Old-World Landowners

by Nikolai Gogol

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Read the definition of "idyll" in a few standard literary handbooks, encyclopedias, or textbooks. Is "Old- World Landowners" an idyll? If not, what is its genre?

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Old World Landowners certainly initially fulfills Nikolai Gogol's romantic interpretation of "idyll." It is peaceful and quiet, Pul’kheriya and Afanasiy are simple people and there is nothing too dramatic - until later when the reader is exposed to Afanasiy's despair after the death of his wife. The literary definition of an "idyll" refers to a pastoral setting, rural and simple. There is an inferred happiness in an idyll and the two are introduced with wrinkles "so agreeably disposed upon their countenances" that the reader sets himself up for a happily-ever-after story. Even seemingly unpleasant or irritating objects do not cause any stress such as the "terrible number of flies" or the "singing" door hinges. The couple "needed so little" that even when workers steal from them, it does not seem to matter. As with any visitor, the narrator is  "always glad to go to them." 

Later in the story , happiness is no longer conferred on Pul'kheriya and Afanasiy and the bizarre and irrational actions of Pul'kheria lead the reader to assume that Old World Landowners is almost absurdist. The tone changes and, after the beloved cat behaves uncharacteristically, Pul'kheria loses interest and is "visibly thinner." This is very significant for a couple for whom eating is a significant pastime. Afanasiy is visibly moved by his wife's distress as "a tear hung on his lashes." After her death, Afanasiy deteriorates and eventually, after being convinced that Pul'kheriya is calling him he dies.  He does not ask for much and like his wife's simple wishes is buried next to her and "His wish was fulfilled." This leads the reader back towards the idyll as now they are together in eternal happiness, or their version of it - or so is the assumption. 

The reader may be confused because the story ends with a distant relative who, it appears will renovate the farm but who then allows it to fall back into ruin. This is perhaps because Afanasiy and Pul'kheria's happiness was never based on the upkeep of the farm. That was immaterial to them. So the ending is significant as it leaves the whole story open to interpretation. To some it is absurdist and to others, who feel the love of the old couple, it is an idyll.     

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