Gogol's cover design for Dead Souls' first edition, 1842

Thanks to Project Gutenberg I’m able to reproduce Gogol’s 1842 novel Dead Souls here. Since the original was published almost 170 years ago it’s now in the public domain, which means we can read it for free!

The book is divided into three parts: the Author’s Preface, Part I, and Part II. Gogol completed the first part in 1841, and it tells the story of a middle-class gentleman traveling through the countryside in search of “souls,” the term used at the time to describe dead serfs – the peasants who worked the land. Part two famously drops off mid-sentence and was incomplete at the time of its author’s death.

Where Dead Souls’ first half is a dark, absurd satire of the Russian Empire, the second part was intended to serve as a corrective – Gogol as policy reformer, providing solutions to society’s problems. If any of this sounds dry it’s not! The book is an amazingly fast and funny read; and while I’m obviously biased, feels as modern today as it must have in the mid-19th century.

I’m also thrilled to be able to illustrate Gogol’s text with gorgeous drop caps – like the one on this page and in the background – from the Daily Drop Cap project by the amazing Jessica Hische. Thanks Jessica!

I think you’ll find Gogol’s “prose poem” as relevant now as when he first wrote it. Happy reading!