Gogol's Wife

Landolfi, Tomasso

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol
  • Date of entry: Feb-07-2002


This story is claimed by its narrator to be a chapter in his biography of the Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol. He begins by saying he knows some intimate details of Gogol's life and that as his biographer he feels obligated to reveal them, though as his friend he might have kept all this to himself.

After setting the reader up for some perhaps prurient "facts," the narrator tells us that Gogol's wife was a life-sized balloon, anatomically correct and quite voluptuous. Claiming to be the only person besides Gogol who has ever seen this creation, the narrator goes on to tell us an occasion where he heard her speak. He describes how she developed her own personality, in spite of the fact that she was a balloon, and that she even contracted syphilis, which subsequently infected Gogol.

The narrator and Gogol are celebrating the silver anniversary of Gogol and his wife when the novelist gets insanely irritated with her, inserts a bicycle pump into her, and inflates her until she explodes. Gogol then throws the rubber pieces into the fire (much as he had burned his manuscripts earlier). He also throws into the fire a balloon baby boy. The story closes with the narrator again defending his position of biographer, providing the truth about Gogol to the reader.


Not long into this story, the reader starts doubting the honesty, then the sanity of the narrator. Since his perspective is the only one available, the reader is stuck with a sometimes very comical disjunction between what the narrator describes in his matter-of-fact "biographical" manner and what could possibly be "really" happening. One can believe, for instance, that Gogol had such a doll, but not that she talked, developed her own independent personality, contracted syphilis, and got old and cranky.

A number of interpretations suggest themselves as to what Landolfi may be up to in this story, since the author and the narrator of the story are clearly not the same. One might be that the balloon, whose name is Caracas, resembles Gogol's literary creations which take on a life of their own after he has written them. But the narrator is certainly not thinking this way. However one approaches this story, it is a good example of the problems the reader encounters when he or she cannot believe the narrator.


Translated by Wyland Young.

Primary Source

Gogol's Wife and Other Stories


New Directions

Place Published

New York



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