Being a huge admirer of Russian Literature, from mid 19th century classics to contemporary authors, I was quite surprised when I realized I haven’t dedicated to it a single post since starting my blog. Beginning with Gogol today, I will correct this mistake and I will try to keep you updated about all the amazing Russian novels I have read.
Nikolay Gogol, one of the most mystic and enigmatic Russian authors, was born in the beginning of the 19th century in the family of small landowners. The eminent poet Alexander Pushkin introduced him to the literature elite in Saint Petersburg. Gogol’s work is characterized by satirical mockery of the serfdom, absurd bureaucracy, and corrupted Russian society in the 19th century. An acknowledged genius, the author denounces the stupidity, greed, triteness, and narrowness of the typical clerk or landowner.
Dead Souls was intended as a trilogy, similar to Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, several years before his death, Gogol falls into a depression and mystic crisis and destroys the manuscripts, depriving the generations to come of yet another clever and cynical denunciation of human weaknesses and flaws.
In Dead Souls Chichikov arrives in a small town with a rather unusual purpose – he wants to buy dead peasants from the local serfs. Fraud, charlatan, or the pure devil, Chichikov encounters several typical Russian serfs, whose characters Gogol uses to criticize the degradation of the contemporary society. From the naive bootlicker Manilov, through the gambler and alcoholic Nozdriov, the greedy and cunning Sobakevich to the typical scrooge Plushkin ( I finally understood the origin of the popular saying “Pushkin” for a person, who keeps all kinds of useless possessions), Gogol creates an extensive and grim gallery of human flaws and imperfections. Of course, Chichikov’s strange business is intended to benefit only himself, as the reader understands by the end of the novel. The character of Chichikov encompasses all that Gogol fights against: a clever, cunning, and corrupted hustler, ready to do anything for money, fame, and position in society.
Gogol’s works are certainly not an easy morsel for every reader. The story is not that important; instead the author focuses on human values (or the lack of those), perceptions, actions, and motives. If you do not enjoy extensive descriptions and deviations, you might be bored or uninterested. However, Gogol’s works are an essential tool to understanding the reality in 19th century Russian, the corruption and degradation of morality, honesty, and integrity. In that sense the “dead souls” are the serfs and clerks, whose characters the author ridicules and denounces throughout the novel. These men lack any virtues worth of respect; they are submerged in their simple life, where the norms of behavior are dictated by self interest, greed, deceit, and fraud. In addition, the author possess a rich fantasy and inimitable irony, which makes his comic novels worth reading and a vital part of your home library.
Interesting trivia about Nikolay Gogol: rumor has it that when his grave was opened by his heirs, the author was found lying on his belly. Several years before his death Gogol falls into numerous conditions between life and death and some believe he was mistakenly buried alive. Whether or not this is true, he remains one of the strangest and most mystic Russian authors.