Dead Souls

In his book Changing Places, David Lodge introduces the game Humiliation. It's about confessing great books you've never read. Apparently, for AS Byatt, one of her entries was/is Gogol's "Dead Souls, now in a new English translation.

Landowners in Tsarist Russia were taxed on their payroll of serfs (souls), which included those who had died between tax-assessments. At one level, Gogol's book describes how a man, Chichikov, has formed the plan of buying the dead souls of various landowners in order to use his list of fictive slaves to buy real land to "resettle" them and to become a landowner himself. However, the book is much more complex than that, why I recommend Dead Souls Demystified for a more thorough analysis.
From Berlin 2015
According to Tom Reiss, the Jewish oil barons from Baku, who after the Russian revolution escaped to Berlin, talked about their oil wells as "lost souls". They had surely read Gogol's book and perhaps discussed it with Vladimir Nabokov, who also had fled Russia for Berlin.

There is much to say about Russia and oil, and its history is full of dead souls of all kinds, perhaps especially the kind that Chichikov represents according to Byatt:

"Chichikov himself is also of course, a dead soul, a man self-designed to be unremarkable, agreeable and acceptable, a smiling confidence-trickster whose plots, as Nabokov points out, are neither very clever nor very coherent."

Or, using Nobokov's words, he is the manifestation of the untranslatable Russian concept of poshlost.

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