Critics have had a field day with the copious references to food in Gogol’s work, commenting on the semiotics of eating in his fiction or postulating that the writer’s sublimated desire for his mother found satisfaction in food, rather than sex. Indeed, Gogol’s exuberant gustatory images encourage this kind of analysis. As he himself remarked on his four-cornered fish pie, it’s one that could make “a dead man’s mouth . . . water.” The gastronomic Gogol uses language as textured and rich as the foods he so lovingly describes. After reveling in his prose for years, I have discovered a different kind of sublimation, one less psychosexual. It doesn’t have to do with the author’s mother or with his nose—the organ that famously parades through the streets of Saint Petersburg in his brilliant short story “The Nose.” Rather, I find Gogol’s writings full of instances that emphasize the stomach and the processes of digestion, literary manifestations of the troubles that plagued the writer throughout his life. Though I delight in the gastronomic Gogol, I’m even more intrigued by the gastric Gogol.
Gogol’s stomach, his “most noble part,” was at least as great an obsession as his much talked-about nose.
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