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Dead Souls

by Nikolai V. Gogol, Trans. By C. J. Hogarth, Contrib. By John Cournos

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About Book

A socially adept newcomer fluidly inserts himself into an unnamed Russian town, conquering first the drinkers, then the dignitaries. All find him amiable, estimable, agreeable. But what exactly is Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov up to?--something that will soon throw the town "into utter perplexity."

After more than a week of entertainment and "passing the time, as they say, very pleasantly," he gets down to business--heading off to call on some landowners. More pleasantries ensue before Chichikov reveals his bizarre plan. He'd like to buy the souls of peasants who have died since the last census. The first landowner looks carefully to see if he's mad, but spots no outward signs. In fact, the scheme is innovative but by no means bonkers. Even though Chichikov will be taxed on the supposed serfs, he will be able to count them as his property and gain the reputation of a gentleman owner. His first victim is happy to give up his souls for free--less tax burden for him. The second, however, knows Chichikov must be up to something, and the third has his servants rough him up. Nonetheless, he prospers.

Dead Souls is a feverish anatomy of Russian society (the book was first published in 1842) and human wiles. Its author tosses off thousands of sublime epigrams--including, "However stupid a fool's words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man," and is equally adept at yearning satire: "Where is he," Gogol interrupts the action, "who, in the native tongue of our Russian soul, could speak to us this all-powerful word: forward? who, knowing all the forces and qualities, and all the depths of our nature, could, by one magic gesture, point the Russian man towards a lofty life?" Flannery O'Connor, another writer of dark genius, declared Gogol "necessary along with the light." Though he was hardly the first to envision property as theft, his blend of comic, fantastic moralism is sui generis.--Kerry Fried

The New York Times Book Review, Ken Kalfus
Lively and funny ... Nabokov gleefully consigned all existing translations of Dead Souls to the fire, save for Guerney's.

Midwest Book Review
This newly revised, edited presentation of Gogol's classic 1842 novel about a mysterious con man and his victims will enjoy the attention of new audiences who will find this version a welcome, revealing alternative to most. Still important for any high school literary collection.

Book Description
From the award-winning translators of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment comes a magnificent new translation of Gogol's final masterpiece. For the first time, Chichikov, Gogol's trafficker in "souls" (peasants who can be bought, sold, and mortgaged by landowers) is brought to life in an English edition that captures the writer's virtually comic and lyrical style.

Language Notes
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Russian

The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Novel by Nikolay Gogol, published in Russian as Myortvye dushi in 1842. Considered one of the world's finest satires, this picaresque work traces the adventures of the social-climbing Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, a dismissed civil servant out to seek his fortune. It is admired not only for its enduring comic portraits but also for its sense of moral purpose. In the Russia of the novel, landowners must pay taxes on dead serfs until a new census removes them from the tax rolls. Chichikov sets off to buy dead serfs--thus relieving their owners of a tax burden--and mortgaging them to acquire funds to create his own estate. He charms his way into the homes of several influential landowners and puts forth his strange proposal, but he neglects to tell them the real purpose behind his plan. Gogol draws on broad Russian character types for his portraits of landowners. These comic descriptions make up some of the finest scenes in the novel. Eventually, rumors spread about Chichikov, and he is discovered and arrested. His crafty lawyer defends him by interweaving every scandal in the province with his client's deeds; the embarrassed officials offer to drop the entire matter if Chichikov leaves town, which he gladly does.

Inside Flap Copy
Since its publication in 1842, Dead Souls has been celebrated as a supremely realistic portrait of provincial Russian life and as a splendidly exaggerated tale; as a paean to the Russian spirit and as a remorseless satire of imperial Russian venality, vulgarity, and pomp. As Gogol's wily antihero, Chichikov, combs the back country wheeling and dealing for "dead souls"--deceased serfs who still represent money to anyone sharp enough to trade in them--we are introduced to a Dickensian cast of peasants, landowners, and conniving petty officials, few of whom can resist the seductive illogic of Chichikov's proposition. This lively, idiomatic English version by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky makes accessible the full extent of the novel's lyricism, sulphurous humor, and delight in human oddity and error.

From the Back Cover

The Modern Library of the World's
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"Where else has one met such a group of brawling men, all of them straining, pleading, expostulating--bellowing to be released from the printed page? In Homer, in Shakespeare, in Rabelais, but not in many other places. Here are characters who veritably fly at the reader's throat."

--Clifford Odets



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