The Crocodile by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1865
The magic trick:
Bridging the gap between Gogol and Kafka with a nonsense plot that addresses very serious themes
Yesterday’s SSMT feature, “Bobok,” used the voices of the dead at a cemetery to make a social commentary. So we know Dostoyevsky can take his work to a lot of odd places. But today’s story, “The Crocodile” goes a step further into absurdist fiction.
Essentially, a man visits the zoo and is swallowed alive by a crocodile. Don’t worry, though, he assures his wife and friend that he can continue his work as a civil servant from his new home – inside the crocodile.
Apparently, there are a lot of geo-political commentaries going on here that I would understand better if I knew anything of mid-19th-century Russian history. Even without picking up the specific barbs, I still enjoyed the story. The commentary is broad enough to still translate, and the dealing with very serious issues through a nonsense plot is a nice bridge between Gogol and Kafka. And that’s quite a trick on Dostoyevsky’s part.
Then the treacherous monster, to show that it was alive, faintly stirred its paws and tail, raised its snout and emitted something like a prolonged snuffle.
“Come, don’t be cross, Karlchen,” said the German caressingly, gratified in his vanity.
“How horrid that crocodile is! I am really frightened,” Elena Ivanovna twittered, still more coquettishly. “I know I shall dream of him now.”
“But he won’t bite you if you do dream of him,” the German retorted gallantly, and was the first to laugh at his own jest, but none of us responded.
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