"How dared you, in disregard of all decency, call me a goose?"
This lesser-known work is perhaps the perfect distillation of Nikolai Gogol’s genius: a tale simultaneously animated by a joyful, nearly slapstick sense of humor alongside a resigned cynicism about the human condition.
In a sharp-edged translation from John Cournos, an under-appreciated early translator of Russian literature into English, How The Two Ivans Quarreled is the story of two long-time friends who have a falling out when one of them calls the other a “goose.” From there, the argument intensifies and the escalation becomes more and more ludicrous. Never losing its generous antic spirit, the story nonetheless transitions from whither a friendship, to whither humanity, as it progresses relentlessly to its moving conclusion.
The Art of The Novella Series
Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.
About the Author
Nikolai Gogol was born in 1809 in the Ukrainian Cossack village of Sorochintsy. Seeking literary fame, he went to St. Petersburg at 18 to self-publish an epic poem; it was so ridiculed he fled the city. He eventually returned and began writing stories influenced by Ukrainian folklore. Collected as Evenings on a Farm Near Dilanka, they were an enormous success. New friends including Pushkin encouraged him, and in stories such as “The Overcoat” and “The Nose,” and novels such as Dead Souls, he developed a bitter realism mixed with ironic humor and surprisingly prescient surrealism. In 1836, fearing he’d offended the tsar with his satirical play The Inspector General, Gogol left Russia for a twelve-year European hiatus. Upon returning he published an essay collection supporting the government he’d always criticized, and was so mercilessly attacked by former admirers he became despondent. Falling into a state of questionable sanity, he renounced writing as an immoral activity, and in 1852 burned his last manuscript, a sequel to Dead Souls, just days before dying of self-imposed starvation.
John Cournos (1881-1966) was born in Russia and immigrated to the U.S. as a child. In addition to translating, he gained some renown as a poet.
Praise for How the Two Ivans Quarrelled…
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read."
—Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer
—Time Out London
"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works."
—Adam Begley, The New York Observer
"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series."
—The New Yorker
"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are."
—KQED (NPR San Francisco)
"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package."
—The Wall Street Journal