Friday, March 21, 2008

Books: The Inspector General, by Nikolai Gogol

I don't know how this ended up in my stack of books to read (I went to the library the other day and they had eleven books on hold for me, which I had supposedly requested; this was one of them) but I've read it anyway. It's pretty funny political satire, and a good enough way to spend two hours (it's a short play), but I haven't much more to say about it, I'm afraid. The plot revolves around a silly mix-up, in which the haughty, crooked Police Chief of a small town gets wind (via the Postmaster, who regularly opens the mail and reads it) that the Government will be sending an Inspector to the town. Meanwhile, an overextended young Dandy is staying at an inn with his Servant, and the Police Chief determines that this Dandy is the Inspector, incognito. Immediately, the town, at the Police Chief's behest, begins lavishing bribes upon the Dandy, who is all too cheerful to play along, demanding loans of 300 rubles from each official that he meets, and moving into the Police Chief's house, where he eats and drinks debauches the Police Chief's daughter and wife. He then leaves town for a brief sojourn of a day or two, and once he's gone, the Postmaster alerts the Police Chief that he's opened another letter, from the young Dandy, who within reveals that he's not the Inspector at all, but has been hilariously taking advantage of the entire town. The play ends there, with all the townspeople standing in shocked tableau.

Interestingly enough, it is safe to assume that the Dandy doesn't know that his letter was intercepted, and that he is greedy enough to come back to the town in two days time, and expect to be treated just as well again. Of course, the butt of Gogol's joke is the government, but it's hard not to wonder whether the Dandy won't get his comeuppance after the curtain comes up again, in some totalitarian sequel. As blithely cheerful Gogol's little joke is, it lacks the nuance that would make it applicable to reality, where cruelty and revenge are just as potent as flattery and advantage.

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