Dead Souls

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Dead Souls
Original Title: Мёртвые души
Written by: Nikolai Gogol
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First published: 1842
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Dead Souls is the most famous novel by Russian author Nikolai Gogol. It tells the story of the ambitious guy Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, who had the idea for a great scam. Background explanation: In feudal Russia, the great landowners had to pay a tax according to the number of serfs ("souls") they owned. Said serfs were counted in special revisions, which happened not that often - less than once per decade, even. If during the time between two revisions some of these souls happened to die, bad luck, their owners'd still have to pay the tax as if they were alive. OTOH, they could mortgage the estate, with souls included, to the Russian state. Now Chichikov adds two and two and gets the idea: If he buys up a lot of dead souls - which the squires probably want to get rid off - and mortgages them to the state, he'll acquire a big fortune without hard work or risk. Well, that's the theory. In practice, the buying part alone becomes pretty hard due to the eccentricness of said squires.

Sadly, the book isn't finished, due to Creator Breakdown. What survives is the complete first volume of what was to be a trilogy, plus the beginning and end of the second. Many people have never even read the surviving parts of the second volume.

Tropes used in Dead Souls include:

  • Affably Evil: Chichikov.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Must be the case with Nozdryov, who tells a lot of bullshit, even in court. You'll have to read it to see how much he BSs.
  • Big Eater: Several characters, including Chichikov. Michail Sobakevich and Peter Petrovitch Pietukh (the latter is from the second volume) are probably take the cake and eat it in one sitting.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Nozdryov is a deconstruction of this trope.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Many of the squires.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Kostanshoglo is described being not a pure Russian, although he thinks of himself as Russian and doesn't speak foreign languages. Speculation: He may have a Turkish ancestor, since many Turkish names end in -oglu.
  • Butt Monkey: Captain Kopeikin
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Tyentyetnikov, Manilov
  • Con Man: What Chichikov essentially is. In the past he also was involved with government corruption (which seemed to have been endemic in Czarist Russia) and smuggling.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Nozdryov's, who has an Egregious approach to cooking.
  • Crazy Bird Lady: Khlobuyev's rich old aunt, who owns hundreds of canaries. Of course, she is very rich, so this doesn't make her crazy, only eccentric. But quite eccentric.
  • Deal with the Devil: Chichikov definitely invokes this with the whole "buying people's 'souls'" thing and he's a lot like the "devil as small time bureaucrat"/TheDevilIsALoser portrayal in works like The Devil and Daniel Webster and The Brothers Karamazov (both post-date this novel, but probably draw from the same idea). In fact, both Chichikov and Scratch store their souls in a box - the only difference is that Chichikov's are metaphorical.
  • Designated Hero / Misaimed Fandom: Lampshaded.
  • The Ditz: Mrs Korobochka the widow, who hesitates selling her "dead souls" and even suggests that "you could still need them".
  • Epileptic Trees: In-universe, concerning Chichikov's plans and nature. Some even think that he is Napoleon in disguise.
  • Eureka Moment: When Chichikov gets the idea for his scam.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Plyushkin is so cheap, he's willing to eat moldy bread and drink alcohol in which insects have died. He even offers this food to Chichikov.
  • Food Porn: The descriptions of the several-courses meals the squires eat.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first chapter the author mentions that Chichikov is able to talk about custom officials "as if he had been one of them". Much later we'll learn that this has indeed been the case - and that he tried a big smuggle operation, which almost would've made him a rich man.
  • Friendless Background: Chichikov.
  • The Gambling Addict: Nozdryov is addicted to gambling. He cheats, too.
  • Gossipy Hens: The society ladies of N____, especially those two in chapter #9.
  • Greed: Chichikov's vice.
  • Heel Face Turn: It was in author's plans to redeem Chichikov (and, according to one Gogol's letter, Plyushkin too) in the third volume. Alas, it never happened.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Essentially what Chichikov actually is (rather than the Lovable Rogue he initially seems to be).
  • Karma Houdini: Chichikov fakes the testament of Khlobuyev's rich aunt, is even thrown into prison, but the influential Murayov liberates him with a complicated scheme, and Chichikov can leave the town - although Murayov also told him to change his ways. A somewhat Bittersweet Ending.
  • Large Ham: It's just a book, but Sobakevich, Kostanshoglo, Nozdryov and the general in the second book would probably fit.
  • Missing Mom: Chichikov's.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Plyushkin was given a derogatory nickname for his cheapness by the nearby-living peasants. The nickname starts with 'patched' and is obviously of an unprintable nature, and the narrator tells us about how it fits Plyushkin perfectly - but doesn't reveal what it actually is.
  • The Nondescript:
    • Chichikov's whole appearance and personality is that of pleasant blandness, although as noted, he ultimately becomes very suspicious because of this.
    • Also the narrator complains about how hard it is to describe Manilov - the reason being Manilov's lack of descriptive features, both in appearance and in personality, and overall blandness.
  • Pet the Dog: Although Chichikov is a cheapskate, the author informs us that he'll always give a copper to a beggar.
  • The Pig Pen: One of Chichikov's servants who never washes himself.
  • Plot Hole: In this case just because parts of the second half of the novel are literally missing, since Gogol originally wanted to destroy the text. Sadly, the complete story is now Lost Forever.
  • Preacher's Kid: Chichikov calls one of his partners in crime a "son of a priest", in jest; said partner really is a son of a priest, but gets so insulted he spills the beans.
  • The Scrooge: Plyushkin, who owns several hundred souls, but lives as cheap as a beggar. Chichikov also doesn't like giving away money.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Manilov and his wife.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: "the district seat N_______"
  • Squires Who Actually Do Something / Non-Idle Rich: Kostanshoglo, who works hard to make his village rich, while one of his neighbors (Khlobuyev) wastes his money, another one is a Don Quixote, and the third one only thinks about his next meal.
  • Start of Darkness: Chichikov and Plyushkin started out as decent people, and there's a Cry For The Villain in revealing how both of them descended into what they are now.
  • Stern Teacher: At Tyentyetnikov's school. Sadly, this great teacher passed away before Tyentyetnikov would do his courses, which is blamed for his incompetence in life.
  • Take That: One guy does this to Chichikov, since he takes the "dead souls" literally and pedantically points out that souls (in the usual sense) can't die but are immortal.
  • Teacher's Pet: Chichikov became this when he had a Sadist Teacher who'd give the best grades to, well, teacher's pets and bad grades to smart kids who were even a little bit unruly - or showed too much smartness.
  • Title Drop: More than once.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Chichikov to the aforementioned teacher. Even though those good grades and references gave him a head start in life, when the teacher is fired from school and sinks into poverty, and all those "unruly" students he'd been giving shit immediately chip in together to help him, Chichikov cannot spare but a single piece he gets rightfully thrown back into his face.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Pretty much every single character.
  • Upper Class Twit: Some characters, especially Manilov.
  • Villain Protagonist: Chichikov.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Tyentyetnikov tries to improve the lot of his serfs, with at best mixed results, and becomes apathetic in the end.
  • Young Entrepreneur: Chichikov started as this.