"The Dead Souls. What, I said, after the Gogol novel?"

The political satire that is 'Dead Souls' was published in 1842 and penned by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.

Manilov. Illustration for Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls
Public DomainManilov. Illustration for Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls - Credit: Pyotr Boklevsky (1816-1897)

The narrative takes the form of continuous poetic prose and was intended to be a tale of three parts. Gogol however, allegedly destroyed the second section of the story, leaving it seemingly unfinished, although, as it stands, it is still regarded as being suitably complete.

The ‘Dead Souls’ of the title refers to the ‘serfs’ (peasants under bondage or slavery) of the Russian empire, who worked the land of their employers.

Gogol (burning the manuscript of the second part of
Public DomainGogol (burning the manuscript of the second part of "Dead Souls"). Wood enrgaving. 1934 - Credit: Nikolay Dmitrevsky

When counting the number of serfs one had, they were referred to as ‘souls’.

The ‘dead souls’ then are those serfs who, although dead, were still retained on the property registers. On the other hand, they are also said to refer to the seemingly ‘dead souls’ of the characters within the book.