In Gogol's short story The Overcoat (or The Cloak) there is an allusion to the French people that I cannot understand. In the translation into English found in the book Short story classics (Foreign) - Russian, Vol. 1 at Project Gutenberg, you can read (emphasis mine):

Akakiy Akakievitch gazed upon all this as upon a novel sight. He had not been in the streets during the evening for years. He halted out of curiosity before a shop-window, to look at a picture representing a handsome woman, who had thrown off her shoe, thereby baring her whole foot in a very pretty way; while behind her the head of a man with whiskers and a handsome mustache peeped through the doorway of another room. Akakiy Akakievitch shook his head and laughed, and then went on his way. Why did he laugh? Either because he had met with a thing utterly unknown, but for which every one cherishes, nevertheless, some sort of feeling; or else he thought, like many officials, as follows: "Well, those French! What is to be said? If they do go in anything of that sort, why—" But possibly he did not think at all.

This story takes place in Saint Petersburg, capital of Russia, in the XIX century.

What does this expression, those French, mean in the context of the story?

  • 1
    There is a book on the subject of France and Gogol: bookshop.org/p/books/… The aristocrats, educated Russians and artists etc. all knew some French, at least. Russians have always been mesmerized by France. Also, the character probably saw the picture (painting??) as "daring", given that it was a woman's naked foot. There is an "Oh lá lá" factor at play in the poor man's imagination here. I could enlarge on this in an answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 5 at 14:50
  • @Lambie: Yes, I think it's a painting: in Italian translations is "un quadro".
    – Charo
    Commented May 5 at 16:10
  • Shop-windows exist to advertise and present their goods. That picture most likely was there to advertise the women shoes/clothes. And from the context of that paragraph we can deduce the shop is in an affluent neigborhood. So, that shop, most like was a fancy french boutique, that sold fashionable clothes.
    – user28434
    Commented May 6 at 10:43


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