Dead Souls, Part II

Wierdly, the longer I continue my work towards my MLS, the more I realize that most concepts they we think are new to this century are actually not so new. The Ptolemies, understanding that knowledge is power, held a monopoly on scholarship at the Library of Alexandria. Alexander Pope felt the frustrations of being a successful author by being hounded by his fans and budding writers who wanted his opinions. Laurence Sterne wrote a postmodernist novel that was published in parts between 1759 and 1769.

And, apparently, Nikolai Gogol was doing stunning work breaking the “fourth wall.” Other writers of the period did this, by directly addressing the reader, but in every chapter of Dead Souls, Gogol directly addresses the reader and/or draws the reader’s attention to the fact that he, the narrator, is actively composing the novel. Here’s an example from page 154 of 1996 Yale edition:

The ladies of the town of N— were…no, I simply can’t do it, I really do feel a certain timidity. The most remarkable thing about the ladies of the town of N— was…Why, it’s actually odd, my quill absolutely refuses to rise, just as if it were loaded with lead or something.

It almost feels like you’re in the room with him as he writes this novel. And this book was published in 1842, long before postmodernism got going or plays got experimental. And you certainly don’t see this kind of writing, the “Dear reader” writing, much anymore. (It’s kind of strange that I like this kind of playing around with literature, and I don’t much care for Mark Danielewski’s experiments. (See previous post.))

I’ve encountered a lot of narrators, and only a few of them stand out in my mind as attempting to draw the reader into the story as much. The other that sticks out is the narrator of Gulliver’s Travels, a snarky narrator who like to point out Gulliver’s cluelessness or his Eurocentrism.

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