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  Philologica 7 (2001/2002)  


(Concerning One Possible Source of “The Government Inspector”)




In October 1834, The Literary Supplements to “The Russian Disabled Soldier” published a note entitled “A Braggart in a Distant Province”. The image of a braggart from the capital is reminiscent of Xlestakov, the main character of Gogol’’s The Government Inspector, which was written a year later. It is quite possible that the figure of an oblivious liar who talks up his alleged high position in Petersburg society in front of his provincial audience, attracted the attention of Gogol’ and gave him material for Xlestakov’s fantasies.

The note in The Literary Supplements could have been a literary reworking of a true story, and one should not exclude the possibility that both the note and elements of Xlestakov’s tales go back to one and the same oral source. But things could equally have been different: the note, based on a real anecdote, could later have inspired the author of the great comedy. It is this genealogy of its plot and characters that appears on the pages of The Government Inspector. Indeed, first and foremost, Xlestakov had suggested to Triapichkin the idea of describing the incident and its participants in a periodical: “I know you write for the papers; put them in your literature” (act 5, scene 8; transl. by T. Seltzer), — and only after the mayor had become familiar with Xlestakov’s letter, does he realize that situation might be made public, and express his fear of becoming a character in a play: “He will publish the story to the whole world; not only will you be made a laughing-stock of — but some scribbler, some ink-splasher will put you into a comedy” (Ibid. ).

The note found in The Literary Supplements to “The Russian Disabled Soldier” enables one to propose that the genealogy of the characters in The Government Inspector, which appears in the comedy itself, may have a self-descriptive character.



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