Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

While giving serious treatment to the relationship between reality and fantasy, “Gogol’s Wife” also bitterly parodies literary biography. Through use of the first-person point of view, in the persona of Foma Paskalovitch, the biographer of Nikolai Gogol, Landolfi mimics and exaggerates what he regarded as the sensationalism inherent in biographical studies. From the outset, Paskalovitch dons an exaggerated fastidiousness that interferes with more than it assists in the “biography.” There is the regular intrusion of such phrases as “I should specify,” “perhaps I should say at once,” “let us not mince matters,” and “as my readers will already have understood.” With this fastidiousness is also suggested a fawning admiration of his subject, expressed by means of ill-timed references to Gogol’s genius, usually juxtaposed with lurid or sensational details about the balloon-wife.

The biographer’s interest in the lurid details of the balloon-wife maintain the atmosphere of sensationalism at a high pitch. Thus, much detail is offered in the treatment of the doll’s genitalia, in the valves at the back of its throat and anal sphincter, in Caracas’s private room, with its Oriental decor. When the biographer notes that he was eyewitness to the dramatic end of the affair, he is quick to exclaim, “Would that I had not been!”

Landolfi pokes fun at the sensationalism most pointedly, however, through the biographer’s use...

(The entire section is 495 words.)