I’ve been burning through books during my vacation, which I’m finding a welcome alternative when I kinda unplug—although I’m not really unplugged, just kinda—and I am in the middle of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls which is absolutely hysterical.
The biographical details behind the writing of the book is insane, and I recommend you click the link for the book title above to find out more, but I picked it up because I found the whole concept of a wannabe nobleman buying up dead peasants and using paper ghosts to build an empire is fascinating, and very much inline with the devilish spirits of the derivative market economy we have come to know and love in the 21st century.
Anyway, I might have more to say about that and the book in general, but I just wanted to give you a sense just how funny and far out Gogol’s narrator/author is in this novel, here’s a passage that attempts to describe the wealthy land owner Manilov, who in this scene is receiving the “protagonist” Chickikov (or the dead soul wrangler) at his home. Manilov is a brilliant creation, and much of that genius is framed by the author’s inability to describe him given his lack of character. It makes for me one of the funniest passages in a novel full of absurd comedy and wit that would shame even the likes of Beckett and Ionesco.
The two friends kissed each other warmly and manilov conducted his visitor into the house. Tough the time during which they will be passing through the hall, the anterooms and the dining-room is somewhat brief, we shall do our best to use of it to say a few words about the master of the house. But at this point the author must confess that such an undertaking is very difficult. it is far easier to depict characters on a grander scale: there all you have to do is to fling handfuls of paint at the canvas – black, burning eyes, beetling brows, a furrowed forehead, a black or fiery scarlet cloak thrown over a shoulder, and the portrait is finished; but these are all gentleman of whom there are a great many in the world and whom are very much like one another in appearance, and yet when you look at them more closely, you discover that they possess a great number of of the most elusive peculiarities – such gentlemen are terribly hard to portray. In cases like these, you must concentrate all your attention before you can force all these subtle and invisible traits to disclose themselves to you, and, generally, you have to train your eye, already expert in the science of uncovering the secret places of the heart, to penetrate more deeply.
God alone could say what Manilov’s character was like.
And that’s the point at which I broke down, you can can finish the paragraph here, you won’t be disappointed.