Book Review | Dead Souls by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol

Birth: April 1, 1809, Velyki Sorochyntsi, Ukraine

Death: March 4, 1852, Moscow, Russia

Short Biography

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was born on March 31, 1809 in the village of Soroshinzy, near Poltova in Ukraine. He is the child of a family of middle land owners. Gogol's father died when he was ten years old. He saw the first part of his education in Paltova. He started to be curious about literature when he was in high school in Neshin.

Gogol was considering becoming a civil servant, so he went to Saint Petersburg in 1820. He worked for a while in one of the government departments. With the publication of his first poem "Hans Küchelgarten" in 1829, his name began to be mentioned in literary circles. He worked as an associate professor of medieval history at the University of Petersburg between 1834 and 1835. In 1835 he left civil service and started writing only.

In 1836, his comedy "Revizor", which made fun of the Russian bureaucracy, was staged. Although his game was very popular, it caused the reverse reaction of the bureaucrat section of Petersburg. In this most productive period, Gogol was depressed and left his country after 1836 and went to Italy, France and Switzerland. He returned to his country in 1848.

"Dead Souls", completed by Gogol in 1842, gives a transparent view of daily life in Russia and draws feudal Russia as a country that has collapsed. He puts hardworking and freedom-loving Russian people in front of the landowners, civil servants and the protagonist of the work, trader Chichikov, drawn with a local eye. Here, the author's testimony of simple people and their endless energies caused the novel to be internationally recognized and respected. He began writing the second part of the work to override intense criticism, but burned out his drafts because he didn't like it. In 1848 he became a pilgrim in Jerusalem.

After returning to Ukraine, Gogol burned the second volume of the Dead Souls, which he wrote from the beginning with the pressure of reactionary clergy of the religious environment he took refuge.

The story of the Ukrainian people, "The Conqueror", which tells the war of freedom against Polish foreign domination, is also the first sign that Gogol has escaped from romance and turned to realistic literature.


Book Review

When I first started reading the book, I thought I wouldn't be able to see the end because first 50 pages are completely descriptions. I read it in 14 days, but I can say that I really enjoyed reading the following pages (after the first 50 pages) of the novel.

I love the fact that one of Russia's first real novels is, more than anything else, truly funny. Dead Souls, despite its grim title, is actually a send up of Russian society of the 1840's, just before serfdom was abolished.

And in Gogol's time, it wasn't normal that a book to contains unforgettably scurrilous and literally bad characters. Gogol is also way ahead of his time in his narration style, which takes on a cinematic quality towards the end of Part I. This is what makes this novel one of the best of the russian classics.

Originally intended as a novel in three parts in the style of Dante's "Divine Comedy", only the first part was ever published in what is believed to be its entirety (more or less). Fragments of the second part are published in this edition. Apparently Gogol had 'finished' the second installment, but destroyed it (perhaps over issues with censors), though a few chapters remain which can give readers a glimpse of what he intended to do in volumes 2 and 3.

“Even a stone has its uses, and man who is the most intelligent of all creatures must be of some use, hasn't he?” /Gogol

And also at the time of writing this book, Gogol was struggling with a mental illness that could not be diagnosed. I think we don't need any other reason than this interesting writing story of the book to read Dead Souls.


Quotes From The Book

“Man is such a wondrous being that it is never possible to count up all his merits at once. The more you study him, the more new particulars appear, and their description would be endless.” /Gogol
“What is stronger in us — passion or habit? Or are all the violent impulses, all the whirl of our desires and turbulent passions, only the consequence of our ardent age, and is it only through youth that they seem deep and shattering?” /Gogol
“But youth has a future. The closer he came to graduation, the more his heart beat. He said to himself: “This is still not life, this is only the preparation for life.” /Gogol
“ much savage coarseness is concealed in refined, cultivated manners...” /Gogol
“A word aptly uttered or written cannot be cut away by an axe.” /Gogol

“But wise is the man who disdains no character, but with searching glance explores him to the root and cause of all.” /Gogol
“There are occasions when a woman, no matter how weak and impotent in character she may be in comparison with a man, will yet suddenly become not only harder than any man, but even harder than anything and everything in the world.” /Gogol
“Let me warn you, if you start chasing after views, you'll be left without bread and without views.” /Gogol
“You can't imagine how stupid the whole world has grown nowadays. The things these scribblers write!” /Gogol
“Always think of what is useful and not what is beautiful. Beauty will come of its own accord.” /Gogol

“I am fated to journey hand in hand with my strange heroes and to survey the surging immensity of life, to survey it through the laughter that all can see and through the tears unseen and unknown by anyone.” /Gogol
“I am who I am and that's who I am” /Gogol
“...nothing could be more pleasant than to live in solitude, enjoy the spectacle of nature, and occasionally read some book...” /Gogol
“But nothing is lasting in this world. Even joy begins to fade after only one minute. Two minutes later, and it is weaker still, until finally it is swallowed up in our everyday, prosaic state of mind, just as a ripple made by a pebble gradually merges with the smooth surface of the water.” /Gogol
“However stupid a fool's words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man.” /Gogol

“We have the marvelous gift of making everything insignificant.” /Gogol
“The current generation now sees everything clearly, it marvels at the errors, it laughs at the folly of its ancestors, not seeing that this chronicle is all overscored by divine fire, that every letter of it cries out, that from everywhere the piercing finger is pointed at it, at this current generation; but the current generation laughs and presumptuously, proudly begins a series of new errors, at which their descendants will also laugh afterwards.” /Gogol
“Keep not money, but keep good people's company.” /Gogol
“Do we ever get what we really want? Do we ever achieve what our powers have ostensibly equipped us for? No: everything works by contraries.” /Gogol
“Everything resembles the truth, everything can happen to a man.” /Gogol

“I saw that I’d get nowhere on the straight path, and that to go crookedly was straighter.” /Gogol
“Everything resembles the truth, everything can happen to a man.” /Gogol
“But there is nothing enduring in the world, and therefore even joy in the second minute is already not as acute as in the first; in the third minute it becomes still weaker and finally merges unnoticeably with the usual condition of the soul, as a circle on the water, caused by the fall of a pebble, finally merges with the smooth surface.” /Gogol
“This world is full of the most outrageous nonsense. Sometimes things happen which you would hardly think possible.” /Gogol
“This was not the old Chichikov. This was some wreckage of the old Chichikov. The inner state of his soul might be compared to a demolished building, which has been demolished so that from it a new one could be built; but the new one has not been started yet, because the infinitive plan has not yet come from the architect and the workers are left in perplexity.” /Gogol

“...a quiet room with cockroaches peeping out like prunes from every corner...” /Gogol
“Like all of us sinners, General Betrishchev was endowed with many virtues and many defects. Both the one and the other were scattered through him in a sort of picturesque disorder. Self-sacrifice, magnanimity in decisive moments, courage, intelligence--and with all that, a generous mixture of self-love, ambition, vanity, petty personal ticklishness, and a good many of those things which a man simply cannot do without.” /Gogol
“It is well-known that there are many faces in the world over the finishing of which nature did not take much trouble, did not employ any fine tools such as files, gimlets, and so on, but simply hacked them out with round strokes: one chop-a nose appears; another chop-lips appear; eyes are scooped out with a big drill; and she lets it go into the world rough-hewn, saing: "ALIVE!” /Gogol
“Also, though not over-elderly, he was not over-young.” /Gogol
“And so the money which to some extent may have saved the situation is spent on various means for bringing about self oblivion” /Gogol

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