The Nose (Gogol)

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"The Nose" (Russian: Нос) is a satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol during his time living in St. Petersburg. During this time, Gogol's works were primarily focused on surrealism and the grotesque, with a romantic twist. Written between 1835 and 1836, it tells of a St. Petersburg official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own. "The Nose" was originally published in The Contemporary, a literary journal owned by Alexander Pushkin. Gogol received inspiration for this story from his own nose, which was long and pointed. His nose was often the subject of self-depreciating jokes in letters to his friends. The use of iconic landmarks in the story, as well as the sheer absurdity of the story has made "The Nose" an important part of St. Petersburg's literary tradition.

"The Nose" is divided into three parts and tells the story of a Collegiate Assessor who wakes up without his nose. He later finds out that his nose has developed a life of his own, and may have even surpassed the Collegiate Assessor in social rank. The short story showcases the obsession with social rank that plagued Russia, after Peter the Great introduced the table of ranks. By allowing commoners to gain hereditary nobility through service to the state, an entire population was given the chance to move up in social status. This opportunity, however, also gave way to incredibly bloated bureaucracies, in which many of Gogol's characters work.


The story is in three parts:

Part one[edit]

On the 25th of March, the barber Ivan Yakovlevich and finds out that his wife has made bread. During breakfast, he cuts a loaf in half and finds a nose in his bread. With horror, he recognizes this nose as that of one of his regular customers, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov (known as 'Major Kovalyov'). Ivan's wife demands that Ivan remove the nose from her home, so he wraps it up in cloth and attempts to throw it off a bridge. He tries to get rid of it by throwing it in the Neva River, but he is caught by a police officer. Ivan attempts to bribe the police officer, but the officer refuses.

Part Two[edit]

At the onset of “The Nose,” Major Kovalyov awakens to discover that his nose is missing. He grabs a mirror to see his face, and there is only a smooth flat patch of skin in its place. He leaves his home to report the incident to the chief of police. On the way to the chief of police, Major Kovalyov sees his nose dressed in the uniform of a high-ranking official. His nose is already pretending to be a human being. He chases his nose to Kazan Cathedral, but the nose refuses to return to his face. Kovalyov becomes distracted by a pretty girl that arrives at the Cathedral, and while he is not watching, the nose escapes. Kovalyov attempts to contact the chief of police, but he is not home, so he visits the newspaper office to place an ad about the loss of his nose, but is refused. He then speaks to a police inspector who also refuses to help. Finally, Kovalyov returns home. Kovalyov returns to his flat, where the police officer who caught Ivan finds him and returns the nose (which he caught at a coach station, trying to flee the city). Kovalyov's joy is cut short when he finds that he is unable to re-attach the nose, even with the help of the doctor. The next day, Kovalyov writes a letter to Madam Podtochina Grigorievna, a woman who wants him to marry her daughter, and accuses her of stealing his nose; he believes that she has placed a curse on him for his fickleness toward her daughter. He writes to ask her to undo the spell, but she misinterprets the letter as a proposal to her daughter. Her reply convinces him that she is innocent. In the city, rumours of the nose's activities have spread, and crowds gather in search of it.

Part three[edit]

On the 7th of April, Kovalyov wakes up with his nose reattached. He is carefully shaved by the barber and returns to his old habits of shopping and flirting with girls.


  • Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov - the main character of the story is a civil servant with an average rank. He is obsessed with his rank, and one day, we wakes up to find his nose missing.
  • The Nose - this character is a body part that is personified in the story. By the way it is dressed, it seems to have achieved a higher rank of civil service than Kovalyov, himself.
  • Ivan Yakovlevitch - he is the barber who finds the nose in his bread. He attempts to throw out the nose into the river. When the nose is miraculously reattached to Kovalyov again, he comes to Ivan to get shaved.
  • Newspaper Advertising Clerk - he is who Kovalyov contacts to get an ad in the paper about his missing nose. When the newspaper advertising clerk first hears about the story, he is unable to understand what has happened. He rejects Kovalyov's ad because he believes that the ridiculousness of the story will make the newspaper look too sensational.
  • Madame Podtochina - she is the mother of the girl that Kovalyov has been flirting with for some time. He refuses to propose to her because he believes he can marry someone even better, so Madame Pottochina is constantly bugging him about marrying her daughter.


Critics note that the story's title in Russian (Нос, "Nos") is the reverse of the Russian word for "dream" (Сон, "Son").[1] As the unreliable narrator himself notes, the story "contains much that is highly implausible", while an earlier version of the story ended with Kovalyov waking and realizing that the story was indeed a dream. Without the awakening, however, the story becomes a precursor of magical realism, as an unreal element is woven into a realistic narration. Peace also notes that some critics have interpreted the story as referring to a castration complex: the removal of Kovalyov's nose (and its developing a mind of its own) threaten both his chances of acquiring a position of power and of being a success with women. In Russia, a version has appeared which substituted "..." for the word "nos" (нос) so that the reader would be inclined to interpret it as "khui" (хуй), the Russian taboo word for penis. It can be said that Kovalyov equates the loss of his nose with castration, emasculation, and impotence to a certain degree.[2]

At the end the story drifts away and it appears Gogol is talking directly to the reader. It is never explained why the Nose fell off in the first place, why it could talk, nor why it found itself reattached. By doing this, Gogol was playing on the assumptions of readers, who may happily seek absurd stories, but at the same time still having the desire for a normal explanation.[citation needed]


Some reviewers analyze the story literally instead of searching for symbolic significance. A literal interpretation suggests that Gogol's story is about the importance of the olfactory perception, which is obscured in Western society by a focus on vision and appearance.[3] This interpretation is consistent with Gogol's belief that the nose is the most important part of a person's anatomy.[4] Major Kovalev obsesses over his appearance, cleanliness, and rank. His behavior reflects the influence vision-oriented Western culture that emphasizes deodorization and hygiene.[5] And yet, he is deeply upset when he loses his nose, which shows that olfactory sensation is still important despite Western influence.

Critical assessment[edit]

In A History of Russian Literature, the critic D.S. Mirsky writes: "The Nose is a piece of sheer play, almost sheer nonsense. In it more than anywhere else Gogol displays his extraordinary magic power of making great comic art out of nothing."[6]


Dmitri Shostakovich's opera The Nose, first performed in 1930, is based on this story. A short film based on the story was made by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker in 1963 and used pinscreen animation.

A play for radio based on the story was written by UK author Avanti Kumar and first produced and broadcast in Ireland by RTÉ in 1995.

In April 2002, the BBC Radio 4 comedy series Three Ivans, Two Aunts and an Overcoat broadcast an adaptation of the story starring Stephen Moore.[7]

An album in Romanian, Nasul, based on the story was released by Ada Milea and Bogdan Burlăcianu in 2007.

A play based on the short story was written by Tom Swift and produced by The Performance Corporation in 2008.

The Fat Git Theatre Company performed their adaptation of the short story in 2011.

WMSE (91.7 FM in Milwaukee, WI) broadcast an adaptation by Wisconsin Hybrid Theater (Radio WHT)in 2011.

The Moscow Museum of Erotic Art put on an adaptation based on Vladimir Putin losing his genitalia to coincide with the 2012 presidential election.[8]


  1. ^ Bocharov, Sergey (2008). Гоголь в русской критике: антология. p. 357. 
  2. ^ Lauren Lydic (2010). “Noseological” Parody, Gender Discourse, and Yugoslav Feminisms: Following Gogol'’s “Nose” to Ugrešić’s “Hot Dog on a Warm Bun”. Comparative Literature, 62(2). University of Oregon. doi:10.1215/00104124-2010-004
  3. ^ Klymentiev, Maksym (2009). "The Dark Side of 'The Nose': The Paradigms of Olfactory Perception in Gogol's 'The Nose'". Canadian Slavonic Papers (Taylor & Francis, Ltd.) 51 (2): 223–241. 
  4. ^ Davydov, Sergei (2006). "Gogol's Petersburg". New England Review (Middlebury College Publications) 27 (1). 
  5. ^ Klymentiev, Maksym (2009). "The Dark Side of 'The Nose': The Paradigms of Olfactory Perception in Gogol's 'The Nose'". Canadian Slavonic Papers (Taylor & Francis, Ltd.) 51 (2): 223–241. 
  6. ^ Mirsky, D. S. (1858). Francis J. Whitfield, ed. A History of Russian Literature. Alfred A. Knopff. p. 152. 
  7. ^
  8. ^

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