The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

Posted on May 07 in Classics, Fiction, What We're Reading by
Tags:, , ,

Revisiting Gogol’s stories through this new translation is as enjoyable as it is illuminating. Gogol’s work is dryly humorous and cynical in a style that we are more familiar with in the work Kafka, Dostoevsky and the European Modernists of the early 20th century - but Gogol was writing in the early 19th century. This collection starts with his earlier stories set in his native Ukraine. Humorously bucolic, they poke fun at village characters, superstitions and local feuds. But the later works, after Gogol moves to St Petersburg, focus on the bureaucracy and court life in the city. Gogol continues to mess around with his characters’ foibles and absurdities but with the new setting, the humour is now transformed into a sophisticated cynicism commenting on the arcane workings of the early state.Much of what the West understands of Russian literature is based on the early English translations by the likes of Constance Garnett. These translations, written in midst of English Naturalism, tended to smooth out the curiosities of the Russian originals. This is true of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov… Recently, Pevear & Volokhonsky have set about retranslating many of the Russian classics in an effort to more accurately catch the flavour and texture of the original Russian. These new translations have been generating great acclaim (rightly). So fans of Russian literature (like me) now face the task of re-reading all the novels they loved the first time in case it turns out it was a different book! I’ve been through half a dozen now and all have been worth the revisit.