Impressions on Re-Reading Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls”: Characters

Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol
1809-1852

Just a few quick notes:

As you may know, I have been listening to an audiobook of  Nikolai Gogol‘s Dead Souls for the second time, the first having been when I was in Russian lit class in college about 1978. I barely remember any of it from then except in a very broad, general fashion. But I remembered it was enjoyable and I remember one scene at the end of Book One (it’s divided into two books) where the protagonist is traveling across early nineteenth century Russia in his chaise with his coachman and valet in a very majestic, sweeping, epic moment as Gogol describes it.

I have been truly enjoying this like no other book I have read in the past twenty years. It is a terrific satire of not only nineteenth century Russian society, but of humanity as well. Indeed, the characters that Gogol describes are archetypes of certain types of people you probably see every day. You may well read one character’s dialog and think “I know someone just like that.” The characters are so vivid and distinctly different from each other that you can tell which character is speaking just by reading his words and their actions. There is one newlywed couple in a new home, where nothing has yet been finished being assembled or painted. This may be because they are so engrossed in and enchanted by each other, they don’t finish what they are doing. That may be because they kiss very frequently whenever they are together and they kiss so long that Gogol says you could “smoke a small cigar” while they kiss. There is another that is desperate for a friend and wants to become lifelong friends with anyone he meets. He also wants that friendship to be so intense that the Tsar will make them both general as a reward. There is another, a very fat, retired general, who pushes incredible amounts of food on his guests until they become so bloated they can hardly walk. Another is an incredible braggart who cheats at checkers and lies about his accomplishments and who he knows. There are many more.

Gogol must have had keen insight into human nature to be able to portray these people to bring them to life in the reader’s mind.

Anyway, I need to go now. I will post more later.

 

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