Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809 – 1852) was a Ukrainian, who wrote in Russian. He was a poet, a writer, playwright and critic. Scholars actually fight over his true nationality now.
Kind of ironic to think that Russia was eager to get rid of him and now regard him as one of the most revered in Russian literature.
He was exiled from Russia after his satirical writing on the Russian Empire became too much of an irritant to his country and home of choice.
The Diary of a Madman may seem as if it is completely random. Just some dude called Poprishchin suffering a psychotic break, having conversations with dogs and thinking he is the King of Spain.
Gogol wants you to look a little deeper. At the huge discrepancy between the rich and poor, the working man and the more affluent upper class workers. The bridges between the little man and the upper echelon. He wants you to know why the man breaks and what breaks Poprishchin in the end.
Poprishchin goes in to the office, because he is skint. He would rather not go in at all, the department in chief just finds any reason to nag and complain about him. He carries the burden most insignificant workers or the working man does. Being trod and ridiculed by those higher up on the ladder. Having to demean himself be asking for money he has rightly earned.
“Look here, my friend; there is something wrong with your head. You often rush about as though you were possessed. Then you make such confused abstracts of the documents that the devil himself cannot make them out;
The only reason he had ventured out was to encounter the accountant. Having to crawl and beg to get his money was probably the drop of water that made the barrel full to the top.
A terrible man, this accountant! As for his advancing one’s salary once in a way—you might sooner expect the skies to fall. You may beg and beseech him, and be on the very verge of ruin—this grey devil won’t budge an inch
The accountant is used to only the finest, he rents a fine country house, has horses and a carriage, and yet he appears to be so mild mannered. That doesn’t stop him from doing his job tough. Perhaps he treats his underlings like crap to make himself feel superior.
“Nevertheless, he knows how to scarify a petitioner till he has hardly a whole stitch left on his body”
Poprishchin likes elegance and propriety of the government offices. It gives him a sense of security to know everything has its place and use. Makes him feel as if he belongs, and yet a part of him knows he is just an inconsequential cog in a large wheel made up of other little wheels. A mere puppet on a string.
As he walks through the rain he happens upon the director’s carriage in front of a shop. His daughter is travelling within. He does not want her to see him in the shabby coat.
A lackey opened the carriage door, and, as I had expected, she fluttered like a bird out of it. She doesn’t recognise him, as she alights from the carriage with her little dog Meggy.
Meggy has to wait outside the shop, and this is where the story gets interesting if not a wee bit odd.
Before I had been standing there a minute, I heard a voice call, “Good day, Meggy!”“No, Fidel, you are wrong,” I heard Meggy say quite distinctly.
At first he wonders if he is drunk, as he looks around looking from somewhere or someone else the voices could be coming from, but it seems as if his first instincts were correct. The two dogs are having quite a cosy chat with each other.
What an extraordinary dog! I was, to tell the truth, quite amazed to hear it talk human language. Meanwhile what Meggy went on to say seemed to me still more remarkable. She added, “I wrote to you lately, Fidel; perhaps Polkan did not bring you the letter.”
Not only talking, but exchanging actual handwritten letters. Such clever animals, don’t you think? Obviously his descent into madness is beginning to spiral out of control.
I read the titles of some of the books; they were very learned, beyond the comprehension of people of my class, and all in French and German.
This sentence speaks of the inferiority he feels and the gap between the social classes. Society has taught him he is inferior and stupid in comparison to his superiors.
Such a distinguished and smart man. Poprishchin feels as if the director has a soft spot for him, perhaps it means the director will allow his daughter to associate with him. a man can only dream, eh. Delusional as well as batshit crazy.
Suddenly the object of his daydreams appears in front of him.
“Ye saints! how beautifully she was dressed. Her garments were whiter than a swan’s plumage—oh how splendid! A sun, indeed, a real sun!”
He spent his waking hours stalking her and waiting outside the director’s house in hopes of a glimpse. This did not go entirely unnoticed at the office either.
“Are you trying to pay court to the director’s daughter? Look at yourself and realise what you are! A nonentity, nothing else. I would not give a kopeck for you. Look well in the glass. How can you have such thoughts with such a caricature of a face?”
A lowly pen-fixer a possible paramour for such a high-born young woman. There is no way in hell a crossing of social standing will ever occur. No matter how handsome he may be, even if she loved him. This is what causes his barrel to overflow.
I should like to see how all the scent-bottles and boxes are arranged in her boudoir, and the flowers which exhale so delicious a scent that one is half afraid to breathe. And her clothes lying about which are too ethereal to be called clothes—but silence!
He decides the solution to his lack of information about the girl will be resolved by finding and reading the letters the two dogs have been writing to each other. The obvious choice of person errr animal to talk to and get the all the secrets from is Meggy, of course. (Not sure the dog will feel the same way though)
“Listen, Meggy! Now we are alone together; if you like, I will also shut the door so that no one can see us. Tell me now all that you know about your mistress. I swear to you that I will tell no one.”
But the cunning dog drew in its tail, ruffled up its hair, and went quite quietly out of the door, as though it had heard nothing.
Hmm with Meggy not cooperating the only other person err animal left to ask if the recipient of the letters, the dog Fidel. So he heads off to said dogs home.
“I want to have a little conversation with your dog.” I went to it, rummaged in the straw, and to my great satisfaction drew out a little packet of small pieces of paper. When the hideous little dog saw this, it first bit me in the calf of the leg
With letters in hand he heads of rubbing his hands with glee at achieving his goal. The correspondence between the two of them will clear up any misunderstandings or discrepancies.
The letter is quite correctly written. The punctuation and spelling are perfectly right. Even our head clerk does not write so simply and clearly “I think that it is one of the most refined joys of this world to interchange thoughts, feelings, and impressions.”
We are all in trouble if dogs are having these kind of eloquent conversations especially in handwritten communication. What’s next? E-mails?
He always sits there and mends the pens. His hair looks like a truss of hay. Her papa always employs him instead of a servant.”
The dog even has the audacity to talk about him in a demeaning manner. Unfortunately the dog also speaks of the young ladies love for a man of nobility.
His conspiracy theories are getting more obscure and his paranoia is at its pinnacle.This is what causes his barrel to overflow. Acknowledging the fact she will never be his and no other woman wants him. Driven to despair by loneliness.
“To-day is a day of splendid triumph. Spain has a king; he has been found, and I am he. I discovered it to-day; all of a sudden it came upon me like a flash of lightning.”
After forcing his way into her chambers the inevitable happens and he is taken away. He believes his subjects have come to take him to Spain. Their shorn heads do not imply insane asylum to him, but they do seem to imply Spanish dignitaries. He is melting down quicker than an ice-cream on a hot day.
So I am in Spain after all! It has happened so quickly that I could hardly take it in. The Spanish deputies came early this morning, and I went with them into the carriage
He was told not to call himself King Ferdinand again, which he found hard to do. A real regent does not deny his birthright. So he found himself being beaten with sticks. He asks his loyal people aka the patients to follow him on his new path to save the moon.
“Gentlemen! let us save the moon, for the earth is going to sit on it,”many of them clambered up the wall in order to take the moon down”
He is confused by the strange Spanish customs his people insist he has to fulfil. Why do they insist on shaving his head, beating and torturing him?
To-day my head was shorn, although I exclaimed as loudly as I could, that I did not want to be a monk. What happened afterwards, when they began to let cold water trickle on my head, I do not know. I have never experienced such hellish torments. I nearly went mad, and they had difficulty in holding me.
I think his thoughts are not so abnormal from those of a so-called common man. Do we not sit and asks ourselves why the upper echelon gets to stomp on the poor, torture the homeless and take what little the destitute have away from them? Is it really madness or just the natural result of years of oppression?
Why do they torture me? What do they want from one so wretched as myself? What can I give them? I possess nothing. I cannot bear all their tortures; my head aches as though everything were turning round in a circle. Save me! Carry me away!
Gogol loves to play around the intricacies and layers of madness. His stories often wander into the area of the unimaginable. He likes to push the boundaries of the norm and has a distinctive style that mixes the absurd with fantastical and comedy with the stark contrast of real life.
Read The Diary of a Madman, Dead Souls, Tarass Boulba, The Nose, A May Evening, The Cloak, Rome or read The Inspector-General, Stories by Russian Authors or Dead Souls at the Internet Archive. Alternatively you can listen to The Cloak, The Memoirs of a Madman, The Nose or Dead Souls at Librivox.
The Barber, the Major and the Rebellious Nose, The Revolutionist, Fake it till you make it, Scapegoating in Russia, Little Girls Wiser than Men, Bela Lugosi Enslaved Them All, The Prince of Paradox, Lady of Burleseque – Gams, Girls and Guns, The Silence, the Solitude and Shame of Oscar Wilde, Bad Brains or Wilde about Oscar right here on the blog.