Short Story Wednesday! Another Russian one today, because they do a very fine line in crazy. I am going to recap Nikolai Gogol's 1836 story, "The Nose". You can read it for yourselves here.
All cited quotations come directly from the text (obviously).
Warning: Brace yourself for swearing.
The story opens on a barber in St. Petersburg named Ivan Yakovlevich and the strange marital politics he has with his wife, Praskovya Osipovna. Praskovya has made some rolls and some coffee for breakfast. There is enough for two, but apparently Ivan is only allowed to choose one. He chooses a roll and Praskovya is all like “Awwww yeaaaaah, more coffee for me!”
Ivan slices his roll open in order to eat an onion sandwich, because people in Russia are ass-nasty like that. Upon slicing open his roll, he discovers inside it . . . a nose. A severed (?) human nose.
Well, this is unprecedented.
He freaks out, not because of his near cannibalism miss, but rather because the nose looks familiar. His wife looks over and immediately accuses him of randomly chopping off someone’s nose and demands to know whose it is. I don’t think you guys are focusing on the correct things right now. Like, how did it end up in the roll that Praskovya just baked?
His wife, who is a shrew of the finest caliber (seriously, she must have ACED her pre-marital shrewery course) threatens to report him to the police and says that all of his customers have complained that he tweaks their noses when he shaves them, and now she knows why: weird nose fetish.
Ivan figures out that the nose belongs to Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov, whom he shaves twice a week. He tells his wife to wrap up the nose while they figure out what to do. His wife brandishes her standard-issue rolling pin and tells him it’s not staying in her house and she is not lying to the police for him.
Ivan then attempts to remember if he came home in a drunken stupor last night or not, and if that has something to do with the nose. Buddy, if you can’t remember, then the answer is ‘yes’.
His plan is to take the nose out into the city and drop it somewhere inconspicuous where no one can trace it to him. Unfortunately, he keeps running into friends who want to chat, and when he does finally manage to drop the package, he’s spotted by a police officer and reprimanded for littering. This nose is like a stray cat. He is NEVER going to get rid of it.
Then we learn some of Ivan’s back story: although he is in the beautifying
and bloodletting business, he himself is a filthy skank who is always unwashed and drunk. His customer, he of the missing nose, apparently always accuses Ivan of having stinky hands whenever Ivan shaves him. Ivan retaliates by soaping this man with unwarranted abandon.
He decides to throw the nose over the bridge and into the river, which he does successfully. Unfortunately, there is a police officer at the foot of the bridge who is like, “You there! What are you doing on this bridge!” Because apparently looking at water is the stuff of high suspicion. Ivan says he was seeing how fast the current was going and the policeman is like, “LIAH,” and Ivan faints dead away from the strain of the horrible day he's having. Fair enough.
Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov wakes up without a nose. He looks in a mirror and discovers that his nose has been replaced with a perfectly flat surface. It hasn’t been cut off. It’s just gone.
He is a very pompous man, prone to exaggeration in order to make himself seem grander than he is. What infuriates him the most about losing his nose is that he had such a lovely, good-sized nose before, and now there is nothing! Just flatness!
This is in no way profoundly phallic.
Let's see: he's snobbish, phallocentric, noseless . . . holy shit, he's the Russian Voldemort. Buckle up, y'all, things are probably going to take a dark turn.
So, in light of this eerie, supernatural body modification, does he go to the hospital? No. Does he go to his priest? No. He goes to the police.
On his way to the police station, he comes across . . . brace yourselves for this . . . a giant nose—just a nose, with no human attached—in a ceremonial uniform. The nose is capable of walking around and driving a carriage.
Is everyone in St. Petersburg just tripping on acid? Am *I* tripping on acid? WHAT IS HAPPENING WHAT WHAT WHAT IS HAPPENING
Kovalyov follows the nose for a time before eventually approaching it. He goes up and starts bragging to the nose about how powerful he is, and says it is really unacceptable for someone of his status to be walking around without a nose.
The nose is like, “I am a person!” and Kovalyov is like, “No, you are my nose!”
Yep, someone took aaaaaaaaall the LSD.
The nose walks away and Kovalyov is confused about what to do next. You and me both, buddy. Suddenly, he spies a sexy girl being all alluring and virginal and wearing a hat that looks like a pastry (p.11), which is apparently super hot in 19th-century Russia. He is ready to get his perv on, but remembers at the last second that he doesn’t have a nose!
“Dammit!” says he. “Noses are absolutely essential for seducing!” He walks around town with a handkerchief over his face so no one will notice.
He jumps in a carriage and tells the driver, “Follow that nose!” And the driver goes, “What nose?” and Kovalyov realizes that the nose has driven off in its own carriage without a trace. So they go all over St. Petersburg, like the weirdest sight-seers ever, attempting to spot a life-sized (?) mobile nose in various crowds.
He tries to place an advertisement in the paper offering a reward for his lost nose, but the editor won’t take that sort of ad, for fear that his paper would look ridiculous. Finally the newspaper editor takes a look underneath Kovalyov’s handkerchief and suggests that missing body parts are more the specialty of a doctor.
THANK YOU, KIND SIR
Only he doesn’t go to the doctor. He, instead, finally makes it to the police. Only the Inspector of Police is none too pleased about being interrupted during dinner and tells Kovalyov “that respectable men do not get their noses ripped off” (20). Kovalyov is so offended that he goes home without pressing the matter.
Then he concludes that a staff officer’s wife must have stolen his nose in revenge. He likes chasing after her daughter, but when she offered her daughter’s hand in marriage, he refused. That must be it! She must have hired some witches to steal his nose! That would teach him!
You know what? At this point, I’m willing to believe anything. Sure. Let’s run with that. Witches it is.
Just as he’s forming his plan to accuse her, someone knocks on his door. It’s the police officer from the beginning of the story, with Ivan and the bridge. He says a nose has been found, and could it be yours?
How many noses do they lose in St. Petersburg?
Kovalykov asks how the police officer found it. The police officer says, “Very strange. We intercepted it just as it was boarding the stagecoach bound for Riga. Its passport was made out in the name of some civil servant. Strangely enough, I mistook it for a gentleman at first. Fortunately I had my spectacles with me so I could see it was really just a nose” (24).
I have no idea what’s happening. LSD is in the water. The Neva River is 100% LSD. That is the only explanation. Someone help me?
The officer says he brought the nose with him, which, thankfully, Kovalykov recognizes as his own. Huzzah! The officer also says that the barber Ivan is in custody, having been assumed to perpetrate this crime.
After the officer leaves, Kovalykov realizes he has no idea how to stick the nose back on his face.
I just picture Kovalykov adding to his birthday wish-list: “Hot glue gun . . . for nose”.
So he FINALLY calls the doctor, and the doctor can’t figure out how to stick it on, and recommends that Kovalykov just enjoy not having a nose. The doctor says, "Hey, if you throw the nose in some vodka to preserve it, I bet someone would buy it. I’d even buy it!" (Why? Why would anyone buy that? What is your game, sir?)
So in his despair, Kovalykov writes to the staff officer’s wife and says that if she does not get her coven of witches to restore his nose by tomorrow, he would turn to the law for protection.
WHY ARE YOU STILL CONVINCED IT’S HER??? THE POLICE OFFICER SAID HE HAS YOUR BARBER IN CUSTODY.
She writes back, asking what in the sweet, sweet fuck he’s talking about.
He thinks, “Oh, whoops. She must be innocent.”
So after he’s been bungling his way around St. Petersburg, kicking up all kinds of damn fuss, it is unsurprising that rumors start circulating about him and what actually happened. There is a tale that his nose goes out for a stroll every day at three o’clock in this particular place and people flock from all over, trying to see this missing nose. Of course, they never actually see it, because Kovalykov already has it and can’t get it to stick back on his face.
Then one day, randomly, his nose shows back up on his face. He goes for a shave with Ivan, who is (understandably) fucking terrified to even touch him. (Wait, how did Ivan get out of jail?)
Kovalykov struts around St. Petersburg, chasing girls, schmoozing with the muckity mucks, and showing off his reclaimed nose.
The story ends with the author saying, “I don’t understand what happened. How did that nose turn up in Ivan’s bread? This is all terribly improbable, but these things do happen. Rarely, but they do happen.”
Great. So the author is just as fucking confused as everyone else. The moral of the story is: if you DON’T get married, you have to worry about rejected mothers-in-law performing spells on you, and if you DO get married, you’ll be miserable.
So I guess the real moral of the story is: women are terrible?