The Inspector-General by Nicolai Vasilieyitch Gogol

Persons in the Play

Anton Antonovitch, governor of a small town
Anna Andreyevna, his wife
Marya, their daughter
Luka, director of schools
Khelstakov, a St. Petersburg official
Osip, his servant-man
Bobchinski and Dobchinski, independent gentlemen
A Judge, A Charity Commissioner, A Postmaster
Police Superintendent and Constables
A Waiter at the Inn

Act I

Scene.—A room in the Governor's house. The Governor, a coarse and ill-educated official, and several functionaries of the town.

Governor (addressing the functionaries): I have bad news. An inspector-general is coming from St. Petersburg. You must see that your various departments are set in order. The hospital must be tidied up and the patients must be provided with nice white night-caps. The school-teachers must coach up the scholars in their subjects.

[Enter Bobchinski and Dobchinski breathlessly.

Bobchinski: What an extraordinary incident!

Dobchinski: A startling announcement!

All: What is it? What is it?

Bobchinski: I will tell you correctly. After you had received the letter from St. Petersburg, I ran out to tell the postmaster what it had announced. On the way Dobchinski pressed me to go into the inn for refreshment. Into the restaurant came an elegant young man with a fashionable aspect. The landlord told us he was an official on his way from Petersburg to Saratov, and that he is acting strangely, for he has been here more than a fortnight, and pays for nothing.

Governor: Good lord! Surely it cannot be he! Been here a fortnight? May heaven help us. You, sirs, get all your departments in proper trim. In the meantime I will take a stroll round the town, and satisfy myself that travellers are treated with due respect.

The governor orders the police to see that the street leading to the inn is well swept. He threatens to punish severely any of the townspeople who shall dare to bring complaints of any kind to the visiting official.

Act II

Scene.A small room in the inn. Osip lying on his master's bed.

Osip: Devil take it! I am famishing. It is two months since we left St. Petersburg. This master of mine has squandered all his money on the way, and here we are penniless. The old man sends his son money, but he goes on the racket with it till all is spent, and then he has to pawn his clothes almost to the last rag. And now this landlord declares he will let us have nothing more to eat unless we pay in advance. Ah, there's the knock.

[He gets off the bed. Khelstakov enters.

Khelstakov: Go down and ask for something to eat.

Osip: No. The landlord will not let us have it. He says we are swindlers, and he threatens to have you put in prison.

Khelstakov: Go to the devil! Call the landlord. (Osip goes.) How fearfully hungry I am. And I was cheated at cards and cleaned right out at Penza by that infantry captain. What a miserable little town this is. They give no credit at the provision shops.

[Enter Waiter.

Waiter: The landlord asks what you want.

Khelstakov: Please bring my dinner at once. I must be busy directly I have dined.

The waiter replies that the landlord refuses to supply anything more, and seems likely to complain to the governor. But presently dinner is brought in. To Khlestakov's great consternation Osip announces that the governor has come and is asking for him.

Khelstakov: What? The landlord has reported me! I'll put on an aristocratic air, and ask him how he dares——

Governor, entering in trepidation and saluting humbly, astonishes him by profuse offers of hospitality and entertainment, though when at first mention is made of taking him to other  quarters, the guest in horror ejaculates that he supposes the gaol is meant, and he asks what right the governor has to hint at such a thing.

Khelstakov (indignantly): How dare you? I—I—I am a government official at St. Petersburg. I—I—I——

Governor (aside): Good heavens, what a rage he is in! He knows everything. Those confounded merchants have told him all.

Banging the table, Khelstakov declares he will not go to the gaol, but will complain to the Minister of the Interior; and the governor, trembling and terrified, pleads that he has a wife and little children, and begs that he may not be ruined. The ridiculous misunderstanding on both sides grows more confused every minute. The governor pours forth the most abject apologies; declares that if the people accuse him of oppression and extortion, and even of flogging women, they are a slandering mob.

Khelstakov: What have I to do with your enemies or the women you have flogged? Don't attempt to flog me. Now, look here, I will pay this landlord's account, but just now I have not the money. That is why I am staying here.

Governor (aside): Sly rogue, trying to mystify me! (Aloud) If you really are short of money, I am ready to serve you at once.

The visitor says that he will in that case borrow 200 roubles, and the money is readily handed over; in fact, the governor quietly slips in 200 extra roubles. The governor, convinced that the inspector-general is simply determined to keep up his incognito, resolves to act accordingly, and to tell falsehoods appropriate for mutual deception. He invites the guest to visit Various institutions, and a round is made.

Act III

Scene.A room in the Governor's house. Governor, Khelstakov, and other functionaries.

Khelstakov: Fine establishments! In other towns they showed me nothing.

 

Governor: In other towns I venture to say that the officials think most about their own profit; here we only aim at winning the approbation of the government.

Khelstakov: That lunch was very good! The fish was delicious! Where was it that we lunched? Was it not at the hospital? I saw the beds, but there were not many patients. Have the sick recovered?

Governor: Yes. Since I became governor they all get well like flies, not so much by doctoring as by honesty and regularity. Thank God, everything goes satisfactorily here! Another governor would undoubtedly look after his own advantage; but, believe me, when I lie down to sleep, my prayer is, "O Thou my Lord, may the government perceive my zeal and be satisfied." So I have an easy conscience.

Khelstakov: Are there any clubs here where a game at cards could be had?

Governor: God forbid! Here such a thing as a card-club is never heard of. I am disgusted at the sight of a card, and never dealt one in my life. Once to amuse the children I built a house of cards, and had accursed dreams all night.

Luka (aside): But the villain cheated me yesterday out of a hundred roubles!

Introduced to the governor's wife and daughter, Khlestakov addresses them in the manner of a gallant from the metropolis, and chatters boastfully of his influence, his position, and his connections. His house is the first in St. Petersburg. Meantime, the various functionaries meet in the house of the governor to concert measures for propitiating this great courtier. They resolve to present him with a substantial token of regard. With great trepidation they wait on him.

Judge (entering very nervously): I have the honour to present myself. I have been judge here since 1816, and have been decorated with the Vladimir of the Fourth Class.

Khelstakov: What have you there in your hand?

Judge (in bewilderment drops banknotes on the floor): Nothing.

Khelstakov: How nothing? I see some money has been dropped.

Judge (trembling and aside): O heaven, I am already before the tribunal, and they have brought the cart to take me into exile.

Khelstakov picks up the notes, and asks that the money may be lent him, as he has spent all his cash on the journey. He promises to return it as soon as he reaches home, but the judge protests that the honour of lending it is enough, and he begs that there shall be no injunction against him.

Next to present himself is the postmaster, in full uniform, sword in hand. After a little conversation with this functionary, Khlestakov thinks he may just as well borrow of him also, and he forthwith mentions that a singular thing has happened to him, for he has lost all his money on the way, and would be glad to be obliged with the loan of three hundred roubles. It is instantly counted out with alacrity, and the postmaster hastily retires. Also, in a very nervous state, Luka, the School Director, the Charity Commissioner, Bobchinski and Dobchinski, come to pay their homage, and Khlestakov borrows easily from each in turn.

Khelstakov (alone): There are many officials here; it seems to me, however, that they take me for a government functionary. What fools! I must write about it all to Tryapitchkin at Petersburg; he will write sketches of it in the papers. Here, Osip, bring me paper and ink! I will just see how much money I have got. Oh, more than a thousand!

While he is writing a letter Osip interrupts him with earnest assurances that it will be prudent to depart speedily from the town; for people have been mistaking him for somebody else, and awkward complications may ensue. It is really time to go. There are splendid horses here, and these can be secured for the journey. Khlestakov consents, tells Osip to take the letter to the post, and to obtain good posthorses. Suddenly some merchants present themselves with petitions, bringing with them gifts of sugar-loaves and wine. They pour forth bitter complaints against the governor. They accuse him of constant and outrageous extortion. They beg Khlestakov to secure his deposition from office. When they offer the sugar-loaves and the wine, Khlestakov protests that he cannot accept bribes, but if they would offer him a loan of three hundred roubles that would be another matter. They do so and go out.

[Enter Marya nervously.

Marya: Ach!

Khelstakov: Why are you so frightened?

Marya: No; I am not frightened. I thought mamma
might be here. I am disturbing you in your important
business.

Khelstakov: But your eyes are more attractive than important business.

Marya: You are talking in St. Petersburg style.

Khelstakov: May I venture to be so happy as to offer you a chair? But no; you should be offered a throne, not a chair! I offer you my love, which ever since your first glance——

Marya: Love! I do not understand love!

He kisses her on the shoulder, and, when she rises angrily to go, falls on his knees. At that moment her mother enters. With a show of indignation she orders Marya away.

Khelstakov (kneeling at her feet): Madame, you see I burn with love.

Anna Andreyevna: But permit me, I do not quite comprehend you. If I am not mistaken, you were making a proposal to my daughter?

Khelstakov: No; I am in love with you.

Anna Andreyevna: But I am married!

Khelstakov: That is nothing. Let us flee under the canopy of heaven. I crave your hand!

Marya enters, and seeing Khlestakov on his knees, shrieks. The mother scolds her for her bad manners, and declares that he was, after all, asking for the daughter's hand. Then enters the governor. He breathlessly begins to bewail the base, lying conduct of the merchants who have been slandering him, and swears he is innocent of oppressing anybody.

To his profound amazement, Anna informs her husband that the great man has honoured them by asking for their daughter's hand. On recovering from his amazement, he sees the couple kissing, and gives them his blessing. Osip enters at this juncture to say the horses are ready, and Khlestakov informs the governor that he is only off to visit for a day a rich uncle. He will quickly return. He presently rides off after affectionate farewell expressions on both sides.

Act IV

Scene.As before. The Governor, Anna Andreyevna, and Marya. A police-officer enters.

Governor (addressing the policeman): Ivan Karpovitch, summon the merchants here, brother. Complaining of me, indeed! Cursed lot of Jews! Little turtle doves! Ascertain who brought petitions; and take care to let them know how heaven has honoured the governor. His daughter is going to marry a man without an equal in the world; who can achieve everything, everything, everything. Let everybody know! Shout it out to everybody! Ring the bells! Devil take it; now that at length I triumph, triumph I will!

The police-officer retires. The governor and Anna indulge in roseate prospects of their coming prosperity. Of course they will not stay in these mean surroundings, but will remove to St. Petersburg. Suddenly the merchants enter. The governor receives them with the utmost indignation, assails them with a shower of vituperation. They abjectly entreat pardon. They promise to make amends by sending very handsome presents, and they are enjoined not to forget to do so. The wedding gifts are to be worthy of the occasion. The merchants retire crestfallen, and callers stream in with profuse congratulations. Anna, with studied haughtiness, makes them fully understand that the family will now be far above them all. All the people secretly express to each other their hatred and contempt for the governor and his family.

Postmaster (breathlessly entering with an open letter in his hand): An astonishing fact, gentlemen! The official which we took for an inspector-general is not one! I have discovered this from a letter which he wrote and which I saw was addressed "Post Office Street." So, as I said to myself that he had been reporting to the authorities something he had found wrong in the postal department, I felt a supernatural impulse constraining me to open the letter.

Governor: You dared to open the letter of so powerful a personage?

Postmaster: That is just the joke; that he is neither powerful nor a personage. I will read the letter. (Reads) "I hasten to inform you, my dear Tryapitchkin, of my experiences. I was cleared out of everything on the way by an infantry captain, so that an innkeeper wanted to put me in prison; when, owing to my Petersburg appearance and dress, the whole town suddenly took me for the governor-general. So now I am living with the governor, enjoy myself, and flirt with his wife and daughter. These people all lend me as much money as ever I please. The governor is as stupid as a grey gelding. The postmaster is a tippler. The charity commissioner is a pig in a skull-cap."

Governor: I am crushed—crushed—completely crushed. Catch him!

Postmaster: How can we catch him? I, as if purposely, specially ordered for him the very best post-carriage and three horses.

Governor: What an old fool I am! I have been thirty years in the service; not a tradesman nor contractor could cheat me; rogues upon rogues have I outwitted; three governors-general have I deceived!

Anna Andreyevna: But this cannot be, Antosha. He is engaged to Mashenka.

Governor (enraged): Engaged! Rubbish! Look, look; all the world, all Christendom, all of you look how the governor is fooled! Fool, fool; old driveller that I am! (Shakes his fist at himself) Ah, you fat-nose! Taking a rag for a man of rank! And now he is jingling his bells along the road. Who first said he was an inspector-general? Answer!

[All point to Bobchinski and Dobchinski, who fall to accusing each other. A gendarme enters.

Gendarme: The inspector-general sent by imperial command has arrived, and requires you to attend him immediately. He awaits you at the inn.

[Thunderstruck at this announcement, the whole group remained as if petrified, and the curtain falls.

 
 Nicolai Vasilieyitch Gogol is famous not only as the prince of Russian humorists, but as the real founder of both the modern drama and the novel in Russian literature. He was born on March 31, 1809, in the province of Poltava, in South, or "Little," Russia, and died at Moscow on March 3, 1852. His life was replete with romantic episodes. After a short career on the stage, in St. Petersburg, followed by the tenure of a minor Government office, he returned to the South, and at once found his true vocation and achieved a wide popularity by a collection of stories and sketches of Cossack life, entitled "Evenings at a Farm House," which appeared in 1830. Other "Cossack Tales" rapidly followed, including the famous "Taras Bulba"; in recognition of which, and of his project for writing a history of Russia in the Middle Ages, he was rewarded with a chair of history at St. Petersburg. This he held but for a short time, however. Turning his attention to comedy, Gogol now produced the drama "The Inspector-General" ("Revizor") in 1836, the play achieving a tremendous success on the stage in the spring of the same year, whilst in 1842 his novel entitled "Dead Souls" embodied the fruits of the same idea in fiction. The play is intended to bring a scathing indictment against the corruptions and abuses of officialism and administration. The following epitome has been prepared from the original Russian.

Arthur Mee J. A. Hammerton