakes up to find his nose missing. On his way to lodge a complaint with the police, he encounters his nose, dressed as an officer of higher rank, visiting various office. The nose rebuffs Kovalev when he tries to explain and convince it that it, the nose, belongs on his face.
“Pardon me; if one regards the matter from the point of view of duty and honour—you will yourself understand—”
“I understand nothing,” answered the nose. “I repeat, please explain yourself more distinctly.”
“Honourable sir,” said Kovalev with dignity, “I do not know how I am to understand your words. It seems to me the matter is as clear as possible. Or do you wish—but you are after all my own nose !
The nose looked at the Major and wrinkled its forehead. “There you are wrong, respected sir; I am myself. Besides, there can be no close relations between us. To judge by the buttons of your uniform, you must be in quite a different department to mine.” So saying, the nose turned away.
Kovalev then attempts to place an ad about his lost nose at a newspaper office but is told that it would be inappropriate and would lead to false and absurd adverts. Later at his flat, the police officer who apprehended the barber delivers the nose to him. A doctor, upon examination, declares that the nose cannot be re-attached. The unfortunate , but absurd, situation resolves itself quite nicely in part three. The story is also a satire of Gogol’s society. Kovalev, for someone going through a terrifying experience, seems at times more concerned about the effect that the loss of his nose will have on his societal standing as a “Major”. The health implications are tangential, he considers those only when asked to take some snuff. Indeed, members of the upper class cut ridiculous figures and are not viewed favorably in Gogol’s story. The policeman who returns the nose remarks that he might not have recognized the nose without his glasses, as he mistook it at first for a fine gentleman!
The Nose exemplifies the perfect short story; it has well-drawn characters, has a beginning and an ending that is plausible, and is believable within the world created by the writer. It is a one of the best short stories ever written.
(Side note: The Nose is included in The Collected Tales by Nicolai Gogol, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published in 1999. There are several translations available online. The best one is at Wikisource under The Nose (Gogol))
Have you read The Nose? Are you familiar with Gogol’s other works? What is your opinion of him as a writer?