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Dead Souls Paperback – February 21, 1996

4.4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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


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

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. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

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. -- Midwest Book Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Subsequent edition (February 21, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300060998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300060997
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
First of all, Guerney's is the only translation worth getting.
It was hailed as the finest in 1942. It is still the finest in 2002.
(Kudos to Yale University Press for printing it.)
Second, if you love the madcap humor of The Brothers Karamazov, in particular the lunacy of the father Fyodor Pavlovich, you will love Dead Souls.
Dead Souls.
Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs does it? Doesn't sound a comic masterpiece, does it?
It is.
11 chapters full of cheats, liers, swindlers, fawners, rogues, sycophants, and above all (or below all) -- human beings.
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Format: Paperback
While I was reading this, I couldn't help but compare it to Laurence Sterne's "Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy." I later found out that Gogol was a fan of that book, so perhaps the parallels are intentional.
The protagonist, Chichikov, is a shaggy dog of sorts an average guy from a below-average background, who manages to use his schmoozing skills to get ahead in life, but is ultimately a bit of an insecure charlatan. (Lots of parallels to Jay Gatsby as well.) But, as in Sterne's book, we don't find out much about Chichikov until the very end of the novel -- otherwise, we only see small glimpses of Chichikov in action, and hear the mostly untrue things said about him by those he encounters. (Are these falsehoods of his own making, or of his observers' making? Or of ours, the readers' own making? Not an easy question.)
The novel takes us through various parts of Russian society, with many bits of the author's mockery obviously being things Gogol had wanted to get off his chest for quite a while. There are some excellent observations about "the Russian character," human nature, personality types, what different languages are good for, and many, many other bits of Gogolian brilliance. By the way, the financial scheme Chichikov is running is very clever, even by today's standards of financial wizardry.
The narrator does a lot of Sterne-like "stepping out of character"; in one of the more hilarious passages, he complains that his pen has suddenly become too heavy to write anything more about a certain character, and that he will take a rest. There are many comments to the effect of "So what kind of a novel were you expecting this to be, dear reader?" perhaps playing upon the shock with which the book was initially received.
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This is probably the best translation available. Guerney, who has Russian roots, is able to fully capture Gogol's masterwork. Guerney also provides valuable background information in helping to understand the nexus for Gogol's strange journey into the heartland of Russia.
Gogol was apparently given the idea of "Dead Souls" by Pushkin, so the story goes, because Pushkin felt Gogol could do a better job with this theme than he could. However, it was an uncle who had seemingly first concocted the scheme of using dead souls to boost the number of registered serfs on his estate so that he could get a license to distill vodka. This seems more likely the case, because Gogol appears to draw much from biographical sources in creating this quixotic set of characters, which the enigmatic Chichikov comes across on his pursuit of "Dead Souls."
The first book is filled with so much robust humour, that you are left dying for more. However, the second book is not as satisfying as the first, much like that quixotic knight errant, who apparently served as a literary inspiration for this "poema."
Gogol is part of the basis for any serious undertaking of Russian literature. He was of the same literary period as Pushkin and Lermontov, and in many ways is more satisfying than either of them. One should also read Gogol's short stories, such as "The Nose" and "The Overcoat," which tumble into the theatre of the absurd.
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Format: Paperback
If you are a fellow bibliophile, then I'm sure your bookshelves contain many unread titles begging for attention. To pass over a new discovery for the comfort of an old friend is the greatest praise that I can bestow upon a book.
I have read "Dead Souls" at least six times in my forty years, and God willing I'll probably read it another six times before I toll my days. Each time I pick it up I laugh aloud again, and feel as if I'm I guest at a Gogol's party. This novel is inhabited by an unforgettable cast of eccentrics and scoundrels, and Gogol makes them all dance and glitter. They are so expertly drawn that each rereading rewards me with a greater revelation and insight into what it means to walk on this earth.
Even though every character is a rogue and an incorrigible sinner, Gogol's non-judgemental love for them is always there in the background. You laugh at these fools, and scorn them, yet you too will love them as your imperfect brothers. If ever the world were contained in one book, it lies within these pages. Enjoy!
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Format: Paperback
Part One is the amusing story of Chichikov's shifty scheme to make money by obtaining legal ownership of recently dead serfs whose names are still on the census, in order to somehow mortgage this property at a profit. To understand the scheme you would have to understand the relevant laws.
To accomplish this purpose, Chichikov travels around Russia mixing with the best society and makes propositions to rich landowners. He is very good at flattery. Even so, things don't go smoothly for the scam artist.
Part Two, written many years later, brings back Chichikov as he meets a miser who allows his estate to go to pot, and a model landowner who works very hard. The question we are left with is whether Chichikov will continue to be a shifty character or will clean up his act like the model landowner. I'm sure it was meant as a question for the reader as well.
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