Chichikov, a middling schemer who has figured out a money-making prospect in buying up "dead souls" -- serfs who have died since the last census and aChichikov, a middling schemer who has figured out a money-making prospect in buying up "dead souls" -- serfs who have died since the last census and are therefore still "officially" alive. His plan is to mortgage them to the state for the standard 200 rubles each, while he buys them up for a few copecks a head.
The first half of the book has a steady pace and you are pulled along wondering WHY Chichikov is doing what he is doing (the answer is only revealed at the very end of party one through a flashback.)
Gogol often said that he didn't like the first half of Dead Souls and that the second two parts would be MUCH better. He had grand dreams of rehabilitating his main character and thereby, all of Russia. Only fragments remain of the second part, however, because he burned his manuscript on advice from his spiritual advisor and then took to bed, refusing food and water until he died.
True story, man!
What fragments of the second half remain ARE better-written than the first half. He's less prone to repetition and long, slow passages. (There is one part of part one where a random minor character starts telling a story, interjecting "so to say" or "as they say" between every sentence for three pages. I take this passage as evidence that Nanowrimo existed in 17th century Russia.) Could it have been a dazzling masterpiece? Or do only the better portions survive?
The second half continues the first half's introduction of exemplary landowners, each representing a certain vice or virtue, with whom Chichikov interacts, and it's clear that a certain good influence enters Chichikov's life in the form of more wholesome landowners and opportunities to buy land himself. He gets involved in more schemes with other men to advance his own wealth. I found myself quite engaged by the story, annoyed by the frequent "the manuscript breaks here" messages, and really quite annoyed with Gogol's spiritual advisor.
I like to think of it as "He died of writer's block" and so the story - with Chichikov's promised redemption undelivered, as well as his hoped-for wealth -- is a fitting testimony to trying to achieve the impossible....more
If you're not a huge 14th and 15th century european history buff you probably own't enjoy this as much as I did - it's almost all economics, figures aIf you're not a huge 14th and 15th century european history buff you probably own't enjoy this as much as I did - it's almost all economics, figures and tables. I had hoped it would delve more into the manufacturing side of things, but it's really about the royal policies that drove competition and retaliation between England and Burgundy as they struggled to extract wealth from each other.
It's interesting to look at history from this sort of perspective - the Maid of Orleans becomes a footnote as to why the English needed more money and the War of the Roses becomes a problem of changing management in international business.
Fascinating stuff, I wonder what a modern exchange broker would make of the chaotic attempts to manage money markets and commodities. ...more
Hi-LAR-i-ous. I had a great time reading this. Parts of Quixote make SOOOO Much more sense now. I've read English and French chivalric romances (MarieHi-LAR-i-ous. I had a great time reading this. Parts of Quixote make SOOOO Much more sense now. I've read English and French chivalric romances (Marie de France, Cretian de Troyes, Mallory) and some German, too... but this story had a unique flavor. A large cast of characters, multiple heroes, multiple heroines, and every hero has a squire and every lady a damsel!
Speaking of damsels, I found the terrain remarkably female. Everywhere our heroes ride, they encounter the Damsel Messaging Service. (I kid!) In real medieval Europe, women would not travel so freely on their own for fear of abduction, and certainly our heroes interrupt a fairly high number of attempted rapes, but also do they end up in the clutches of damsels who wish to bed them against their will!
Women are powerful in the book, too. Queens and lovers rule their knights unconditionally, and the sorceress Urganda la Desconocida definitely gives Merlin a run for his money as a magical prophet to the heroes. Also it seems that every time a knight is wounded (and they get wounded a LOT) the best cure is the nearest lady who knows much of healing arts - and pretty much every lady they encounter knows much of healing arts.
Dudes... this is SUCH a girl book. Or maybe it's just a "me" book because it combines the rule of females with lots and lots of gore and violence. Battles are described with care and imagination. Our heroes don't just pass each other with lances and then strike blows - swords are lodged in noses, cheeks, helmets, shields, arms, thighs - lances pierce throats and shoulders and nail legs to horses. Pommel strikes and grappling are described. For a medieval combat buff, it's tasty reading!
I suspect it is the gore that made the priest in Quixote declare the book too good for burning. "Realism" always has its fans. ;)
OH. The book also has some interesting and amusing evidence for prior versions (now lost) when Montalvo quite prissily says (I paraphrase) "There was a sex scene here but I'm leaving it out! For shame, earlier authors!" and then later, our re-teller shouts all over a chapter ending because he ships Amadis/Oriana and refuses to acknowledge any prior version that has Amadis sleep with another princess. He blames one version on a Portuguese prince and this might have to do with the tradition that Amadis was first written in Portugal.
Anyway - great fun. I'll see if I can find the rest of the books in translation as well....more
Olaudah Equiano's autobiography is historically significant for the brief glimpses it gives us of Africa in the 1700's, and other fascinating historicOlaudah Equiano's autobiography is historically significant for the brief glimpses it gives us of Africa in the 1700's, and other fascinating historical notes. (At one point he is cast overboard by a wave, and can't swim, but "my jacket kept me afloat long enough for another to rescue me." Made me wonder if it could have been a primative life-vest, or just air trapped under his shirt.)
I picked this up after reading passages quoted from it in "A History of African American Music" - alas, he does not spend MUCH time on his early childhood in Africa. Like all autobiographies, it meanders, drops information ahead of time which destroys suspense, and often pays too little attention to what most interests the reader.
Mr. Equiano is quite the capitalist. He talks often of his troubles as a free trader in the West Indies, where white men could feel free to take his wares and not pay for them, since it was illegal for a black man to testify in court against a white one. Still he manages again and again to amass money, enough to buy his own freedom, then set himself up in London, then he goes asea for more, loses another fortune, ends up stranded on a desert island, then running a plantation in the land of Musquito, and then nearly enslaved again by unscrupulous captains who take him on as a sailor and then refuse to pay him or take him to England.
At times quite a swashbuckling tale. Now, he is a terribly religious fellow, and many passages are devoted to Proof of God's Providence, of the sort of tales one still sees circulated on email by elder relatives. But despite these forrays into sentimental philosophy, it is an important little book and I'm glad I read it.
"But I won't bore the reader with accounts of all the nations and peoples we passed through" DAMNIT MAN. Minus one star, just for that. ;)...more
Engaging short stories written in a lucid style. A few were experimental, mixing poetic techniques into the prose. Many were tragic. Only very rarelyEngaging short stories written in a lucid style. A few were experimental, mixing poetic techniques into the prose. Many were tragic. Only very rarely did the writer show his hand. I've long been a fan of Hughes' poetry and I'm glad I took this opportunity to explore his prose.
The very last story is particularly a killer. ...more
I enjoyed this book for perhaps the wrong reasons. It is divided into chapters, each chapter representing a question, for example, "Should ElectroshocI enjoyed this book for perhaps the wrong reasons. It is divided into chapters, each chapter representing a question, for example, "Should Electroshock Therapy Be Banned?" or "Are Mental Disorders Culturally Relative?" There will then be a "Yes" essay, followed by a rebuttal, and a "No" essay, followed by a rebuttal.
What I enjoyed was the personalities of the essayists. Some were just... well, let's be kind and say some were better than others at expressing themselves. I frequently found myself feeling that neither side addressed the actual issue, but still it was amusing to see a cross-section of what topics polarize the profession (or did in the mid-90s when the book was assembled.) I'd be willing to read more of the series. ...more