Document Type


Date of Award



Grotesque in literature, Nikolaĭ Vasilʹevich Gogolʹ (1809-1852), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), Criticism and interpretation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Frederick Garber

Second Advisor

Lawrence Gottheim

Third Advisor

Zoja Pavlovskis


This study focuses on the positive aspects of the grotesque and their realization through Romantic Irony and humor in selected works by N. V. Gogol and Edgar Allan Poe. Starting with a reassessment of Wolfgang Kayser’s characterizations of the grotesque in The Grotesque in Art and Literature, the first part of this study is devoted to distinguishing the grotesque from such related modes as the bizarre, the macabre, satire, caricature, parody, the phantastic, the demonic, the comic, the tragicomic, the absurd, and irony and to determining concrete characterizations of the structure of the grotesque world, the grotesque style, and the relationship of the grotesque world to our world. Then, focusing on the relationship between the grotesque and Romantic Irony and humor in the critical writings of F. Schlegel, Jean Paul, Hugo, Hegel, Ruskin, and Kierkegaard, a survey of the grotesque in the Romantic period examines the positive aspects of the mode. A final definition of the grotesque which emphasizes its close relationship with what Wayne Booth calls infinite irony stresses the possibility of a positive movement in the grotesque which seeks to transcendentally reconcile the disparity between the ideal and the real through the clash of seemingly incompatible elements in a work of art. This reconciliation, however is not realized in the work, but through and beyond it.

The second part of this study is a practical application of the theory developed in the first part. A close reading of Gogol’s “Shinel’” in the context of Mertvye dushi, “Teatral'nyj raz’ezd posle predstavlenija novoj komedii,” “Razvjazka Revizora," and Vybrannye mesta iz perepiski s druz’jami studies the positive movements of the grotesque in that story. These other works clearly outline a dialectic which seeks to overcome the finitude of this world by negatively positing an ideal which can only be realized through the poetic annihilation of this world. Particular attention is given to the narrative structure of the story which both conditions the annihilation of Akakij Akakievich’s world and gives rise to several movements which attempt to rise above it. That these movements ultimately fail to effect the desired reconciliation is attributed to both the liabilities of the mode and Gogol himself. Gogol’s emotional attachment to this world, reflected in his involvement in his works and in his search for a positive hero, does not permit him the objectivity necessary to completely annihilate it. Thus in “Shinel’” the positive aspects of the grotesque are finally revoked in jest.

Similarly, a close reading of Poe’s “Ligeia” in the context of Eureka, “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” “Eleonora,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Poetic Principle,” “The Philosophy of Composition,” and his other critical writings focuses on the positive aspects of the grotesque in that story. In these works, even more explicitly than in Gogol, a dialectic emerges which predicates the realization of truth and beauty upon the annihilation of this world. The ideal cannot be found directly in this world and can only be approached from the limitations of worldly perspective. Because the realization of the ideal is conditional upon the annihilation of this world, the path to it leads through horror, pain, and, ultimately, death. In “Ligeia” the positive aspects of the grotesque are more fully realized than they are in “Shinel’” because Poe’s intellectual detachment from this world, his ability to create a rational framework for his dialectic, allows for a more complete annihilation of it.