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In provincial nineteenth century Russia, poor working people are considered the property of the landowners on whose farms they work. This human property—the serfs—are known as "souls" in the harsh system, and landowners must pay taxes on the souls that they own. The trouble for landowners comes in the form of "dead souls," or serfs whose deaths have not yet been recorded in the census. Although dead, these souls cost just as much in taxes as any others. In Gogol's amusing tale, a smart but poor young man, Chichikov, hatches a grim scheme to build his fortune through "dead souls," buying them off of the landowners in order to fool the local town into thinking he is a man of considerable property. He cajoles the local landowners into selling him their "dead souls," going from one place to another until he has collected a vast number, seeming to have met his goal. In Gogol's world of cruel satire, however, a sly hero like Chichikov can never outsmart the brute force of a small town's distrust. This scheming young man, thinking he has fooled his simpler-minded counterparts, is in for a big surprise when he returns "victorious" to town, bragging of the "souls" he has accumulated and expecting a hero's welcome.
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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.
Reader, whosoever or wheresoever you be, and whatsoever be your ...
Reviewed by cuiblemorgan on Sep 23, 2010
Finished the Unfinished
Finished this "unfinished" Russian classic even if the author didn't. The nature of the book, Chichikov travels the 1800s Russian countryside "buying" ownership of dead serfs and meeting a wide assortment of people, lent itself well to reading through DailyLit.com Not exactly a road-trip book but Chichikov does travel and offers insights: "I am travelling on my own account as well, in that, in addition to possible benefit to my health, I desire to see the world and the whirligig of humanity, which constitute, to so speak, a living book, a second course of education."
Reviewed by ODYSSEYA on Jul 1, 2009
one of the most unusual works of nineteenth-century fiction
A stranger arrives in a Russian backwater community with a bizarre proposition for the local landowners: cash for their "dead souls."
"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 re-invent himself as a gentleman. In this ebullient 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."
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Ratings for 'Dead Souls' by Gogol, Nikolai