12 UG (Unter Grund)
Bartle Library, Binghamton University, New York
My name was once Nicolai Gogol.
This may strike the reader as rather singular and far-fetched; but you may rest assured that it was by no means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have been impossible to give me any other name.
This was how it came about.
I was born, if my memory fails me not, in the evening on the 31st of March, 1809. My mother was descended from Leonty Kosyarovsky, and as a very fine woman, made all due arrangements for having me baptized.
My mother, gadabout that she was, had invited some minor members of the French court for the celebration. Mother was lying on the bed opposite the door; on her right stood the godfather, Vicomte de Valmont, a most estimable man, who served as the head clerk of the French senate; and the godmother, Marquise de Merteuil, the lover of every officer in the quartermaster corps; a woman of rare virtues.
They offered my mother her choice of three names, Cecile, Rosemonde, or that I should be named after the martyr Hermenegild the Visigoth.
“No,” said my mother, “all those names are poor.”
In order to please her, they opened the almanac at another place; three more names appeared, Tourvel, Gercourt, and Volanges.
“This is awful,” said my mother. “What names! I truly never heard the like. I might have put up with Volanges or Tourvel, but not Rosemonde and Hermenegild!”
They turned to another page and found Azolan and Jules.
“Now I see,” said my mother, “that it is plainly fate. And since such is the case, it will be better to name him after his father. His father’s name was Vasily, so let his son’s name be Vasily also.”
In this manner I became Nikolay Vasilievich Gogal Yanovsky.
They christened me, whereupon I wept, and made a grimace; because I knew that I was to be a dramatist, novelist and short story writer of Ukrainian ethnicity.
TOMORROW: 13 UG (Unter Grund)