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Authors: Nikolai Gogol

Dead Souls

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Dead Souls
First published in 1842.

ISBN 978-1-775411-07-9


While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in The Floating Press edition of this book, The Floating Press does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. The Floating Press does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book. Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Many suitcases look alike.



Author's Preface
to the First Portion of this Work
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV


Dead Souls, first published in 1842, is the great prose classic of
Russia. That amazing institution, "the Russian novel," not only began
its career with this unfinished masterpiece by Nikolai Vasil'evich
Gogol, but practically all the Russian masterpieces that have come
since have grown out of it, like the limbs of a single tree.
Dostoieffsky goes so far as to bestow this tribute upon an earlier
work by the same author, a short story entitled The Cloak; this idea
has been wittily expressed by another compatriot, who says: "We have
all issued out of Gogol's Cloak."

Dead Souls, which bears the word "Poem" upon the title page of the
original, has been generally compared to Don Quixote and to the
Pickwick Papers, while E. M. Vogue places its author somewhere
between Cervantes and Le Sage. However considerable the influences of
Cervantes and Dickens may have been—the first in the matter of
structure, the other in background, humour, and detail of
characterisation—the predominating and distinguishing quality of the
work is undeniably something foreign to both and quite peculiar to
itself; something which, for want of a better term, might be called
the quality of the Russian soul. The English reader familiar with the
works of Dostoieffsky, Turgenev, and Tolstoi, need hardly be told what
this implies; it might be defined in the words of the French critic
just named as "a tendency to pity." One might indeed go further and
say that it implies a certain tolerance of one's characters even
though they be, in the conventional sense, knaves, products, as the
case might be, of conditions or circumstance, which after all is the
thing to be criticised and not the man. But pity and tolerance are
rare in satire, even in clash with it, producing in the result a deep
sense of tragic humour. It is this that makes of Dead Souls a unique
work, peculiarly Gogolian, peculiarly Russian, and distinct from its
author's Spanish and English masters.

Still more profound are the contradictions to be seen in the author's
personal character; and unfortunately they prevented him from
completing his work. The trouble is that he made his art out of life,
and when in his final years he carried his struggle, as Tolstoi did
later, back into life, he repented of all he had written, and in the
frenzy of a wakeful night burned all his manuscripts, including the
second part of Dead Souls, only fragments of which were saved. There
was yet a third part to be written. Indeed, the second part had been
written and burned twice. Accounts differ as to why he had burned it
finally. Religious remorse, fury at adverse criticism, and despair at
not reaching ideal perfection are among the reasons given. Again it is
said that he had destroyed the manuscript with the others

The poet Pushkin, who said of Gogol that "behind his laughter you feel
the unseen tears," was his chief friend and inspirer. It was he who
suggested the plot of Dead Souls as well as the plot of the earlier
work The Revisor, which is almost the only comedy in Russian. The
importance of both is their introduction of the social element in
Russian literature, as Prince Kropotkin points out. Both hold up the
mirror to Russian officialdom and the effects it has produced on the
national character. The plot of Dead Souls is simple enough, and is
said to have been suggested by an actual episode.

It was the day of serfdom in Russia, and a man's standing was often
judged by the numbers of "souls" he possessed. There was a periodical
census of serfs, say once every ten or twenty years. This being the
case, an owner had to pay a tax on every "soul" registered at the last
census, though some of the serfs might have died in the meantime.
Nevertheless, the system had its material advantages, inasmuch as an
owner might borrow money from a bank on the "dead souls" no less than
on the living ones. The plan of Chichikov, Gogol's hero-villain, was
therefore to make a journey through Russia and buy up the "dead
souls," at reduced rates of course, saving their owners the government
tax, and acquiring for himself a list of fictitious serfs, which he
meant to mortgage to a bank for a considerable sum. With this money he
would buy an estate and some real life serfs, and make the beginning
of a fortune.

Obviously, this plot, which is really no plot at all but merely a ruse
to enable Chichikov to go across Russia in a troika, with Selifan
the coachman as a sort of Russian Sancho Panza, gives Gogol a
magnificent opportunity to reveal his genius as a painter of Russian
panorama, peopled with characteristic native types commonplace enough
but drawn in comic relief. "The comic," explained the author yet at
the beginning of his career, "is hidden everywhere, only living in the
midst of it we are not conscious of it; but if the artist brings it
into his art, on the stage say, we shall roll about with laughter and
only wonder we did not notice it before." But the comic in Dead
Souls is merely external. Let us see how Pushkin, who loved to laugh,
regarded the work. As Gogol read it aloud to him from the manuscript
the poet grew more and more gloomy and at last cried out: "God! What a
sad country Russia is!" And later he said of it: "Gogol invents
nothing; it is the simple truth, the terrible truth."

The work on one hand was received as nothing less than an exposure of
all Russia—what would foreigners think of it? The liberal elements,
however, the critical Belinsky among them, welcomed it as a
revelation, as an omen of a freer future. Gogol, who had meant to do a
service to Russia and not to heap ridicule upon her, took the
criticisms of the Slavophiles to heart; and he palliated his critics
by promising to bring about in the succeeding parts of his novel the
redemption of Chichikov and the other "knaves and blockheads." But the
"Westerner" Belinsky and others of the liberal camp were mistrustful.
It was about this time (1847) that Gogol published his Correspondence
with Friends, and aroused a literary controversy that is alive to
this day. Tolstoi is to be found among his apologists.

Opinions as to the actual significance of Gogol's masterpiece differ.
Some consider the author a realist who has drawn with meticulous
detail a picture of Russia; others, Merejkovsky among them, see in him
a great symbolist; the very title Dead Souls is taken to describe
the living of Russia as well as its dead. Chichikov himself is now
generally regarded as a universal character. We find an American
professor, William Lyon Phelps
, of Yale, holding the opinion that
"no one can travel far in America without meeting scores of
Chichikovs; indeed, he is an accurate portrait of the American
promoter, of the successful commercial traveller whose success depends
entirely not on the real value and usefulness of his stock-in-trade,
but on his knowledge of human nature and of the persuasive power of
his tongue." This is also the opinion held by Prince Kropotkin
, who
says: "Chichikov may buy dead souls, or railway shares, or he may
collect funds for some charitable institution, or look for a position
in a bank, but he is an immortal international type; we meet him
everywhere; he is of all lands and of all times; he but takes
different forms to suit the requirements of nationality and time."

Again, the work bears an interesting relation to Gogol himself. A
romantic, writing of realities, he was appalled at the commonplaces of
life, at finding no outlet for his love of colour derived from his
Cossack ancestry. He realised that he had drawn a host of "heroes,"
"one more commonplace than another, that there was not a single
palliating circumstance, that there was not a single place where the
reader might find pause to rest and to console himself, and that when
he had finished the book it was as though he had walked out of an
oppressive cellar into the open air." He felt perhaps inward need to
redeem Chichikov; in Merejkovsky's opinion he really wanted to save
his own soul, but had succeeded only in losing it. His last years were
spent morbidly; he suffered torments and ran from place to place like
one hunted; but really always running from himself. Rome was his
favourite refuge, and he returned to it again and again. In 1848, he
made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but he could find no peace for his
soul. Something of this mood had reflected itself even much earlier in
the Memoirs of a Madman: "Oh, little mother, save your poor son!
Look how they are tormenting him. . . . There's no place for him on
earth! He's being driven! . . . Oh, little mother, take pity on thy
poor child."

All the contradictions of Gogol's character are not to be disposed of
in a brief essay. Such a strange combination of the tragic and the
comic was truly seldom seen in one man. He, for one, realised that "it
is dangerous to jest with laughter." "Everything that I laughed at
became sad." "And terrible," adds Merejkovsky. But earlier his humour
was lighter, less tinged with the tragic; in those days Pushkin never
failed to be amused by what Gogol had brought to read to him. Even
Revizor (1835), with its tragic undercurrent, was a trifle compared
to Dead Souls, so that one is not astonished to hear that not only
did the Tsar, Nicholas I, give permission to have it acted, in spite
of its being a criticism of official rottenness, but laughed
uproariously, and led the applause. Moreover, he gave Gogol a grant of
money, and asked that its source should not be revealed to the author
lest "he might feel obliged to write from the official point of view."

Gogol was born at Sorotchinetz, Little Russia, in March 1809. He left
college at nineteen and went to St. Petersburg, where he secured a
position as copying clerk in a government department. He did not keep
his position long, yet long enough to store away in his mind a number
of bureaucratic types which proved useful later. He quite suddenly
started for America with money given to him by his mother for another
purpose, but when he got as far as Lubeck he turned back. He then
wanted to become an actor, but his voice proved not strong enough.
Later he wrote a poem which was unkindly received. As the copies
remained unsold, he gathered them all up at the various shops and
burned them in his room.

His next effort, Evenings at the Farm of Dikanka (1831) was more
successful. It was a series of gay and colourful pictures of Ukraine,
the land he knew and loved, and if he is occasionally a little over
romantic here and there, he also achieves some beautifully lyrical
passages. Then came another even finer series called Mirgorod, which
won the admiration of Pushkin. Next he planned a "History of Little
Russia" and a "History of the Middle Ages," this last work to be in
eight or nine volumes. The result of all this study was a beautiful
and short Homeric epic in prose, called Taras Bulba. His appointment
to a professorship in history was a ridiculous episode in his life.
After a brilliant first lecture, in which he had evidently said all he
had to say, he settled to a life of boredom for himself and his
pupils. When he resigned he said joyously: "I am once more a free
Cossack." Between 1834 and 1835 he produced a new series of stories,
including his famous Cloak, which may be regarded as the legitimate
beginning of the Russian novel.

BOOK: Dead Souls
8.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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