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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan/Feb 2019 > Ode to the nose

Ode to the nose

We are often embarrassed by the protruding olfactory equipment on our faces. But noses shape our loves, lives and memories like no other part of the body
The nose has it: (from top left) Albert Einstein, the Queen, Nelson Mandela, Victoria Beckham, Meghan Markle, Owen Wilson, Barbara Streisand, Groucho Marx, Barack Obama, Theresa May, Donald Trump and Gerard Depardieu as Cyrano de Bergerac
© WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/

In Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Nose,” a civil servant called Kovalyov wakes one morning to discover his nose is missing; in its place there’s only a smooth, flat space. Without a nose, Kovalyov finds he can’t work, can’t eat, he’s scared even to go outside. As for his girlfriends—well he discovers that noselessness, apart from being a kind of facelessness, seems to imply other, lower, deficits. Worse still, freed from Kovalyov, his nose is swanning around St Petersburg dressed for success in a “gold-braided, high-collared uniform, buckskin breeches, and cockaded hat.”

Gogol himself had a famously generous nose— but this tale is less a personal statement and more an absurdist satire on tsarist Russia’s obsession with rank. Still, there’s plenty of nose-related wisdom here. Humans may be hard-wired to love infantile faces— ones with big eyes, big foreheads and not much nose— but we all have multiple reasons to treasure our noses.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January/February double issue: A host of writers and personalities explain what they think will be the most important thing we need to learn in the new year. From Justin Welby arguing for new emphasis on learning to forgive and Lord Neuberger on the importance of a free judiciary to Hannah Fry on AI and Cathy Newman on what happens next for #MeToo—Prospect has it all. Elsewhere in the issue: Fintan O’Toole looks at Brexit from an Irish perspective, Wendell Steavenson dishes the dirt on what really happens to the waste you want to recycle, Frank Close questions why—half a century after our last visit—we’ve not been back to the Moon. Also, Michael Blastland argues that we’re ignoring the upsides of having an alcoholic drink and Clive James explores the life of Philip Larkin.