Monday, 8 December 2014

Ivan, Ivanovich, Ivanova...- Characters and characterisation in Dead Souls

Tom (Amateur Reader) at Wuthering Expectations describes Dead Souls as overpopulated.
That's very true. A few days ago I wrote that the plot of Dead Souls is unimportant. It feels even less important now, as though Chichikov's trip is hardly more than Gogol's excuse to have us meet a bunch of eccentric people.
In volume 1, we're introduced to:
1/ The main character, Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov
2/ Selifan, the coachman
3/ Petrushka, the lackey
4-6/ The governor, his wife and daughter
7/ Manilov
8/ Mikhailo Semyonovich Sobakevich
9/ The head magistrate Ivan Grigorievich
10/ Nozdryov
11/ The postmaster Ivan Andreevich
12/ The police chief Alexei Ivanovich
13/ The prosecutor
14/ The town mayor
15/ Manilov's wife Lizanka
16, 17/ Manilov's children Themistoclus and Alkides
18/ Natasya Petrovna Korobochka
19/ Mizhuev, Nozdryov's in-law
20/ Sobakevich's wife Feodulia Ivanova
21/ Plyushkin
22/ Ivan Antonovich, who deals with deeds
23, 24/ Sofya Ivanova and Anna Grigorievna, the 2 gossipy women
There are also 2 muzhiks who appear on the 1st page of the novel, the police chief's wife, the tutor of Manilov's children, the vice-governor, Fetinya and Pelageya- who work for Korobochka, the staff captain Potseluev, the lieutenant Kuvshinikov, Ponomaryov- who sells fake wine, a woman overcharging vodka, Porfiry and Pavluska- who work for Nozdryov, the district captain of police, Uncle Mityai and Uncle Minyai, Andryushka, Mikheev, Cork Stepan, Milushkin, Maxim Telyechnikov, Yeremey Sorokoplyokhin, a muzhik with an aptly uttered word, Plyushkin's oldest daughter Alexandra Stepanovna, Proshka and Mavra- who work for Plyushkin, Paramonov, Pimenov, Pantelimonov, Grigory Go-never-get, Father Carp and Father Polycarp, Pyotr Saveliev Disrespect- Trough, Elizaveta Sparrow, Yeremei Karyakin, Vitaly Dillydally and son Anton, Popov, Abakum Fyrov, attorney Zolotukha, inspector in the board of health Trukhachevsky, archpriest Kiril and son, Mikheych, Ilya Paramonych, the steward Pyotr Petrovich Samoilov, Mashka- Sofya Ivanova's servant, the assessor Drobyazhkin (local police force), Semyon Ivanovich- a man with a seal ring on index finger, Captain Kopeikin and the general, Derebin, Vakhramey, Likhachev, Perependev, Kifa Mokievich and son Moky, etc.
More to come in volume 2:
25/ Andrei Ivanovich Tentetnikov
26/ Teacher Alexander Petrovich
27/ Teacher Fyodor Ivanovich
28/ Fyodor Fyodorovich Lenitsyn, the head of department who makes Tentetnikov lose his job
29/ Barbar Nikolaych Vishnepokromov
30/ General Alexander Dmitrievich Betrishchev
31/ His daughter Ulinka
32/ Colonel Koshkarev
33/ Pyotr Petrovich Petukh
34, 35/ His sons Nikolasha and Alexasha
36/ Platon Mikhalych Platonov
37/ Konstantin Fyodorovich Kostanzhoglo
38/ His wife
39/ The tax farmer Afanasy Vassilyevich Muzarov
40/ Khlobuev
41/ Platon's brother Vassily
42/ Alexei Ivanovich Lenitsyn
43/ Chichikov's lawyer
44/ Khlobuev's wife
45/ Marya Yeremeevna, the rich woman that dies
46/ The prince
47/ Samosvistov, the friend that helps Chichikov
In the background we also have the butler Grigory and the housekeeper Perfilyevna, Tentetnikov's uncle Onyfry Ivanovich- a state councillor, countess Boldryev and princess Yuzyakin, Kozma, Little Foma and Big Foma, Denis- who work for Petukh, Emelyan and Antoshka, Khlobuev's aunt Alexandra Ivanovna Khanasarova, Kiryushka- works for Khlobuev and brings champagne, A. I. Lenitsyn's wife, former probate judge Burmilov and Khavanov, a muzhik who brings material to Kostanzhoglo, the merchant, the tailor, Ivan Potapych- who goes bankrupt, etc.
(The book is about 400 pages).
Terrified? Horrified? Petrified? Stupefied?
OK, I'm just messing with you. Writers have different ways to help us poor readers remember their characters. Tolstoy, for example, uses repetition- a few features, a few key phrases attached to each person. Gogol uses images and scenes, making the characters not only more distinctive and memorable but also more real. Take Manilov. We can cut him down to some words such as "sugary", "flatterer", etc. but he's brought to life through 3 scenes. 1st, Manilov and Chichikov stand at the door for a long time, each telling the other to go in. 2nd, they talk about the other people in town and praise everybody and continuously agree with each other. 3rd, they embrace and kiss each other for 5 minutes and get a toothache for hours afterwards. The 2nd scene mentioned here is contrasted with a later scene, in which Chichikov speaks in the same manner only to find Sobakevich criticising everybody. The personality and character of Sobakevich are manifested by 2 other scenes- 1st, he demands a ridiculously high price for his servants as though their excellence still matters after their death, and 2nd, he complains about having to pay in the future for never being sick his whole life.
Now take Tentetnikov, Platon and Khlobuev. All these 3 are incarnations of sloth, but they are totally different. Tentetnikov is a product of his 2 teachers, Alexander Petrovich, who emphasises on ambition and teaches his students to move forward, and Fyodor Ivanovich, who prioritises quiet, obedience and good conduct over everything else, so, funnily enough, he has aspirations but stands still and we remember him as a man sitting for hours every day doing nothing, pondering over his great project for Russia. Platon, also lazy and idle, is linked to the image of boredom and yawns, and juxtaposed with Pyotr Petrovich Petukh, the embodiment of hedonism and gluttony. Khlobuev, similar to Platon, sees his own faults, knows his life is disorder and deterioration, but has a weak will and never makes an effort to change- the 2 most memorable details of this character are the drinking of champagne in spite of debts and difficulties, and his wish, if he has money, to let his children learn dancing.
These scenes and details bring such strong images that they create a convincingness, a kind of reality for the characters, the actual people as well as the dead souls Chichikov imagines, staring at the list. 

[This post is messy and incoherent, isn't it? Hard to be collected and clear after reading such a novel though. Now I need to clear my head. And like Dead Souls this post will end in...] 

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