Diary of a Madman (short story)

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For other uses, see Diary of a Madman.

Diary of a Madman (1835; Russian: Записки сумасшедшего, Zapiski sumasshedshevo) is a farcical short story by Nikolai Gogol. Along with The Overcoat and The Nose, Diary of a Madman is considered to be one of Gogol's greatest short stories. The tale centers on the life of a minor civil servant during the repressive era of Nicholas I. Following the format of a diary, the story shows the descent of the protagonist, Poprishchin, into insanity. Diary of a Madman, the only one of Gogol's works written in first person, follows diary-entry format.

Plot summary[edit]

Poprischin. Painting by Ilya Repin (1882)

Diary of a Madman centres on the life of Poprishchin, a low-ranking civil servant (titular counsellor) who yearns to be noticed by a beautiful woman, the daughter of a senior official, with whom he has fallen in love. As he said in his first sight of her, just after being a beast of a civil servant himself, “A footman opened the carriage door and out she fluttered, just like a little bird.”

His diary records his gradual slide into insanity. As his madness deepens, he begins to "understand" the conversations of two dogs and believes he has discovered letters sent between them. Finally, he begins to believe himself to be the heir to the throne of Spain. When he is hauled off and maltreated in the asylum, the madman believes he is taking part in a strange coronation to the Spanish throne. Only in his madness does the lowly anti-hero attain greatness.

The story satirizes the rampant petty officialdom of the bureaucracy in the 1830s in St Petersburg, and some have interpreted it as going beyond this to become an allegory about the political state of Russia at the time, revealing Gogol's view of the government from the standpoint of a lowly citizen. The story also portrays the average man's quest for individuality in a seemingly indifferent, urban environment.


In 1963 Richard Williams began an animated version of the story, but the project was left unfinished.

In 1968 Alexander Belinsky directed a TV adaptation of the story for the Leningrad TV, starring Yevgeni Lebedev as Poprishchin. Both the director and the actor were critically praised, calling Lebedev's acting "unforgettable".

The story saw two opera adaptations: as "monoopera" in 1964 by Yuri Butsko, a Soviet composer from Ukraine, and in 1974 by Stanojlo Rajičić, a Yugoslavian composer (presented as TV opera in 1977).

The narration by Kenneth Williams was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 1991. The BBC Radio 4 comedy series Three Ivans, Two Aunts and an Overcoat broadcast an adaptation of the story starring Griff Rhys Jones as Poprishchin in May 2002.[1]

The short story has been adapted for the stage by David Holman, Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield for the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, Australia, and this production has also been presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the United States[2] and at the Quintessence Theater Group in Philadelphia PA.[3]


Lu Xun, the pioneer of modern Chinese prose, read widely in Russian literature and was inspired by this story to create his own in 1918. While Lu Xun borrows the Chinese translation of the title of Gogol's story, to avoid confusion, the English title of Lu Xun's version is usually translated as A Madman's Diary.


External links[edit]