Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1288
“A most extraordinary thing happened in St. Petersburg on the twenty-fifth of March.” Ivan Yakovlevich, a Russian barber in St. Petersburg, wakes up in his house and prepares to eat the breakfast prepared by his wife. As he cuts into a fresh loaf of bread, he finds a human nose inside. Although confused and distraught by the discovery, the barber recognizes the nose as that of Collegiate Assessor Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov, a government clerk whom he shaves every Wednesday and Sunday. Fearing his wife’s wrath and further complications, Ivan Yakovlevich gets dressed and goes out with the idea of disposing of the nose. The streets are crowded, however, and there is little opportunity to get rid of his grotesque burden, which he has wrapped in a rag. He finally manages to throw the nose into the Neva River, but as luck would have it, he has been observed by a police inspector, who summons him to explain why he was on the bridge. Here, the story continues, “the incident becomes completely shrouded in a fog and it is really impossible to say what happened next.”
On the same morning in March, Kovalyov, a bachelor, wakes up in his St. Petersburg apartment and immediately goes to the mirror to check a pimple that had appeared on his nose the previous evening. Instead of a nose with a blemish, he sees only “a completely empty, flat spot” on his face where his nose had been.
Kovalyov dresses and goes out with intention of reporting his loss to the police. As he is making his way to the police station, he notices a gentleman in a gold-braided uniform jump out of a carriage and enter a private house. This gentleman is none other than Kovalyov’s nose, dressed as a State Councillor, a rank three degrees higher than Collegiate Assessor. A few minutes later, the Nose/State Councillor comes out from the house and drives to a nearby cathedral, with Kovalyov in pursuit. Inside the cathedral, Kovalyov sees the Nose saying his prayers and decides to confront him (or it), in spite of the protocol involved in addressing a civil servant of a higher rank. When Kovalyov finally musters enough courage and presence of mind to speak to the pious Nose, he can only blurt out the obvious: “You are my nose, sir!” The Nose, in turn, rebuffs any such suggestion by insisting, “My dear fellow, you are mistaken. I am myself.”
Kovalyov does not know what to think or say, but at this moment he is distracted by a slim young girl in a white dress and straw-colored hat who is standing near him in the congregation. Kovalyov smiles at this “spring flower” with “semi-transparent fingers” and “dazzling white chin,” but suddenly realizes that he is exposing his noseless face to the young beauty and retreats.
While Kovalyov is engrossed with the unknown girl, the Nose leaves the church. Kovalyov gives chase but loses the Nose in the crowd on Nevsky Prospect. Afraid that his quarry will slip out of town, Kovalyov goes for help to the Police Commissioner’s house, but finding the official out for the evening, he decides to go the newspaper office to place a “missing nose” advertisement. At first the newspaper clerk does not understand the nature of the advertisement Kovalyov proposes to print. Finally, after realizing that this is not a usual lost-and-found notice, the clerk rejects it because it is, to his mind, absurd and potentially libelous. The clerk feels sorry for Kovalyov and tries to calm him by offering him a pinch of snuff. Kovalyov angrily responds by reminding the clerk that he does not at the moment have the appropriate organ for taking snuff.
Kovalyov returns to the Police Commissioner’s house, this time finding the Commissioner in, but the official is sleepy after a big dinner and in no mood for Kovalyov’s problem, adding that “a respectable man would not have his nose...
(The entire section contains 1288 words.)
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