Dead Souls Author:Nikolai Gogol Dead Souls, the paradoxical title of Nikolai Gogol's novel, immediately troubled the Russian censors of 1843, who felt that it was probably blasphemous. But unlike Gogol's modern readers, they were at a loss for an everyday meaning for the phrase. Live "souls" were negotiable property in Russia of the early 19th century. "Souls" meant serfs, ... more »and parcels of rural property were measured by the number of souls working on them: thus a landowner short of capital might raise money by mortgaging his property, in terms of the number of souls on it, to the government. On each of these souls a poll tax was due, their number established at the taking of a census. But if some souls died between the two takings of the census, the tax was not diminished. This is how Tchitchikoff, Gogol's hero, had his brilliant idea.
"Dead souls" were no good to anyone, and an enterprising traveler might buy them cheap. Landowners would be relieved of the taxes; the traveler would move too fast to be caught by the nosy inquirers, and on paper he would appear to be a landed proprietor...« less