Beginning Spring Semester With Gogol

By Hilda Johnston
Friday December 21, 2007

When acacia bloom and quince flowers from its spare stem, 

Akaki Akakievich again feels the frost of St. Petersburg 

nip through his tattered overcoat. “Akaki,” a student writes, 

“was fairly non-existent in the country of Russia,” but here 

he begins the term, and when magnolia blossom, Akaki 

climbs the sour-smelling back steps of Petrovich, the tailor. 

“He shouldn’t have gone to the underground for a coat,” 

says a student, but what can poor Akaki do but stint on meals 

and candles and tip-toe to save on shoes until the day Petrovich 

arrives with his new coat? “Fate,” writes a student, “has it in for him 

to be dull and banal, but the overcoat pulls him to the limelight.” 

Alas, the coat is stolen. Akaki dies. “One must have a goal  

more than a coat,” a student warns, “to have interest in life..” 

And the teacher thinks of Gogol dying, leeches on his nose, 

the last of Dead Souls burned in the stove, Gogol, who first wrote  

of the little man but himself kept a servant, a lout of a serf 

who slept in a cupboard—and so misery hides in misery 

like Russian dolls—but when creeks run and willow shoots 

are red, and small white lanterns appear on manzanita 

in the woods, Akaki’s ghost comes back, and a student  

writes in a journal, “Why is Akaki my brother? Indeed, 

I do taste my life bitter, but I forget it by working intensely. 

I do have a plan I regard as the most extravagant, 

and the happiest, like the overcoat of Akaki.”