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Authors: Nikolai Gogol

Tags: #Drama, #General, #Fiction, #Humorous, #Humor, #Classics

The Inspector-General

BOOK: The Inspector-General
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THE INSPECTOR-GENERAL
A COMEDY IN FIVE ACTS
* * *
NIKOLAI GOGOL
Translated by
THOMAS SELTZER
 
*
The Inspector-General
A Comedy in Five Acts
First published in 1836
ISBN 978-1-775451-55-6
© 2011 The Floating Press
While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in The Floating Press edition of this book, The Floating Press does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. The Floating Press does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book. Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Many suitcases look alike.
Contents
*
Introduction
*

The Inspector-General is a national institution. To place a purely
literary valuation upon it and call it the greatest of Russian comedies
would not convey the significance of its position either in Russian
literature or in Russian life itself. There is no other single work in
the modern literature of any language that carries with it the wealth of
associations which the Inspector-General does to the educated Russian.
The Germans have their Faust; but Faust is a tragedy with a cosmic
philosophic theme. In England it takes nearly all that is implied in the
comprehensive name of Shakespeare to give the same sense of bigness that
a Russian gets from the mention of the Revizor.

That is not to say that the Russian is so defective in the critical
faculty as to balance the combined creative output of the greatest
English dramatist against Gogol's one comedy, or even to attribute to
it the literary value of any of Shakespeare's better plays. What the
Russian's appreciation indicates is the pregnant role that literature
plays in the life of intellectual Russia. Here literature is not a
luxury, not a diversion. It is bone of the bone, flesh of the flesh, not
only of the intelligentsia, but also of a growing number of the common
people, intimately woven into their everyday existence, part and parcel
of their thoughts, their aspirations, their social, political and
economic life. It expresses their collective wrongs and sorrows, their
collective hopes and strivings. Not only does it serve to lead the
movements of the masses, but it is an integral component element of
those movements. In a word, Russian literature is completely bound up
with the life of Russian society, and its vitality is but the measure of
the spiritual vitality of that society.

This unique character of Russian literature may be said to have had its
beginning with the Inspector-General. Before Gogol most Russian writers,
with few exceptions, were but weak imitators of foreign models.
The drama fashioned itself chiefly upon French patterns. The
Inspector-General and later Gogol's novel, Dead Souls, established that
tradition in Russian letters which was followed by all the great writers
from Dostoyevsky down to Gorky.

As with one blow, Gogol shattered the notions of the theatre-going
public of his day of what a comedy should be. The ordinary idea of a
play at that time in Russia seems to have been a little like our
own tired business man's. And the shock the Revizor gave those early
nineteenth-century Russian audiences is not unlike the shocks we
ourselves get when once in a while a theatrical manager is courageous
enough to produce a bold modern European play. Only the intensity of
the shock was much greater. For Gogol dared not only bid defiance to the
accepted method; he dared to introduce a subject-matter that under the
guise of humor audaciously attacked the very foundation of the state,
namely, the officialdom of the Russian bureaucracy. That is why the
Revizor marks such a revolution in the world of Russian letters. In form
it was realistic, in substance it was vital. It showed up the rottenness
and corruption of the instruments through which the Russian government
functioned. It held up to ridicule, directly, all the officials of
a typical Russian municipality, and, indirectly, pointed to the same
system of graft and corruption among the very highest servants of the
crown.

What wonder that the Inspector-General became a sort of comedy-epic in
the land of the Czars, the land where each petty town-governor is almost
an absolute despot, regulating his persecutions and extortions according
to the sage saying of the town-governor in the play, "That's the way God
made the world, and the Voltairean free-thinkers can talk against it
all they like, it won't do any good." Every subordinate in the town
administration, all the way down the line to the policemen, follow—not
always so scrupulously—the law laid down by the same authority, "Graft
no higher than your rank." As in city and town, so in village and
hamlet. It is the tragedy of Russian life, which has its roots in that
more comprehensive tragedy, Russian despotism, the despotism that gives
the sharp edge to official corruption. For there is no possible redress
from it except in violent revolutions.

That is the prime reason why the Inspector-General, a mere comedy, has
such a hold on the Russian people and occupies so important a place
in Russian literature. And that is why a Russian critic says, "Russia
possesses only one comedy, the Inspector-General."

The second reason is the brilliancy and originality with which this
national theme was executed. Gogol was above all else the artist. He was
not a radical, nor even a liberal. He was strictly conservative. While
hating the bureaucracy, yet he never found fault with the system
itself or with the autocracy. Like most born artists, he was strongly
individualistic in temperament, and his satire and ridicule were aimed
not at causes, but at effects. Let but the individuals act morally, and
the system, which Gogol never questioned, would work beautifully. This
conception caused Gogol to concentrate his best efforts upon delineation
of character. It was the characters that were to be revealed, their
actions to be held up to scorn and ridicule, not the conditions which
created the characters and made them act as they did. If any lesson at
all was to be drawn from the play it was not a sociological lesson, but
a moral one. The individual who sees himself mirrored in it may be moved
to self-purgation; society has nothing to learn from it.

Yet the play lives because of the social message it carries. The
creation proved greater than the creator. The author of the Revizor was
a poor critic of his own work. The Russian people rejected his
estimate and put their own upon it. They knew their officials and they
entertained no illusions concerning their regeneration so long as the
system that bred them continued to live. Nevertheless, as a keen satire
and a striking exposition of the workings of the hated system itself,
they hailed the Revizor with delight. And as such it has remained graven
in Russia's conscience to this day.

It must be said that "Gogol himself grew with the writing of the
Revizor." Always a careful craftsman, scarcely ever satisfied with the
first version of a story or a play, continually changing and rewriting,
he seems to have bestowed special attention on perfecting this comedy.
The subject, like that of Dead Souls, was suggested to him by the poet
Pushkin, and was based on a true incident. Pushkin at once recognized
Gogol's genius and looked upon the young author as the rising star
of Russian literature. Their acquaintance soon ripened into intimate
friendship, and Pushkin missed no opportunity to encourage and stimulate
him in his writings and help him with all the power of his great
influence. Gogol began to work on the play at the close of 1834, when he
was twenty-five years old. It was first produced in St. Petersburg,
in 1836. Despite the many elaborations it had undergone before Gogol
permitted it to be put on the stage, he still did not feel satisfied,
and he began to work on it again in 1838. It was not brought down to its
present final form until 1842.

Thus the Revizor occupied the mind of the author over a period of
eight years, and resulted in a product which from the point of view of
characterization and dramatic technique is almost flawless. Yet far
more important is the fact that the play marked an epoch in Gogol's own
literary development. When he began on it, his ambitions did not rise
above making it a comedy of pure fun, but, gradually, in the course of
his working on it, the possibilities of the subject unfolded themselves
and influenced his entire subsequent career. His art broadened and
deepened and grew more serious. If Pushkin's remark, that "behind his
laughter you feel the sad tears," is true of some of Gogol's former
productions, it is still truer of the Revizor and his later works.

A new life had begun for him, he tells us himself, when he was no longer
"moved by childish notions, but by lofty ideas full of truth." "It was
Pushkin," he writes, "who made me look at the thing seriously. I saw
that in my writings I laughed vainly, for nothing, myself not knowing
why. If I was to laugh, then I had better laugh over things that are
really to be laughed at. In the Inspector-General I resolved to gather
together all the bad in Russia I then knew into one heap, all the
injustice that was practised in those places and in those human
relations in which more than in anything justice is demanded of men, and
to have one big laugh over it all. But that, as is well known, produced
an outburst of excitement. Through my laughter, which never before came
to me with such force, the reader sensed profound sorrow. I myself
felt that my laughter was no longer the same as it had been, that in my
writings I could no longer be the same as in the past, and that the need
to divert myself with innocent, careless scenes had ended along with my
young years."

With the strict censorship that existed in the reign of Czar Nicholas I,
it required powerful influence to obtain permission for the production
of the comedy. This Gogol received through the instrumentality of
his friend, Zhukovsky, who succeeded in gaining the Czar's personal
intercession. Nicholas himself was present at the first production in
April, 1836, and laughed and applauded, and is said to have remarked,
"Everybody gets it, and I most of all."

Naturally official Russia did not relish this innovation in dramatic
art, and indignation ran high among them and their supporters. Bulgarin
led the attack. Everything that is usually said against a new departure
in literature or art was said against the Revizor. It was not original.
It was improbable, impossible, coarse, vulgar; lacked plot. It turned
on a stale anecdote that everybody knew. It was a rank farce. The
characters were mere caricatures. "What sort of a town was it that did
not hold a single honest soul?"

Gogol's sensitive nature shrank before the tempest that burst upon him,
and he fled from his enemies all the way out of Russia. "Do what you
please about presenting the play in Moscow," he writes to Shchepkin four
days after its first production in St. Petersburg. "I am not going to
bother about it. I am sick of the play and all the fussing over it. It
produced a great noisy effect. All are against me... they abuse me and
go to see it. No tickets can be obtained for the fourth performance."

But the best literary talent of Russia, with Pushkin and Bielinsky, the
greatest critic Russia has produced, at the head, ranged itself on his
side.

Nicolay Vasilyevich Gogol was born in Sorochintzy, government of
Poltava, in 1809. His father was a Little Russian, or Ukrainian,
landowner, who exhibited considerable talent as a playwright and actor.
Gogol was educated at home until the age of ten, then went to Niezhin,
where he entered the gymnasium in 1821. Here he edited a students'
manuscript magazine called the Star, and later founded a students'
theatre, for which he was both manager and actor. It achieved such
success that it was patronized by the general public.

In 1829 Gogol went to St. Petersburg, where he thought of becoming
an actor, but he finally gave up the idea and took a position as a
subordinate government clerk. His real literary career began in 1830
with the publication of a series of stories of Little Russian country
life called Nights on a Farm near Dikanka. In 1831 he became acquainted
with Pushkin and Zhukovsky, who introduced the "shy Khokhol" (nickname
for "Little Russian"), as he was called, to the house of Madame O.
A. Smirnov, the centre of "an intimate circle of literary men and the
flower of intellectual society." The same year he obtained a position as
instructor of history at the Patriotic Institute, and in 1834 was made
professor of history at the University of St. Petersburg. Though his
lectures were marked by originality and vivid presentation, he seems on
the whole not to have been successful as a professor, and he resigned in
1835.

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