The Mysterious Portrait and The Cloak


1) Choose a Quote from “The Mysterious Portrait”
— Quote: Your quote should consist of 3-5 sentences. A quote longer than 3-5 sentences should be condensed to include only the most pertinent sections. Please remember: the length of your quotation does not count toward your word count. Place the quote at the top of your post—before you begin your discussion and analysis.

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2) Discuss and analyze the topic according to the directions below (350-400 words)
— Discuss and analyze: After introducing your quote, you must then discuss and analyze how the passage represents copying in comparison to how “The Cloak” represents copying. Your chosen passage should allow you to analyze copying in precise and specific ways—not in broad generalizations. Your critical discussion must be 350-400 words.

Both passages can be found here: [ ]

In this discussion board, you will analyze a specific passage from Gogol’s “The Mysterious Portrait” that engages with some aspect of copying and other related themes such as imitation, duplication, and/or doubling. Through close reading and comparative analysis, you will analyze how the passage from “The Mysterious Portrait” represents copying in comparison to how “The Cloak” represents copying. Do the stories express similar or different attitudes towards copying? Note that even “The Cloak” expresses multiple, and potentially contradictory, attitudes towards copying.

In our world, copies are everywhere. Copies are duplicates, reproductions, and imitations; copies can be textual, visual, and/or electronic. Our phones and computers can take screenshots–copies of a screen. Cameras can quickly and easily take photos or videos–copies of reality. Most offices today have a copy machine that can create copies of papers or can scan original documents, making an electronic PDF copy of the physical object. In the nineteenth century, when Nikolai Gogol was writing, the technology of copying was very different. In Gogol’s “The Cloak,” for example, the protagonist Akakiy Akakievitch’s job is to make copies of reports and letters by hand–there is no office copier machine. In Gogol’s “The Mysterious Portrait,” artists paint their models by copying their faces onto canvases–there is no easily accessible camera to do the job. Although copying documents by hand and painting portraits may seem to be quite different tasks, they engage with similar issues of reproduction, labor, authenticity, originality, and individuality.

This post asks you to practice close reading and comparative analysis–to put “The Mysterious Portrait” in conversation with “The Cloak.” While the video lectures on Gogol touch on the issue of copying within “The Cloak,” let’s briefly review how copying is represented in that story. When a boss tries to “reward[]” Akakiy with “something more important than mere copying,” Akakiy is stressed and responds that he prefers copying. The boss assumes that “mere copying” is a lesser task–less important, less interesting, less respected–than creating something more original. But Akakiy enjoys copying, and he’s good at it. He even does it at home “for his own gratification.” In the face of ridicule from others (including sometimes the narrator), Akakiy embraces positive aspects of copying: preference, pleasure, and mastery. Interestingly, although Akakiy copies the content of a document, each copy he creates bears a slight mark of originality and individuality: his unique handwriting. The official that quickly replaces Akakiy possesses different handwriting than Akakiy: “with a handwriting by no means so upright, but more inclined and slanting.” “The Cloak,” therefore, complicates the idea that copies are inherently devoid of originality. How does “The Mysterious Portrait” respond to some of the same questions about copying that “The Cloak” grapples with? Do characters in “The Mysterious Portrait” seem to agree with Akakiy about copying, or do they seem to adopt a position closer to Akakiy’s coworkers?
Please note: The passage you select should consist of 3-5 sentences from “The Mysterious Portrait.” Choose a passage that lends itself to close reading and analysis and relates to the topic of copying.
We want to hear YOUR analysis of copying in “The Mysterious Portrait.” For that reason, do not consult any outside sources when writing your post. Avoiding outside sources, including internet sites, also helps you avoid accidental plagiarism. If any amount of your post is plagiarized, it will receive an automatic zero.

Possible questions to consider include:
•    “The Mysterious Portrait” centers on painters creating portraits of models/sitters. How do the portraits described in the story copy and/or not copy the appearance of the model? Do the characters and story value imitation or originality or both with regards to the paintings? What are the consequences of copying—or not copying—from life in such artworks? Are portraits portrayed as a lesser type of painting because they are more imitative and less original?
•    Consider the artist Tchartkoff, the focus of Part 1 of “The Mysterious Portrait.” After he finds money hidden in a frame, he becomes a portrait painter. In his first commission, a portrait of the lady’s daughter Lise, does Tchartkoff accurately copy the model in his painting or not? Why does he keep revising his painting? Does the finished product accurately resemble the girl? What are the consequences of this portrait in his life and career? What kind of portraits does Tchartkoff paint from this point on?
•    Consider the unnamed artist who is the focus of Part 2 of the story. He paints the portrait of the usurer (moneylender). Does the painter accurately copy the model in his painting or not? How do the moneylender and painter respond to the painting’s accuracy (or lack thereof)? What are the consequences of this portrait for the model, the painter, and others? 
•    A copy may also be interpreted more broadly as a double, a parent and child, for example. In this story, how do children resemble–or not resemble–their parents? Consider the lady and her daughter Lise in Part 1. Consider B., the painter who shows up to the auction, and his father (who painted the moneylender) in Part 2.
•    Narrative repetition is another type of copying. Are there aspects of the story—character types, incidents, descriptions—that recur in the story, that echo what came before? You may pay particular attention to aspects of Part 2 that repeat aspects of Part 1. Are the repetitions exactly the same or slightly different? What is the meaning or effect of these narrative repetitions. For more information on The Mysterious Portrait and The Cloak see this:

The Mysterious Portrait and The Cloak

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