Dead Souls, Part III

Earlier this afternoon, I finished reading my first Russian novel. Hurrah! I made it! Granted, it was hardly more than a novella, but I still feel proud of my accomplishment. It was a near thing. I started reading The Prestige Monday night and I’ve had a hard time putting that one down. (More on The Prestige later.)

So, now that I’ve read Dead Souls, I presumable know what it’s about, right? Well, I have to say that there really wasn’t much plot. Protagonist enters town, charms inhabitants, buys or is gifted with the ownership rights to deceased serfs, things go pear-shaped, and the protagonist leaves town while the narrator waxes rhapsodical about Russia. And according to the Wikipedia article on this book, it’s an unfinished novel–so who knows how long this sucker was going to go on.

I really think that this book is more a study of characters and a gentle satire. Gogol seems have a lot more fun creating odd characters for the purpose of poling fun at the Russian aristocracy than he does telling a story. What I learned from Gogol’s perspective of that group was that many of them were extremely social creatures who were inordinately fond of gossip, not especially intelligent or possessed of much common sense, and were really quite fickle. Like I said before, no one comes off well in this book, not even the protagonist.

The Wikipedia article cited above, and the notes in the edition of Dead Souls that I had, also mention that this isn’t a traditional novel. It’s really more of a poem that’s written in prose. And I could really see this by the end of the book when the narrator appears to totally lose control and starts describing the Russian country side as Chichikov, the “hero,” flees town. The narrator goes on, at length, about his strange relationship with Russia. It’s full of poor people, there’s not much to recommend it (according to the narrator), and yet he loves the country. It’s got its hooks into him and is not letting go. Maybe that’s what this whole story is about. The world is full of imperfect, often mean, poor, or silly people, and yet, we enjoy being in it. (Though, it was a bit of a struggle, that last chapter and a half.)

What I really enjoyed about the book was the funny little comments that peppered the story, the little lines that made me smirk or chuckle as I read them. It was almost like reading Wilde, though the funnies didn’t come as often, and Gogol has a sharper and weirder sense of humor.

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