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Thread: Thoughts on Dead Souls

  1. #1
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    Oct 2009
    Greensboro, NC

    Thoughts on Dead Souls

    I'm reading Dead Souls right now...the narrative structure! Oh! Gogol is with us throughout, I'm conscious of his physical proximity to the novel at all times. I am there with him, as if together we are watching a drama unfold. Yet he controls the camera, he forces my gaze on a scene, and afterwards, or at any moment, he tears the world away from me and I am in a dark room with no one but Gogol as he looks me dead in the face and tells me what I've just seen, what it means, or he may poke fun at the characters, all of them, ridicule them. But his monologue occurs in real time with the narrative; he takes opportunities wherein nothing important happens to tell me something. I know this because he says so:

    Since the conversation which our travellers conducted with one another is of no great interest to the reader, we shall do better if we say a few words about Nozdryov himself, for he will perhaps play a not inconsiderable part in our poem. The reader is probably to some extent familar with Nozdryov's personality...
    and on he goes for a few pages until they arrive at Nozdryov's house. The novel is surreal, grotesque, a dream. "They had all sorts of names and most of them in the imperative mood..." Consider this remarkable scene built out of dialogue. They are sitting at the dinner table, but where do they go? Where is time? When do they move?

    "I won't hear of it," said Nozdryov. "I won't let you go."

    "Please don't make it difficult for me, my dear fellow," the brother-in-law said. "I must go. Really I must. You will make a lot of trouble for me, you know."

    "Nonsense, nonsense, we'll have a game of cards."

    "Please have one yourself, my dear fellow. I can't. My wife will be vary angry with me. Really, she will. I must tell her all about the fair. You see, my dear fello, I simply must do something to please her. No, please don't keep me."

    "Oh, to hell with your wife! As if you had anything important to do with her."

    "Oh no, no, my dear fellow. She's a very good and faithful wife. Does so many things for me. Believe me, it makes me cry. No, please don't keep me. I'm an honest man and I must go. Honestly I must. I assure you."

    "Let him go," Chichikov said softly to Nozdryov. "What's the use of keeping him?"

    "You're quite right," said Nozdryov. "I can't stand these namby-pamby sentimentalists." And he added in a loud voice: "Oh, to hell with you! Go and make love to your wife, you fetyuk!"

    "No, my dear fellow, don't call me a fetyuk. I owe my life to her. She's such a nice, sweet woman. She's so sweet to me. she makes me cry. I'm sure she'll ask me what I saw at the fair and I must tell her all about it. You see, she really is a darling."

    "Oh, go. Tell her a pack of lies. Here's your cap."

    "No, you oughtn't talk like that about her, my dear fellow. You see, you really are insulting me by such talk. She is such a darling."

    "Well, then, get out and go to her quickly!"

    "Yes my dear fellow, I'm going. I'm sorry I can't stay. I'd be glad to, but I can't."

    The brother-in-law went on repeating his apologies without noticing that he had been sitting in his carriage for a long time and had been driven out of the gates hours ago and that for hours there was nothing before him but open fields. It is to be assumed that his wife did not hear a lot about the fair.

    "What a rubbishy fellow!" said Nozdryov, standing before the window and watching the carriage as it drove away. "Look at him rolling along! His trace horse isn't bad: I'd long wanted to snaffle it, but you see, you can never agree about the price with him. He is just a fetyuk, simply a fetyuk!"

    They then went back to the room. Porfiry brought candles and Chichikov noticed in his host's hands a pack of cards which seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.
    Out of nowhere, yes! the whole book is like this, sudden shifts, time flying forward and backward, characters fading in and out of being, like Gogol is himself a magician conjuring all of this up as we watch. Which is unlike other novelists who do their conjuring behind our backs, as it were. No, Gogol enthralls us with constant motion, now showing us something, now smacking our head, now he's somewhere else. An amazing book!
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  2. #2
    Registered User Tarvaa's Avatar
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    Nov 2009
    I read it a long time ago, but I will always have a special place in my heart for "Dead Souls". It is one of those books that I am saving for (if and) when I am old. I certainly want to read it again.

    I think what is so great about it is its audacity in every aspect. That story itself is so imaginative; the descriptive power of Gogol's writing is, at times, sensational; and the fact that he never really finished it speaks wonders for the man who was perhaps writing off the cuff.

    Perhaps the most famous passage in it is the one that starts "A Large, old garden..."

  3. #3
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    Feb 2012
    northern england

    Reflections on dead souls

    It has been some years since i read the book. My memories - that Gogol was capable of beautiful writing ...he calls Dead Souls a poem. It pokes fun at polite society, and in this regard Manilov is a particularly memorable character and perhaps a tragic one too. Dead Souls is also is a rich evocation of rural Russian life, a lifeworld that is in transition (although societies always are). It struck me that the novel is more a panorama of Russian life rather than containing ongoing development in plot terms. Chichikov is like a constant that holds that panorama together and perhaps Gogol thought of him as spiritually deadened as opposed to the literally dead serfs whom Chichikov buys. He is never redeemed as I believe Gogol ultimately intended him to be (in order to show Russians the path to salvation) but perhaps this is not a pity. After all the ending of Crime and Punishment could be described as a bit sugary, even a bit naff.

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