Welcome to the eleventh in our series Tales for Our Time, and the second half of our double-bill of frosty fiction from opposite ends of the northern hemisphere.
As I've emphasized since we launched The Mark Steyn Club a few months ago, our regular content - all my daily commentary, cultural and geopolitical essays, our weekend movie and music features, SteynPosts and On the Town - will always be free to everyone around the planet. But we are letting Club members in on a few experimental features which, in the event they turn out sufficiently non-incompetent, we may eventually make more widely available. Tales for Our Time is one such experiment - a series of monthly audio adventures. So far we've presented radio serializations of classic fiction by Dickens, Kipling, Conrad, H G Wells, Conan Doyle, Anthony Hope, Scott Fitzgerald - plus a piece of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here.
But, when the chill descended up here in the mountains, it occurred to me to spend January with a brace of seasonally appropriate tales - one American, one Russian. You can find the first, Jack London's "To Build a Fire" here. The second is one of the greatest and certainly the most influential of Russian stories. In tonight's introduction I quote Doestoevsky, who said bluntly: "We all come out of Gogol's overcoat." Nikolai Gogol wrote The Overcoat in 1842, and it is no more or less than what it says: the tale of a coat, and its impact on the nondescript clerk in the St Petersburg bureaucracy who scrimps and saves in order to own it. In Part One, we meet said clerk, a copyist who loves his work - and very little else:
Outside this copying, it appeared that nothing existed for him. He gave no thought to his clothes: his undress uniform was not green, but a sort of rusty-meal colour. The collar was low, so that his neck, in spite of the fact that it was not long, seemed inordinately so as it emerged from it, like the necks of those plaster cats which wag their heads, and are carried about upon the heads of scores of image sellers. And something was always sticking to his uniform, either a bit of hay or some trifle. Moreover, he had a peculiar knack, as he walked along the street, of arriving beneath a window just as all sorts of rubbish were being flung out of it: hence he always bore about on his hat scraps of melon rinds and other such articles. Never once in his life did he give heed to what was going on every day in the street; while it is well known that his young brother officials train the range of their glances till they can see when any one's trouser straps come undone upon the opposite sidewalk, which always brings a malicious smile to their faces. But Akakiy Akakievitch saw in all things the clean, even strokes of his written lines; and only when a horse thrust his nose, from some unknown quarter, over his shoulder, and sent a whole gust of wind down his neck from his nostrils, did he observe that he was not in the middle of a page, but in the middle of the street.
But the wind is getting chiller: Winter is approaching, and his old coat is in need of repair. I hope you'll enjoy my serialization of a favorite story - I especially like that line about plaster cats that wag their heads. I did do a little professional story-reading a zillion years ago, so, if these fancies tickle you, we may release them as audio books on CD or Audible a ways down the road. But for the moment it's an exclusive bonus for Mark Steyn Club members. To hear Part One of The Overcoat, prefaced by my own introduction to the tale, please click here and log-in.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club in the summer, and I'm very touched by all those SteynOnline supporters across the globe - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands - who've signed up to be a part of it. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone - all my columns, audio interviews, video content, all our movie features and songs of the week. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
If you've enjoyed our monthly Steyn Club radio serials and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our limited-time-only Club Gift Membership, which includes your choice of a personally autographed book or CD set from yours truly. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The opportunity to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly (such as this coming Tuesday's);
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, SteynPosts, and our other video content (such as this week's edition of Mark's Mailbox);
~My new quarterly newsletter The Clubbable Steyn;
~Our new video series of classic poetry;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the chance to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you like this eleventh Tale for Our Time, or it makes you want to tear off your coat, roll up your sleeves and punch my lights out, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Overcoat.