Gogol''s "Rome": On the Threshold of Two Worlds

Michael Kelly, Brigham Young University

"Rome" occupies an anomalous position among Gogol''s tales. It appeared in print just a short time before the publication of the first volume of Dead Souls, and it was largely eclipsed by the enormous attention generated by Gogol''s poèma. Since then critics have "given it a wide berth" (Maguire, Exploring Gogol, 121). Some of the relatively few scholarly studies devoted to "Rome" have been quite disparaging because of the perceived turgid and humorless style of the piece. The scant but often negative attention paid to "Rome" likely explains the fact that it has not yet been translated into a readily available English version. In his introduction to The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Leonard J. Kent states that "all of Gogol's tales are in these two volumes" (xiii), but "Rome," perhaps because of its status as "a fragment," remains conspicuously absent.

Despite limited critical attention, "Rome" is a piece to which Gogol' himself devoted great care and that temporally is inextricably linked in its creative history with work on Dead Souls. "Rome" becomes a threshold piece between Gogol''s creatively fruitful years and the years of striving with ever-growing frustration to complete his masterpiece. Griffiths and Rabinowitz view "Rome" as "a sign of the things to come," perhaps even the beginning of the end for Gogol' as artist, "anticipating the larger false turns that put the cycle of Dead Souls at an end" (Novel Epics, 158-61).

I not only view "Rome" more favorably, but would argue that this tale plays an important role in shedding light on some of the critical problems with which Gogol' grappled throughout his oeuvre. I would like to reexamine this work within the conceptual framework of Baxtin's chronotope essay and his concepts of carnival. I propose to examine the specific chronotopes of Paris and Rome, which are distinguished by radically different views of space and time. I further suggest that Gogol''s tale is not so much an exploration of concrete geographical space as it is of moral space. Paris is a foreign, large-scale incarnation of the artificially glittering façade of Petersburg, the town of N, and all Gogol'ian space that is inhabited by dead souls. Rome suggests the Third Rome with all of its potentialities and a people with latent powers and a future calling. "Rome" is a threshold work as the young prince finds himself straddling two chronotopic possibilities or ways of perceiving time and space and the surrounding world. Baxtin asserts that "the image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic" (The Dialogic Imagination, 85). For Gogol', individuals are largely determined precisely by their perceptions of space and time and their reactions to the ensuing social, ethical, and spiritual implications of those perceptions. The young Roman prince occupies an unusual position in Gogol''s oeuvre as a character who experiences genuine growth and change, and that transformation is linked to his evolving perceptions of space and time. Gogol' leads his readers through this same experience of contrasting chronotopes in hopes of challenging and renewing their perceptions of space and time.

Although carnival images in Gogol''s works have been examined by such scholars as Baxtin and Mann, this issue has received relatively little treatment in relation to "Rome," where these images are most fully developed. For Gogol', carnival is a unique kind of space that obliterates those social and economic boundaries that divide and fragment and that is marked by a sense of plenitude, beauty, joyfulness, and laughter. I will attempt to show that Gogol' views carnival as a threshold space between the material and spiritual worlds that holds out the possibility of revival and renewal.