Chichikov, a mysterious stranger, arrives in a provincial town and visits a succession of landowners to make each a strange offer. He proposes to buy the names of dead serfs still registered on the census, saving their owners from paying tax on them, and to use these "souls" as collateral to reinvent himself as a gentleman. In this ebullient masterpiece, Nikolai Gogol created a grotesque gallery of human types, from the bear-like Sobakevich to the insubstantial fool Manilov, and, above all, the devilish con man Chichikov.
Dead Souls, Russia's first major novel, is one of the most unusual works of nineteenth-century fiction and a devastating satire on social hypocrisy. This version of Dead Souls is the translation by C. J. Hogarth.
Public Domain (P)2011 Tantor
"Admired not only for its enduring comic portraits but also for its sense of moral purpose." (Encyclopedia of Literature)
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
An absurd and brilliant satire. To think I avoided reading this novel for years because I thought it was going to be depressing. Ha! Dead Souls reminded me in many ways of the Odyssey + Don Quixote written by Mark Twain in a Russian prose poem. Gogol captures the absurdity of the mid-19th century Russia. Included in Gogol's satire/farce is an absurd and brilliant look at the corruption of the government, the stratification of society, the pretentiousness of the Russian middle-class, etc.
Anyway, the writing was amazing and D.J. Hogarth's translation seems to have held up very well. Arthur Morey narrates this text with both clarity and humor.
I've read a number of Russian authors over the years but for some reason had never read Gogol till I listened to this audiobook. I've been cheating myself. Gogol draws a sharply satirical and (at times) laugh-out-loud funny picture of the dysfunctional Russian society of the early 19th century. As a long-time fan of Arthur Morey, I found his narration congenial and entertaining.
There *are* some difficulties in the book. Some are the result of the translation: it's by C. J. Hogarth, who was active (some info in Wikipedia notwithstanding) in the early years of the 20th century. It's not old-fashioned so much as it is (sometimes) awkwardly literal. Many Russian terms are untranslated. A barin, for example - pronounced here bah-REEN - is a baron. A koliaska is a carriage. A chinovnik is a minor government official. At one point two characters make "osculatory salutations" - in other words, they kiss. It might be helpful to download one of the free ebook editions of the novel; at least one has footnotes explaining many of these terms and other references in the text.
The other major problem is that the novel is unfinished. The first part is intact and more or less complete in itself, but the second part has a number of significant gaps. As much as I like Morey's narration in general, I think it's a fair criticism, as others have said here, that he jumps over some of the gaps in the text without sufficient pause. (Of course, that may have been dictated by the producer or director rather than Morey himself.) At one point, just before a hiatus, the main character Chichikov is hurrying off to mediate a dispute involving a landowner named Lienitsin; after the hiatus, he and Lienitsin are discussing a possible partnership in Chichikov's scheme to commit massive fraud. It's not incoherent, but it does take some adjustment.
Despite the difficulties of Part Two, I recommend listening to the whole audiobook. The characters are wonderful, the dialogue is sparkling (despite the literalness of the translation), and I really did, on several occasions, laugh out loud.
Ever since I was a kid I always loved astronomy. I remember when Haley's Comet flew by (very disappointing), I remember watching another comet hit Jupiter (much cooler), I will always remember where I was when the Challenger exploded and when the Columbia disintegrated. For a number of years I ever worked with a man who designed, built, and sold telescopes; an eccentric who lived with his wife and 6 kids in a bus on the side of the mountain. When we weren't installing personal 8" mirrors ground by a friend who eventually moved onto to making the mirror for the Next Generation Hubble Space Telescope down in Arizona, he was smoking 2 packs a day, endlessly delaying creditors, yelling at his wife, talking endlessly about how we were all on the cusp of becoming extremely wealthy (something he also told the creditors), and praising Jesus with the local pastor who, I kid you not, believed the angels in the Bible were aliens; he too owned a telescope - a nice $10,000 affair because his church had over 5000 members and so he could afford it.
And what the hell does that have to do with Dead Souls?
Two things: 1) People are not as crazy once you get to know them and 2) There's a visual phenomena that happens because of the cones in your eye where if you look directly at a faint star it seems to disappear but if you look slightly away from it it snaps into focus nice and clear.
Let's start with point #2 first. The dead souls in Dead Souls are mostly invisible, they can't be seen because they are, well, dead. There are no dead peasants walking around and taking up space (unlike the land owners who do little more). No, the dead souls can only be seen by looking off to the side a little, to the census, to the graveyard, to people's memories. They exist just out of sight. Yet they are there and they can be quite useful to someone willing to take advantage of them, to 'put them back to work', if you will.
Of course, as we know, it's all very morbid and immoral and our hero eventually pays the price for dealing in such a corruption. Yet that's what someone who is good at corruption relies on - of remaining hidden in plain sight, to deal with everything just off to the side, to be clever to game the system to their advantage and, if one is really talented, make it seem as if you are doing the other person the real favor.
This is one of the points Gogol was trying to make.
Now let's get back to point #1 - the eccentric people and characters.
The funny thing about trying to describe something that is real is that it requires you do so with something that isn't in its place. For example, the 'poshlust' (bad taste) Gogol goes on about in Dead Souls (and whom Nabokov famously infused into his interpretation of the novel) is an untranslatable word in English but well understood in Russian, yet even Russians, when confronted with 'poshlust', would on the one hand recognize it in someone else but probably not in themselves. "Surly I have better taste that that, right?" They would say. In essence it's not even translatable to oneself no matter what language.
So Gogol invented satiric characters to inhabit 'poshlust'. Had he created realistic characters he'd also have to give a sympathetic reason for them engaging in such kitsch. In short, once you actually get to know someone, their bad taste isn't really bad taste anymore, it's their own unique taste. Yet bad taste still exists just like a star you can only see at night by not looking directly at it. The only way to see it clearly is to look off to the side a bit - in this case by looking at a wildly exaggerated character- to see it.
And what if everyone has bad taste? A universal 'poshlust'? Well, it's like trying to define 'art', it's different for everyone and doesn't really have a solid definitive. An elitist would say it's 'the fine arts', the junkyard welder would say something more urban. And they'd both be right because they will only see the bad, the 'poshlust', the corruption, in someone else and not once in themselves.
That's probably why because the way the books ends in the middle of a passionate appeal to morality, the pages are lost and it just ends. There's such futility going on because everyone is corrupt in one way or another, that you might as well buy and sell dead souls to make a living than try and get everyone to do the right thing.
Anyway, the novel is brilliant and is just as relevant today than when it was written over 150 years ago in Russian by someone who didn't even spend that much time living in Russia.
Word loving college student with a 2+ hour daily commute, who sadly had to learn to accept that reading and driving are plainly incompatible
Gogol, in his tragically uncompleted magnum opus, tells a wonderful episodic tale of a man on the prowl for souls. While the character of Chichikov is more than a little under-developed, he is not the man of interest to Gogol, the interest to him, and to use is the myriad of people that inhabit the worlds of Russia. While the may often come across as stereotyped somehow, they are no less vivid and no less delightful to watch as Chichikov attempts to gather his dead souls.
Morey does an admirable job bringing life to this admittedly dated translation. He breathes life into each of Chichikov's encounters. Sobakevich was a personal favorite, but one cannot go wrong with any of them.
The parts of the second book, while interesting, are missing so many large chunks, to my mind, unless you are looking to find the bits of inspiration that found Dostoevsky in his final, and arguably greatest work Brothers Karamazov, can be skipped without any real loss. There is a desperation to it. It was as if he realized that the first part had struck a chord and that expectation had made whatever he produced somehow perpetually unacceptable.
Gogol is a delight to read, I heartily recommend people start here for Gogol. It may be his longest world, but it wonderful and paints a wonderful, almost ethereal portrait of grand Mother Russia in the 19th century.
former nuclear scientist
This book is quite famous, and for the first six hours I can see why. Part 1 of the book follows Chichikov, a charming but suspicious man going about a region of feudal Russia purchasing the rights to dead serfs - or "dead souls." This part is a series of amusing vignettes of Chichikov's successes and frustrations staffed with caricatures of feudal Russian society, and I'm sure gave contemporaries great fun in trying to guess his motivations.
Part 2 is missing large and frequent chunks of manuscript, which the narrator will slip in without a change of tone - so I was frequently confused. "Two pages here are lost" would suddenly be inserted in the middle of a woman's dialogue, only to resume, with barely a pause, in raised voice the angry arguments of a gentleman in what is apparently a different scene. After setting the new place awhile, the author continues with the saga of Chichikov, but I had trouble keeping track of what is going on.
The translation is somewhat labored. It felt a lot like a senior thesis from a Russian literature major at, say, Wesleyan or Oberlin; imperatives are given as "do you pour the tea" instead of the vernacular "please pour the tea." I looked up the information later, and it's a public domain translation from 1842. That partly explains the verbiage. It's also pretty annoying to realize that Audible just charged me $14 for something I could read online for free. You think they could at least spring for the rights to a more modern translation.
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