Moira Russell's Reviews > Dead Souls

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
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Jul 03, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: nyrb-book-club, 2012-50-new-books-challenge

Was just as hilarious as I remembered, which is really saying something, since I last read Part I about twenty years ago maybe. I don't think I read Part II then; it's so sad, such a skeleton. "At once a wild phantasmagoria and a work of exacting realism" - well, I don't know how phantasmagoric it actually is, but that's about right. I do think Rayfield's translation is v questionable ("A pleasant feeling of calm invaded one's soul").

(Chichikov admiring himself in his "Navarino smoke-and-flame frock coat and trousers" and then ripping them to pieces....and then getting another set made. Ohhh my God.)
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Quotes Moira Liked

Nikolai Gogol
“You can't imagine how stupid the whole world has grown nowadays. The things these scribblers write! ”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“Why, then, make a show of the poverty of our life and our sad imperfection, unearthing people from the backwoods, from remote corners of the state? But what if this is in the writer's nature, and his own imperfection grieves him so, and the makeup of his talent is such, that he can only portray the poverty of our life, unearthing people from the backwoods, from the remote corners of the state! So here we are again in the backwoods, again we have come out in some corner!”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“Happy the writer who, passing by characters that are boring, disgusting, shocking in their mournful reality, approaches characters that manifest the lofty dignity of man, who from the great pool of daily whirling images has chosen only the rare exceptions, who has never once betrayed the exalted turning of his lyre, nor descended from his height to his poor, insignificant brethren, and, without touching the ground, has given the whole of himself to his elevated images so far removed from it. Twice enviable is his beautiful lot: he is among them as in his own family; and meanwhile his fame spreads loud and far. With entrancing smoke he has clouded people's eyes; he has flattered them wondrously, concealing what is mournful in life, showing them a beautiful man. Everything rushes after him, applauding, and flies off following his triumphal chariot. Great world poet they name him, soaring high above all other geniuses in the world, as the eagle soars above the other high fliers. At the mere mention of his name, young ardent hearts are filled with trembling, responsive tears shine in all eyes...No one equals him in power--he is God! But such is not the lot, and other is the destiny of the writer who has dared to call forth all that is before our eyes every moment and which our indifferent eyes do not see--all the stupendous mire of trivia in which our life in entangled, the whole depth of cold, fragmented, everyday characters that swarm over our often bitter and boring earthly path, and with the firm strength of his implacable chisel dares to present them roundly and vividly before the eyes of all people! It is not for him to win people's applause, not for him to behold the grateful tears and unanimous rapture of the souls he has stirred; no sixteen-year-old girl will come flying to meet him with her head in a whirl and heroic enthusiasm; it is not for him to forget himself in the sweet enchantment of sounds he himself has evoked; it is not for him, finally, to escape contemporary judgment, hypocritically callous contemporary judgment, which will call insignificant and mean the creations he has fostered, will allot him a contemptible corner in the ranks of writers who insult mankind, will ascribe to him the quality of the heroes he has portrayed, will deny him heart, and soul, and the divine flame of talent. For contemporary judgment does not recognize that equally wondrous are the glasses that observe the sun and those that look at the movement of inconspicuous insect; for contemporary judgment does not recognize that much depth of soul is needed to light up the picture drawn from contemptible life and elevate it into a pearl of creation; for contemporary judgment does not recognize that lofty ecstatic laughter is worthy to stand beside the lofty lyrical impulse, and that a whole abyss separates it from the antics of the street-fair clown! This contemporary judgment does not recognize; and will turn it all into a reproach and abuse of the unrecognized writer; with no sharing, no response, no sympathy, like a familyless wayfarer, he will be left alone in the middle of the road. Grim is his path, and bitterly he will feel his solitude.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“The fair-haired man was one of those people in whose character there is at first sight a certain obstinacy. Before you can open your mouth, they are already prepared to argue and, it seems, will never agree to anything that is clearly contrary to their way of thinking, will never call a stupid thing smart, and in particular will never dance to another man's tune; but it always ends up that there is a certain softness in their character, that they will agree precisely to what they had rejected, will call a stupid thing smart, and will then go off dancing their best to another man's tune - in short, starts out well, ends in hell.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“The current generation now sees everything clearly, it marvels at the errors, it laughs at the folly of its ancestors, not seeing that this chronicle is all overscored by divine fire, that every letter of it cries out, that from everywhere the piercing finger is pointed at it, at this current generation; but the current generation laughs and presumptuously, proudly begins a series of new errors, at which their descendants will also laugh afterwards.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“This was not the old Chichikov. This was some wreckage of the old Chichikov. The inner state of his soul might be compared to a demolished building, which has been demolished so that from it a new one could be built; but the new one has not been started yet, because the infinitive plan has not yet come from the architect and the workers are left in perplexity.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“...and sank into the profound slumber which comes only to such
fortunate folk as are troubled neither with mosquitoes nor fleas nor excessive activity of brain.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“A word aptly uttered or written cannot be cut away by an axe.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“Well, so that's the prosecutor! He lived and lived, and then died! And they will say in the papers that he died to the regret of his staff and all mankind, a respected citizen, a rare father, a model husband, and they will write a lot more stuff and nonsense about him; they will add, maybe, that he was mourned by widows and orphans; but if one were to investigate the matter thoroughly, it will emerge that he had nothing to him except his bushy eyebrows.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“Wherever in life it may be, whether amongst its tough, coarsely poor, and untidily moldering mean ranks, or its monotonously cold and boringly tidy upper classes, a man will at least once meet with a phenomenon which is unlike anything he has happened to see before, which for once at least awakens in him a feeling unlike those he is fated to feel all his life. Wherever, across whatever sorrow sour life is woven of, a resplendent joy will gaily race by, just as a splendid carriage with golden harness, picture-book horses, and a shining brilliance of glass sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly goes speeding by some poor, forsaken hamlet that has never seen anything but a country cart, and for a long time the muzhiks stand gaping open-mouthed, not putting their hats back on, though the wondrous carriage has long since sped away and vanished from sight.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Nikolai Gogol
“Manilov was pleased by these final words, but he still couldn't make sense of the deal itself, and for want of an answer, he began sucking his clay pipe so hard that it started to wheeze like a bassoon. He seemed to be trying to extract from it an opinion about this unprecedented business; but the clay pipe only wheezed and said nothing.”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Reading Progress

November 23, 2008 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
January 2, 2011 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
April 28, 2011 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)
July 3, 2012 – Shelved
July 3, 2012 – Shelved as: nyrb-book-club
July 4, 2012 – Started Reading
July 4, 2012 –
page 50
12.08% "Glanced at the opening of this translation yesterday, liked it, was sucked right in. The absence of notes is fretting my fussy little soul - missing references like Boston whist, Kazan, dace, whatever - but it's still hilarious as all hell. Scathing."
July 4, 2012 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
July 4, 2012 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
July 4, 2012 –
page 52
12.56% "T keeps asking what's so funny...."
July 4, 2012 –
page 55
13.29% ""What are you thinking of, Nastasia Petrovna?"\n \n "Really, I can't decide what I should do: I'd rather sell you some hemp."\n \n //wheezes"
July 4, 2012 –
page 67
16.18% "'I've just come from the fair, pal'? Really? :-/"
July 4, 2012 –
page 68
16.43% "'what a really nice guy, pal, you can really call him a full-fledged skylarker'\n \n .... //is pained"
July 4, 2012 –
page 81
19.57% "'Well, to hell with you, go and slobber with your wife, you twat.' Uh, WELL then."
July 4, 2012 –
page 104
25.12% "'an enormous portion of what we call niania in Russia, made of a sheep's stomach stuffed with buckwheat porridge, brains, and hooves' //turns green"
July 4, 2012 –
page 106
25.6% "'(Peasans) dying like flies, can that be true? And may I ask how far it is from here to his place?'"
July 4, 2012 –
page 108
26.09% "'Anyone else would be underhanded and cheat you and sell you rubbish, not real souls, but my lot are like top-grade produce, all prime quality' ohhhh Lord"
July 4, 2012 –
page 120
28.99% "aha, the garden bit"
July 4, 2012 –
page 123
29.71% "'There would have been absolutely no hint of any human being inhabiting this room were it not for a decrepit, frayed nightcap lying on the table as a herald of humanity.'"
July 4, 2012 –
page 137
33.09% "'his hands were quivering like mercury'"
July 4, 2012 –
page 142
July 4, 2012 –
page 200
48.31% "All the satire about "the ladies" is much less amusing, at least to me."
July 4, 2012 –
page 259
62.56% "'And now's a good time, there's just been an epidemic, a lot of peasants have died, thank God....' Talk about an antihero."
July 4, 2012 –
page 260
62.8% "Whoo, fireworks are over. Back to the book. 'Readers should not then blame the author if the personages who have appeared so far are not to their taste; the fault is Chichikov's, since he is in charge here, and wherever he decides to go, we are compelled to follow.'"
July 4, 2012 –
page 266
64.25% "Poor Gogol. "Just wait til I get to the THIRD part of this trio's adventures, it'll be awesome!""
July 4, 2012 –
page 268
64.73% "Troika bit! 'Russia, where are you hurtling to? Give an answer! There is no answer. The bell peals with a wonderful ringing; the air, ripped to pieces, roars and becomes wind; everything that exists on earth flies past....'"
July 4, 2012 –
page 268
64.73% "Yyyeah now on to Part Two. I am Wary, because I think this is where I bogged down some uh _decades_ ago, and if the book keeps to the Quixotic model, this bit is going to be much less fun. But we'll see."
July 5, 2012 –
page 268
64.73% "So far the one ('one'!) huge flaw of this book is there's no women in it. Well, we did have the stupid widow, and the twin social harpies, but they were pretty bad. I am told Ulinka might make up for this, but she sounds like a terrible wet hen."
July 7, 2012 –
page 290
70.05% "Upon my soul, a WOMAN! (marriageable girl, rather) And only about 300 pp in!"
July 7, 2012 –
page 291
70.29% "....and she was there for all of ONE PAGE. Man."
July 7, 2012 –
page 296
71.5% "'To have a short rest, if only for a month, in a beautiful village with a view of fields and the beginning of spring was beneficial even from the point of view of his hemorrhoids.'"
July 7, 2012 –
page 297
71.74% "'He also found out how many peasants had died. Not many, it turned out.' Chichikov <33"
July 7, 2012 –
page 321
77.54% "'And the crayfish, the crayfish! You sluggard, Little Foma! Where are the crayfish, the crayfish, I ask you?!' And for some considerable length of time all that could be heard was "crayfish, crayfish.""
July 7, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012-50-new-books-challenge
July 7, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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Moira Russell Proustitute wrote: "Yes!"

I just picked it up last night because I liked how he translated the opening, and got sucked right into it.

Moira Russell Proustitute wrote: "Yes!"

Oh God. Still so funny. Even incomplete, in a whack translation. So scathing. And Petukh, so hilarious! Kostanzhoglo, so awesome! Chichikov caught kicking and screaming and then repenting and then unrepenting! He's so marvelous, such a terrible person but we love him anyway. Totally Falstaff. Or Sancho. But there's no Quixote. (Everyone apparently tries to tie this book to the Commedia - what? - but I was reminded of Cervantes all the way.)

message 3: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob I do think Rayfield's translation is v questionable

Which translation did you read last time?

Moira Russell Jacob wrote: " I do think Rayfield's translation is v questionable
Which translation did you read last time?"

Uhhhh dear God I can't remember, it was in 1988 or 1987 or something. Probably the Penguin. About all I could afford back then were cheapass used paperbacks.

Moira Russell Jacob wrote: " I do think Rayfield's translation is v questionable
Which translation did you read last time?"

I compared some here I should probably just suck it up and read the edited Guerney, even if Nabokov's endorsement of him makes me want to spit. But he seems to be the only translator in the pack who gets the sly humour of Gogol's overemphasizing the coach (remember when he asks if the reader is getting tired of it yet?) and Chichikov's total golden mean/averageness. Even if "rolled into the gates" and "fair-to-middlin'" make me clench my teeth.

- Yeah, the Penguin is Magarshack (ho, ho ho), so it was probably that one, because I also remember getting The Devils out of the Santa Fe library translated by Magarshack and buying that same edition for myself later. I have cooled a bit on P-&-V since I found out she does the actual translation from Russian and he, uh, just Englishes it since he doesn't actually speak it. Gahh. At least Garnett knew Russian. For Chrissakes.

message 6: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob All I'm saying is, I'm a starry-eyed virgin when it comes to Gogol, and right now I'm being seduced by NYRB because it's so shiny and cool (like a vampire!). But I obviously want my first time to be, you know, good. But every time someone gives "the talk" about the best translator to go with, I keep getting nervous because gosh, I didn't realize it was that complicated. Translation-wise. You know.

Moira Russell OH. Well, I think Rayfield is kinda accurate enough, as long as you don't mind the clunkiness and abrupt tonal shifts not just from sentence to sentence but phrase to phrase. Guerney might well be sorta the best bet, but he's kind of dated. I dunno if I would recommend P&V, they really do tend to make quite different writers sound alike.

The one really bad thing about the NYRB Rayfield translation: NO NOTES. He also begs off including ANY historical or biographical context in the very short introduction, instead referring to a bunch of monographs/biographies. That was actually annoying. The basic swindle that drives the plot is clear enough, but I know I was missing a lot of references and subtleties by not having notes. Then again, maybe you don't like having lots of explanatory notes! I don't remember. He also mashes together the 1st and 2nd versions of Part II; I think most English translations just go with the later draft. Guernsey apparently tried the mashup approach too, but then that was edited out of his translation.

.....hahaha FML I DO have the Penguin Magarshack tr. (just found it in a pile) but the new one is Maguire. I dunno much about him.

NYRB: "Is there a keen ear burning on your every sinew?"

PENGUIN (Magarshack): "Is there some sensitive ear, alert to every sound, concealed in your veins?"

PENGUIN (Maguire): "Does a keen ear burn in your every fibre?" ....oh Jesus, this is really terrible. "Eh, troika, bird-troika, who devised thee? Like as not, thou couldst have been born only among a spirited people, in a land that has no love of joking...." aaaaaaaaagh. Even poor old Garnett's not that bad: "Ah! troika, bird of a troika! Who was it first thought of thee?" aaaaaaand the PDF I am wrestling with just froze, so that's all you get of Connie.

....oh, this is nice. The Great Translation Chart


Moira Russell PROUSTITUTE TRANSLATOR BATSIGNAL, which tr of Dead Souls would you rec for Jacob? Is the Magarshack any good?

....also wow, um, apparently Stoppard translated The Seagull and Mamet did The Three Sisters. I am really not sure what to think of that. - Didn't Pinter also write the screenplay for that screenplay of Proust that never went anywhere? Hah. Hah.

message 9: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob No need to have a repeat of the translation discussion on my review. Unless everyone else wants to. Your advice is helpful. I just need to stop being so lazy, and try researching things on my own...

Moira Russell Did you review it? Was there a discussion? Did I miss it? Where's my teeth? //cough creak tap cane

Ehh not lazy, perfectly reasonable question. It's just frustrating because I don't really know if there is a "good" translation. Maybe P-n-V did better than I thought?

....also OMG now I want Rachel May's Translator in the Text: Reading Russian Classics in Translation. sigh. Also haaaaah, apparently all the Russian academics claim not to read P&V. CLASSIC.

Moira Russell also OMG me going allcapsy there was supposed to be comic, not shouty. argh.

message 12: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Moira wrote: "Did you review it? Was there a discussion? Did I miss it? Where's my teeth? //cough creak tap cane"

I meant, the discussion that popped up here, where the review will go, after I read the book.

Moira Russell Oh, that thread - was looking for it, but couldn't find it. Yeah, it stopped being fun for me, so I quit participating.

Moira Russell aaaaand I just caught up with it and it was even less fun. I may retire for the evening.

message 15: by Jacob (last edited Jul 07, 2012 11:02PM) (new) - added it

Jacob And I didn't know enough about the various translators discussed, so I stopped too.

Huh. From the Great Translation Chart, on War and Peace: "The indefatigable Mrs. Garnett went blind while working on this book." Meanwhile, I nearly went blind reading it--the keratoconus (especially in my left eye) was getting pretty advanced at that stage, and I was too stubborn to admit it, until my glasses broke and I finally had to switch to contacts. Reading a book I hated was bad enough, but I was reading a book I hated in small print when I could barely make out the words. I took out my frustration on W&P in my (now-deleted) review. Fucking hell, was I a stupid little shit.

(Spoiler: I got better)

Moira Russell Jacob wrote: "Meanwhile, I nearly went blind reading it--the keratoconus (especially in my right eye) was getting pretty advanced at that stage, and I was too stubborn to admit it, until my glasses broke and I finally had to switch to contacts.

YIKES. That would freak me right the fuck out. It's bad enough I have a shitload of floaters and sometimes flashers in my eye - apparently my vitreous humour is the consistency of a Jell-O shot. (But your eyes are good now, right?)

I took out my frustration on W&P in my (now-deleted) review. Fucking hell, was I a stupid little shit. "

Aww I miss that review. I like the kinda out-there ones, they can give more of the experience of reading/colliding with a classic than "Well I finally read War and Peace and...."

message 17: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Left eye. The left eye was bad. Dunno how I got that wrong. But things are good now. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. Still feels weird knowing I've got someone else's cornea. At least I haven't seen any dead folks yet.

And yeah, the old W&P review was way too immature, so it had to go. I'll write a better one next time.

message 18: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob "Anthony Briggs (2005, Penguin)
Briggs supposedly wanted to rescue War and Peace, a book about man-stuff like war, from the Victorian ladies. So he uses the word fucking."


Moira Russell Yes indeedy!

Early this fall, Penguin announced the publication of a new translation of “War and Peace”—it was by Anthony Briggs, a British academic. Briggs, who won generally positive reviews, sounded like an attractively modest sort. One of the British papers, the Daily Telegraph, quoted him as saying, “Professional translators are generally mediocre people like me, not great poetic geniuses.” The Times Literary Supplement published a short, curious article pointing out that Briggs had, unlike some of his predecessors, rendered all Tolstoy’s French into English and even spelled out some of General Kutuzov’s obscenities. (Tolstoy had obscured the profanity with ellipses.) What Rosemary Edmonds, the last translator of the novel, had as “It serves them right, the b—— b——s!” Briggs has as “They asked for it, the fucking bastards!”

And thirdly, there is the dialogue. The three great previous translators of War and Peace were all educated women. Briggs is impatient with them, on the grounds that their language could not be equal to the brute earthiness of the soldiers' dialogue on battlefields. But it is not obvious that Briggs is so earthy either. "'You all right, Petrov?' inquired one. 'We gave it to 'em hot, men. That'll keep 'em quiet,' another said. 'Couldn't see nothing. They were hitting their own men! Couldn't see nothing for the dark, mates. Anything to drink?'" How much better is this than dialogue which Briggs dislikes: "I say, fellow-countrymen, will they set us down here or take us on to Moscow?"

message 20: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob I can't wait to read The Goddamn Fucking Death of Ivan Ilyich, the Stupid Bitch.

Moira Russell Jacob wrote: "I can't wait to read The Goddamn Fucking Death of Ivan Ilyich, the Stupid Bitch."

Or Anna Bitcherina?

message 22: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Resurrerection.

David Mine's on the way. Glad it doesn't suck.

Moira Russell Proustitute wrote: "But by comparing it with others, and having a Russian friend of mine read a few sections, it seems to be more faithful and precise."

It was certainly very funny - it seemed to get that zany quality.

Moira Russell Proustitute wrote: "Ah, yes: the new NYRB book club recruit! "

Jacob must have so many toasters by now....

message 26: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Moira wrote: "Jacob must have so many toasters by now...."

No, Proustitute gets that one. Pope Jacob just sat back on his throne and cackled.

message 27: by Steve (new)

Steve Sounds like one for the list. Thanks for correcting a bad assumption of mine -- that Gogol would be plodding and ponderous.

BTW, you make great use of the "Update" feature. Excellent follow-up comments, too!

message 28: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Coughenour The second volume is indeed all bits and pieces but still contains some wonderful passages. Every time those Navarino trousers crossed the page I laughed again.

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