The Nose


Nikolai Gogol

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The Nose Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nikolai Gogol's The Nose. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol grew up in present-day Ukraine. At 19, Gogol moved to St. Petersburg Russia where he failed to make it as an actor. Following acting, Gogol worked as a poet, but this career path literally went up in flames: in 1828 he bought all copies of books and magazines containing his poems and set fire to his entire catalog of poetry, vowing never to write another poem ever again. After working a series of academic jobs, Gogol found success as a short story writer throughout the 1830s. In the early 1840s, he wrote his first and only novel, Dead Souls. Shortly after the publication of Dead Souls, Gogol stopped writing and embarked on a quest to find spiritual peace. Eventually falling into a deep depressive state, Gogol burned his unpublished manuscripts and starved himself to death at the age of 42.
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Historical Context of The Nose

Gogol wrote “The Nose” during the age of Russian Enlightenment, Catherine the Great’s investment in Russian art, philosophy, and science. Best remembered for contributions to Opera, the Russian Enlightenment made it possible for writers like Gogol to make a living from their work. Still, despite this investment in the arts, Russians lived under the oppressive imperial rule with stark wealth disparities. As open criticism of society would have ended in censorship and possible arrest, Gogol relied on satire to critique Russian society. “The Nose” implicitly offers a critique of the Table of Ranks, a system which determined citizens’ social and economic status following standards set by the Imperial Russian government and military.

Other Books Related to The Nose

At the time of its publication, The Nose was difficult to categorize. While the story shared a magical sensibility with E. T. A. Hoffmann's Nutcracker and Mouse King and the comedic elements of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Gogol's blend of realism, magic, and comedy was fresh and original. Today’s literary landscape finds Gogol’s story more company within the genre of magical realism, which refers to literature that situates magical elements within the real world. Although "The Nose," published in 1836, predates the genre of magical realism, it fits snuggly within a lineage of stories which use magical realism to satirize society. These include The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, and Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o.
Key Facts about The Nose
  • Full Title: “The Nose”
  • When Written: Between 1835 and 1836
  • Where Written: 1836
  • When Published: St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Literary Period: Russian Enlightenment
  • Genre: Short story
  • Setting: St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Climax: The police officer returns Kovalev’s nose to him.
  • Antagonist: The Nose
  • Point of View: Third-person limited

Extra Credit for The Nose

College Scam. Despite absolutely no expertise in medieval matters, Gogol conned his way into a job as a professor of medieval history at the University of St. Petersburg. For the year he held the position, Gogol skipped most the classes he was scheduled to teach. During the student’s oral examinations, he faked a toothache—complete with a headwrap—in order to avoid asking questions.

Buried Alive. In 1931, the Russian government decided to move Gogol's remains from his original burial site to the Novodevichy Cemetery, a famous Moscow cemetery containing the graves of various notable Russian writers. When they opened the casket, authorities found Gogol’s body lying face down. The positioning of Gogol’s body spurred the conspiracy theory that Gogol was buried alive.