The Diary of a Madman

by Nikolai Gogol
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Last Updated on May 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 635

"The Diary of a Madman" is a short story written by Nikolai Gogol in 1835.

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The madman of the title is a forty-two-year-old civil servant who keeps a diary for four months. On a rainy day—Tuesday, October 3, 1833—Poprishchin is late for his job in one of the offices of a Saint Petersburg department, his only hope being to receive some money as an advance payment. On the way, he notices a carriage stopping before a shop, from which the lovely daughter of the director of the department flutters like a bird. He overhears a conversation between her dog, Meggy, and another dog, Fidel, who belongs to two ladies passing by. Surprised by this, Poprishchin follows the ladies instead of going to work and finds out that they live in Sverkoff's house.

The next day, Poprishchin, mending pens in the director's office, sees the director's daughter come into the room. Within a month, his fascination with this young woman becomes obvious to others. He is even reprimanded for this. However, Poprishchin secretly penetrates the house of His Excellency and, desiring to learn something about the young lady, tries to enter into a conversation with the dog Meggy. The dog does not want to talk with him.

Then Poprishchin goes to Sverkoff's house, where the dog Fidel lives with its owners, and steals from its sleeping-basket a packet of small pieces of paper. As is Poprishchin's guess, these are letters between the two dogs. He learns from their correspondence many things that are meaningful to him. He reads about the director of the department being conferred with a decoration and about the director's daughter (whose name turns out to be Sophie) being courted by a certain Mr. Teploff. He even learns something about himself.

He has an extraordinary name. He always sits there and mends the pens. His hair looks like a truss of hay. Her papa always employs him instead of a servant.... Sophie can never keep from laughing when she sees him.

Finally, Poprishchin learns from the letters that Teploff is going to marry Sophie soon:

the marriage will soon be celebrated. Her papa will at any rate get his daughter married to a general, a colonel, or a chamberlain.

The unrequited love for Sophie, coupled with some disturbing reports in the papers, finally damage Poprishchin's mind. He begins to be preoccupied with thoughts about the state of affairs in Spain in connection with the death of the king.

The year 2000: April 43rd.—To-day is a day of splendid triumph. Spain has a king; he has been found, and I am he. I discovered it to-day; all of a sudden it came upon me like a flash of lightning.

After three weeks of idleness, the "Spanish king" Poprishchin returns to his job. He does not stand up before the director, signs as "Ferdinand VIII," and then goes straight to the director's house. Entering Sophie's dressing-room, he tries to explain to her that "a happiness awaited her, beyond her power to imagine," at the same time making the discovery that women fall in love with the devil.

Oh, what cunning creatures these women are! Now I have found out what woman really is. Hitherto no one knew whom a woman really loves; I am the first to discover it—she loves the devil.

Poprischchin waits for the Spanish deputation. But the "Spain" to which he is taken when the "deputies" finally arrive is a very strange land. There are many "grandees" with shorn heads there. The "nobles" are beaten with sticks, and the attendants let cold water trickle on their heads. It is obvious that this land is ruled by the great Inquisition, which prevents Poprischchin from making great discoveries worthy of his position. Finally, he writes a tearful letter to his mother begging for help.

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