(Above: St. John the Baptist)
This is the second week in a row that I’ve drawn a club for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge For this year, clubs are my designated suit for “stories by Russian authors,” and all I have read thus far have been excellent. This week’s draw, the nine of clubs, was assigned to the Nikolai Gogol story, “St. John’s Eve.” I haven’t read much Gogol, but his famous story, “The Cloak,” is also on my list for this year, waiting patiently to be drawn.
St. John’s Eve – for any fellow heathens who don’t know – is a religious holiday (celebrated on June 23rd) in honor of John the Baptist. St. John is famous for his wildness and zealousness, and those same qualities could be said to suffuse this story of a small village in Russia that is plagued by a strange man, Basavriuk, who seems to appear and disappear out of/into nowhere. Many believe him to be the devil incarnate. He tempts villagers with gifts that they are both afraid to refuse and accept, for if some trinket was accepted, “the next night some fiend from the swamp, with horns on his head, came and began to squeeze your neck, if there was a string of beads upon it, or bite your finger if there was a ring upon it, or drag you by the hair, if ribbons were braided in it.”
Enter a young man known as “Peter the Orphan,” a poor soul who labors for the Cossack, Korzh, who also happens to be the father of a lovely daughter, Pidorka. Gogol relates that “well, you know what happens when young men and maidens live side by side,” and the two youths, naturally, fall in love. Things are going okay until Korzh catches the unfortunate young lovers kissing, and Peter is promptly turned out and told never to show himself again.
Desperate about his lost love and concluding that he only lacks a fortune to be an acceptable suitor in the eyes of Pidorka’s father, who can Peter turn to? Basavriuk, of course. The story takes a horrific turn, which I will leave the interested reader to find out for himself – the story is available online at http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/1048/
I liked the final lines of the story: “…all appears to be quiet now, in the place where our village stands; but it was not so very long ago… that I remember how a good man could not pass the ruined tavern which a dishonest race had long managed for their own interest…”
Have you read this story, or any others by Gogol? What do you think of the Russian authors? I admit I have become quite partial to them…
I own this story as part of my anthology “Great Short Stories of the World.”