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Dead Souls (Barnes & Noble Classics) by…
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Dead Souls (Barnes & Noble Classics) (original 1842; edition 2005)

by Nikolai Gogol, Constance Garnett (Translator), Jeffrey Meyers (Introduction)

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7,576102834 (3.95)1 / 315
Few literary works have been so variously interpreted as Nikolai Gogol's enduring comic masterpiece, Dead Souls.
Member:PatrickF1982
Title:Dead Souls (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Authors:Nikolai Gogol
Other authors:Constance Garnett (Translator), Jeffrey Meyers (Introduction)
Info:Barnes & Noble Classics (2005), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
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Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)

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Showing 1-5 of 82 (next | show all)
A dissenting opinion: this is a very influential book, but, in this translation at least (i.e., P & V), not a particularly good one. The occasional flashes of descriptive brilliance are buried in many pages of dull over-description; the conceit is never worked out (because it's unfinished); the form is painful (...then Chichikov went to visit this character sketch; then Chichikov went to visit this character sketch; then Chich...). Are the character sketches good? Yes. Is the conceit glorious? Absolutely. But that's about it. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
When I saw Dead Souls in one of my local second-hand bookshops I assumed it was another horrifically depressing nineteenth century Russian novel. The title certainly lends itself to this interpretation: Dead Souls doesn't exactly sound chirpy. And the cover doesn't help matters; my copy's cover features a trio of figures that look like the bastard children of a Dementor and a Weeping Angel, a one night stand that is nightmare fodder for even the most courageous of people.

So make like Spongebob, if you will, and imagine my surprise upon reading the blurb.


You should be using this right now.

The posterior descriptive matter first explains the thrust of the plot: would be gentryman Pavel Chichikov is travelling around the Russian countryside buying serfs from land-owners. The catch is he only wants the papers relating to serfs who have died since the last census. Suffice it to say that he's got a good, if not exactly honourable, reason for buying up these eponymous dead souls. And then it starts sounding like a horrendous translation of an over zealous promoter. Quoth the blurb: “Does this narrative contain a deeper message about Russia itself or the spiritual health of humanity? There is much interest and some suspense in considering these issues.” When I read that summary in the bookshop it was just awkward enough for me to start putting the novel down. And then I espied the blurb's final sentence: “This is, quite simply, the funniest book in the Russian language before the twentieth century.”

Funny nineteenth century Russian literature? This I had to read. My previous experience with Russian literature from that century consisted of War and Peace (half a million men dying in a pointless invasion, ho ho!) and Crime and Punishment (penniless student murders two old women and is racked by guilt, ha ha!). After that, a four hundred page novel about a man who kicks adorable puppies for a living would probably count as funny. Still, I was intrigued, so I took Dead Souls to the counter.

“Blimey,” opined the lady at the till, “this looks bloody miserable.” I could only tut and roll my eyes (not easy that, tutting one's eyes). To think that some people could make such snap judgements about the tone of a book based on its title, cover, or the fact it's old and Russian.

“Actually it's supposed to be the funniest Russian book of the nineteenth century,” I said. I'd read that somewhere. The lady was left goggling at my knowledge of Gogol, and I was left with a book to read.

Apparently Dead Souls was intended to be a trilogy, a nineteenth century Russian take on Dante's Divine Comedy. Unfortunately Gogol went through a bit of a religious phase before his death, and so burnt the second part before it was published and died before writing the third part. What's left is his Inferno and a few presumably charred bits of Purgatorio. The five surviving chapters of Part II are perfectly readable, but too disjointed to allow any kind of decent evaluation of their merit. So we're left with what is presumably meant to be Chichikov's descent through hell in Part I.

I say “meant to be” because the story is more picaresque than Old-Nick-er-esque. Ten of the eleven chapters concern the local yokels, Chichikov's attempts to purchase dead serfs from them, and the small town thinking that occurs when his goings-on are revealed. The portraits are occasionally amusing but would probably be better appreciated by contemporary readers. The most amusing part of the novel in my eyes was Gogol's absurdist style. Literal prose mingles with fourth-wall breaking meta-humour to great effect. At one point two of the characters are about to go though a door when Gogol suddenly breaks off on an almost Hugo-esque digression. Pages later when we return to the characters Gogol worries that they'll have got bored of waiting to go through the door while he rambles on. Fortunately they've spent the intervening time arguing over who should go through the door first, a problem they solve only when the story's focus returns to them.

As a bit of absurdist fun, Dead Souls is a nice little work, as long as one overlooks the unfinished second part which doubles the size of the novel with little extra benefit. As is intimated in the Wordsworth edition's introduction, it could easily be over-analysed to within an inch of its life in an attempt to find “a deeper message about Russia itself or the spiritual health of humanity.” But to do that would be to do a disservice to Russian literature. Here is simple proof that despite the trials of 1812, Russia never lost that which is most important: a sense of humour. ( )
1 vote imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
When I saw Dead Souls in one of my local second-hand bookshops I assumed it was another horrifically depressing nineteenth century Russian novel. The title certainly lends itself to this interpretation: Dead Souls doesn't exactly sound chirpy. And the cover doesn't help matters; my copy's cover features a trio of figures that look like the bastard children of a Dementor and a Weeping Angel, a one night stand that is nightmare fodder for even the most courageous of people.

So make like Spongebob, if you will, and imagine my surprise upon reading the blurb.


You should be using this right now.

The posterior descriptive matter first explains the thrust of the plot: would be gentryman Pavel Chichikov is travelling around the Russian countryside buying serfs from land-owners. The catch is he only wants the papers relating to serfs who have died since the last census. Suffice it to say that he's got a good, if not exactly honourable, reason for buying up these eponymous dead souls. And then it starts sounding like a horrendous translation of an over zealous promoter. Quoth the blurb: “Does this narrative contain a deeper message about Russia itself or the spiritual health of humanity? There is much interest and some suspense in considering these issues.” When I read that summary in the bookshop it was just awkward enough for me to start putting the novel down. And then I espied the blurb's final sentence: “This is, quite simply, the funniest book in the Russian language before the twentieth century.”

Funny nineteenth century Russian literature? This I had to read. My previous experience with Russian literature from that century consisted of War and Peace (half a million men dying in a pointless invasion, ho ho!) and Crime and Punishment (penniless student murders two old women and is racked by guilt, ha ha!). After that, a four hundred page novel about a man who kicks adorable puppies for a living would probably count as funny. Still, I was intrigued, so I took Dead Souls to the counter.

“Blimey,” opined the lady at the till, “this looks bloody miserable.” I could only tut and roll my eyes (not easy that, tutting one's eyes). To think that some people could make such snap judgements about the tone of a book based on its title, cover, or the fact it's old and Russian.

“Actually it's supposed to be the funniest Russian book of the nineteenth century,” I said. I'd read that somewhere. The lady was left goggling at my knowledge of Gogol, and I was left with a book to read.

Apparently Dead Souls was intended to be a trilogy, a nineteenth century Russian take on Dante's Divine Comedy. Unfortunately Gogol went through a bit of a religious phase before his death, and so burnt the second part before it was published and died before writing the third part. What's left is his Inferno and a few presumably charred bits of Purgatorio. The five surviving chapters of Part II are perfectly readable, but too disjointed to allow any kind of decent evaluation of their merit. So we're left with what is presumably meant to be Chichikov's descent through hell in Part I.

I say “meant to be” because the story is more picaresque than Old-Nick-er-esque. Ten of the eleven chapters concern the local yokels, Chichikov's attempts to purchase dead serfs from them, and the small town thinking that occurs when his goings-on are revealed. The portraits are occasionally amusing but would probably be better appreciated by contemporary readers. The most amusing part of the novel in my eyes was Gogol's absurdist style. Literal prose mingles with fourth-wall breaking meta-humour to great effect. At one point two of the characters are about to go though a door when Gogol suddenly breaks off on an almost Hugo-esque digression. Pages later when we return to the characters Gogol worries that they'll have got bored of waiting to go through the door while he rambles on. Fortunately they've spent the intervening time arguing over who should go through the door first, a problem they solve only when the story's focus returns to them.

As a bit of absurdist fun, Dead Souls is a nice little work, as long as one overlooks the unfinished second part which doubles the size of the novel with little extra benefit. As is intimated in the Wordsworth edition's introduction, it could easily be over-analysed to within an inch of its life in an attempt to find “a deeper message about Russia itself or the spiritual health of humanity.” But to do that would be to do a disservice to Russian literature. Here is simple proof that despite the trials of 1812, Russia never lost that which is most important: a sense of humour. ( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
Gogol'un tamamladığı birinci cildi mükemmel buldum, Çiçikov şimdiye kadar okuduğum en ilginç karakterler arasında rahatlıkla zirveye oturur. İlk cilt boyunca Çiçikov'un ne yapmaya çalıştığını çözmeye çalıştım ama bulmayı başaramadım, yazar sonunda açıklayınca ise çok şaşırdım ve Çiçikov'un planına hayran kaldım.

Yazarın önce yazdığı daha sonra ise yaktığı ve daha sonra yanmamış sayfaların bir araya getirilmesiyle oluşan ikinci cildin ilk sayfalarında çok fazla eksik bulunmadığı için güzel buldum ama geriye kalan sayfalar arasında çok fazla kopukluk vardı, bu yüzden olay örgüsünü anlayamadım. Keşke Gogol bu ikinci cildi yakmasaymış da Çiçikov'u keyifle okuyabilseydik. ( )
  Tobizume | Jun 9, 2020 |
Nikolai Gogol is a brilliant writer, and Volume 1 of Dead Souls deserves all the praise there is to give. Unfortunately, we have to take the whole work for what it is, not what it might have been, and the unfinished/partially destroyed second volume really weighs the book down.

Gogol's characters are awesome. I've never read an author who in one paragraph forces you into the world of someone you've just encountered to the point where you understand who they are, how they live, and what motivates them with resounding, intense clarity. I see a lot of his understanding of the Russian of the 19th century in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but I don't even think they got it quite as well as Gogol did.

The first volume is hilarious. Seeing how each landowner reacted to Chichikov's proposal to buy the rights to their dead serfs was an absolute joy. Gogol's ability to expose the absurdities of contemporary Russian society demonstrates his adept touch with satire that he brought to so many of his short stories.

But like many great talents, Gogol's hypercritical nature overwhelmed him, and he picked the second volume apart (even burning some of it shortly before he died) to the point where it's a confusing, rushed waste. The multi-chapter-length gaps make it nearly impossible for a reader to be engaged, and the wealth of characters introduced in the second volume never had the chance to be represented as well as their counterparts in the first volume.

Read Volume One and stop there. The full package turns a potential showcase of genius into a depressing picture of what might have been. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gogol, Nikolaiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eliasberg, AlexanderTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Güell, Josep MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hapgood, Isabel FlorenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hogarth, D.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalima, JaloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laín Entralgo, JoséEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacAndrew, Andrew R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magarshack, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maguire, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matic, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noordzij, GerritCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Connor, FrankForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odets, CliffordIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praag, S. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prina, SerenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prins, AaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rayfield, DonaldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rayfield, DonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Röhl, HermannTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Skott, StaffanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Timmer, Charles B.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wal, Theo J. van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A small, rather smart, well-sprung four-wheeled carriage with a folding top drove through the gates of an inn of the provincial town of N.; it was the sort of carriage bachelors usually drive in: retired lieutenant-colonels, majors, and landowners with about a hundred serfs - in short, all those who are described as gentlemen of the 'middling' station of life.
Quotations
Frac neri spuntavano e vagolavano isolati e a gruppetti qua e là, come vagolano le mosche su un bianco, brillante pan di zucchero al tempo dell'ardente solleone, quando la vecchia dispensiera lo spezza e lo spartisce in tanti blocchetti, che scintillano davanti alla finestra spalancata: i bambini stanno tutti a guardare, raggruppati intorno, seguendo curiosi i movimenti di quelle mani dure, che sollevano il martello; e intanto gli aerei squadroni delle mosche, innalzandosi sulla lieve brezza, entrano a volo sicuri, da padroni assoluti, e approfittando della vista corta della vecchia e del sole che la abbaglia, si spandono sui ghiotti bocconi, dove alla spicciolata, dove in folti gruppi. Ben satollate dalla ricca estate, che ad ogni passo ammannisce loro cibi altrettanto ghiotti, esse son volate qui dentro non già per mangiare, ma soltanto per far bella mostra di sé, per passeggiarsela avanti e indietro in quella massa zuccherina, strofinarsi una coll'altra le gambette davanti o quelle di dietro, o grattarsi sotto le alucce, o protendendo bene tutt'e due le zampette davanti, strofinarsele sopra la testa, e rigirarsi indietro, e di nuovo volar via, e di nuovo tornare a volo con altri petulanti squadroni.
È noto che vi sono al mondo molti di codesti visi, per rifinire i quali la natura non è andata tanto pel sottile, non ha adoprato nessuno strumento delicato, come sarebbero lime, succhielli e via dicendo: ha, semplicemente, menato giù colpi di tutta forza: ha dato giù coll'accetta una volta – ecco fatto il naso; ha dato giù un'altra volta – ecco fatte le labbra; con una trivella grossa s'è sbrigata degli occhi: e, senza piallare il suo lavoro, l'ha mandato pel mondo, dicendo: «Vivrà!»
Tante cose vengono in mente, così passeggiando, all'uomo, cose che tanto spesso strappano l'uomo al noioso minuto attuale, e pizzicano, irritano, smuovono la fantasia, e gli riescono care anche quando è convinto lui stesso che non si avvereranno mai!
Ciascuno di noi, vedete, approfitta di qualche cosa: questo d'un bosco demaniale, quello dei denari dell'ufficio, quell'altro sottrae ai propri figli per non so quale attrice di passaggio, quell'altro ai contadini per i mobili di Hambs o per una carrozza. Che ci volete fare, se hanno inventato tante tentazioni a questo mondo? Ristoranti di lusso con prezzi folli, e veglioni, e gite, e danze colle zigane. È difficile, sapete, resistere, mentre tutti, dovunque ti guardi attorno, fanno appunto così, eppoi è la moda che lo comanda: provati un po' a resistere!
… è venuto per noi il momento di salvare il nostro paese; che perirà, il paese nostro, non più per l'irruzione di venti popoli stranieri, ma per opera di noi stessi; che ormai, accanto alla legale amministrazione della cosa pubblica, è venuta a formarsi una seconda amministrazione, assai più potente di quella legale. È venuto a stabilirvisi un regolamento proprio, tutto ha la sua tariffa, e i prezzi sono portati a conoscenza del pubblico. E nessun reggitore di stato, fosse pure il più sapiente di tutti i legislatori e reggitori, non avrà il potere di correggere il male, per quanto si affanni a limitarne l'esplicazione da parte dei cattivi impiegati, imponendo a costoro la sorveglianza d'altri impiegati. Tutto sarà vano, finché ciascuno di noi non avrà sentito che allo stesso modo in cui all'epoca dell'insurrezione dei popoli afferrò le armi contro…, così ha il dovere d'insorgere contro la disonestà.
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Few literary works have been so variously interpreted as Nikolai Gogol's enduring comic masterpiece, Dead Souls.

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Penguin Australia

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