Dead Souls

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Dead Souls
by Nikolai Gogol, translated by C. J. Hogarth
Translated by C. J. Hogarth, text provided by Project Gutenberg.

Dead Souls is a satirical novel by the Russian author Nikolai Gogol. The first sections were published in 1842. It was intended to form a trilogy, but only the first two parts were ever finished. Referred by its author as an "epic poem in prose", and within the book as a "novel in verse", the plot of the story is suggested to Gogol by Pushkin. Despite having supposedly completed the trilogy's last portions, Gogol was urged by a religious fanatic to burn it. Consequently though, the novel is usually regarded as complete in the extant form, though it ends in mid-sentence.

— Excerpted from Dead Souls on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.


The book this was typed from contains a complete Part I, and a partial Part II, as it seems only part of Part II survived the adventures described in the introduction. Where the text notes that pages are missing from the "original", this refers to the Russian original, not the translation.

All the foreign words were italicised in the original, a style not preserved here. Accents and diphthongs have also been left out.

(John Bickers)


Dead Souls, first published in 1842, is the great prose classic of Russia. That amazing institution, "the Russian novel," not only began its career with this unfinished masterpiece by Nikolai Vasil'evich Gogol, but practically all the Russian masterpieces that have come since have grown out of it, like the limbs of a single tree. Dostoieffsky goes so far as to bestow this tribute upon an earlier work by the same author, a short story entitled The Cloak; this idea has been wittily expressed by another compatriot, who says: "We have all issued out of Gogol's Cloak."

Dead Souls, which bears the word "Poem" upon the title page of the original, has been generally compared to Don Quixote and to the Pickwick Papers, while E. M. Vogue places its author somewhere between Cervantes and Le Sage. However considerable the influences of Cervantes and Dickens may have been--the first in the matter of structure, the other in background, humour, and detail of characterisation--the predominating and distinguishing quality of the work is undeniably something foreign to both and quite peculiar to itself; something which, for want of a better term, might be called the quality of the Russian soul. The English reader familiar with the works of Dostoieffsky, Turgenev, and Tolstoi, need hardly be told what this implies; it might be defined in the words of the French critic just named as "a tendency to pity." One might indeed go further and say that it implies a certain tolerance of one's characters even though they be, in the conventional sense, knaves, products, as the case might be, of conditions or circumstance, which after all is the thing to be criticised and not the man. But pity and tolerance are rare in satire, even in clash with it, producing in the result a deep sense of tragic humour. It is this that makes of Dead Souls a unique work, peculiarly Gogolian, peculiarly Russian, and distinct from its author's Spanish and English masters.

Still more profound are the contradictions to be seen in the author's personal character; and unfortunately they prevented him from completing his work. The trouble is that he made his art out of life, and when in his final years he carried his struggle, as Tolstoi did later, back into life, he repented of all he had written, and in the frenzy of a wakeful night burned all his manuscripts, including the second part of Dead Souls, only fragments of which were saved. There was yet a third part to be written. Indeed, the second part had been written and burned twice. Accounts differ as to why he had burned it finally. Religious remorse, fury at adverse criticism, and despair at not reaching ideal perfection are among the reasons given. Again it is said that he had destroyed the manuscript with the others inadvertently.

The poet Pushkin, who said of Gogol that "behind his laughter you feel the unseen tears," was his chief friend and inspirer. It was he who suggested the plot of Dead Souls as well as the plot of the earlier work The Revisor, which is almost the only comedy in Russian. The importance of both is their introduction of the social element in Russian literature, as Prince Kropotkin points out. Both hold up the mirror to Russian officialdom and the effects it has produced on the national character. The plot of Dead Souls is simple enough, and is said to have been suggested by an actual episode.

It was the day of serfdom in Russia, and a man's standing was often judged by the numbers of "souls" he possessed. There was a periodical census of serfs, say once every ten or twenty years. This being the case, an owner had to pay a tax on every "soul" registered at the last census, though some of the serfs might have died in the meantime. Nevertheless, the system had its material advantages, inasmuch as an owner might borrow money from a bank on the "dead souls" no less than on the living ones. The plan of Chichikov, Gogol's hero-villain, was therefore to make a journey through Russia and buy up the "dead souls," at reduced rates of course, saving their owners the government tax, and acquiring for himself a list of fictitious serfs, which he meant to mortgage to a bank for a considerable sum. With this money he would buy an estate and some real life serfs, and make the beginning of a fortune.

Obviously, this plot, which is really no plot at all but merely a ruse to enable Chichikov to go across Russia in a troika, with Selifan the coachman as a sort of Russian Sancho Panza, gives Gogol a magnificent opportunity to reveal his genius as a painter of Russian panorama, peopled with characteristic native types commonplace enough but drawn in comic relief. "The comic," explained the author yet at the beginning of his career, "is hidden everywhere, only living in the midst of it we are not conscious of it; but if the artist brings it into his art, on the stage say, we shall roll about with laughter and only wonder we did not notice it before." But the comic in Dead Souls is merely external. Let us see how Pushkin, who loved to laugh, regarded the work. As Gogol read it aloud to him from the manuscript the poet grew more and more gloomy and at last cried out: "God! What a sad country Russia is!" And later he said of it: "Gogol invents nothing; it is the simple truth, the terrible truth."

The work on one hand was received as nothing less than an exposure of all Russia--what would foreigners think of it? The liberal elements, however, the critical Belinsky among them, welcomed it as a revelation, as an omen of a freer future. Gogol, who had meant to do a service to Russia and not to heap ridicule upon her, took the criticisms of the Slavophiles to heart; and he palliated his critics by promising to bring about in the succeeding parts of his novel the redemption of Chichikov and the other "knaves and blockheads." But the "Westerner" Belinsky and others of the liberal camp were mistrustful. It was about this time (1847) that Gogol published his Correspondence with Friends, and aroused a literary controversy that is alive to this day. Tolstoi is to be found among his apologists.

Opinions as to the actual significance of Gogol's masterpiece differ. Some consider the author a realist who has drawn with meticulous detail a picture of Russia; others, Merejkovsky among them, see in him a great symbolist; the very title Dead Souls is taken to describe the living of Russia as well as its dead. Chichikov himself is now generally regarded as a universal character. We find an American professor, William Lyon Phelps[1], of Yale, holding the opinion that "no one can travel far in America without meeting scores of Chichikovs; indeed, he is an accurate portrait of the American promoter, of the successful commercial traveller whose success depends entirely not on the real value and usefulness of his stock-in-trade, but on his knowledge of human nature and of the persuasive power of his tongue." This is also the opinion held by Prince Kropotkin[2], who says: "Chichikov may buy dead souls, or railway shares, or he may collect funds for some charitable institution, or look for a position in a bank, but he is an immortal international type; we meet him everywhere; he is of all lands and of all times; he but takes different forms to suit the requirements of nationality and time."

Again, the work bears an interesting relation to Gogol himself. A romantic, writing of realities, he was appalled at the commonplaces of life, at finding no outlet for his love of colour derived from his Cossack ancestry. He realised that he had drawn a host of "heroes," "one more commonplace than another, that there was not a single palliating circumstance, that there was not a single place where the reader might find pause to rest and to console himself, and that when he had finished the book it was as though he had walked out of an oppressive cellar into the open air." He felt perhaps inward need to redeem Chichikov; in Merejkovsky's opinion he really wanted to save his own soul, but had succeeded only in losing it. His last years were spent morbidly; he suffered torments and ran from place to place like one hunted; but really always running from himself. Rome was his favourite refuge, and he returned to it again and again. In 1848, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but he could find no peace for his soul. Something of this mood had reflected itself even much earlier in the Memoirs of a Madman: "Oh, little mother, save your poor son! Look how they are tormenting him. . . . There's no place for him on earth! He's being driven! . . . Oh, little mother, take pity on thy poor child."

All the contradictions of Gogol's character are not to be disposed of in a brief essay. Such a strange combination of the tragic and the comic was truly seldom seen in one man. He, for one, realised that "it is dangerous to jest with laughter." "Everything that I laughed at became sad." "And terrible," adds Merejkovsky. But earlier his humour was lighter, less tinged with the tragic; in those days Pushkin never failed to be amused by what Gogol had brought to read to him. Even Revizor (1835), with its tragic undercurrent, was a trifle compared to Dead Souls, so that one is not astonished to hear that not only did the Tsar, Nicholas I, give permission to have it acted, in spite of its being a criticism of official rottenness, but laughed uproariously, and led the applause. Moreover, he gave Gogol a grant of money, and asked that its source should not be revealed to the author lest "he might feel obliged to write from the official point of view."

Gogol was born at Sorotchinetz, Little Russia, in March 1809. He left college at nineteen and went to St. Petersburg, where he secured a position as copying clerk in a government department. He did not keep his position long, yet long enough to store away in his mind a number of bureaucratic types which proved useful later. He quite suddenly started for America with money given to him by his mother for another purpose, but when he got as far as Lubeck he turned back. He then wanted to become an actor, but his voice proved not strong enough. Later he wrote a poem which was unkindly received. As the copies remained unsold, he gathered them all up at the various shops and burned them in his room.

His next effort, Evenings at the Farm of Dikanka (1831) was more successful. It was a series of gay and colourful pictures of Ukraine, the land he knew and loved, and if he is occasionally a little over romantic here and there, he also achieves some beautifully lyrical passages. Then came another even finer series called Mirgorod, which won the admiration of Pushkin. Next he planned a "History of Little Russia" and a "History of the Middle Ages," this last work to be in eight or nine volumes. The result of all this study was a beautiful and short Homeric epic in prose, called Taras Bulba. His appointment to a professorship in history was a ridiculous episode in his life. After a brilliant first lecture, in which he had evidently said all he had to say, he settled to a life of boredom for himself and his pupils. When he resigned he said joyously: "I am once more a free Cossack." Between 1834 and 1835 he produced a new series of stories, including his famous Cloak, which may be regarded as the legitimate beginning of the Russian novel.

Gogol knew little about women, who played an equally minor role in his life and in his books. This may be partly because his personal appearance was not prepossessing. He is described by a contemporary as "a little man with legs too short for his body. He walked crookedly; he was clumsy, ill-dressed, and rather ridiculous-looking, with his long lock of hair flapping on his forehead, and his large prominent nose."

From 1835 Gogol spent almost his entire time abroad; some strange unrest--possibly his Cossack blood--possessed him like a demon, and he never stopped anywhere very long. After his pilgrimage in 1848 to Jerusalem, he returned to Moscow, his entire possessions in a little bag; these consisted of pamphlets, critiques, and newspaper articles mostly inimical to himself. He wandered about with these from house to house. Everything he had of value he gave away to the poor. He ceased work entirely. According to all accounts he spent his last days in praying and fasting. Visions came to him. His death, which came in 1852, was extremely fantastic. His last words, uttered in a loud frenzy, were: "A ladder! Quick, a ladder!" This call for a ladder--"a spiritual ladder," in the words of Merejkovsky--had been made on an earlier occasion by a certain Russian saint, who used almost the same language. "I shall laugh my bitter laugh"[3] was the inscription placed on Gogol's grave.

John Cournos



Second Edition published in 1846

From the Author to the Reader

Reader, whosoever or wheresoever you be, and whatsoever be your station--whether that of a member of the higher ranks of society or that of a member of the plainer walks of life--I beg of you, if God shall have given you any skill in letters, and my book shall fall into your hands, to extend to me your assistance.

For in the book which lies before you, and which, probably, you have read in its first edition, there is portrayed a man who is a type taken from our Russian Empire. This man travels about the Russian land and meets with folk of every condition--from the nobly-born to the humble toiler. Him I have taken as a type to show forth the vices and the failings, rather than the merits and the virtues, of the commonplace Russian individual; and the characters which revolve around him have also been selected for the purpose of demonstrating our national weaknesses and shortcomings. As for men and women of the better sort, I propose to portray them in subsequent volumes. Probably much of what I have described is improbable and does not happen as things customarily happen in Russia; and the reason for that is that for me to learn all that I have wished to do has been impossible, in that human life is not sufficiently long to become acquainted with even a hundredth part of what takes place within the borders of the Russian Empire. Also, carelessness, inexperience, and lack of time have led to my perpetrating numerous errors and inaccuracies of detail; with the result that in every line of the book there is something which calls for correction. For these reasons I beg of you, my reader, to act also as my corrector. Do not despise the task, for, however superior be your education, and however lofty your station, and however insignificant, in your eyes, my book, and however trifling the apparent labour of correcting and commenting upon that book, I implore you to do as I have said. And you too, O reader of lowly education and simple status, I beseech you not to look upon yourself as too ignorant to be able in some fashion, however small, to help me. Every man who has lived in the world and mixed with his fellow men will have remarked something which has remained hidden from the eyes of others; and therefore I beg of you not to deprive me of your comments, seeing that it cannot be that, should you read my book with attention, you will have NOTHING to say at some point therein.

For example, how excellent it would be if some reader who is sufficiently rich in experience and the knowledge of life to be acquainted with the sort of characters which I have described herein would annotate in detail the book, without missing a single page, and undertake to read it precisely as though, laying pen and paper before him, he were first to peruse a few pages of the work, and then to recall his own life, and the lives of folk with whom he has come in contact, and everything which he has seen with his own eyes or has heard of from others, and to proceed to annotate, in so far as may tally with his own experience or otherwise, what is set forth in the book, and to jot down the whole exactly as it stands pictured to his memory, and, lastly, to send me the jottings as they may issue from his pen, and to continue doing so until he has covered the entire work! Yes, he would indeed do me a vital service! Of style or beauty of expression he would need to take no account, for the value of a book lies in its truth and its actuality rather than in its wording. Nor would he need to consider my feelings if at any point he should feel minded to blame or to upbraid me, or to demonstrate the harm rather than the good which has been done through any lack of thought or verisimilitude of which I have been guilty. In short, for anything and for everything in the way of criticism I should be thankful.

Also, it would be an excellent thing if some reader in the higher walks of life, some person who stands remote, both by life and by education, from the circle of folk which I have pictured in my book, but who knows the life of the circle in which he himself revolves, would undertake to read my work in similar fashion, and methodically to recall to his mind any members of superior social classes whom he has met, and carefully to observe whether there exists any resemblance between one such class and another, and whether, at times, there may not be repeated in a higher sphere what is done in a lower, and likewise to note any additional fact in the same connection which may occur to him (that is to say, any fact pertaining to the higher ranks of society which would seem to confirm or to disprove his conclusions), and, lastly, to record that fact as it may have occurred within his own experience, while giving full details of persons (of individual manners, tendencies, and customs) and also of inanimate surroundings (of dress, furniture, fittings of houses, and so forth). For I need knowledge of the classes in question, which are the flower of our people. In fact, this very reason--the reason that I do not yet know Russian life in all its aspects, and in the degree to which it is necessary for me to know it in order to become a successful author--is what has, until now, prevented me from publishing any subsequent volumes of this story.

Again, it would be an excellent thing if some one who is endowed with the faculty of imagining and vividly picturing to himself the various situations wherein a character may be placed, and of mentally following up a character's career in one field and another--by this I mean some one who possesses the power of entering into and developing the ideas of the author whose work he may be reading--would scan each character herein portrayed, and tell me how each character ought to have acted at a given juncture, and what, to judge from the beginnings of each character, ought to have become of that character later, and what new circumstances might be devised in connection therewith, and what new details might advantageously be added to those already described. Honestly can I say that to consider these points against the time when a new edition of my book may be published in a different and a better form would give me the greatest possible pleasure.

One thing in particular would I ask of any reader who may be willing to give me the benefit of his advice. That is to say, I would beg of him to suppose, while recording his remarks, that it is for the benefit of a man in no way his equal in education, or similar to him in tastes and ideas, or capable of apprehending criticisms without full explanation appended, that he is doing so. Rather would I ask such a reader to suppose that before him there stands a man of incomparably inferior enlightenment and schooling--a rude country bumpkin whose life, throughout, has been passed in retirement--a bumpkin to whom it is necessary to explain each circumstance in detail, while never forgetting to be as simple of speech as though he were a child, and at every step there were a danger of employing terms beyond his understanding. Should these precautions be kept constantly in view by any reader undertaking to annotate my book, that reader's remarks will exceed in weight and interest even his own expectations, and will bring me very real advantage.

Thus, provided that my earnest request be heeded by my readers, and that among them there be found a few kind spirits to do as I desire, the following is the manner in which I would request them to transmit their notes for my consideration. Inscribing the package with my name, let them then enclose that package in a second one addressed either to the Rector of the University of St. Petersburg or to Professor Shevirev of the University of Moscow, according as the one or the other of those two cities may be the nearer to the sender.

Lastly, while thanking all journalists and litterateurs for their previously published criticisms of my book--criticisms which, in spite of a spice of that intemperance and prejudice which is common to all humanity, have proved of the greatest use both to my head and to my heart--I beg of such writers again to favour me with their reviews. For in all sincerity I can assure them that whatsoever they may be pleased to say for my improvement and my instruction will be received by me with naught but gratitude.

Table of Contents[edit]

Part I[edit]

Part II[edit]


From Project Gutenburg


This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work is in the public domain worldwide because it has been so released by the copyright holder.


  1. ^  Essays on Russian Novelists. Macmillan.
  2. ^  Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature. Duckworth and Co.
  3. ^  This is generally referred to in the Russian criticisms of Gogol as a quotation from Jeremiah. It appears upon investigation, however, that it actually occurs only in the Slavonic version from the Greek, and not in the Russian translation made direct from the Hebrew.