How the Two Ivans Quarrelled

How The Two Ivans Quarrelled

Part of The Art of the Novella

This lesser-known work is perhaps the perfect distillation of Nikolai Gogol’s genius: a tale simultaneously animated by a joyful, nearly slapstick sense of humor alongside a resigned cynicism about the human condition.

In a sharp-edged translation from John Cournos, an under-appreciated early translator of Russian literature into English, How The Two Ivans Quarrelled is the story of two long-time friends who have a falling out when one of them calls the other a “goose.” From there, the argument intensifies and the escalation becomes more and more ludicrous. Never losing its generous antic spirit, the story nonetheless transitions from whither a friendship, to whither humanity, as it progresses relentlessly to its moving conclusion.

igogoln001p1

NIKOLAI GOGOL was born in 1809 in the Ukrainian Cossack village of Sorochintsy. Seeking literary fame, he went to St. Petersburg at 18 to self-publish an epic poem, which was so ridiculed that he fled the city. He eventually returned and began writing stories influenced by Ukrainian folklore. Collected asEvenings on a Farm Near Dilanka, they were an enormous success. New friends including Pushkin encouraged him, and in stories such as “The Overcoat” and “The Nose,” and novels such as Dead Souls, Gogol developed a bitter realism mixed with ironic humor and surprisingly prescient surrealism. In 1836, fearing he’d offended the tsar with his satirical play “The Inspector General,” Gogol left Russia for a twelve-year European hiatus. Upon returning he published an essay collection supporting the government he’d always criticized, and was so mercilessly attacked by former admirers that he became despondent. Falling into a state of questionable sanity, he renounced writing as an immoral activity, and in 1852 burned his last manuscript, a sequel to Dead Souls, just days before dying of self-imposed starvation.

Close
MobyLives