The Devils in the Details: The Role of Evil in the Short Fiction of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne

By Maus, Derek | Papers on Language & Literature, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

The Devils in the Details: The Role of Evil in the Short Fiction of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne


Maus, Derek, Papers on Language & Literature


Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) are two writers whose names invariably seem to appear in critical discussion of romantic literature. Given the direct influence on both Gogol and Hawthorne of writers like Ludwig Tieck, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Washington Irving, and other giants of the late eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century fantastic/romantic school of literature, this should not come as a surprise. What is perhaps surprising is that very few critics have chosen to examine the works of Gogol and Hawthorne in direct comparison with one another, a fact that seems an even more striking oversight given the voluminous amount of criticism produced on both Gogol and Hawthorne in comparison to Hoffmann or Tieck.[1] The close contemporaneity (bordering occasionally on eerie coincidence) of the careers of the two writers makes the oversight even more curious.

In an attempt to remedy this critical shortfall, I will examine the short fiction of Hawthorne and Gogol together, comparing the manner in which each author uses symbolic and physical embodiments of evil in his work. These authors consistently present their audiences, either explicitly or implicitly, with demonic figures, and my intention is to illustrate the ways in which the two authors use these devils[2] in their manuscripts to help further their individual literary and moralistic projects.

Although both writers create their devils and kindred evil spirits within fairly standard (albeit different) Christian moral and ethical frameworks, there are, especially early in their respective careers, significant differences in the ways in which the evil entities they depict go about their nefarious work. Hawthorne's fiends and devils, rarely presented in corporeal form, generally prove to be a force that corrupts mankind in the realm of the psyche, whereas Gogol's devils initially tend to produce their effects in a way that is physically observable (either through bodily harm or otherwise material manifestations of evil), corresponding to their tangibly substantial presentation. Then, as Gogol's authorial aims become more moralistic, his devils become less physical and more symbolic (often being represented or suggested by animals or even inanimate objects like the famous overcoat of Akaky Akakyevich Bashmachkin), resembling Hawthorne's internal devils.

This variance correlates largely with the differences in the religious and cultural background between the two authors. Hawthorne was a member (if a somewhat unwilling one, at times) of the overtly moralistic society of New England, which derived its ethical precepts from seventeenth-century Puritanism and German Calvinist Protestantism, with its doctrine of election, before that. In contrast, Gogol was born and bred into the religious traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, albeit one with some regional variants particular to Ukraine. Coupled with this baseline religion are the idiosyncratic (not to say heretical) additions that Gogol made regarding his relationship to God. These led him, especially in later life, to occasional heights of somewhat hubristic religious ecstasy in which he believed himself to be God's chosen mouthpiece. Both writers' works demonstrate a conflict between personal faith and devotion to the dogma of the religious training they underwent in their younger years. This conflict often manifests itself in their writing in the form of a struggle between a fallible human character and an embodiment of demonic force.

My comparison of demonic themes begins by focusing on several representative short works by Hawthorne, most notably the tale "Young Goodman Brown" from the collection Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). I will then use examples from each of the three types of demonic tales that Gogol wrote during his early career to demonstrate the ways in which the influence of the romantics is idiosyncratically adopted and altered by both writers in order to suit their differing authorial intentions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Devils in the Details: The Role of Evil in the Short Fiction of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.