Gogol and the Kennedy assassination

John Bjarne Grover

Nikolai Gogol has a short story called 'Ivan Fiodorovich Sphonka and his aunt' wherin there is a short fragment which in principle could have been the template for the John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination in 1963 - with those famous last words in Dallas (with Nellie Connally). The story goes that that there were visitors and 'Mashenka' was told to remain to prevent the young man from being bored. They were sitting there but the conversation would not go:

The fair-haired young lady remained and sat down on the sofa. Ivan Fiodorovich sat on his chair as though on thorns, blushed and cast down his eyes; but the young lady appeared not to notice this and sat unconcernedly on the sofa, carefully scrutinizing the windows and the walls, or watching the cat timorously running around under the chairs.

Ivan Fiodorovich grew a little bolder and would have begun a conversation; but it seemed as though he had lost all his words on the way. Not a single idea came to his mind.

The silence lasted for nearly a quarter of an hour. The young lady went on sitting as before.

As last Ivan Fiodorovich plucked up his courage:

"There are a great many flies in summer, madam!" he said in a half-trembling voice.

"A very great many!" answered the young lady. "My brother has made a swatter out of an old slipper of Mama's but there are still lots of them".

Here the conversation stalled again, and Ivan Fiodorovich was utterly unable to find anything to say.

Whether this fragment really could have been the template for the famous last words of Kennedy with 'Dallas', I dont know - but that certainly is not impossible.

The fragment is from the translation by Constance Garnett in the edition revised by Leonard J.Kent in 'The complete tales of Nikolai Gogol - Volume 1' (University of Chicago Press 1985) - pages 194-195.

John Bjarne Grover
On the web 4 april 2018