An epic poem in prose, often regarded as one of the finest examples of 19th Century Russian literature, Dead Souls is an atrocity exhibition of caricatures. It is a ride on a carousel of greed; sentimentalism, picturesque countryside, and ridiculous get rich quick schemes. Devised as a piece on Homeric scale, it tells the story of Chichikov, a middle class man who sets outs on a bizarre quest to gain wealth and power by acquiring the ‘dead souls’ of peasant workers owned by the wealthy landowners of the towns he visits. Originally banned when submitted to publishers a revised version was an instant success, and regarded as the work of a truly great satirist.
Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, the urtext of the grand Russian novel, is an anomaly in the history of the form it helped define. At once a satire of Russian rural life and tribune of the restless nation, a castigation of nascent capitalism and a pedantic religious tract, Dead Souls has been banned as seditious and celebrated as the grandfather of socialist realism, published as nonfiction and as an adventure novel, called the Russian Odyssey, the Russian Don Quixote, and, by the author himself, the Russian Divine Comedy
Date of Action: 1840-1842
Specific Location: Russia
Description of Artwork: "Dead Souls" is a satirical narrative which Gogol' described as an "epic poem". "Dead Souls" is the story of a young man named Chichikov who is trying to make a name for himself. The title refers to dead serfs whom the landowners have to pay a tax on because they still appear on their records due to the infrequency with which they conducted censuses. Chichikov seeks to buy these "dead souls" in order to falsely inflate his wealth and social standing and then take out a loan against these dead serfs so that he can buy a large house. The story is a satire on Russia's fuedal system, and many of the characters Chichikov encounters in the town are caricatures. Gogol' intended for the work to be a modern-day representation of the "Inferno" from Dante's "Divine Comedy", representing Russia's faling economic and social system.
Description of Incident: Gogol' wrote "Dead Souls" from 1840-1841 while living in Rome. In 1841 he returned to Russia to oversee the publication of the book. Gogol' himself was certain that the book would be published without a problem. When he submitted the book to the censors in late 1841, however, the book was deemed unworthy of publication and banned. The Censorship Committee had five objections to the text. The first was Gogol's use of the word soul, which the censors felt violated the church doctrine on the immortality of the soul. Their other objections were to Gogol's blatant attack of the fuedal system, the representation of a criminal as a hero, the cheapening of human life, and certain allusions which they felt were a direct attack on the emperor. Gogol' then sent the book to St. Petersburg where he had generated support among other writers. A friend of Gogol's gave "Dead Souls" to Nikitenko, who was regarded as the most liberal censor. In March of 1842 Nikitenko approved the book, but with about 30 changes in wording required. One of these was the changing of the title to add "Chichikov's Adventures" before the original title. Gogol' accepted this but designed the title page so that the first part was in much smaller type. Nikitenko also asked that Gogol' revise a subplot called the "Story of Captain Kopeikin". After doing so the novel was accepted and was published a month later.
Results of Incident: Gogol's wariness of censors led him to willingly self-censor his future works. A second edition of the book was published in 1846 with an author's preface. Gogol' died 10 years after the first publication fo "Dead Souls" and Russian officials did their best to prevent public tributes to him.