Nikolai Gogol Dead Souls (Modern Library)

ISBN 13: 9780679602651

Dead Souls (Modern Library)

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9780679602651: Dead Souls (Modern Library)

"I want to show all Russia in this novel," wrote Nikolai Gogol to Alexander Pushkin as he began writing Dead Souls in 1835. Published seven years later, Gogol's sardonic, bizarre tale revolves around Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, a mystifying swindler who travels through provincial Russia trafficking in "souls"--those serfs who, even if dead, could still be bought and sold for profit. Though Gogol never realized his full ambition for Dead Souls--it helped propel him into insanity and he burned the second part of the book--the work endures as one of the most dazzling pieces of fiction ever written.
  "Dead Souls belongs to that group of picaresque novels in which the episodic adventures of a single character open up the world," observed V. S. Pritchett. "Chichikov is a superb comic device. The originality and farce of the idea which animate him take the breath away." Vladimir Nabokov agreed: "Gogolian gusto and wealth of weird detail lift the whole thing to the level of a tremendous epic poem."
  The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foundation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with afford-
able hardbound editions of impor-
tant works of literature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-
fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring
as its emblem the running torch-
bearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inau-
gurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.
For a complete list of titles, see the inside of the jacket.  This Modern Library edition uses the translation of Bernard Guilbert Guerney that was described by Nabokov as "an extraordinarily fine piece of work."

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Review:

A socially adept newcomer fluidly inserts himself into an unnamed Russian town, conquering first the drinkers, then the dignitaries. All find him amiable, estimable, agreeable. But what exactly is Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov up to?--something that will soon throw the town "into utter perplexity."

After more than a week of entertainment and "passing the time, as they say, very pleasantly," he gets down to business--heading off to call on some landowners. More pleasantries ensue before Chichikov reveals his bizarre plan. He'd like to buy the souls of peasants who have died since the last census. The first landowner looks carefully to see if he's mad, but spots no outward signs. In fact, the scheme is innovative but by no means bonkers. Even though Chichikov will be taxed on the supposed serfs, he will be able to count them as his property and gain the reputation of a gentleman owner. His first victim is happy to give up his souls for free--less tax burden for him. The second, however, knows Chichikov must be up to something, and the third has his servants rough him up. Nonetheless, he prospers.

Dead Souls is a feverish anatomy of Russian society (the book was first published in 1842) and human wiles. Its author tosses off thousands of sublime epigrams--including, "However stupid a fool's words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man," and is equally adept at yearning satire: "Where is he," Gogol interrupts the action, "who, in the native tongue of our Russian soul, could speak to us this all-powerful word: forward? who, knowing all the forces and qualities, and all the depths of our nature, could, by one magic gesture, point the Russian man towards a lofty life?" Flannery O'Connor, another writer of dark genius, declared Gogol "necessary along with the light." Though he was hardly the first to envision property as theft, his blend of comic, fantastic moralism is sui generis.--Kerry Fried

From the Back Cover:


The Modern Library of the World's
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"Where else has one met such a group of brawling men, all of them straining, pleading, expostulating--bellowing to be released from the printed page? In Homer, in Shakespeare, in Rabelais, but not in many other places. Here are characters who veritably fly at the reader's throat."


--Clifford Odets

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Nikolai Gogol, Bernard Guilbert Guerney (Translator)
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