Chichikov, a mysterious stranger, arrives in a provincial town and visits a succession of landowners to make each a strange offer. He proposes to buy the names of dead serfs still registered on the census, saving their owners from paying tax on them, and to use these “souls” as collateral to reinvent himself as a gentleman. In this ebullient masterpiece, Gogol created a grotesque gallery of human types, from the bear-like Sobakevich to the insubstantial fool Manilov, and, above all, the devilish con man Chichikov.
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