Throughout the world, there is an unusually wide interest in Gogol’s works. His books, stage plays and stage adaptations of prose works are published in many languages, his legacy is being studied in a number of research centers and universities, as it published hundreds of scientific papers, he was devoted to international symposia. Among the Russian classic writers in terms of popularity in the world Gogol stands alongside Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
I’m interested in the works of Nikolai Gogol. His works attracted my attention because of the attitude of the writer towards Russia, and the desire to get to know it through the Russian national character, which is why I wanted to read a wonderful poem called “Dead Souls” again, to discover something new, to comprehend the content of the work from the point of view of modernity. N. V. Gogol believed in the spiritual revival of Russia, was convinced that the path to revival is open to all.
Belinsky justified the writer’s right to world-wide significance: he must, with maximum fullness and artistic power, reflect the national properties of his people’s life and Gogol has this right. In the unique unity of the comic and tragic, his humanistic pathos was expressed. A piercing feeling of love for his people and country became a form of high lyricism. He colored the epic Gogol with a noble emotional subjectivity, which became even brighter, as the author of the Dead Souls pondered more deeply about the fate of Russia, about the future of his Motherland. Before the reader Russia appears in several foreshortenings: landlord, peasant, bureaucratic.
Open to the world, its funny, sad, dramatic and heroic hand — prophetically saying about its bright future, Gogol created the books that were genuine discovery in the artistic culture had a great influence on the development of Russian literature and art in general.
Gogol’s books destined eternal life: “The accusation against the author from the side, the so-called patriots will fall...” [1, 670 с.]
Finishing the first volume of the “Dead Souls” Gogol expresses intimate thoughts about the meaning of his art, the image of the meaning of the poem vulgarity, vulgar men, inconspicuous little things of everyday life, exposing the shortcomings, all the vile and low. He saw his duty as a writer to show the real life of his homeland. “Who but the author should say the holy truth?” he asks. Expecting insults, ridicule, abusive articles at “Dead Souls” Gogol wrote them yet, driven by a sense of patriotism: “My eyes are increasingly looking only at Russia, and there is no measure of my love for it” — he wrote in 1843.
In the poem Gogol creates a generalized image of the landlord, where everyone lives exclusively within his limited consciousness, protecting his principles from any reasonable and unreasonable arguments. They do not have any high spiritual goals in life, and everything they aspire to is reduced to a mundane, everyday life.
The central place in volume I of “Dead Souls” is occupied by five “portrait chapters”. Each of them is dedicated to a specific human type endowed with a name.
The names of Chichikov, Manilov, Korobochka, Nozdrev, Sobakevich, Plyushkin are perhaps among the most famous names among the heroes of classical Russian literature. Some of them have long acquired generalized meaning and have become household names.
But what do these names mean? What considerations guided the writer, reflecting on the “naming” of the poem’s characters?
These names are a fact of Gogol’s language, in which there are no hollow words. Researchers of the language of Gogol note that the work on the word was conducted by the writer with the utmost strain of all mental powers, since in addition to the subject matter of the image, the author always took the word denoting this subject.
For Gogol the sound of the word, sound literary texture were really important, there is the semantic side in them. Gogol was distinguished by the ability to “turn” the word so that at the same time to extract the maximum artistic effect from it.
When creating images, the writer was able to find such words, through which, by and by themselves, elusive and invisible traits of character were revealed. The essence of the image was conveyed by the most important word related to the image, a name, a surname, but it was not transmitted directly, but through the conclusion of a name in a deep artistic context.
That’s why the names of Gogol’s heroes cannot be “read” immediately. To comprehend the name, it is necessary not only to establish its internal connection with the image, but also the image itself with the context in which other images are also given, and the context of the whole work as a whole. Literary names of this type are called secretive. In the case of Gogol’s works, such names are also characterized by ambiguity, due to the fact that the hero’s name can be recognized by Gogol on different “slices” of the text, on his various information layers.
The names of landlords in the “Dead Souls” are given in a sequence that has artistic, allegorical and philosophical significance. Reading of names can be carried out in two plans — real and allegorical.
However, when reading Gogol, one should remember the hidden meaning of most of his key phrases and the names he invented. Gogol is the master of the Aesop language. The Aesopian allusion to the Tsar in The Dead Souls is interesting when he talks about Manilov’s estate, where there is, as Gogol writes, an “aglic garden”.
Thus, the names of the landlords seem to us as the identity of the naming of various stations on the path of a man who has chosen a whole, only a material ideal. The theme of the “necrosis” of a person’s soul is realized in all the main images of Gogol’s poem. Naming the same protagonist, having a subtext semantic load, is an essential language tool for revealing this theme and realizing the writer’s main idea — about the possibility of a person’s rebirth.
According to Gogol, in every fallen person the soul did not die at all, because by its nature it is immortal.
The writer came from the evangelical tradition, to which the understanding of the dead soul as spiritually dead ascends. Gogol’s subtext of the title of the poem “Dead Souls” is consonant with the Christian moral law formed by the holy apostle Paul: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ everything will come to life”.
Prosaic interests, petty and vulgar calculations of the vast realm of “Dead souls”, pictures of gray village life, “little towns built alive with wooden shops”, the vulgar figures of the heroes of the poem, described by a clear, simple, realistic speech, full of humor, mockery and satire, are interrupted in the eleventh chapter by a stylistic stream of other content: pathetic words from the dictionary of mystic romantics sound like “unknown force”, “terrible force”, “incomprehensible secret power”, “unnatural power”, “struck by God’s miracle contemplate spruce”, “the head was dawned with a terrible cloud”, “what this vast expanse is predicting”, “a sparkling, wonderful, unfamiliar land”.
Belinsky said that it was in “Dead Souls” this cruel satire, a consequence of coldness and dislike for the mother, a domestic, — they, who so warmly in-gotten them slowly homes and cabins, and can be, and villages — the fruits of a well-meaning and hard service. However, this is good, on the one hand, — adds Belinsky, — this will be a better critical evaluation of the poem. [1, 670 с.]
In “Dead Souls” Gogol raised the question of the ways of Russia’s development, its present and future. Everything in it is in motion: the “Dead souls” of the ruling classes go back, and instead of them living souls are put forward, whose presence in the poem was so clearly felt by Herzen. Belinsky foresaw the future greatness of his homeland. In 1839 he wrote: “Russian immensity of space, its large youthful strength, its power is limitless — and a breath away in trembling thrilled by feeling its great destination, the legitimate heir to the three periods of life of mankind”. [1, 670 с.]
In understanding the future greatness of the homeland, Gogol and Belinsky were close.
“Dead Souls” is a work encyclopedic in terms of breadth of coverage of vital material. The ideological core of the poem is the idea of the tragic fate of the people. This subject is immense, as is the vast subject of knowledge of all of Russia. The key in the perception of Russia in the poem are the lyrical reflections of the author about Russia and the Russian people. It may seem that these beautiful places are out of place in a satirical poem. However, they are extremely important for the writer’s whole intent.
According to Gogol, the main way to comprehend Russia is to know the nature of the Russian people. This path is impossible without knowing yourself. As Gogol wrote to Count Tolstoy, “first find the key to your own soul, when you find it, then by the same key you will unlock the souls of all”. [2, c. 29]
Almost the entire first volume of “Dead Souls” Gogol wrote abroad, among the beautiful nature of Switzerland and Italy, among the noisy life of Paris. From there, he saw Russia even more clearly with her hard and sad life. Thoughts about Russia aroused Gogol’s emotional excitement and resulted in lyrical digressions. It was through them that the author showed us Russia from all sides.
Written to the beginning of 1841, a lyrical appeal to Russia reveals the idea of a civic duty of a writer before his homeland. To create a special language for the final pages of the first volume, Gogol for a long time “fought”, conducted a complex work, which shows that the changes in vocabulary and grammatical structure were associated with changes in the ideological content of the retreat.
“Dead Soul” and the main character of the poem Chichikov is a representative of the emerging capitalist system. It is not by chance that Gogol paid so much attention to this character who, following the behests of his father, is saving a penny and trying to achieve it all in life.
A small, mediocre and very mediocre man, a common adventurer, capable of filthy service. Gogol calls Chichikov “little Napoleonchik”).
Circumstances of life early raised in Pavel Ivanovich secret desire to break out into people. He had his own career, his “throne”, which he sought to achieve by any means. Similarly goes back to power and Napoleon. And yet Napoleon is not Chichikov, and Chichikov is not Napoleon. He is just a “Napoleon”.
Parodizing in the image of Chichikov Russian perception of Napoleon, the writer creates a laughter effect even by the most external side of the surname of his hero. In the derivational pair of Chichikov (from Chichik) there are external sound-inducing sound associations associated with some small bird.
Chichikov is always shaven, perfumed, pomaded, always wearing clean clothes and a fashionable dress of different colors. But this external neatness contrasts strikingly with the internal dirt and unscrupulousness of the hero-acquirer. Ridiculously, a bird-sounding surname is borne by a predator, capable of moving from buying dead souls to hunting souls alive. The protagonist Pavel Ivanovich is following the path of loss of the primordial human essence. Patronymic Ivanovich (on behalf of Ivan) is generalized and represents every Russian person. Personal name of the hero — Paul, is associated with the name of the apostle and his life path.
The author wants to show that the bourgeois order makes the souls of people “dead”. Gogol denounces the monstrous egoism and hypocrisy of representatives of the power of Russia that is alien to the living soul of man.
The writer managed to create the image of a living Russia. The image of the Russian people, of his beautiful soul, runs through the entire poem. Gogol felt the beating of a healthy people’s heart, saw live Russia.
Nikolai Vasilyevich did not finish his work. He had many plans for the continuation of the poem. As documents show, the writer wanted to show not only the bad in Russia, but also her living soul. One of the writer’s intentions was the moral revival of some characters of the poem. Unfortunately, this revival has remained a mystery to us.
In letters from the 1840s, Gogol persistently pursues the idea that for the continuation of the poem and the achievement of its main goal, it is necessary to study the Russian way of life, economy and customs in a concrete way by the author himself and by all those around him: “Russia’s great ignorance in the middle of Russia”. [3, с. 105]
But Gogol was neither a nihilist nor an exposer. He was a great Russian poet. “A great talent, a brilliant poet and the first writer of modern Russia” wrote Belinsky.
- Белинский В. Г. Избранные сочинения. М.: ОГИЗ, 1947. 670 с.
- Воропаев В. А. Монастырь ваш — Россия // Н. В. Гоголь. Духовная проза. М.: Русская книга, 1992. С. 3−34.
- Гоголь Н. В. Собрание сочинений: в 9 т. М.: Русская книга, 1994, 105 с.