Dead Souls: Without Naming Names

  • Barbara Heldt
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


‘A successful work is not one which resolves contradictions in a spurious harmony, but one which expresses the idea of harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, pure and uncompromised, in its innermost structure.’1 Applying Theodor Adorno’s words to Nikolay Gogol’s Dead Souls, one may well wonder whether this work does not prove the very opposite, namely, that any negatively embodied harmony on the structural level only makes the contradictions between the Gogolian universe and the ideal order of God, man and animals stand out in greater relief. Dead Souls is a structurally harmonious work, its chapters neatly divided, its characters neatly introduced as in a well-made play by being mentioned before they are seen, its protagonist and the Idea of Russia kneading the narrative into a unified consistency. And yet no reader has ever been made to believe that this combination of disparate detail and black humour in Part 1 expresses any idea of harmony, negatively or otherwise. In fact, the Gogolian narrator (avtor) constantly asserts a spurious idea of harmony, inserting it into the narrative with the calculated effect of enhancing the reader’s disbelief in any such concept. The rhetorical passages which make Dead Souls a poema act as a sort of narrative refrain, invoking the impossibility of harmony.


Common Noun Feminine Noun Masculine Noun Black Humour Unify Consistency 
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  1. 1.
    Theodor Adorno, Prisms (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981) p. 32.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1989

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  • Barbara Heldt

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