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Gogol Nevsky's Overcoat

Gogol Nevsky's Overcoat

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Published by: rheesw on Oct 24, 2010
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05/20/2012

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Nicolai V. Gogol
 
The Overcoat 
 
and Other Tales of Good and Evil
 
Translated With an Introduction byDavid Magarshack 
 
W . W • NORTON
&
COMPANY
 
 NEW 
YORK • LONDON
 1957
 
 Nevsky Avenue
 
THERE
is nothing finer than Nevsky Avenue, not in St.Petersburg at any rate? For in St. Petersburg it is everything.And, indeed, is there anything more gay, more brilliant,more resplendent than this beautiful street of our capital? Iam sure that not one of her anaemic inhabitants, not oneof her innumerable Civil Servants, would exchange NevskyAvenue for all the treasures in the world. Not only theyoung man of twenty-five, the young gallant with the beau-tiful moustache and the immaculate morning coat, but theman with white hair sprouting on his chin and a head assmooth as a billiard ball, yes, even he is enthralled withNevsky Avenue. And the ladies . . . Oh, for the ladiesNevsky Avenue is a thing of even greater delight! But isthere anyone who does not feel thrilled and delighted withit? The gay carriages, the handsome men, the beautiful'women—all lend it a carnival air, an air that you can al-most inhale the moment you set foot on Nevsky Avenue!Even if you have some very important business, you arequite certain to forget all about it as soon as you are there.This is the only place in town where you meet people whoare not there on business, people who have not been driven
 
161,
 
 
I
 
Tales of Good and Evil
 
there either by necessity or by their passion for makingmoney, which seems to have the whole of St. Petersburgin its grip. It really does seem, that the man you meet onNevsky Avenue is less of an egoist than the man you meeton any other street where want and greed and avarice canbe read on the faces of all who walk or drive in carriagesor cabs Nevsky Avenue is the main communication centreof the whole of St. Petersburg. Anyone living in the Peters-burg or Vyborg district who has not seen a friend on theSands or the Moscow Toll-gate for years can be sure to meethim here. No directory or information bureau will supplysuch correct information as Nevsky Avenue. All-powerfulNevsky Avenue! The only place in St. Petersburg where apoor man can combine a stroll with entertainment. Howspotlessly clean are its pavements swept and, good gracious,how many feet leave their marks on them! Here is the foot-print left by the clumsy, dirty boot of an ex-army private,under whose weight the very granite seems to crack; andhere is one left by the miniature, light as a feather, littleshoe of the delightful, young creature who turns her prettyhead towards the glittering shop-window as the sun-flowerturns to the sun; and here is the sharp scratch left by therattling sabre of some ambitious lieutenant—everythingleaves its imprint of great power or great weakness uponit. What a rapid phantasmagoria passes over it in a singleday! What changes does, it not undergo in only twenty-four
 
hours!
 
Let us begin with the early morning when all St. Peters-burg is filled with the smell of hot, freshly baked bread andis crowded with old women in tattered clothes who besiegethe churches and appeal for alms to the compassionatepassers-by. At this time Nevsky Avenue is deserted: thestout shopkeepers and their assistants are still asleep in theirfine linen shirts, or are lathering their noble cheeks, ordrinking coffee; beggars gather at the doors of the pastry-cooks' shops where the sleepy Ganymede, who the day be-fore flew about like a fly with the cups of chocolate, crawlsout with a besom in his hand without a cravat, and flings
 
162
 
some stale pasties and other leavings at them. Workmenare trudging through the streets: occasionally the avenueis crossed by Russian peasants, hurrying to their work inboots soiled with lime which not all the water of theYekaterinsky Canal, famous for its cleanness, could wash off.At this time it is not proper for ladies to take a walk, forthe Russian workman and peasant love to express themselves in vigorous language that is not even heard on thestage. Sometimes a sleepy Civil Servant will walk alongwith a brief-case under his arm, if the way to his office liesacross Nevsky Avenue. It can indeed be stated without fearof contradiction that at this time, that is to say, until twelveo'clock, Nevsky Avenue does not serve as a goal for anyone,but is merely a means to an end: it is gradually filled withpeople who have their own occupations, their own worries,their own disappointments, and who are not thinking aboutit at all. The Russian peasant is talking about the few cop-pers he earns; old men and women wave their hands aboutor talk to themselves, sometimes with picturesque gestures,but no one listens to them or even laughs at them exceptperhaps the boys in brightly coloured smocks who streak along Nevsky Avenue with empty bottles or mended boots.At this time you can please yourself about your dress. Youcan wear a workman's cap instead of a hat, and even if your collar were to stick out of your cravat no one wouldnotice itAt twelve o'clock Nevsky Avenue is invaded by tutorsand governesses of all nationalities and their charges incambric collars. English Johnsons and French Coques walk arm in arm with the young gentlemen entrusted to theirparental care and explain to them with an air of grave de-corum that the signboards over the shops are put there totell people what they can find inside the shops. Governesses,pale misses, and rosy-cheeked mademoiselles walk statelilybehind slender and fidgety young girls, telling them toraise a shoulder a little higher and to walk straighter. Inshort, at this time Nevsky Avenue is a pedagogic NevskyAvenue. But the nearer it gets to two o'clock in theafternoon, the
 
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