A Marvelous Comic Story by the
author of Dead Souls
I have previously posted on stories by two new to me writers whose stories I really like, Ivan Krylov and Mikhail Saltykov, included in this book. I hope to read more of their stories. Krylov's collection of fables and short stories sold more copies than any book in 19th century Russia besides The Bible. Saltykov wrote very funny and biting satires on Russian society, he was one funny high level Czarist tax collection officer! I also read and posted on Tolstoy's Ivan the Fool.
In his very interesting and educational essay Guy Daniels says Gogol (1809 to 1852-there is some back ground information in my prior three posts on Gogol) is was one of the inventors of the comic short story and that Why The Two Ivans Quarrelled is "perhaps the best, and certainly the first, masterpiece of its kind".
I really liked How The Two Ivans Quarrelled. The two Ivans start the story as best of old friends. They own adjoining estates in rural Russia. Both are small land holders and own a few serfs but they still do work on their estates themselves.
I really liked how Gogol made use of small details to bring the characters to life. One of the Ivans is single and in a semi scandal he has a woman that comes and visits him periodically and stays a long time. I thought OK he has his younger beautiful girl friend but no she is a woman his age shaped like a barrel that keeps him totally in line.
One day the two Ivans are visiting and one of them offers to buy the other's shotgun. The fall out terribly in negotiations over the price of the shotgun. The falling out is so bad that one of the Ivans, in an hilarious scene, sneaks over on the others properties and destroys one the buildings. The two men end up filing formal complaints on each other with the magistrate. One Ivan even brings a complaint on a pig owned by the other. It turns out the complaint is for a capital crime and if found guilty the pig can be sentenced to death. At first the owner says his pig is innocent and he will never allow him to be killed. The judge in a move worthy of Solomon says "why don't you just solve the problem by turning the pig into hams and could you give me a few of those wonderful sausages your lady friend is famous for making?"
The more serious of the complaints of the Ivans drags on in the courts for years. In the mean time the Ivans get older and all of the pleasure seems to go our of their lives. What they really enjoyed doing was just hanging out with each other and enjoining the pleasures of life as a small landowner in rural Russia. Both men have lost the most important, maybe the only important, relationship in their lives but both are too stubborn to make the first move even though everyone urges them to make up.
I really enjoyed read this story. Recently I saw the classic movie by Roman Polanski (with Sharon Tate) The Fearless Vampire Killers. The atmosphere of that movie seems very like that of the story.
I commend totally One World Classics for publishing How the Two Ivans Quarrelled and Other Comic Tales. It is well produced on quality paper with a crisp easily readable font.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a copy of this and other books by the publisher
The next Gogol I read will be his drama The Inspector General (on which the Danny Kaye movie of that name was based on).