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Dead Souls : A Novel (1842) - Nikolai Gogol

Related: 19th century literature - Russian literature - 1842 - Nikolai Gogol - fantastic literature

Dead Souls : A Novel (1842) - Nikolai Gogol [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Dead Souls is a novel by the Russian author Nikolai Gogol. The first sections were published in 1842. It was intended to form a trilogy, but only the first two parts were ever finished.

Referred by its author as an "epic poem in prose", the plot of the story is suggested to Gogol by Pushkin. Despite having supposedly completed the trilogy's last portions, Gogol was urged by a religious fanatic to burn it. Consequently though, the novel is usually regarded as complete in the extant form, though it ends in mid-sentence.

The novel was meant to be an encompassing picture of the ailing social system in post-Napoleonic Russia. As in many of Gogol's short stories, the social criticism of Dead Souls is communicated primarily through absurd and hilarious satire. Unlike the short stories, however, Dead Souls was meant to offer solutions rather than simply point out problems. This grander scheme was largely unrealized at Gogol's death; the work was never completed, and it is primarily the earlier, purely absurdist sections that are remembered today.

Vladimir Nabokov, in his 1944 study of Gogol, Nikolai Gogol, rejected the commonly held view of Dead Souls as a reformist or satirical work. Nabokov regarded the plot of Dead Souls as unimportant and Gogol as a great writer whose works skirted the irrational and whose prose style combined superb descriptive power with a disregard for novelistic clichés. In the character of Chichikov, the protagonist of the novel, Nabokov found all the attributes of "poshlust," a Russian word not precisely translatable into English but one which carries overtones of middle-class pretentiousness, fake significance and philistinism. True, Chichikov displays a most extraordinary moral rot, but the whole idea of buying and selling dead souls is, to Nabokov, ridiculous on its face; therefore, the provincial setting of the novel is a most unsuitable backdrop for any of the progressive, reformist or Christian readings of the work.

The style of the novel is somewhat antique and has been compared to the picaresque novels of the 16th and 17th centuries in that it is divided into a series of somewhat disjointed episodes, and the plot concerns a gentrified version of the rascal protagonist of the original picaresques.

Plot Overview
The story follows the exploits of Chichikov, a young gentleman of middling social class and position. Chichikov arrives in a small town and quickly tries to make a good name for himself by impressing the many petty officials of the town. Despite his limited funds, he spends extravagantly on the premise that a great show of wealth and power at the start will gain him the connections he needs to live easily in the future. He also hopes to befriend the town so that he can more easily carry out his bizarre and mysterious plan to acquire "dead souls". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Souls [Feb 2005]

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