Lessons From Nikolai Gogol’s Nevsky Prospect

The story begins with a dramatic description of the Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg: the hustle and bustle, the fanfare, the luxury, the raucous street vendors, and of course the women. Then, both Lieutenant Pirogov, the dashing military officer, and Piskaryov the romantic artist, are introduced as Pirogov spots a beauty:

“Stop!” called put Lt. Pirogov, tugging at his young companion…”Did you see her?”

“I did indeed: what a beauty, the very image of Perugino’s Bianca

“Which one are you talking about?”

“That one there, the one with the dark hair…”

“Well, I’m talking about the blonde who was walking behind her in that direction. Why don’t you go after the dark one, if she so took your fancy?”

“What a preposterous idea…It’s hardly as if she’s one of those women who flaunt themselves on Nevsky Prospect at night! She must be an extremely distinguished lady,” he continued with a sigh… “her coat alone must have cost 80 rubles!”

“Dunderhead!” shouted Pirogov, pushing him in the direction…” Get a move on, you dolt, or you’ll lose her! And I’ll go for the blonde.”

The difference between these two is striking within the first few paragraphs of dialogue. Pirogov is licking his chops at the prospect of approaching this buxom blonde—he doesn’t hesitate one bit! He knows what he likes and isn’t afraid to go after it. Piskaryov on the other hand is already showing reservations about approaching the sultry brunette. He immediately suggests that she is not “That type of girl” and Pirogov should be ashamed for thinking so about her.

External Values Are Not Indicative Of Inner Worth

Piskaryov gives this stranger the benefit of the doubt and believes her to be an innocent and “fair maiden,” based solely on the fact that she is beautiful. He follows this woman down the street for some time, still frightened by the prospect of approaching:

“His heart pounded as he involuntarily quickened his step. He dared not even entertain the possibility of attracting the attention of this elusive beauty, let alone admit such lewd thoughts as those Lieutenant Pirogov had been suggesting; he wished only to see the house, to discover the abode of this divine creature, who, it had seemed, had descended directly from heaven on to Nevsky Prospect and was now floating away to some unknown destination.”

He sees her walk into a building and decides to seize this opportunity. He enters the building and runs up several flights of stairs. He knocks on a door and is disturbed by what he sees:

“For this was one of those establishments where man sacrilegiously suppresses and reviles everything pure and sacred, everything which adorns life, where woman, the beauty of this world, the pearl of creation, is degraded into something strange and equivocal, where she loses all purity of spirit and all femininity…”

This fair maiden, this divine creature, is nothing more than a prostitute. Piskaryov is shocked. He would have never guessed a beautiful woman could have been capable of such things. The reason he is not able to comprehend the brunette’s true nature is because he is an artist, and his character is supposed to represent idealism. As an artist and idealist, the aesthetic value of something is what counts. Piskaryov cannot comprehend that something beautiful could possibly be bereft of morality. While not consciously aware of it, most men in society adhere to this as well.

“Examine and study everything that you see, submit all to your brush, but learn to seek the inner meaning to everything, and above all endeavor to fathom the great mystery of creation. Blessed are the chosen few who hold the secret.”

After he runs away from the brothel, he returns home and thinks about his experience. He thinks so much that his mind is now consumed by this event. He has a dream about this woman being of a virtuous and pure nature. He continues to dream about her, but develops insomnia and is forced to use opium to regain his ability to sleep and dream about this woman, whose name he does not even know; her face is simply enough to captivate him. His dreams are no longer fulfilling and he decides he wants to marry her.

He returns to the brothel to propose to her, but has his offer laughed off. His rejection was too much to handle—he is found in his apartment several days later with lacerations on his throat.

The story then returns to Pirogov, who Gogol describes as:

 “…[having] a large number of talents…”, “…adept at relating anecdotes…and it would be hard to list all the talents with which nature had endowed Pirogov.”

Pirogov relentlessly pesters the blonde with questions. She ignores his questions and begins to move faster and farther away; Pirogov pursues her.

“His [prey] flew through a side door. Pirogov hesitated for a moment but, acting true to his Russian nature, resolved to press forward.”

She runs into a shabby building and Pirogov follows behind. He enters a workshop and discovers that she is married to a German tinsmith. The husband is drunk and livid and tells Pirogov to “Get out!”

Thus far this woman has not displayed any interest whatsoever and she is married to an angry, drunk German. But no problem! Pirogov returns to the shop the next day and spots the blonde:

“Aha, good day my darling! Don’t you recognize me! You little minx what lovely eyes you have!”

She still shows no interest. His plan isn’t working so he requests that the tinsmith build him some spurs, a ploy to see the blonde again. As he leaves he squeezes her arm, but still no luck. It didn’t make sense to him:

“He could not understand how anyone could be able to resist him; especially since his personal charms and exalted rank gave him every right to attention.”

Pirogov endures blow after blow, but he still continues his pursuit of the woman despite all the obstacles.

Persistence Is Greatly Rewarded

He then figured out how to get her. He took note that she:

“…for all her comeliness, was very stupid. All the same, stupidity is a great asset for a pretty wife.”

To get this girl, he needed to exploit her ‘greatest’ asset: stupidity. Pirogov strolls by the workshop one day and spies the blonde in the window. He calls out to her:

“Say is your husband at home?’

“He is” answered the blonde.

“And when is he not at home?”

“He’s not at home on Sundays” said the foolish blonde.

“We must turn that to our advantage.” And the following Sunday, like a bolt from the blue, he appeared before the object of his desire.

Jackpot! He then begins to dance with her and kisses her. They embrace. Just then the German and his pals walk in. They are livid and beat Pirogov senseless.

Pirogov is at first enraged by his beating as no officer of his rank should be ever subjected to that. He is determined to take revenge, but his mind is changed by eating pastries, reading a reactionary newspaper and spending an evening dancing at a party.

Perception Is Greater Than Reality

Pirogov could have reacted differently and followed the path of Piskaryov, but he chose not to. For you see:

“Both [characters] have been deceived by the surface of reality, but the blows of disillusionment are far more deadly for the idealist than for the smug, self satisfied philistine; indeed for an artist, failure is to perceive discord between outward form and inner content betrays an aesthetic which is essentially flawed.”

Piskaryov believed his reality to be much more horrific than it really was. His unwavering belief in idealism was what brought about his demise. Pirogov suffered too, but his suffering was physical; not spiritual like Piskaryov’s. Pirogov didn’t have much invested in this woman and was able to brush off such trivial matters. At the party, he then regales the party goers with his thoughts, essentially serving as a platform for Gogol:

“What an amazing world we live in!” I thought to myself the other day as I walked along Nevsky musing over these two stories: ‘How strange, how inscrutable the games fate plays with us! Do we ever attain the object of our desires? Do we ever achieve that to which all our efforts seem to be directed? Everything happens the wrong way round. To one Providence has given a pair of splendid horses, and he rides along indifferently, oblivious of their beauty, while another, whose heart is fired with a passion for horses, is forced to go on foot and must content himself with licking his tongue at the handsome beasts which gallop past. One fellow has an excellent cook, but, alas, is unlucky enough to possess such a small mouth that it cannot accommodate more than two pieces of meat, while another has a big mouth…but, alas, has to content himself with some sort of German concoction of potatoes. What strange games fate plays with us!”

What strange games fate plays with us indeed. There are many things in this world that occur that often make no sense. Like the examples Pirogov lays out, sometimes people just get the short end of the stick in life. We can choose to let these things affect our outlook, or we can change our perception of these events to have a more positive outlook.

Read More: Life Lessons From Niccolò Machiavelli

39 thoughts on “Lessons From Nikolai Gogol’s Nevsky Prospect”

    1. Absolutely. I read this in Plays and Petersburg Tales, a collection of his shorts stories and two plays, although I’m sure you can find them online for free.

  1. This is a fantastic article. It’s filled with intellectual analysis, and the passages chosen are very well picked to make your point. It’s sad that so few people are reading. I think a different title would have gotten more views.
    All the same, keep up the fantastic work. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    1. Thanks. I’m not one to be flashy, so if they don’t read it they’re missing out haha.

  2. Great analysis. Whenever we are accused of “trolling” or putting up “click bait,” they seem to forget that we publish articles like this.

    1. And have you ever noticed how many comments you get on an article like this while the crap gets a gazillion comments? That should tell you something about the quality of your readers.
      Leave the sit open for anyone to read but let only members comment. Charge them a $1 a month membership fee and watch the loser stumblebums drop out of commenting lol They only waste space anyway. And those ads for gambling etc are probably a waste too because these losers don’t have 2 nickels to keep each other company in their pocket. So unless you get some credit for every time they pop up it’s a waste.

  3. This is the last place I’d expect to see Gogol pop-up. Let alone one of his greatest, and most underrated pieces of writing.
    My faith in RoK is renewed!

    1. Yes because socially/culturally aware men with average to above average IQ’s is the last place one would expect to see this. Apparently it’s like common place over at jizzbel and salon.

  4. Finally, an article worth reading. I’d like to see the author’s take on Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.

  5. Jeez Roosh, a fucking ROK trifecta today. Between this one (reminds to go back to War and Peace, I am on page 210), Agency and the Asperger’s post, the best writing from your crew yet. Like a month of Heariste. Good show. Hope you got laid today. Waiting for the update.

    1. Russian girls read War and Peace at 12, as well as every other Russian writer when in high school. I hope that the high school boys on here also don’t neglect the few hundred English writers they should be reading rather than jerking off to porn, kid video games and wasting time on the stupid net.

  6. The bottom line is that both men end up w/ no puss-puss. Ergo: pay, pump and dump, and save yourself the emotional or physical pain. Then regale your fellow men w/ an uproarious story over some stiff cocktails. Then sleep like a baby.

  7. I’ve noticed that men and women seem to make this mistake. So many women see a man with sexually attractive qualities and assume he is pure kind, sensitive, romantic, loving, good, etc. when we men know that the man in question is a borderline sociopath who views women as cum receptacles at best.
    Similarly, as the PUAs here attest, many betas see a beautiful woman an assume she is chaste, virginal, sweet as sugar, etc etc. meanwhile she gets turned on by a guy urinating in her face.
    So people are complex, and we see what we need, and we make assumptions about that need. Now if I see a girl I like, I don’t assume that she is good or bad, I just assume I like the way she looks and that I want to know more.

    1. The basic premise of Gogol’s story is “Appearances are deceptive”. Don’t go by what it seems; people are like opossums, who’d play dead, to prey on you.

    2. You’re either some religious nut from Dunghill, Arkansas or a little boy.You geeks seem to be obsessed with sex and the females who have sex are the “bad” ones but when you get more experienced, like the Boomers were at your age, you’ll find good or bad has nothing to do with sex.Grow up little blanket boys!Does having a big appetite for food make you a bad person?Most of you are just inexperienced pussies who are insecure and afraid of any female who may have had sex because she’ll compare you to a real man.

      1. Bah-whah??
        Did you actually understand what I wrote? Did you even read it?
        Here’s the quote again,
        So people are complex, and we see what we need, and we make assumptions about that need. Now if I see a girl I like, I don’t assume that she is good or bad, I just assume I like the way she looks and that I want to know more
        Hey Boomer, do everyone a favor and tell the rest of your generation to hurry up and die already will you? We’d like to get our lives back before the “greatest generation” manages to plunge us into WWIII

        1. Oh, this stuff! Even four months earlier, the same principle held true: Ignore the guests!

  8. “The reason he is not able to comprehend the brunette’s true nature is because he is an artist, and his character is supposed to represent idealism. As an artist and idealist, the aesthetic value of something is what counts. Piskaryov cannot comprehend that something beautiful could possibly be bereft of morality. While not consciously aware of it, most men in society adhere to this as well.”
    This has to be one of the most important lessons to learn.
    Harvest your creativity for your work, hobbies and passions but never to fantasize about a woman.

  9. This made me feel good about loving this site. Russian literature is amongst the best there is. The great movements of the soul are best depicted in its great works.
    My favourite is Dostoyevsky, who, though a radical in his early years, and nearly getting shot on account of it, came to see the nihilism inherent in progressivism as he matured (and one great novel deals with political nihilism itself).
    In terms of the red pill though, he is only that insofar as he sees into the human or at least the russian soul more clearly than anyone. There are few pick up artist types in dostoyevsky. There are on the other hand many earnest young men, like Brother Karamazov’s Alyosha, or the eponymous Idiot, prince Mishkin. These are dreamers, omegas, actually or pretty much celibate, who are either blue pill by nature or by principle, seeking to believe only in the good of others. Its been a while since I’ve read those books but often their interactions with women cost them dearly, at least in the case of Prince Mishkin, a christ like figure, who becomes divided between the haughty Aglaya and the ‘fallen woman’ Natassya Fillipovna who he offers to marry in order to ‘save her’. The result is perhaps the worst White Knight fuck-up in literature. Natassya rejects his beta / omega love and goes off with a bad guy sealing her fate, and Prince Mishkin loses both women and Mishkin goes mad.

    1. Even Russian men fell for the bait of Russian women’s beauty.
      Offering to marrying a prostitute? Modern western men need to learn from Dostoyevsky’s story or else wind up like Prince Mishkin.

      1. Yep. There is a lot in dostoyevsky about ‘saving’ whores / fallen women, who seem to a) not want to be saved in the first place and b) know they are hell-bound and don’t care. Dostoyevsky is both the idiot himself and the guy who sees the destructiveness and futility of his actions. In crime and punishment though he does pedestalise Sonia the pure-hearted whore who seeks herself to save the bad boy raskolnikov. This is the Dostoyevsky who would see redemptive beauty in degradation. He’s an idealist at heart who knows that idealism may destroy

        1. True. Idealism with regards to women is one the biggest stupidities a man commits in life. It’s true whores know that they are hell-bound and don’t care – particularly FSU whores. A whore knows she can never redeem herself – and Dostoyevsky’s works are often brutally true on this point.

        2. Nonsense. A lot of females were forced into being whores just to survive back then.Some of the most innocent girls may be whores but you cellar boys are just too insulated to know it.

        3. Within the world of crime of punishment Sonia is pure, and yes she is a victim of circumstances – that is how her character is written. But Dostoyevsky novels arenot social realism. He is not portraying the structural inequity of being a woman in 19th Century Petersburg, or at least if he is that’s the least of his concerns. My comment isn’t about 19th century Russian whores and the circumstances of their employment its about dostoyevsky’s psycho-sexual make-up as a writer. There seems to be a possible sexual element to his religiosity that wants to ‘save’ whores from themselves. In the Idiot this motivation leads to destruction for pretty much everyone involved. There is a parallel between this and the red pill drive not to sentimentalise or pedestalise women, make excuses for them, or otherwise provide them with sustenance they do not deserve and which serves only to reinforce undesired behaviour. This does contradict the fact that women may sometimes sell their bodies out of economic necessity.

        4. BoomersgreatestGen is a troll. Same as Mashenka, MrBig, Maria, Sizwe Banzi, PabloandGringo, Gayniggerfromouterspace, Mashenkka, Maureen, analhomo – they’re all the same person. Don’t waste your time explaining.

  10. Nikolai Gogol’s work is excellent in brutally highlighting the weaknesses of men and the flaws in women in Russian soceity.
    Points to be learned/noted:
    -Even Russian men burned at the hands of Russian women.
    – Prostitutes and bitchery has existed in Russia for a very long time, and is no surprise to be the second nature of Russian women
    – There were weak men who pedestalized such bitches
    – The story points out pig like men chasing other men’s wives.
    In short, it is a great factual fiction on the truth in Russian society.

  11. I was such a Piskaryov-lite. Years of being friend zoned, white knighting for women, believing that women were sweet angels. I even remember a time I didn’t make a move on a woman who was practically asking for it at her place. I was so Beta, I thought that an angel like her would never initiate the act. I discovered the red pill a couple of years ago. The shattering of my illusions was painful and great at the same time.
    Now I only look at women as whores whose bodies are for my enjoyment. I went from being in the friend zone for years for a woman I liked, to now I routinely bang on first or second dates. I pity men who are still stuck in their blue pill ways.

    1. True, all women are whores. To keep that view is what will eventually shake them off the pedestal in men’s eyes.

    2. You were and are a loser like everyone else on here. You like to call females whores because they all reject You. You’re too stupid to know that good looking females are good because looks usually mean fertility and they are more likely to reproduce which is their whole object in life and is what makes them good. Your version of good is childish and the only reason you believe it is that if you ever got a woman (unlikely) you’re so afraid that your little darling #3 will stray that you want to imposes all of these ridiculous rules and religious crap on her.
      Well, Me and Dr Bigg are finished here and have seen everything we needed to see for our report on the loser pua’s which will be published in an academic journal none of you will even see.
      cretini addio

  12. What must be learned is that Piskaryov’s biggest mistake is that he offered to get from the whore with a too hefty price (wedding ring and commitment), what other men got for a few rubles. The whore herself knew her worth (she wasn’t worth commitment), and that’s why she laughed off at Piskaryov’s idiotic proposal.
    Whores instinctively know they are damaged goods and that no respectable man would want to marry them – even though whores deep down, like any normal women, desire a respectable man’s commitment. The self loathing what a whore or slut eventually experiences in her life due to slutting and whoring, is what actually prevents her from forming a normal relationship with men. She can’t forget that – no woman forgets a man who’s penetrated her. And with more and more men penetrating her, she descends into a downward spiral of self loathing. And then when a respectable “idiot” decides to wife her up, she can’t help but feel the same loathing for him as she feels for herself.
    This is seen in modern society with modern slutty women – they are no different from whores.
    With more and more men fucking them, they lose self esteem but assume fake arrogance. Thus the Beta and Omega who wants to wife up this sluts, gets loathed by these women when they marry these women.

  13. Good article.
    Not only is it rich literature, but it also captures the truth of Russian society (and the attitudes of its whores (women)). A good post to warn Russophile men about pedestalizing Russian women – whores(or women) are the same everywhere.

    1. Very true, I got burnt badly by a Russian girl, in fact it was that experience that led me to return of kings and the red pill. Do not put any woman on a pedestal.

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