“One Froggy Evening”—and Gogol

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Recently I watched—for the umpteenth time—the great 1955 Chuck Jones cartoon, “One Froggy Evening”; about a construction worker who finds at his worksite a musically gifted frog. Expecting to make a pile, the man eventually realizes that this delightfully freakish creature will perform only for him; in the presence of anyone else the frog is nothing but a bland, sluggish croaker. The outlandish proceedings made me think of Nikolai Gogol—particularly his short story, “The Diary of a Madman”.

The diarist, a clerk named Aksenty Ivanovich, records in an October 3rd entry that he recently overheard a human-like exchange between two dogs. Not only do these dogs talk, they correspond (“I did write to you, Fidèle; Polkan probably didn’t bring you my letter!”). Initially Aksenty is surprised over such anomalies; but on second thought:

‘Actually, a great number of such things have already happened in the world. They say that in England a fish swam up which said two words in such a strange language that scholars have been trying to identify it for three years already and still to this day haven’t discovered a thing. I also read in the papers about two cows that came into a shop and asked for a pound of tea.’

One of the dogs is owned by an attractive young lady who is the daughter of the department director where Aksenty Ivanovich works as a clerk. Neither his forty-plus years nor his financial straits prevent him from pursuing this “aristocratic” woman. But at the same time he is so overawed by her and her father that whenever he has a chance to speak with either of the two, he becomes tongue-tied. He resorts to lurking near her house, hoping to catch tantalizing glimpses of “Her Excellency”. Eventually, he recalls certain details of the conversation between the two dogs and decides to steal the correspondence they had mentioned. In this way he will be able to see into the world of the woman he is obsessed with.

He goes to the apartment where the pooch named Fidèle lives, and says to the girl who answers the door: “I need to speak with your dog.” He presently forces his way inside, past the frightened girl and the angry pet, where he grabs a packet of papers—the purportedly written exchanges between the two animals.

The diarist’s delusions become increasingly disjointed and extreme, and the reader knows that it’s only a matter of time before he lands himself in serious trouble. The later entries of his diary are dated in comically bizarre ways (for example, ‘Year 2000 43rd of April’), and he eventually comes to believe that he is no mere titular councilor but majestic royalty.    

Like “One Froggy Evening”, Gogol’s “The Diary of a Madman” is as hilarious as it is dismal. For those who are interested, it might be especially enjoyable to watch the Chuck Jones cartoon and read the short story, one right after the other.