Classics Club #15: Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol reaffirmed one thing for me: I really don’t like classic satires. From Candide to Gulliver’s Travels to Zuleika Dobson, they hold very little interest for me. I’ve had a bit more success with modern satires like the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett, but in general satire is not a genre I appreciate.
Dead Souls is an episodic story in which the main character Chichikov travels to various Russian estates trying to purchase “dead souls.” It’s not as creepy as it sounds. Dead souls are peasants that have died since the last census but who are still tax burdens to the landowners. Chichikov has a scheme to transfer ownership of these souls to himself, so he goes from estate to estate trying to convince the landowners to do the necessary paperwork. Each encounter with the landowners is an opportunity for Gogol to satirize Russian culture, politics, and society.
Despite my aversion to satires, I did admire Gogol’s talents as a writer. The characters were interesting, the narration was direct and vivid, and at times I was really drawn into the story. Overall, though, I couldn’t maintain interest in the book.
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
First edition Moscow, 1842
First English edition New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1886
Kindle edition Open Road Media, 2016
Print length: 130 pages