On Scott's Russian shadow: historicity in The Bride of Lammermoor and Dead Souls.
Chichikov, Gogol's protagonist, is purchasing serfs officially registered as living, according to a census roster. Since these tabulations of peasant inventories take place only once every seventy years, serfs who die in the meantime nominally count as alive until the next census. Chichikov plans to offer the owners of these "dead souls" a chance to unload the tax burden they represent by selling them to him for a nominal fee. Owning them will inflate his social status and, eventually, he can use them as collateral for an enormous loan that will make him a wealthy landowner.
After his shopping spree, Chichikov peruses the lists of the dead souls he has acquired and is suddenly stopped by their discrete voices. "Involuntarily," this soon-to-be-official landowner grows into intimate familiarity with his "subjects" (DS 142). (1) "I know you, I know you, my fine fellow," he exclaims to the serf Maxim Telyatnikov, "if you like, I shall relate the whole of your life-story" (DS 143). As Chichikov continues to summon the dead by reimagining their individual lives, Telyatnikov, along with Pyotr Saveliev Blast-the-Trough, Stepan Probka, Elizavet Vorobey, and other colorful names materialize into distinct voices that then acquire representative qualities as part of "one chant ... as endless as Russia herself" (DS 146). Like Walter Scott's antiquary Jonathan Oldbuck, whose research nurtured in him "a delight in building theories out of premises which were often far from affording sufficient ground for them," Chichikov unabashedly begets a national historical epic. (2) At this point, his watch points to midday, and Chichikov recalls his pressing obligations. He cuts his reverie short, and exchanging "his Scottish costume [for] a European one," is transformed back into a petty clerk (DS 146-47; my emphasis).
This scene illustrates historiography in the making, as the historian, Chichikov, inspects his materials, the lists of serfs compiled by their owners:
Each of the scrawls seemed to have a special character of its own and in this way the peasants themselves acquired a character of their own. Those belonging to Korobochka had almost all of them character sketches and nicknames. Plyushkin's list was distinguished by its brevity of expression: quite often only the initial letters of their names appeared, followed by dots. Sobakievich's register was astonishing for its extraordinary completeness and detail: not one of the peasants' qualities was omitted.... This variety of detail made it all very animated: it seemed as if the peasants were alive but yesterday. (DS 142)
Already a product of historiography of sorts (penned by the landowners), the lists communicate misgivings about history-making. The connective narrative of proverbs and calligraphy refuses to hold together the serfs' names and the stories they engender. Beginning with confident assertions, Chichikov's effort to blend the voices of a shoe-maker, a bogatyr, a thief, and a barge-hauler into a single song of an imagined community, and to conjecture one national narrative, ends with a question of "Why have I got stuck?" (DS 146). As it does so, we get a good laugh. But with a little interpretative push, this question easily reformulates itself into a set of different, more serious, questions. Can a narrative thus construed achieve intimacy with the past? What is the relationship between an individual record and the larger narrative that contains it? Does the past shape the present, or vice versa? How do the annals of historiography translate the singular and individual into the plural and collective? What materials are eligible for inclusion in a history? What kind of historian is to render them into a narrative? And what does historical awareness do to the novel? My essay will explore the implications of these questions for Dead Souls, for, as I intend to demonstrate, they are pertinent not only to Chichikov's attempt at historical thinking but also to that of his creator.
The novels of Walter Scott, the author who established the massively influential framework of Romantic historical fiction by giving "living human embodiment to historical-social types," will provide the context for my study of historicity in Dead Souls? Gogol's indebtedness to Scott has been widely acknowledged. The very first critics of The Evenings on a farm near Dikanka, for instance, saw it as a Russian example of Scott's antiquarian enterprise. (4) The work's abundant ethnographic detail, its glossary of a Ukrainian dialect, and painstaking particulars of local costume are the most obvious markers of Scott's influence. In the twentieth century, The Evenings and Taras Bulba have been studied for their indebtedness to Scott's storytelling technique. (5) More recently, Edyta Bojanowska has highlighted both writers' marginal status, which stems from their dual nationalist commitments, Scottish and British, Ukrainian and Russian. (6) Yet, reading the overtly historical Taras Bulba or antiquarian The Evenings vis-a-vis Scott has forced existing scholarship, perhaps inadvertently, to accentuate the image of the Scot as a stylist prescribing a recipe for historical fiction, while unduly neglecting his persona as a thinker-writer who formulated certain questions about historical representation, questions that could be answered differently by an author with a different sensibility, working in a different cultural situation. By conjuring the image of the Scot who could animate his sources, Chichikov's reverie points to Scott's ghostly presence in Dead Souls. In Gogol, however, ghostly can be very material indeed. According to the Russian author, before beginning Dead Souls, he reread Scott; (7) and as my essay restores the importance of Scott as a thinker-writer, "a genius, in whose immortal works life was contained in all its fullness," to Gogol's great novel, it will directly engage with this claim. (8) Focusing on the possible consequences of Gogol's (re)reading, I will first of all attempt to offer a corrective to the treatment of Scott's novels as genre fiction models for early Russian adaptations. Secondly, regarding Dead Souls as an example of one such adaptation, I will posit its text as a complex rethinking of what it means for the novel to conflate historical time with national geography.
By no effort of the imagination could Dead Souls be called a historical work in the sense familiar from Lukacs's seminal The Historical Novel, as a form reflective of and reflecting on historical consciousness by reenacting historical crises as seen through the eyes of an average protagonist, whose interactions with different sides of the conflict result in a representation of social totality. Dead Souls does not refer to a public event, or in fact to any recognizable chronology outside of its own. Even Richard Maxwell's looser definition of the genre as a "method of combining history with fiction" does not describe Gogol's approach. (9) Dead Souls, however, flirts with and parodies conventions of historical writing. (10) Its conspiracy plot, detailed portraiture of town N, and antiquarianism in the grotesque figure of Plyushkin; its themes of imposture and erotic attachment leading to the "hero's" downfall, all testify to this effect. Gogol's own flirting with history as a vocation and his historical writings, which have received serious scholarly attention, press me to look more deeply into his concerns in Dead Souls with such concepts as historical time, epochal change, authorial perspective, and national geography, concepts indeed reflective of and reflecting on historical consciousness. (11) These concerns ground my reading of Gogol against Scott, whose fiction enacts the profound shift in the understanding of history correlative with the advent of Romantic historiography in Great Britain. For clarity's sake, I will condense the latter's novels to one, The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819.
The choice of The Bride might not at first glance appear particularly felicitous, especially alongside The Antiquary, quoted above. Much like Dead Souls itself, The Antiquary focuses on the ethnographic details of past common life among a cluster of landowners' estates and villages. The Bride, by contrast, articulates its plot around a recognized historical event, the 1707 Union between Scotland and England. The question, however, of whether the novel's own events happened shortly after the Union (as in the second, Magnum Opus, edition) or shortly before (as in the first) remains open, problematizing and destabilizing the Union as historical referent. (12) In addition to casting doubt on its own chronology, this melancholy novel in which the characters do not fulfill their historical destiny and the ruins of time do not get repaired insinuates uncertainties about its larger relationship to history. The Bride's ambiguous and equivocal version of the British past attests to the precariousness of conflating historical time with national geography in the novel, a precariousness less evident in Scott's earlier, positivistic works. For Gogol, Scott's uncertainties provided a set of formative aesthetic and philosophical conditions. Reflecting on these uncertainties, the Russian author offered a more radical and fragmented version of historically conscious prose.
Formally established during the Scottish Enlightenment, the notion of temporal and geographical distance anchored the anthropological framework used by the Enlightenment writers to understand remote civilizations. (13) In his pioneering Waverley, Scott upholds this notion. An often quoted paragraph from the last chapter urges readers to fix their eyes "on the now distant point from which we have been drifted." (14) Setting the interpretative terms for the preceding narrative, Scott also gives a cue to his own interpreters to read Waverley--which has come to epitomize all of his Highland romances--as a novel that, in Ian Duncan's words, "converts a spatial or geographical order of difference into a temporal, historical difference governed by the teleology of modernization." (15) That is, in accordance with the imperial logic of the Scottish Enlightenment philosophical history that binds all societies to a universal scheme of development, the novel folds spatial heterogeneity onto a unified diachronic axis of modernity's progress, homogenizing various temporal layers that might otherwise coexist at a certain moment in time. Distance is central to this project. It ensures the selection of the materials consistent with its consolidating impulse. Besides, by opening up space for various ideological and aesthetic frames, distance dampens emotional response to history's turbulence. Nevertheless, despite Scott's pronouncement, perspective in Waverley and other romances is not wholly equated with distance, and recent analyses, including Duncan's own, have demonstrated the more nuanced relationship between them, thereby complicating the reading of Scott's historiographical model as aestheticized and ideologically marked. (16)
In The Bride, this nuanced relationship configures the past in two conflicting ways. On the one hand, the novel suggests that distance might be the only means of grasping temporal transformations, encouraging a reading of the past as sealed off and therefore susceptible to a finite representation. On the other, outlining a variety of vantage points which position the reader within rather than outside of the narrative frame, The Bride opens the past up, annihilating the distance between it and the present. A short passage from the novel illustrates Scott's contradictory technique. As his narrator describes the dynamic scene of the simultaneous arrival of Lady Ashton and the Marquis of A--, he drops the following comment: "The privilege of nobility, in those days, had something in it impressive on the imagination.... At present it is different; and I myself, Peter Pattieson, in a late journey to Edinburgh, had the honor ... to 'change a leg' with a peer of the realm. It was not so in the days of which I write." (17) In a divisive gesture, this Shandean remark carves out a past temporal layer positing the object of study, the detail of etiquette, as necessarily removed from its interpreters. By disinterring this layer and then transferring it to a vertical axis, Peter Pattieson converts the past into an aesthetic category, which appears foreign and strange from across the dividing line. As such, it invites interpretations and generates various discourses. These discourses--rational, curatorial, affective, and so on--help Scott accrue knowledge, ultimately enabling him to posit specific causal forces as governing the processes of change and to represent the part of history thus marked out for study as a complex structure of relationships. (18)
Nonetheless, even in this short passage, perspective emerges as dependent on but not solely defined by distance. Apparently insistent on the sequestration of past from present, the novel is also mindful of their continuity. Upsetting the smug presentism of Whig historiography, it makes several temporal incisions. "[T]hose days" evoke feudal Scotland, but the "late journey to Edinburgh" occurred at a later point in the post (or pre-) Union past. Both points are then organized into a story from Peter Pattieson's "present." Adding his present to its tenses, The Bride defines Peter Pattieson's interpretation through his cultural, political, economic, and social currencies. Moreover, it looks to another temporal avenue, that of the readers themselves, whose judgment would be informed by their own temporally embedded sets of values. (19) In short, while using distance to order various pasts along a single diachronic axis, the novel also undermines linearity by conflating past, present, and future; by turning time into an expressly discursive category; and by securing readerly participation in both narrative and temporal sequencing.
Gogol further rethinks the Enlightenment notion of distance as the basis for historical analysis. To understand his rethinking, I will take a long pause to examine the text of the Russian novel. In one of its reflexive lyrical passages, the narrator digresses;
Judgment comes easy to readers, who look down from some nook of theirs among the peaks, whence the whole horizon becomes visible as does everything that goes on below on earth where men can only see immediate objects.... Many are the errors which have been perpetrated in the world--errors, it would seem, that even a child now would avoid repeating. What twisted, blind, narrow, impassable and devious paths have men chosen to tread in their striving to attain eternal truth when, all the time, in front of them lay a straight road--a road leading directly to the splendid halls destined to become the imperial palace.... The present generation now sees everything clearly, is amazed at the errors and laughs at the short-sightedness of its ancestors; it is not for nothing that this chronicle is shot through with a heavenly fire, that each letter of it screams out, that a piercing finger points from all sides--pointing at the present generation; but the present generation only laughs, and with self-assurance and pride treads a path of new errors which will prove a subject for ridicule to posterity. (DS 227-28)
Reflecting on the notion of distance as a precondition to understanding, this passage contemplates an alternative. Unaware of their position within history, it suggests, the men who trod "below on earth" cultivate and multiply practices of misunderstanding. Their random footsteps could be ordered into an intelligible series only by an observer located at a distant point, temporal or geographical. (20) By physically removing himself from the world that could absorb, and thereby blind him, the observer can convert its strangeness and opacity into the lucidity and sharpness of a past and achieve an insight into some "eternal truth." The second part of the excerpt outlines another possibility by introducing the figure of a chronicler. To a historian prepared to trade an observer's elevation and detachment for a chronicler's immediacy and involvement, not only the past but also the present--albeit unstable and constantly changing--could be readable and meaningful. Supplanting the grand story of modernity as an organizing narrative, Gogol's chronicle, "shot through with a heavenly fire," aspires to provide contours for assimilating current events into one account for the instruction of contemporaries. Discernment on this view diverges from distance. The more erotic "piercing finger pointing] from all sides" at the present generation replaces a dispassionate look cast at the past across a temporal divide. The result, as we shall see, is a patchy and puzzling combination of the past and the present that shapes time in the novel into something subjective, protean, and incongruous. Such shaping helps to account for Dead Souls' familiar chronic forgetfulness and misunderstanding of temporal processes, features that have long bewildered its readers. (21)
In his attempt to find firm ground in the Gogolian countryside, one of Gogol's most discerning readers, Yuri Mann, suggests that after Scott, Gogol draws borders that signify "the opposition or, rather, differentiation of the present from the past." (22) Mann's own illustrations do indeed betray a certain similarity to Scott's temporal slices. But just like Scott's, Gogol's borders are tentative. In Dead Souls, their ornamental nature makes them poor markers of time, injecting the novel with fluidity and movement. As Chichikov beholds N's landmarks, he "[m]ost frequently of all ... caught sight of the faded Imperial arms, the double-headed eagle, which has since been replaced by the laconic inscription 'Beer-house' " (DS 6; Mann's emphasis). Whereas, in this instance, the narrator occupies an elevated position in time, just a page or so previously he firmly located himself on the same temporal plane as the events he was presenting: "As the chaise rattled into the courtyard, the gentleman was greeted by a waiter of the inn--or floorman, as such waiters are called in Russian inns.... The room was of the ordinary sort, just as the inn was of an ordinary sort. In fact, it was the kind of inn to be found [byvaet--the verb indicating habitual actions in the present] in all provincial towns" (DS 1-2; my emphasis). The abundance of details that follows takes away any doubt as to the narrator's firsthand knowledge of the subject contemporaneous not only with the hero's and narrator's time but also with the readers' own. In another example of Mann's, the difference between the historical past and the historical present is also dubious: " [Sobakievich] scraped back a foot, which was shod in a boot of such gigantic proportions that it would have been difficult to find another such anywhere, particularly in these days when bogatyrs [heroes] ... are beginning to grow scarce in Russia" (DS 13; Mann's emphasis). Here the historical dividing line is indeed drawn, but the past is deliberately fictive, folkloric, and mistily ancestral. Finally, Nozdrev, who no longer "existfs] in these days," does not come from history of any kind (DS 73; Mann's emphasis). His "shoddy character" will, the narrator predicts, be conveniently confined to an imaginary past by a "thoughtless and unperceptive" reader attempting to quarantine an undesirable social blemish (DS 73).
Illustrating the general sense of temporal myopia in the novel, these examples position the narrator below the threshold at which historical visibility begins. Marked at the same time by an interpretative insight, they articulate a possibility of critical penetration before some finality is achieved, before " the result of things" delineates itself sharply. (23) This phrase belongs to Johann Gottfried von Herder, whose similar stance was inspirational to Gogol. "Whether the human species improves or worsens," Herder wrote, "whether it some day turns into angels or demons, into sylphs or gnomes--we know what we must do. We consider the history of our species in accordance with firm first principles in our conviction about right and wrong--let our species' final act end as it will. " (24) The faith in the stability of some cosmic metanarrative that illuminates Herder's passage appears to inform Gogol's own preference for this metanarrative over the grand story of modernity told by the Enlightenment thinkers and revised in the Waverley novels. The grotesqueries of Dead Souls shine more light on the nature of this narrative. But before I turn to Gogol's monsters, I will take a closer look at movement, which will further elucidate the notion of perspective in both novels.
Space and Movement
Because the teleological movement of Enlightenment historiography remains the trope with which and against which Scott organizes his own narrative, his handling of space maintains a precarious balance. To define the more practical idea of space [espace], Michel de Certeau contrasts it with the more theoretical notion of place [lieu]. Whereas place for de Certeau designates the order of things, a configuration of positions relative to one another, and a safeguard of stability, space "exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus space is composed of the intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it.... On this view ... it has thus none of the univocity or stability of a 'proper' [name]." (25)
Commencing the tale in chapter two, the Scottish novelist sets its place with the first geographical marker, the castle of Ravenswood. Much of the novel then consists of his drawing trajectories connecting the castle to Alice's cottage, to the neighboring woods, to the Mermaiden's fountain, to Wolf's Crag, and so on. As the characters traverse these routes, they internalize and practice place, transforming it into space. Thus animated, geography turns into an alternative world of romance: proper names resound with forgotten stories; variables accumulate; ambiguities proliferate. But the Enlightenment logic of succession simultaneously demands that Scott homogenize spatial diversity, or create place, to use de Certeau's helpful differentiation. Architectural remains, therefore, emblematically frame the story between the opening image of "an extensive castle, of which only the ruins are now visible" and the closing one of the graves: a "splendid marble monument" bearing "name, titles and virtues" for Lady Ashton, as well as the less distinguished tombs for her victims (The Bride 26, 349). Simply put, the conversion of place into space and back again allows Scott to sever the past from the present, first creating the story of romance and then reshaping it into the history of progress. Space thus becomes the raw material for the teleology of modernization, which, remapping Britain, exorcises space to enforce the temporal order of historical difference.
The Bride also tells a story about one culture subsuming another, British and Scottish respectively, and the rhetorical move of converting space into place fits its task admirably. Once articulated, though, the aestheticized categories of romance encircle and arrest linear movement, (26) setting up a dialectic between place and space. Ravenswood's meeting with Alice's ghost is one illustrative example:
As Ravenswood approached the solitary fountain, he is said to have met with the following singular adventure.... On looking to the fountain, Ravenswood discerned a female figure, dressed in a white ... mantle, placed on the very spot on which Lucy Ashton had reclined while listening to the fatal tale of love. (The Bride 245)
Immediately assuming Lucy is behind the mantle, Ravenswood addresses her, only to see the face of old Alice (of whose recent death neither the reader nor Ravenswood himself is yet aware). When Alice, or her apparition, glides away, the young man summons his courage to examine "the spot on which the figure had seemed to be seated." To his surprise, "neither was there pressure of the grass, nor any other circumstance, to induce him to believe that what he had seen was real and substantial" (The Bride 246). A richly spatial category, the spot on the Mermaiden's Fountain counteracts the novel's stabilizing effort. It frames the milestones of romance, the meeting and engagement of the young lovers, articulating a possibility for the coincidence of both plots, nuptial and historico-cultural. Had the story of Lucy and Ravenswood ended with marriage, the affair between England and Scotland could also, in retrospect, emerge as an unproblematic relationship of continuity and concord. The fountain, however, cohabits with a legend. Materializing to turn the bride into a corpse, the legend determines the tragic outcome of romance prophetically rather than prognostically, thus also sabotaging the Union and casting doubts over the normalcy of historical change. Historically invisible--here literally non-verifiable by empirical observations--the legend, as part of a larger dark undercurrent of tradition, interferes with the remapping of spatial heterogeneity onto the order of place, making Scott's geography crowded and untidy.
Crowdedness and temporal untidiness also describe the Russian countryside in Dead Souls where movement, journey, and road are central elements. The novel famously opens with Chichikov's "medium-sized chaise on springs rolling] through the gates of an inn of the provincial town of N" (DS 1). A week of calling on the local officials, with a schedule so intense it does not leave Chichikov "an hour to himself," is followed by his visits beyond the town's boundaries (DS 14). To begin with, Chichikov marks his itinerary with two destinations, the villages of landowners Manilov and Sobakievich. Located, according to the landowner's own directions, some ten miles from the town of N, Manilovka begins to point to inconsistencies between the maps and the physical world the traveler passes through, between the set place and the more practical space. As Chichikov moves past the eleventh milestone with no village in sight, he questions two local serfs as to its whereabouts. "Well," answers the brighter of the two, "when you push on another mile or so, there it will be, that is to say, straight to the right.... That will be the road to Manilovka" (DS 18). It will take Chichikov another four miles or so before he recalls that "when a friend invites you to visit him in a village a mere ten miles away, it is always at least a good twenty miles off" (DS 19). The particulars of the road to the next destination, Sobakievich's estate, come from Manilov himself, who communicates them directly to Chichikov's coachman Selifan. "[E]mbarked on the most remote and abstract allusions," the drunk Selifan forgets to count the turns (for the reader to navigate the Russian roads more easily, the narrator has paraphrased Manilov's instructions as passing two turns and taking the third), and the travelers find themselves lost (DS 38). At this point, fate itself intervenes in the guise of dogs barking, which eventually leads them to Korobochka's village. Forty miles away from town N, the village seems to come from an altogether different map. Excluding the properties [nsad'by] of both Manilov and Sobakievich, the map's creator, Korobochka, populates her neighborhood with such unsavory names as Bobrov, Swin'in, Kanapatyev, Flarpakin, and Trepakin. (27) Needless to say, explaining the way to the main road is for Korobochka too complicated a task: "there are a great many turnings" (DS 58). Only with the help of a serf girl, who cannot tell left from right, can the travelers manage the roads that "spread out on all sides of them, like netted crabs when they are spilled out of a sack" (DS 61). Chichikov's remaining adventures, up to his forced exit from the province, will only multiply inconsistencies, discrepancies, ellipses, and detours.
The Russia of Dead Souls is an ever-shifting space that continually recreates itself by revealing hitherto unnoticed nooks and comers. Since these escape a destination-bound traveler, the novel writes geography as crossing, traversing, and lingering in space. On this view, Gogol pushes further Herder's and Scott's own agenda to excavate from outside the margins, to discover and seize stranded possibilities in history's cul-de-sacs. In Scott, as we have seen, these possibilities become available as the author pushes further the brackets of the Enlightenment historiographical formulae, the strategy particularly conspicuous in The Bride. Nonetheless, these formulae continue to control the narrative psyche of the novel, injecting it with melancholy over possibilities that remain untapped. Sadly, modernity's fast and irreversible advance toward futurity demands an equally dynamic and teleological narrative frame. Removed geographically and temporally from the intellectual climate of the Scottish Enlightenment, Gogol eschews a priori organizing principles and opts instead for the open mode of a chronicle. Focusing on the changeability of the present as lived history, he translates history's fluidity into the fluidity of words, with the hope perhaps that the ensuing combinations will become part of a larger narrative unbound by existing precepts. Gogol's grotesque is perhaps the finest example of this approach. In Dead Souls, grotesqueries reconfigure Scott's melancholy over the capriciousness of historical memory powerfully expressed in The Bride in the gothic idiom.
The Passage of Time as Gothic and Grotesque
In his Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination, Francesco Orlando explores the fascination of modern literature with all things obsolete, such as ruins, relics, rarities, rubbish, and so on. As modernity accumulated and venerated functional objects, Orlando contends, literature "made its very self into a lumber room, as the site of an antifunctional return of the repressed." (28) By refunctionalizing obsolete objects, literature both emphasized the initial loss of function and developed compensatory narrative mechanisms to recuperate this loss. Lists of outdated objects could be found before the eighteenth century, but not until the advent of industrialization were they marked by the acute awareness of concrete historical time and its erosive passage. Orlando offers a useful vocabulary for our understanding of Scott and Gogol, both of whom defunctionalize and refunctionalize in order to narrate the passage of time. (29) The remainder of this essay will focus on the two literary mechanisms they develop in the process, the gothic and grotesque.
Wolf's Crag, the remnant of the castle where the last of the Ravenswoods is brooding over his family wrongs, is refunctionalized twice, first as a particular microhistorical detail and then again within a larger macrohistorical panorama of the The Bride. The rain emerges before the reader as Ravenswood and Bucklaw approach the cliffs:
on the summit of which, like the nest of some sea-eagle, the founder of the fortalice had perched his eyry. The pale moon, which had hitherto been contending with flitting clouds, now shone out, and gave them a view of the solitary and naked tower, situated on a projecting cliff that beetled on the German Ocean. On three sides the rock was precipitous; on the fourth ... it had been originally fenced by an artificial ditch and drawbridge, but the latter was broken down and ruinous, and the former had been in part filled up, so as to allow passage for a horseman into the narrow court-yard, encircled on two sides with low offices and stables, partly ruinous, and closed on the landward front by a low embattled wall, while the remaining side of the quadrangle was occupied by the tower itself, which, tall and narrow, and built of a grayish stone, stood glimmering in the moonlight, like the sheeted spectre of some huge giant. A wilder, or more disconsolate dwelling, it was perhaps difficult to conceive. The sombrous and heavy sound of the billows, successively dashing against the rocky beach at a profound distance beneath, was to the ear what the landscape was to the eye--a symbol of unvaried and monotonous melancholy, not unmingled with horror. (The Bride 82-83)
The particular combinations of sea and land, architecture and nature, visual and acoustic produce "the gothic version of truth: the moment when all the pieces ... fall into place to form a scene at once perfectly familiar and yet perfectly adapted to its mysterious occasion." (30) The familiarity comes from the castle's new function as stage decor. This function is grafted on the old one, as a place of habitation and material embodiment of feudal power, and the uneasy spatial relationship between the two functions accounts for the mystery of the scene. The image of deteriorating Wolf's Crag being absorbed, reified, and recycled by modernity, powerfully illuminates the Scottish past that has itself become fragmented and refunctionalized in the aftermath of the Union. Quickly sealing the gap of time, this remnant of an old castle draws the reader's attention to the changes that have taken place. It speaks of the dissolution of feudal relationships, the thinning of the landowner class, and the disappearance of oral culture, i.e. the trade-off Scotland accepted as it stepped into the path of modernity.
While pointing to the melancholy process of loss and (necessarily partial) recuperation, the gothic also serves as a compensatory mechanism for writing this process into a novel. By reconditioning the raw emotive reaction into pre-processed and culturally mediated response, gothic cliches ease the task of articulating historical change. As the narrator uses them over and over, all he has to do is to move his pen in a familiar way. Cliches censor history. They pack it within a decorous idiom, allowing palliative literariness to relieve the pain inflicted by the passage of time. Notably, though, the text simultaneously lays this mechanism naked before the reader's eyes. Even for a gothic version of truth, the passage is saturated with cliches to the point where instead of helping the author to reappropriate the past in the form of a story, they begin to impede the story's gradual and steady unfolding. Too conspicuous and redundant, they compromise continuity, indirectly alerting us to the presence of some residues that do not fit easily into the linear model. Arranging themselves into a kind of textual unconscious, these residues resurface in the formal overproduction that switches our attention from historical processes to the processes within the psyche of the historian himself. Thus, circuitously, he might be suggesting that the public picture of history as normal continuous change has its drawbacks.
Refunctionalized diachronically, Wolf's Crag, along with dialect, legends, and superstitions, enters the novel's virtual collection of ethnic (or ancestral, pre-modern) culture informed by the rationale of unity and connectedness. As close-ups, individual collectables look like portraiture incorporating all the minutiae of the age. But as we survey the entire collection from a greater distance, the objects lose their full particularity, bringing the relationship between their individual microhistory and their collective macrohistory into disequilibrium. (31) The new context of a composite collection now absorbs the object's specific identity, turning it into an "ethnographic metonym" for an abstract Scottish pre-modern culture. (32) From the historical afar, Wolf's Crag ceases to be a reflection of the text's narrative psyche losing some of its admonitory power (although not all, for it also illustrates the Romantic tendency to use literature, architecture, customs, superstition, pictorial art, orality as shortcuts to the aesthetic palette of the national culture and therefore apt metonyms for its idiosyncratic traits). As historical remains identified in the narrative by a gothic flourish, the castle hushes its various distinct voices to sing in chorus with other collectables about the coherent and composite modern identity formed during the passage away from "rudeness and barbarity" and toward "enlightenment and civility."
Scott's doubts about the rational and functional imperatives of
Enlightenment philosophical history urged him to detail fragmented or ruined sources. Ideally suited for a play on the very edges of meaning, these polysemantic signs flip to tell different tales. By the same token, they alert the reader to the self-reflexivity of Scott's history, to the politics behind the historian's choices, and to his multidimensional persona, a collector, the man of feeling, and the journalist-recorder. As he organizes the materials and practices of the past into acceptable discourses, he selects, invents, and refunctionalizes his primary empirical evidence in order to round it off to a historically specific situation. On the one hand, Scott recognizes the continuity between this situation and the present, records it, and thus constructs modern identity in the process of overcoming-- through rationalizing, sentimentalizing, and aestheticizing--the rupture between the ancestral nation and the present. On the other, he acquiesces to its apparent detachment bound with loss, which both inflicts and exposes the trauma of writing the past. Selecting from the endpoints of temporal, ideological, and aesthetic vectors, historiography, his novel seems to suggest, must necessarily be forgetful of the multiple variables accounting for the moment's density.
To render historical time in words, Gogol also refunctionalizes objects. Chichikov's visit to Plyushkin demonstrates that when such (re)functionalization stops, history stops as well. Approaching Plyushkin's village, Chichikov, whose eyes are at this point the reader's own, comes into view of the landowner's mansion:
... at first in parts and then as a whole, when the chain of huts came to an end and gave place to an open space of orchards and cabbage patches ringed by a low and partly broken fence. That strange castle, which was long, disproportionately long, had all the appearance of a chronic invalid. In some places it was one-storied, in others two-storied; upon its dark roof, which provided an uncertain shelter for its age, two belvederes were stuck facing each other; both of them were sagging and innocent of the paint which had once covered them. In places, the walls of the house revealed the bare laths under the plaster and, as was apparent, had suffered a great deal from all kinds of intemperate weather, rains, gales and the fickleness of autumn. (DS 116-17)
The faint echoes of gothic romance, amplified in the following description of the colossal orchard, highlight the contrast between Wolf's Crag and Gogol's reimagined "castle." Beaten by climatic (rather than historic) calamities, awkward and inappropriate, Plyushkin's house parodies Wolf's Crag (or its literary kin) by draining the castle of its meanings. Hyperbolized and personified, it clings to its function as human habitation despite its apparent inaptness, and as such simply extends its owner's objectified personality. Besides Plyushkin, it is a home to a variety of objects that lack any function whatsoever, for example, a piece of a broken shovel and an old shoe sole heaped together with other unusable things in a dusted pile in the middle of the room; or "a lemon shrivelled [sic] to the size of a hazel-nut, the broken-off arm of a chair, a wine-glass with some liquid in it and three flies, covered with a letter" amassed on top of the bureau (DS 119-20). (33) Taken out of circulation in the household's daily economy and, consequently, having lost their functions, and identities, these objects merge into a strangely coherent whole continuous with Plyushkin's material but vacuous existence. The loss of function, primary or secondary, translates here into the loss of circulation and movement. Therefore when Plyushkin, the "void on the face of mankind," extends himself (or itself) into space, time stops (DS 125). The clock, its pendulum enveloped by a spider's web, appropriately symbolizes the ensuing stasis, once again evoking Scott and his writing of time through objects. But as the Russian novelist refurbishes Scott's project, he tends to be inventive and improvisational rather than restorative and reconciliatory.
Taking verbal liberties, Gogol writes time in the grotesque idiom, which allows him not so much to record history through outdated objects as to create it through objects contemporaneous with Dead Souls' own peculiar temporal bearing. Gogol's grotesqueries fuse the familiar with the unknown into puzzling and provoking combinations, ascribe new functions to animate and inanimate objects, and thereby capture historical flux. Semantically thick and genetically indeterminable, they point to some larger immaterial metanarrative, against which the author strives to verify his rosters of dead souls. (34) As Chichikov enters Korobochka's estate, he is greeted by a chorus of dogs:
In the meantime, the dogs were barking in every pitch and key: one of them, his head uplifted, was howling so continuously and with so much effort that he might have been earning God alone knows what salary; another was clipping it off hastily like a sacristan. In between them, like a front door-bell, rang out a scrambling soprano voice, probably a puppy's, and all these were capped by a bass voice, that of a grandfather, maybe, endowed with a sturdy dogged nature; for he was as husky as a contrabasso in a choir when a concert is at its height and the tenors are standing on tiptoe from passionate desire to utter a high note and everybody strains aloft with head uplifted, while he alone, tucking his unshaven chin into his tie, squatting almost to the ground, lets out a note at which the very window-panes shake and rattle. From the barking of the dogs' choir alone, composed as it was of such musicians, one might have concluded that the village was of a goodly size. (DS 42-43)
Those who have lived in a Russian village will at once recognize in this sensitive, albeit slightly bizarre, account the narrator's knowledge of and affection for provincial life. Yet, lingering on the page will most likely complicate the initial response. A metonymy for Gogol's general approach in Dead Souls of merging materia and ornamentum, or facts and their presentation, the passage draws grotesqueries in a grotesque manner. (35)
On the one hand, it exudes the pejorative connotations of bastardy, illegitimacy, hybridization, and decay. The jumbled syntax, the long string of tropes, and various generic codes (a burlesque, a fable, a folk-tale, a theatrical skit, an ethnographic sketch) all conspire to attack our sense of stability and decorum. The refunctionalized musician-dogs open up frightening niches in the comfortable geography of the everyday, letting the unfamiliar burst out with all of its unpleasant newness. Their portrait locks us in the emotions of the present moment, evacuating the past and proving its codes insufficient. It mocks our theorizing mind and overturns our assumptions about logic. (36) In Wolfgang Kayser's words, the dogs speak threateningly of "the fusion of realms which we know to be separated, the abolition of the law of statics, the loss of identity, the distortion of 'natural' size and shape, the suspension of the category of objects ... and the fragmentation of the historical order." (37) On the other hand, to our joy, the images freely bring forth the uncensored content of the unconscious into the literary and historical realms. The usual response to Gogol's grotesqueries as well as to his prose in general is delight, which calls for Mikhail Bakhtin's interpretation of grotesque as a celebration of life's cycles with death and decay but also birth and renewal. (38) Highlighting the fluidity, weightlessness, and imponderability of reality, Gogol's bodies in space attack permanent markers and bring into prominence the mobility of being, of becoming. Because of their new functions, they transcend their own materiality to call into question temporary and spatial distinctions and to embody the very process of change.
Since they do not exist, grotesqueries enter the reader's body through sensorial mechanisms, which, outrunning linguistic, secure an emotional response. Regardless of whether we are appalled by grotesqueries or attracted to them, eventually they trigger our interpretative needs and compel us to look past emotions toward some master principle that organizes their apparently disjoined fragments into some larger metanarrative. Mediating rather than reconciling contradictions, such a narrative is likely to regard metamorphosis as a normal state of things. But the tangential relationship between its structures and the grotesque can only alert us of the existence of this metanarrative, suggesting that the master principle itself might lie beyond our grasp. Unmeasurable by human paradigms, the metanarrative alone could account for the movements of historical time and the changes they bring. (39)
I see both Scott's gothic and Gogol's grotesque as part of what Orlando calls a Romantic rebellion against Enlightenment rationality, (40) as a return and refunctionalization of their suppressed and subverted cultures, ancient and carnivalesque respectively. Scott examines in The Bride the philosophico-historical categories of perspective, movement, and time vis-a-vis the normative center of Enlightenment historiography. Demarcating the initial stage in this rebellion, his analysis challenges and dislocates this center. When Gogol rethinks the same categories in Dead Souls, he occupies a more temporally advanced point, which gives him levers to pull this center into a narrative flux. Scott, in other words, loosens the rigid contour of Enlightenment's historiographical paradigm, bringing out uncertainties about its cogency in his uncertain prose. With a mannerist extravagance unmatched even by his own Chichikov, Gogol picks up Scott's loose ends and weaves them into a different whole, no less tentative, but perhaps more prepared to admit its limitations, and laughs about them with his readers.
Besides thus positioning both texts within their broader histori-cocultural context, the side-by-side reading of Scott and Gogol also clarifies the history of Scott's reception beyond the British Isles. For the Russian author, Scott's novels were not merely genre fiction models. Intertwining rational thought with historical, national, and aesthetic concerns, they inspired Gogol to look for avenues to configure Russian historical time and Russian national geography in a novel. Particularly stimulated by the uncertainties that permeate Scott's historical prose, Gogol's configurations highlight the complexity and depth in his predecessor's thinking. Conversely, Scott's material presence in Dead Souls sheds light on the Russian text as well, accounting for its author's frequent penchant for leaping from the seemingly myopic scrutiny of detail all the way to transcendent meanings and totalizing narrative. This penchant reconciles what might appear separate and discrete: Gogol's artistic persona(s) and his life-long interest in the study of history.
Indiana University and Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
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(1.) Gogol, Dead Souls, ed. George Gibian, trans. George Reavey (New York: Norton, 1985), 143. Hereafter cited as DS by page in the text.
(2.) Scott, The Antiquary, ed. Nicola J. Watson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 133.
(3.) Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah Mitchell and Stanley Mitchell (New York: Humanities Press, 1965), 35.
(4.) See Yuri Mann, ed., Polnoe sobranie sochinenu i pisem v dvadtsati trekh tomakh / N. V. Gogol (Moscow: Nauka: IMLI RAN, 2003), 1:596. For more on Scott's reception in Russia, see Mark Altshuller, Epocha Val'tera Skotta v Rossii: istoriceskij roman 1830-ch godov (Sankt-Peterburg: Akademiceskij proekt, 1996), and Aleksandr Dolinin, Istoriia, odetaia v roman: Val'ter Skott I ego chitateli (Moskva: Izd-vo "Kniga," 1988). A shorter English version of Altshuller's account, "The Rise and Fall of Walter Scott's Popularity in Russia," appeared more recendy in Neil Steward's translation in The Reception of Sir Walter Scott in Europe, ed. Murray Pittock (London: Continuum, 2006).
(5.) See, for example, Judith Kornblatt, '"Bez skotov oboidemsia': Gogol and Sir Walter Scott," in Issues in Russian Literature before 1917: Selected Papers of the Third World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies, eds. Douglas J. Clayton and R. C. Elwood (Columbus: Slavica, 1989), and S. B. Davis, "From Scotland to Russia via France: Scott, Defauconpret and Gogol," Scottish Slavonic Review 17 (1991).
(6.) See Edyta Bojanowska, Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 8 and 157-59
(7.) See his letter to Vasilii Zhukovsky, November 12, 1836, in Perepiska N. V. Gogolia v dvuh tomah (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1988), 1:156.
(8.) Nikolai Gogol, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1937-1952), 8:160; my translation.
(9.) Maxwell, The Historical Novel in Europe, 1630-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 2.
(10.) For more on these conventions, see Maxwell, Historical Novel, 11-21 and 49.
(11.) See Sharon Varney, "Gogol as a Historian" (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1995). In an earlier article, Nikolai Andreev wntes: "History studies and meditations over historical destinies were undeniably important to Gogol not only as a stage in his career as a writer but also as a factor that affected his future art. His studies in history, and even his very failure at them, endowed Gogol's artistic spirit with systematicity, self-awareness, and depth." See his "Gogol' kak istorik," Transactions of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in U.S.A. 19 (1986): 202.
(12.) See Jane Millgate's "Text and Context: Dating the Events of The Bride of Lammermoor," Bibliotheck: A Scottish Journal of Bibliography and Allied Topics 9 (1979).
(13.) See Mark Salber Phillips, Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740-1820 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 75-76.
(14.) Walter Scott, Waverley (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923), 310.
(15.) Duncan, Scott's Shadow: The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 98. For references to specific critical accounts, see note 12 on page 326.
(16.) See Duncan, Scott's Shadow, 114; Maxwell, Historical Novel, 74-98; and James Buzard, Disorienting Fiction: The Autoethnographic Work of Nineteenth-Century British Novels (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 71.
(17.) Walter Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor, ed. Fiona Robertson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 231. Hereafter cited in the text as The Bride by page.
(18.) I.e. to perform historical analysis as Hayden White defines it in "New Historicism: A Comment," in The New Historicism, ed. H. A. Veeser (London: Rutledge, 1989), 296.
(19.) For other examples in The Bride that juxtapose several different temporal layers, see 54, 57, 134, and 190.
(20.) In this discussion, I am using Michel de Certeau's metaphors from "Walking in the City," in The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
(21.) Critics have made many attempts to systematize Gogol's tenses. Russell Valentino's temporal map stretches between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth in "A Catalogue of Commercialism in Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls," Slavic Review 57 (1998): 545. For A .A. Elistratova, details in Dead Souls are more narrowly embedded into the second half of Alexander i's reign in Poema Gogolia "Mertvye dushi," Literaturnyi kommentarii (Moscow, 1964), 105. E. C. Smimova-Chikina calculates the novel's events more precisely: Chichikov "was fired and his property confiscated in 1827.... With substantial efforts ... he finally managed to procure 'an obliteration of his soiled resume' and to change his employment ... somewhere between 1828-1829," Gogol i problema zapadnoevropeiskogo romana (Moscow, 1972), 174, my translation. William Mills Todd denies Dead Souls' historical specificity altogether, locating its world in a "historical vacuum" in his Fiction and Society in the Age of Pushkin: Ideology, Institutions, and Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 249.
(22.) Mann, Tvorchestvo Gogolia: smysl i forma (Sankt-Petersburg: Izd-vo Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universiteta, 2007), 448, my translation, emphasis in original.
(23.) Johann Gottfried von Herder, "Letters for the Advancement of Humanity," in Philosophical Writings, ed. and trans. Michael N. Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 415, emphasis in original.
(24.) Herder, "Letters for the Advancement of Humanity," 415.
(25.) de Certeau, The Practice, 117.
(26.) Janet Sorensen has convincingly elaborated on this process in her essay "Writing Historically, Speaking Nostalgically: The Competing Languages of Nation in Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor," in Narratives of Nostalgia, Gender, and Nationalism, eds. Jean Pickering and Suzanne Kehde (New York: New York University Press, 1997).
(27.) Gogol most probably invented these last names. Either their phonetics (as in Brobov, Trepakin, and Harpakin) or their dubious derivation (as in Swinin [from swine] and Kanapatyev [from insulating]) make them sound bizarre and unpleasant.
(28.) Orlando, Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination: Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places, and Hidden Treasures, trans. Gabriel Pihas and Daniel Seidel, with Alessandra Grego (New Haven: Yale University Press, 200?), 15.
(29.) In a recent article, "'On the Borders of Oblivion': Scott's Historical Novel and the Modern Time of the Remnant," Modern Language Quarterly 70, no. 4 (December 2009), Ina Ferris explores Ravenswood's status as a quintessential remnant whose lost function makes him a ghost of the past uncomfortably inhabiting the present.
(30.) Marshall Brown, The Gothic Text (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 171.
(31.) See Harry Shaw, The Forms of Historical Fiction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 46-48.
(32.) James Clifford, "On Collecting Art and Culture," in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (London: Routledge, 2000), 61.
(33.) These can be also read as Gogol's parody of antiquarianism.
(34.) Read as a grotesquery, into which parody reels off, even Plyushkin turns into a dynamic character, enlivening the novel's deadliest spot.
(35.) These terms belong to de Certeau. See The Certeau Reader, ed. Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 25.
(36.) My discussion of the grotesque is informed by Geoffrey Harpham's On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).
(37.) See his The Grotesque in Art and Literature, trans. Ulrich Weisstein (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 185.
(38.) As formulated in his Rabelais and His World, trans. Helen Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).
(39.) Trust in the providential determination of historical events informs Gogol's historical works. In "O srednikh vekakh" ("On Middle Ages"), for example, he writes: "Following the wondrous ways of providence, one feels obliged to kneel down." See Gogol, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 8:17, my translation.
(40.) Orlando, Obsolete Objects, 14.
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|Title Annotation:||sir Walter Scott|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2014|
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