“The Nose” by Gogol

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol
Genres: Fiction (General)

Nose

“The Nose” is a short story by Nikolai Gogol, and is one of the first examples of surrealism in literature.  It was written in the 1830s, so it’s about a hundred years before surrealism became common.  For anyone who is interested in reading it, it can be found here full text in English.

The story is divided into three segments.  In the first, a barber finds a nose in his breakfast, and recognizes that it belongs to Major Kovalyov.  In the second segment, Major Kovalyov wakes up to discover that his nose is missing.  He finds that his nose is running about St. Petersburg pretending to be human, and that his nose is of a higher military and social rank than he is.  A cop brings him back his nose, but it won’t reattach to his face.  Kovalyov despairs and is unable to function.  In the third segment, Kovalyov awakens one morning to find the nose mysteriously back on his face.  He then is shaved by the barber who found the nose in the first segment.

I found the structure of the story to be rather neat, as the first and third segments form a sort of parentheses around the central plot of the story.  There is some wordplay that doesn’t translate well from the Russian; the Russian word for nose, “Нос,” is the inverse of the word “Сон,” which means “dream.”  Kovalyov’s nose represents his pride, dreams, ego, and ambitions.  A better way of understanding the story (and one that I am sure would appall many professors of Russian literature) is to read the story while mentally substituting the word “dick” for the word “nose.”  Without his nose, Kovalyov feels like less of a man.

Since “The Nose” is generally contained in a book of short stories (and as such doesn’t have its own cover art), I chose to include this picture instead.  It’s a plaque that features Kovalyov’s nose, and is found on the side of a building on a random street in St. Petersburg.  One of the things I loved the most about studying in St. Petersburg was that you couldn’t really leave your apartment without coming across new and unexpected literary references everywhere.

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5 comments

  1. I have read a lot of his stories but not this one. I would love to visit St. Petersburg. my father is from Paris and I lived there for a long time, I know what you mean about bumping into literary references. It’s thrilling really.
    That’s an interesting aspect youmentin about the translation of Hoc.

  2. I think your substitution of body parts is quite apt. This sounds like an interesting read, and I’ll definitely check it out. Great blog!