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 …
Pursglove, Michael. "Mertvye dushi (I)". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 06 January 2009; last revised 30 November -1.
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=20800, accessed 25 April 2015.]