Dead Souls

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Dead Souls

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Jun 5, 2008, 10:30 pm

I'm reading Gogol right now and am interested in hearing what others have to say about Dead Souls. Also, does anyone have sources of good blogs, literary criticism, etc?.

Jun 6, 2008, 12:17 am

One of my favorite books. Nabokov had a lot to say about it, and his Lectures on Russian Literature is worth picking up for his comments on Gogol.

For now, here is a NYT article on Nabokov and Dead Souls.

Jun 6, 2008, 7:47 am

I read Dead Souls very recently and enjoyed it, apart from a bit of a boring part about two thirds of the way through. Much of the dialogue with Chichikov trying to persuade the landowners to part with their dead serfs was very humorous, though of course a tragic comment on the attitude towards serfs at the time.

If someone brand new to 19th century Russian literature asked me for a starter recommendation, I would propose this and Tolstoy's short stories as tasters.

Jun 11, 2008, 7:14 am

I am a huge fan of Gogol. I am not a particular fan of Dead Souls, and I know I am not alone after having talks with others on this topic. It's a wonderful book, but in my opinion is one of the lesser works of Gogol.

Jun 12, 2008, 9:19 pm


I'm fairly new to classics in general and Russian Lit in particular (I've read some Tolstoy and Dostoevsky). Anywhoo, what other works of Gogol can you recommend? My TBR pile is hovering around 200, but I'll ask anyway!

Jun 19, 2008, 8:52 am

Dear Sandydog1,
Thanks for asking. Unfortunately perhaps most of Gogol's work is short stories. I'd recommend reading as many of these as you can. Taras Bulba in my mind is indispensable, I am sure others would recommend other stories. One good long book with multiple stories would be good.

Jun 25, 2008, 10:09 pm

I just finished Dead Souls. It was ok, but clearly unfinished.

I enjoyed the background on the protagonist, provided at the end of the book.

Thanks so much for the suggestions.

Out 1, 2008, 1:29 pm

Dead Souls is hilarious and I love it. It's one of the best and funniest novels I've ever read, especially towards the end. Also, I somewhat disagree that it's "clearly unfinished..." for me the book peaked when Chichikov was just about to lose it all, started repenting, but when he got off the hook he just went back to business as usual (the scene with him putting his suit back on and looking in the mirror at himself). What an awesome book.

Out 1, 2008, 1:30 pm

Wait, I should recommend some other Gogol, shouldn't I?

Well, see if you can pick up a collection of his short stories. The Nose and The Overcoat are his strongest, in my opinion, and in that order.

Out 2, 2008, 5:42 pm

I can second #9 : I read The Nose and The Overcoat a few years ago and still think about them from time to time. This mostly means I'm still digesting the weirdness and the surprise (which is a good thing!) I read Dead Souls more recently, during my last Great Russians period, but even though I liked it it didn't grip me as much as I had expected. I read Lermontov's A hero of our time after that, which I liked more.

Nov 9, 2008, 3:41 pm

I really enjoyed dead souls, though there were sections that lost my interest. I've heard good things about the nose and so will try and read that when my TBR pile is smaller:)

Nov 9, 2008, 5:08 pm

11 - The Nose is very good. I liked the first part of Dead Souls very much, but the second part not so much...

Maio 13, 2009, 1:32 pm

Dead Souls is nice, but as far as Gogol goes, inferior. It is very funny in parts, but he was at his best writing very short pieces, not novels. His style is so florid and decorous it just doesn't work for anything over five thousand words. I recommend the short stories, and his masterpiece of a play, Revizor.

His earlier works demonstrate remarkable descriptive powers (Taras Bulba, The Sorcerer) but don't hold a candle to his later output.

Maio 13, 2009, 5:50 pm

Anyone familiar with the Shostkavich opera of "The Nose"? The Met's putting it on next season. I'd probably go, and will try to read the story first, if I can. Also any strong opinions about Gogol translators?

Maio 26, 2010, 8:41 pm

Bernard Gilbert Guerney translated Dead Souls, and called it Chichikov's Journey. It was recommended to me by someone who knew Russian. I liked the translation, but not really better than the others.

Nabokov wrote a wonderful short biography of Gogol. It is worth looking for.

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated some of the stories: some Ukrainian tales, and some of the city tales like the overcoat and the nose. It is called collected stories but it is not the complete set of stories. There is a paperback set of those in two volumes.

Set 13, 2010, 3:49 am

Dead Souls stumbles around the point where the towns people turn against Chichikov. After we understand the basic premise of the book, at least in translation, the first few chapters suffice to give us the T-shirt.

For me, his story "Ivan Shponka and his Aunt" is among the best. It throws us off balance from the beginning and we never regain it. The conceit of the unfinished story adds to its appeal, as does the unreliable narrator. It is sublimely humorous without his usual mordant strain.

Set 13, 2010, 4:53 pm

Taras Bulba is my favorite of his short stories, although there are several that I could recommend. I'll mention a couple that haven't been mentioned yet, The Diary of a Madman is quite entertaining and one I just read recently, The Squabble, was really fun. I agree with those that say Dead Souls wasn't his greatest work, there were parts of it I really loved and enjoyed but there were also sections where I just kind of zoned out, very uneven and then not much of a pay off at the end, you know, being incomplete and all.

Set 16, 2010, 11:23 am

#9> "The Nose and The Overcoat are his strongest, in my opinion, and in that order."

Seconded with enthusiasm.

Set 17, 2016, 10:36 am

"Nabokov wrote a wonderful short biography of Gogol. It is worth looking for."

Yes indeed: Nikolai Gogol. Nabokov single-handedly created the critical climate in which Gogol could be appreciated properly in the English-speaking world (ironically, more so than in the Russian world, which was in thrall to the idiotic "realist" view of Gogol promoted by Belinsky and his successors).

"Dead Souls is nice, but as far as Gogol goes, inferior." "Dead Souls stumbles..."

Dead Souls does not stumble, and it is not in any sense inferior! People who feel that way do not understand what they are reading (hint: it is *not* a discussion of serfdom and Russian society!), and should read the Nabokov bio cited above. It is one of the great novels of all time.

"Taras Bulba in my mind is indispensable" "Taras Bulba is my favorite of his short stories"

Not this again! See my comments in this thread:
(Presumably LisaStens read an abridged version, since the original is far too long to be described as a "short story.")

Set 18, 2016, 12:58 pm

Agree that the Nabokov book is excellent, as is Dead Souls - re-read it fairly recently and it has to be one of my favourite Russian books. Still not going to read Taras Bulba though..... :)

Mar 5, 2019, 2:31 pm

I recommend the 2 volume set of The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol by University of Chicago Press, 1985

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