The Old World Landowners

The Old World Landowners

The Old World Landowners

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The Old World Landowners, a short story written in 1835, is the first tale in the Mirgorod collection by Nikolai Gogol. A bittersweet and ironic reworking of the Baucis and Philemon legend, it is a simple story that represents the mature Gogol and hints at his later works.


Gogol opens by providing a romantic description of landowners in the countryside, giving particular attention to minute details. The two landowners, Afanasy Ivanovich and Pulkheria Ivanovna Tovstogub live peacefully together in a remote village. The descriptions of them fit into the Slavophile tradition, comparing them strikingly against urban Russians, particularly in Saint Petersburg, who are referred to as "paltry contemptible creatures."

The two old landowners live in peace, with a mutual love that brings a sense of sympathy. The bulk of the opening focuses on their day-to-day lives, eating jelly, making jokes and so forth. Eventually, Gogol introduces Pulkheria’s grey cat, which Afanasy jokes about, wondering why anyone would waste time with such a creature. The cat is introduced with a sense of foreboding, with Gogol commenting that little things can affect the stability of the strongest realities ("a melancholy incident that transformed forever the life of that peaceful nook").

The cat gets away at one point, and Pulkheria finds it shortly thereafter in a feral state. Though it comes back to her and goes inside the house to be fed, the cat seems strangely different...
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