Dead Souls by Nikolai Vasilevich Gogol
Gogol was an amazing story teller! He was one of Russia’s greatest writers, and Dead Souls could be considered his most important work.
In the early 19th century, in Russia, estates were measured by the amount of serfs (souls) a farmer owned rather than in acreage. So a farmer might say, “I have a thousand soul estate,” or “I’m quite poor, I only have six souls.” The bad news is that land owners had to pay taxes on their souls. But the good news is that the Russian Government had recently passed a law allowing the rich to mortgage their souls.
Thus, Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov devises a plot to travel around the Russian countryside and buy up worthless dead souls, from those who have not yet been removed from the Government census list, and then, under the pretense that they are still living bodies, mortgage them and use the money to buy an estate.
Chichikov is a smooth talking professional con artist. An opportunist; but not evil. As he travels from town to town, hospitality is abundant even in less well-to-do homes. He is offered food, and drink, a sympathetic ear, and advice. But as time passes, his reputation follows him, leaving a trail of disgruntled people who feel manipulated and betrayed, or at the very least, inconvenienced by Chichikov’s actions.
This satirical tale renders colorful detailed descriptions of the rural Russian countryside, small town life, peasantry and gentry, an array of eccentric characters, and a humorous account of Chichikov’s adventures. Very entertaining.
The copy I have is from Raduga Publishers in Moscow and also has portions of Book 2 (the sequel), which were copied from the original rough draft. The completed manuscript (of book 2) was burned by Gogol shortly before he died of self imposed starvation. This section of the book is choppy with complete sections missing. In Book 2, Gogol is a bit more serious and philosophical. He seems to be making an effort to spread higher moral standards and a better work ethic. It was not as humorous, or entertaining, as the first part.
One more comment: I found it very interesting to learn that the book Dead Souls was nearly censored by the Moscow Censorship Committee in 1842. They were appalled at the subject matter and thought the author was attacking immortality… “the soul is immortal… so, how can there be a dead soul?” An oxymoron. The title alone is the epitome of Gogol’s wit and sense of humor.
Rated 4.5 Stars.
All contents © 2014 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.