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Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Nikolai Gogol , Robert A. Maguire
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 July 2004 Penguin Classics

Nikolai Gogol's 'epic poem in prose', Dead Souls is a damning indictment of a corrupt society, translated from the Russian with an introduction and notes by Robert A. Maguire in Penguin Classics.

Chichikov, a mysterious stranger, arrives in the provincial town of 'N', visiting a succession of landowners and making 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 'dead souls' as collateral to re-invent himself as a aristocrat. In this ebullient picaresque masterpiece, 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 (1842), Russia's first major novel, is one of the most unusual works of nineteenth-century fiction and a devastating satire on social hypocrisy.

In his introduction, Robert A. Maguire discusses Gogol's life and literary career, his depiction of Russian society, and the language and narrative techniques employed in Dead Souls. This edition also includes a chronology, further reading, appendices, a glossary, map and notes.

Nikolai Gogol (1809-52) was born in the Ukraine. His experience of St Petersburg life informed a savagely satirical play, The Government Inspector, and a series of brilliant short stories including Nevsky Prospekt and Diary of a Madman. For over a decade, Gogol laboured on his comic epic Dead Souls- before renouncing literature and burning parts of the manuscript shortly before he died.

If you enjoyed Dead Souls, you might like Fyodor Dostoyevsksy's The Brothers Karamazov, also available in Penguin Classics.

'Gogol was a strange creature, but then genius is always strange'

Vladimir Nabokov

'I admire the way in which Maguire has kept his own brilliantly variegated vocabulary away from 20th-century phrases, without ever looking parodic or antiquarian'

A.S. Byatt, author of Possession

Frequently Bought Together

Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) + Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics) + A Hero of Our Time (Penguin Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (29 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140448071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140448078
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 36,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Gogol was a strange creature, but then genius is always strange. (Vladimir Nabokov)"

About the Author

Nikolai Gogol (1809-52) was born in the Ukraine and left for St Peterburg at the age of 19 where he published a collection of short stories and for a short time held the post of professor of history at the university. Gogol's experience of life in St Petersburg informed his savagely satirical play, The Government Inspector, and a series of brilliant short stories including Nevsky Prospekt and Notes of a Madman. From 1836 to 48, Gogol lived abroad, mainly in Rome, where he was working on his comic epic Dead Souls - a work he wrestled with for the rest of his life before renouncing literature and burning parts of the manuscript shortly before he died.

Robert A Maguire is Professor and Head of Department at Columbia University. He is the prize-winning translator of Petersburg by Andrei Bely (Indiana UP, 1979) and several contemporary Polish poets, author of Exploring Gogol (1996) and editor of Gogol from the Twentieth Century (1995). He has received a Ford Foundation Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and several awards for his service to his field of study and his published works.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Through the gate of a hostelry in a provincial capital that will remain nameless rolled a small, rather handsome britska on springs, of the kind in which bachelors travel: retired lieutenant-colonels, staff-captains,1 landowners possessing a hundred or so peasant souls - in a word, all those who are known as gentlemen of the middling sort. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
By Colin C
This is a deservedly famous book by a great but troubled author. 'Dead Souls' was in fact just the first novel in a planned trilogy, as Gogol went mad and died, having destroyed most of part two, before completing his grand plan.
What's left is a bizarre, unique and often amusing story about a man travelling through provincial Tsarist Russia, buying dead souls (ie serfs who had died but were still listed as alive), as part of a large scale con. The characters he encounters on his way are very memorable and brilliantly drawn, and the style teeters on the edge of absurdity without ever quite toppling over. Also included are tantalising fragments of the beginning of book two, but this novel stands on its own, and has the most wonderful, magical ending.
'Dead Souls' is well worth a read as it is an accessible classic of Russian literature without the heavy, doom laden psychology of Dostoyevsky or the vast panorama and cast of characters employed by Tolstoy. You will never read anything else like this one.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragically unfinished 27 Jun 2008
Gogol toppled into madness and died before he could finish this novel, and only the first book of the three is fully completed. The second he purportedly completed, before destroying in a moment of religious fanaticism. Consequently there is only about a third of what he apparently composed here, and a tiny fraction of his proposed third part.
I've long been a fan of Russian literature, and have recently been plodding through Lermontov and Turgenev, who are made to seem pale beside Gogol, although they are undoubtedly brilliant authors. 'Dead Souls' is more comic than many a Russian novel, and sits more in line with Dostoevsky in his more existential themes (there are big parallels with Kafka thematically too). I won't cover the plot of the novel here (others have already done that), but simply recommend this as one of the essential works of Russian literature. Tragically, one can only imagine how phenomenal the completed version would have been.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 31 Dec 2009
If you enjoy the haphazard chaos, tenuos plot-lines, general over-dramatisation and bizarre characters that make Russian literature so wonderful you will love this book. I think, along with Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, that it is the best book I have ever read. The fact that the book doesn't even end conclusively, coincident with Gogol's descent into madness, makes it an even more enjoyable read strangely. His inability to harness the story as it proceeds, progressively more out of control, is like nothing I have ever read previously.
Nonetheless for those who like tight plot-lines and tidy conclusions this may not appeal.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"Dead souls" (1842) is a book written by an important Russian author, Nikolai Gogol, that criticizes the Russian society of his time by means of a well-told satire.

The main character of "Dead souls" is Chichikov, a man that wants to be rich, and turns into a con man in order to achieve that objective. His stratagem is simple, yet strange: he will buy "dead souls" from landowners, and then mortage them in order to earn a lot of money. That was possible because in pre 1861 Russia, landowners owned serfs ("souls") that helped to farm the land, and that could be bought, sold or mortgaged whenever the owners felt the need to do so. The "dead souls" were serfs that had already died, but that were still listed as living in property registers.

Will Chichikov be able to buy "dead souls" at a low price and then mortgage them, turning into a rich landowner? Or will his proposal seem so outlandish to others that he won't be able to convince them that he is not joking? You will find answers to those questions in this book, along with beautiful (albeit extremely long) descriptions of the Russian scenery.

All in all, I can say that I liked this book, even though some parts of the manuscript are missing, and you go from the middle of the story to the last chapter in a rush, without knowing exactly what happened. If you know that will happen (I didn't), and still want to read "Dead souls", go ahead. At 3.5 stars, it is worth your time :)

Belen Alcat
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a tale like no other, told in a funny and witty manner. It tells of a Russian man by the name of Chichikov (referred to by Gogol as "our hero"), who travels from place to place in Russia on the hunt of 'dead souls', meaning peasants who are dead but still on the census list. Superficially it is about Chichikov wanting to sell these and make a killing through this con, but there is so much hidden beneath this.

This book is ultimately about the diversity of human character and nature. As Chichikov journeys from estate to estate meeting a wide array of different people, you will come across the overwhelmingly eccentric, to the righteous and honest, to the lawless and deceiving. I like the way that Gogol finds it necessary to explain the background of many of the characters in some detail, in order for us to understand them better. I also like the way that he goes off on a tangent whenever he sees fit, and philosophizes about human nature and its absurdities.

There is much to learn about Russian culture of the time when it was set (19th century?), but there is also a huge amount which can be related to the way that we are today across the world. I found 'Dead Souls' to be a subtle masterpiece, that although was not a gripping book that could not be put down, was a pleasure to read.

** Note: I read the David Magarshack 60s translation which may have differed slightly to this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amusing insight!
Bought for an acquaintance who is reading Russian literature. Unusual and quirky insight into Tsarist society. First encountered due to recommendation in Waterston's.
Published 1 month ago by Pam
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Excellent book. Easy to read. Witty. Would normally be put off by Russian authors but this book has definitely encouraged me to read more.
Published 2 months ago by joan i young
3.0 out of 5 stars Partially Successful
So this Chichikov, disgraced ex-customs official, hits on a plan to change his fortunes: cheaply buy up the 'dead souls' of wealthy landowners to use as collateral for a mortgage. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Woolco
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Tale
Having read numerous authors of Russian literature, I was expecting doom and gloom regarding the title. But was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a bit of a comedy. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Dean Carroll
5.0 out of 5 stars ...but a vivid, lively depiction of 19th Century Russian life.
Nikolai Gogol published "Dead Souls" in 1842. The novel is a rather sardonic portrait of the middle, and upper middle classes, primarily in the Russian countryside. Read more
Published on 28 April 2011 by John P. Jones III
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique
This is not a "fresh" review - I read it over a year ago.

Gogol - this book - is unique. There is no way to describe it, it is impossible to qualify, it is different to... Read more
Published on 23 Feb 2011 by Knut
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Great Rusian Novel?
Please note: this book is in 2 parts and the rating is for Part I only.

DS recounts the escapades of the rogue Chichikov. Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2009 by demola
4.0 out of 5 stars Pre emancipation novel
Over the past year I have read many books from Russian authors, but Dead Souls is the first I have read from before the emancipation of the serfs in 1860s. Read more
Published on 19 Mar 2009 by I. M. Pryce
1.0 out of 5 stars Awfull!
I know this is a classic. And I appreciate that it is a good look into/critique of Russian society in Gogol's day... Read more
Published on 6 Sep 2007 by Grand Dizer
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