The young officials laughed at and made fun of him, so far as their official wit permitted; told in his presence various stories concocted about him, and about his landlady, an old woman of seventy; declared that she beat him; asked when the wedding was to be; and strewed bits of paper over his head, calling them snow. But Akakiy Akakievitch answered not a word, any more than if there had been no one there besides himself. It even had no effect upon his work: amid all these annoyances he never made a single mistake in a letter. But if the joking became wholly unbearable, as when they jogged his hand and prevented his attending to his work, he would exclaim, “Leave me alone! Why do you insult me?” And there was something strange in the words and the voice in which they were uttered. There was in it something which moved to pity; so much that one young man, a new-comer, who, taking pattern by the others, had permitted himself to make sport of Akakiy, suddenly stopped short, as though all about him had undergone a transformation, and presented itself in a different aspect. Some unseen force repelled him from the comrades whose acquaintance he had made, on the supposition that they were well-bred and polite men. Long afterwards, in his gayest moments, there recurred to his mind the little official with the bald forehead, with his heart-rending words, “Leave me alone! Why do you insult me?” In these moving words, other words resounded “I am thy brother.” And the young man covered his face with his hand; and many a time afterwards, in the course of his life, shuddered at seeing how much inhumanity there is in man, how much savage coarseness is concealed beneath delicate, refined worldliness, and even, O God! in that man whom the world acknowledges as honourable and noble.
– from The Overcoat
Of course, we’d heard of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous statement:
We all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.
Even the schmucks are familiar with that quote, aren’t they.
When did we first hear of Nikolai Vassilyevich Gogol? Does anyone know.
Oh, well what would a bunch of navel-gazing priapic knuckleheads like y’all know.
Most likely, we heard of Gogol from Jhumpa Lahiri’s book The Namesake (made into a movie featuring Tabu, Irrfan Khan and Kal Penn by Mira Nair) four or five years ago.
Still, we never read The Overcoat.
Then we read a piece in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal titled The Rich Fabric of Invention on how of all of Gogol’s works, ‘The Overcoat has weathered the test of time.’
As William Amelia writes in the WSJ piece:
But it is “The Overcoat,” the last story that Gogol wrote “perhaps his finest and most famous” that particularly characterizes his legacy. It is a remarkable piece of literary art, displaying Gogol’s gift of caricature and imaginative invention. With “The Overcoat,” Gogol introduced the short story as a literary form in Russia, providing a new model for other writers of the time.
At the end of Amelia’s piece, we have Vladimir ‘Lolita’ Nabokov declaring of Gogol:
[I]n the immortal ‘The Overcoat’ he let himself go and became the greatest artist that Russia has yet produced.
Time, we told ourselves, to acquaint ourselves with Gogol beyond Dostoevsky’s famous quote.
So for Gogol, as with a lot in life these days, we resorted to Google.
We found a version of the 168-year-old short story that we liked.
The Overcoat is not a long piece. Just about 25-pages (in HTML format, if you insist on knowing).
We are near the end of this moving story.
Our Akakiy Akakievich Bashchkin is in an extremely distraught condition over the loss of a dear possession as he returns from a party on a snowy St.Petersburg night.
Distraught as only the immensely distressed can be.
Obviously, 95% of the world have no sense of this rare, debilitating form of grief.
We share Akakiy’s grave sorrow over his loss but helpless to assist him born as we are more than a century later.
Even were we Akakiy’s contemporary, could we have saved a fictional character.
Sure, there are many Akakiys around if only we open our eyes.
Now, off you go putzheads.
Because we have a few more pages of The Overcoat left.
The denouement we already know.
But that doesn’t lessen the anguish in our hearts.