(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is purportedly a chapter of a biography of the great nineteenth century Russian writer, Nikolai Vassilevitch Gogol. The supposed biographer, Foma Paskalovitch, begins suspensefully by pointing out that he is about to relate something about Gogol’s wife that is so scandalous as to cause him to hesitate revealing it. After this suspenseful beginning, the narrator reveals that Gogol’s “wife” was actually a life-size balloon in the form of a woman. The plot’s exposition consists of a description of the inflatable doll and two incidents in which the biographer, who was apparently close to Gogol, observed the “wife.”

What distinguishes the inflatable doll is that with each inflation it takes on a different form, depending on the amount of air pressure that is filling out its anatomy. It can never be made to look the same way again once it is deflated. To give even greater variety to the appearances of the doll, Gogol has a number of different wigs and shades of makeup with which he ornaments it. Thus, the doll can be made to conform, more or less, to the desires and tastes of Gogol with each inflation. From time to time, when the doll has taken on a form especially pleasing to Gogol, he falls in love with that form “exclusively,” and maintains it in that form until he falls out of love. After a few years of living with the doll, Gogol bestows a name on it, Caracas.

It is to demonstrate the relationship between Gogol and his balloon woman, and the decline of that relationship, that the biographer recounts two incidents in which he observed Gogol and Caracas together in Gogol’s home. In the first incident, Paskalovitch hears Caracas speak. He is sitting with Gogol in the room where Caracas is always kept—a room where no one is normally allowed to enter—and the two writers are discussing a Russian novel. Caracas is sitting on a pile of cushions against a wall and is made up as a beautiful blond. Suddenly, and surprisingly, she utters in a husky voice, “I want to go poo poo.” Gogol, horrified, jumps at the doll and, ramming two fingers down its throat where an air valve is located, he deflates it. He makes apologies to Paskalovitch and attempts to resume their talk, but it is...

(The entire section is 909 words.)