Nikolai Gogol: Mertvye dushi (I) [Dead Souls (Part 1)]

(2426 words)

Nikolai Gogol’s Mertvye dushi [Dead Souls] was published in June 1842, in St. Petersburg, Gogol having despaired of the Moscow censorship. He had been working on it since 1834. The title is a pun – one of many in the work – on the Russian word dusha, which can mean “soul” in the spiritual sense, but can also mean “male serf”. In this second sense it was the official term used to describe a landowner’s holding of serfs: s/he owned so many “souls”. The censor chose to concentrate on the first meaning of the word and, on the grounds that “the human soul is immortal”, insisted on the title Pokhozhdeniia Chichikova ili Mertvye …

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Pursglove, Michael. "Mertvye dushi (I)". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 06 January 2009
[, accessed 01 October 2016.]