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Dead Souls

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(1846)


A satirical novel originally published in 1842. This was meant as a trilogy but only the first part was completed.


This English translation by C. J. Hogarth.


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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!

Dead Souls by Nikolia Gogol

Dead Souls by Nikolia Gogol I have now finished Dead Souls by Nikolia Gogol and after a few early concerns about where the story was actually heading and the meandering narrative; the second half of this novella exceeded my expectations and proved that this is indeed a brilliant piece of work and a superb social commentary on 19th century Russia. Nikolia Gogol showed his concerns about Russia declining moral/religious standards of various different classes and the consequences of this on society on a whole. This is a perfect example of cause and effect or the ripple effect. Tolstoy explored these ideas in the “Forged Coupon”. This novella showed how much esteem that Nikolia Gogol held in Russia and there is fervent nationalist pride running all the way through the book. Gogol brilliantly captured the symbolism of Russian landscape relating to modern day Russia. The only novelist whom has captured scenery and with such descriptive brilliance is Tolstoy. A sign of a great novelist is the ability to create humanity and build empathy in characters. Even though Chichikov had many faults, that were initially difficult to understand, towards the latter stages of this novel, when Gogol gives the background to his main character you begin to understand his soul and life complexities which have lead him to his eventual imprisonment. It is a real shame that this character was not fully realised in a second and third volume. Unfortunately, I think that that Gogol intended humour, irony, wit and satire may have been lost in translation. Nonetheless, there were lines and situations which will stay with me and I dare say will not be bettered. Gogol’s observations are funny because we have seen them all before and possibly even have acted like many of the characters in this marvellous work. I liked the way that Gogol bought to life men and women but also horses, dogs and other wildlife. They all were given their own characteristics and were not just there as fillers. Did anyone else enjoy Dead Souls as much as I did and how many stars would you give it out of 10. I would also be delighted to hear your thoughts on Dead Souls.

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