The Corner

Housekeeping [1] — Gogol

Some fallout from recent posts & columns.

First, Gogol. You can’t say anything about anything nowadays withour vexing some group or other. This time it’s the Ukrainians.

Mr. Derbyshire:

In your May Diary piece, you state (in respect to Gogol):

[Quoting Nabokov]  “April 1st   Born in … Sorochintzy (stress accent on ‘chintz’), Province of Poltava, Little Russia…”

[Now Derb]  If you want to get in shape for the Gogol bicentenary, you may as well start by learning to pronounce his name: GAW-gol, with the “l” palatalized. (As if you were to begin saying “-lyuh,” but left off the “-uh.”) As Nabokov says: “One cannot hope to understand an author if one cannot even pronounce his name.”

You said a mouthful. “Gogol” is the Russified version of the great author’s name. As a person of Ukrainian ancestry, he would have pronounced his name “Hohol”, which is a surname encountered often among Ukrainian emigres here in Canada, and I’m sure, elsewhere in the Ukrainian diaspora. By adopting the Russified version, we are in effect becoming complicit in the Russification policies of the Tsarist government, as continued under different auspices after 1917. “Little Russia”, indeed!

Of course, Gogol/Hohol himself probably used the Russified name when attempting to blend in to Petrograd society. Acting or speaking like an ethnic Ukrainian was not exactly a recipe for advancement then (or now) in Russian society, arty or otherwise.

By the way, the DVD of the 1962 movie Taras Bulba was recently released, and several clips from it are available on YouTube, starring the great Yul Brynner in the title role, and Tony Curtis (!) as his son, who of course ends up being shot by his father. A very good movie, in my opinion.  The clip of The Ride of the Cossacks onYouTube is highly recommended.

Other than the name business, I enjoyed your article tremendously.

[Me again]  Well, thanks for that last, Sir, and I am sorry if I offended any Ukrainians, though I think the offense is more Nabokov’s than mine. I recall seeing Taras Bulba when it came out, and enjoying it very much. I loved all those old Hollywood epics — don’t think I missed one — and Yul Brynner was a fascinating actor in any role.

Ukrainian patriots desiring to avoid further offense should most definitely not read what Nabokov had to say about the early Taras Bulba phase of Gogol’s literary career, which, to put it very mildly indeed, Nabokov did not appreciate. To avoid cluttering up The Corner I’ve just scanned in the relevant pages from Nabokov’s book and posted them here and here. “Evenings” refers to Gogol’s 1831 short-story collection Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.

I note in passing that the movie database Imdb lists three movie versions of Dead Souls, which Nabokov considered to be Gogol’s masterpiece. The first, from 1909(!), is presumably silent. Does anyone know if either of the other two is worth tracking down? Especially: Are there subtitled versions? My Russian runs out quite soon after kak pozhivayesh?

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