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Dead Souls

Dead Souls by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol
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Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Russian writer, was first published in 1842, and is one of the most prominent works of 19th-century Russian literature. Gogol himself saw it as an “epic poem in prose”, and within the book as a “novel in verse”. Despite supposedly completing the trilogy’s second part, Gogol destroyed it shortly before his death. Although the novel ends in mid-sentence (like Sterne’s Sentimental Journey), it is usually regarded as complete in the extant form.

In Russia before the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, landowners were entitled to own serfs to farm their land. Serfs were for most purposes considered the property of the landowner, and could be bought, sold, or mortgaged against, as any other chattel. To count serfs (and people in general), the measure word “soul” was used: e.g., “six souls of serfs”. The plot of the novel relies on “dead souls” (i.e., “dead serfs”) which are still accounted for in property registers. On another level, the title refers to the “dead souls” of Gogol’s characters, all of which visualise different aspects of poshlost (an untranslatable Russian word which is perhaps best rendered as “self-satisfied inferiority”, moral and spiritual, with overtones of middle-class pretentiousness, fake significance, and philistinism).

First Page:

DEAD SOULS

By Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol

Translated by D. J. Hogarth

Introduction By John Cournos

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, born at Sorochintsky, Russia, on 31st March 1809. Obtained government post at St. Petersburg and later an appointment at the university. Lived in Rome from 1836 to 1848. Died on 21st February 1852.

PREPARER'S NOTE

The book this was typed from contains a complete Part I, and a partial Part II, as it seems only part of Part II survived the adventures described in the introduction. Where the text notes that pages are missing from the "original", this refers to the Russian original, not the translation.

All the foreign words were italicised in the original, a style not preserved here. Accents and diphthongs have also been left out.

INTRODUCTION

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... Continue reading book >>


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