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Gogol's "Dead Souls"

Gogol's "Dead Souls"

James B. Woodward
Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Gogol's "Dead Souls"
    Book Description:

    Alone of the great Russian novels of the nineteenth-century,Dead Soulshas remained almost as profound a mystery to critics as it was when it first appeared. James Woodward disputes the traditional view of Gogol's work, contending that it is not a sprawling mass of loosely connected episodes, details, and digressions. His close reading of the text offers a new interpretation by tracing the essential features of Gogol's creative method.

    AlthoughDead Soulsis a subject of lively debate in almost every respect, no Western scholar has ever before made it the subject of book-length analysis. James Woodward's inquiry addresses itself to many fundamental questions: How is the theme developed? What characterizes the writer's creative method? Does the structure of the novel reveal an inner logic? How can the digressive narrative style be reconciled with generally accepted standards of artistic unity and coherence?

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7190-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    Strangely enough, the central theme ofDead Soulsis one of the few aspects of the novel about which no serious dispute exists. The title of the work expresses it succinctly. It is true that the ambiguity of the noundushi(which means “serfs” as well as “souls”) raises the question of the importance to be attached in the novel to the social theme of serfdom and its evils, and that Western and Soviet critics differ sharply in their attitudes to this question, but no one presumably would disagree that from beginning to end the novel is primarily an expose...

  5. 1 Sobakevich
    (pp. 3-32)

    In the second of his four letters onDead SoulsGogol informs us that “the last half of the book is less finished than the first half” and that in the later chapters “the inner spirit of the whole work” is less striking than “the motley diversity of the parts.”¹ By the first half he plainly meant, above all, the five “portrait chapters,” and it is clear that in one respect at least he experienced rather less difficulty with them than with the chapters that follow. The distinctive feature of these chapters is that each is dominated by symbolic themes...

  6. 2 Nozdryov
    (pp. 33-51)

    The charge that Nozdryov hurls at Chichikov in chapter four when the latter refuses to join him in a game of cards—“A veritable Sobakevich!”—would suggest that he sees himself and the “bear” as polar opposites, and indeed there seem to be no points in common between the two landowners. The circumspection of Sobakevich, his tightfistedness, his sparing use of words, his consistency of manner and conduct, his secure entrenchment in his formidable lair—all these characteristics are matched by diametrically contrasting features in the portrait of Nozdryov, who is reckless, profligate, loquacious, unpredictable, nomadic, and apparently indifferent to...

  7. 3 Manilov
    (pp. 52-69)

    In our study of chapter five we have seen that the part of the text preceding the description of Chichikov’s arrival at Sobakevich’s estate forms in a very real sense an introduction to the portrait that follows. The same two-part structural scheme is perhaps not so evident in chapter four simply because Nozdryov is detached from his estate and appears much earlier than the other landowners. As a result, his portrait begins on the third page of the chapter. But in each of the other three “portrait chapters” the scheme of chapter five is essentially reproduced, and they accordingly confront...

  8. 4 Korobochka
    (pp. 70-105)

    The first aspect of chapter three (the “Korobochka chapter”) that should be stressed is its importance to the plot of the novel, for it provides the first unmistakable intimations of Chichikov’s fallibility and thus indirectly preannounces the collapse of his fraudulent scheme. The opening sentence of this chapter depicts him sitting “in a contented frame of mind” in his carriage after his successful visit to Manilovka, but his mood is swiftly undermined—first by the violent change of weather accurately predicted by the cocklike “garrison soldier”; then by the waywardness of the inebriated Selifan, who loses the way and overturns...

  9. 5 Plyushkin
    (pp. 106-137)

    After examining the portraits of the first four landowners, we can reject conclusively the view that they “are completely unconnected with one another.”¹ Are we similarly entitled, however, to reject the argument that they “occur without logical order”?² Although this question has not been raised thus far, it is already clear that the argument is a fallacy. It is surely inconceivable that the artist who devoted so much “consideration” to the composition of these portraits was not equally concerned with their arrangement. A closer look at the text enables us to base our supposition on more substantial grounds.

    Perhaps the...

  10. 6 The Masters and the Slaves
    (pp. 138-170)

    Gogol uses the portraits of the five landowners to establish connections in our minds between specific patterns of details and specific types of spiritual degradation; in each of the five portraits, as we have seen, a plurality of such patterns intersect and are transformed into signals of the type of degradation that the landowner embodies. Having firmly established these connections, Gogol can then detach the patterns of details from the figures in whose portraits they acquire their signalling capacity and use this capacity in new contexts. This, in effect, is what he does in the remaining chapters of the novel,...

  11. 7 The Masters and the Ladies
    (pp. 171-191)

    In chapter seven of the novel the “masters” are contrasted with their subordinates, and the emphasis in their portrait is placed on two main features: their hypocrisy and their apparent omnipotence. Hence the conspicuous roles in the chapter of the two landowners in whose individual portraits these features are represented as dominant characteristics—the “hypocritical” Manilov, whose external refinement conceals an inner void, and the “omnipotent” Sobakevich. In chapter eight, however, the “masters” are contrasted with the ladies of the town, and their omnipotence is abruptly exposed as an illusion. Their position in this new context is one of unequivocal...

  12. 8 Forgeries of Fact and Counterfeit Truths
    (pp. 192-214)

    Although Chichikov is physically absent from the whole of chapter nine and from the greater part of chapter ten, he paradoxically assumes from the end of chapter eight onward an increasingly dominant role in the fiction. This development is motivated, of course, by the revelations of Nozdryov and Korobochka, which have the effect of focusing the entire town’s attention on the question of the hero’s true identity and purpose and on the mystery of his “dead souls.” At the same time, although the answers to most of the questions that trouble the townsfolk are well known to the reader, our...

  13. 9 The “Paternal” Theme
    (pp. 215-229)

    Having alerted the town to the danger the hero represents, the ladies now withdraw, leaving their alarmed menfolk to reflect further on the precise nature of the danger. Their deliberations form the main content of chapter ten, giving birth to the conjectures that Chichikov is an official of the governor-general’s office, a forger, Captain Kopeykin, Napoleon, and even Antichrist. Characteristically, however, the chapter’s central theme is revealed less explicitly. Once more Gogol introduces it in the opening sentence, in the part that echoes the final sentence of chapter nine. The latter sentence informs us that to establish Chichikov’s true identity...

  14. 10 Chichikov and Russia
    (pp. 230-251)

    By the end of chapter ten the mystery of Chichikov’s personality has been largely dispelled. Most of the essential information about him has already been imparted, and the condition of his soul has been thoroughly illuminated from a variety of angles and by a variety of methods. The ease with which he affects the attitudes, manners, and speech modes of the diverse “dead souls” who cross his path, his relations with his servants, the symbolic motifs that pervade his portrait, his reactions to the governor’s daughter, the development of the “paternal” theme—all combine to project the image of a...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 252-256)

    The main object of this study has been to show that although the first volume ofDead Souls, as a moral allegory, is of unequivocally serious and didactic intent, it is above all else a work of art, in which a vision of moral decline is translated into an autonomous, coherent fictional reality governed by its own unique system of laws and relationships. Our principal tasks have been to determine the nature of these laws and relationships, to interpret their meaning, and to consider the structure of the novel in light of the conclusions. It simply remains for the reader...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 257-276)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-277)