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The Petty Demon (2009)

The Petty Demon (2009)

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3.98 of 5 Votes: 3
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0882338080 (ISBN13: 9780882338088)
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About book The Petty Demon (2009)

The theatrical nature and content of Sologub’s The Little Demon had me envisioning a play on the stage for the first third of the novel. Hilarious dialogue, telling imagery, and one of the most paranoid and depraved characters in fiction made visualizing this text taking place physically before me easy. For much of this novel, I thought that Sologub would surely continue to circuitously loop Peredenov’s mad antics into infinity. He “loved nothing and no one, and as a result the real world could only have a depressing effect on him.” Depression surmounts as his extreme paranoia builds and he believes that his friends intend to poison him, his lover wants to shoot him, colleagues are jealous of his success, and children want to have sex with him. This last revelation in Peredenov’s flight shifted my impression of the novel — perhaps Sologub was, actually, going to say something important.Sasha appears on the scene of Demon almost out of thin air. Not surprisingly, his appearance is timed with the sudden coming of “a dimly outlined creature [...] a small, spritely, gray demon” to Peredenov during Church. This demon taunts Peredenov always directly after readers are unapologetically exposed to Sasha’s sexual expose. Sasha, like Peredenov, has an aspect of sadness:…his black eyes, with their long blue-black lashes, full of entreaty and sadness. Dark-skinned and shapely — this was particularly noticeable as he knelt there, calm and upright as if under someone’s strict surveillance, and with that broad, prominent chest — he appeared to Peredenov just like a girl.Sasha’s perceived sadness is connected here to three very important aspects of his character: his femininity, dark skin, and the theme of surveillance. Sasha, a school boy under Peredenov’s care in the district, is carefully watched by not only Peredenov but also by the reader who is subjected by Sologub to every succulent detail of Sasha’s innocent/sexual encounters behind closed doors with a young woman much older than him. The descriptions that Sologub offers concerning Sasha’s and Lyudmila’s intimacies are some of the most tantalizing sexual encounters that I have ever read in fiction (and I have read some pretty enticing narratives). Firstly, the innocence is undeniable as Sasha and Lyudmila subconsciously move through gestures of love-making without full awareness of their desires. Sologub posits that Sasha has a ripe sexuality, but lacks a clear awareness of it despite his prolific blushing. This “ripe sexuality” vacillates between heteronormative and homosocial as Sasha is not only read as a female by certain groups — including Peredenov — but enjoys cross-dressing and performing more feminine roles in public and private spaces. Yet, he relishes his masculinity, too, and is treated as a potent, virile potential sexual partner by girls and women.This nature is eroticized by Sologub and by the adult characters in the novel who, for example, are willing to harm others and Sasha to find out who the sexy “geisha” (Sasha in disguise) is at a costume party. Yet, Sologub invites readers to objectify Sasha, too, in a way that feels uncomfortable but not extremely dangerous — he is, after all, unaware of his attractive power:Confused, agonized feelings of shame and attraction disturbed him and fed his imagination with vaguely erotic visions.The “vague” eroticism of Sasha’s and Lyudmila’s playful, sexual actions comes to drive the plot. With the introduction of Sasha this novel changed direction for me. The novel confusingly shifted from centering on Peredenov — and his funny, mad descent — to taking the intersection between Sasha’s sexuality and Peredenov’s morbidity as its center. This change, while (extremely) interesting in terms of examining child sexuality in literature, did not do much to propel Peredenov as a character. To the contrary. He seems just as mad, perhaps more so (although not enough to really mark). He seems, in fact, nearly stagnant when his obsession with Sasha enters the scene. The only real change is that others begin to take courage in ousting him from society. I am left with the impression that Sasha is really the main character of The Little Demon because he is the titular character. His eroticized body and nature appear to be the fulcrum of Peredenov’s disposition: a gray longing that never comes to fruition. The narrative appears to be a silent cry of desire that manifests as baleful paranoia.

This is the intriguing tale of a nasty, antisocial teacher going paranoid and mad. It is based in a Russian town presumably around the turn of the century. It was written in 1902 and appeared in 1905 and has been likened to Gogol’s “Dead Souls”. It was a classic for its time and was popular in English since 1916. The Penguin edition has the 10 short passages as variants for certain points in the story at the end but annoying it’s not entirely clear why they excluded (presumably the censors) or where they should go. There are about twenty or more characters each with 3 long names (e.g. Perdonov Ardalyon Borisovich) and several diminutives etc. Fortunately most appear in particular episodes and I just about managed to keep track.Peredonov is trying to advance up the social ladder and become an inspector within the hierarchy of wider Russian civil service. He is also looking for a wife and others are looking to marry off their daughters and sisters to him. His mistress is Varavara who, when in service with the Princess of St Petersburg, got her to suggest that when Varavara married she could get Peredonov the position (which he doesn’t actually believe but endlessly hopes for). He has friends including the sheepish Volodin and Rutilov who has three eligible sisters (Valeriyo, Darya and Lyudmila). Jealous of others Varavara gets letters forged purporting to be from the Princess to pressure Peredonov. Meanwhile Peredonov is getting into a vicious cycle of mixing up his own spiteful behaviour and suspicious delusion of others’ motives including the school’s headmaster, local dignitaries and head of police. He alienates his pupils who, he in turn tries to get their parents to flog them for no reason. He clearly starts losing it and seeing a little demon. He becomes nastier, more obnoxious and seedier as time goes by – he starts with no redeeming features and gets worse!The style is classic Russian literature but for me quite an innovative read. The most interesting aspect is the parallel story (only connected to Peredonov’s because he was once offered her hand) of Lyudmila. She is a young lady and ends up ‘innocently’ getting emotionally involved with Sasha - a very young school boy (may be 14 perhaps?). She has erotic dreams, likes to see him semi-naked and to dress him as a girl. This combined with the several beatings of ‘compliant’ maids gives the novel definite subdued-erotic overtones of inappropriate behaviour. This is the most provocative Russian novel I’d read and surprised it wasn’t censored more?Quotes “A scaly-ringed snake glided up to her and twined itself around her as if climbing a tree, slithering up the branches of her beautiful naked body. Then she was lying by a lake on a hot summer’s evening with threatening storm clouds overhead. She was naked, with bright golden garlands on her brow. There was a smell of warm stagnant water, of scorched grass. Over the dark, menacingly calm lake glided a majestic, powerful swan, violently beating the water with its wings and hissing loudly as it approached the bank to embrace her. Everything became dark and terrifying. Both the snake and the swan had Sasha’s face,…”“He wanted to do something to her, be it pleasant or painful, tender or shameful – but what? Should he kiss her feet or beat her long and hard with supple birch twigs?“Sluggish in perception, his squalid mind contaminated every sensation, transforming it into something obscene and loathsome. He delighted in seeing imperfection in everything”“It was as if someone had extracted his soul, put away for safe keeping and replaced it with an ingenious boredom machine, which worked with monotonous and ruthless efficiency”I’m surprised given the nature of the story and quality of writing this seemingly obscure novel, is not more widely appreciated. Five stars.

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"Next day Peredonov went to see the district attorney, Avinovitsky. Once again the weather was miserable. A blustery wind whirled clouds of dust before it. Evening was drawing in and everything was suffused with a melancholy light that filtered through a thick haze and didn't seem to come from the sun at all. A deathly silence hung over the streets. The wretched, hopelessly tumbledown houses seemed to have been built for no purpose at all beyond that of creating a soulless uniformity and drabness and timidly hinted at the dreary, miserable lives dragging on within their walls.People walked along the streets slowly, aimlessly, as if weighed down by a lethargy they had no desire to shake off. Only children, those eternal tireless vessels of divine joy on earth, showed any life as they ran and played - but they were already showing signs of being afflicted with inertia. Some faceless and invisible monster seemed to be perched on their shoulders, peering every now and then into their blank faces with eyes full of menace.Tormented by vague fears, Peredonov walked amidst all this squalor and depression, over an earth that seemed alienated from heaven, impure and impotent. The lofty gave him no comfort, the earthly brought him no joy, and now, as always, he looked on the world with lifeless eyes, like some solitary demon consumed by fear and dejection.Sluggish in perception, his squalid mind contaminated every sensation, transforming it into something obscene and loathsome. He delighted in seeing imperfection in everything. Whenever he passed an upright, freshly painted column or pillar he felt a savage desire to break it or cover it with filth. He loved to see objects soiled in his presence and would laugh for joy. Well-scrubbed schoolboys were anathema to him and he would persecute them, calling them 'soap-addicts' - the slovenly, scruffy ones he understood much better. He loved nothing and no one, and as a result the real world could only have a depressing effect on him. And so it was whenever he met people, especially strangers and people he didn't know and to whom it was impossible to be rude. Happiness consisted in doing absolutely nothing, in cutting himself off from the world and in pampering his stomach."

Questo libro girava per casa da molto tempo. Aspettava che qualcuno lo leggesse ed alla fine, caro Sologub, è successo. E con che soddisfazione. Sologub racconta con maestria vorticosa la storia della follia persecutoria e del delirio del professor Peredònov. All'interno di una cupa e torbida provincia russa, i personaggi si muovono in maniera grottesca intorno al protagonista e lui continua capitolo dopo capitolo la discesa nelle più torbide paranoie fino ad arrivare al culmine. Il libro parte da un punto e piano piano ci fa scivolare verso un altro punto e i colori cambiano e l'atmosfera si fa confusa,ubriaca, rarefatta.Addirittura l' Inafferrabile che tormenta e incalza il protagonista a tratti mi ha ricordato lo "Spilungo Variolato" di Stephen King nella 'Storia di Lisey'. Da leggere assolutamente perché il male trionfa, perché come tutti i russi è modernissimo, senza tempo e senza luogo. Bellissimo. Direi.
—alessandra falca

This is the second Eastern European novel about a pathetic school teacher I've read this year, and it is great.Peredonovism is very identifiable. Sologub does a great job painting the portrait of petty people. It's an artsy-fartsy read, as in you shouldn't be looking for the things you normally look for in a good book. Yet, it still holds strong throughout with relatable characters and a pretty gripping plot (to be perfectly honest). It's really the characters that make the plot so gripping though. The seeking of a moderately high official position couldn't have been interesting if it were anyone other than Peredonov. Then again, I don't think that moderately high official position would exist if there were no Peredonovs in our society.Just as I read Ferdydurke, I felt I was losing my mind while I was reading this.The author is normally a poet, and you can tell. The prose is prose, but it's sort of... it's not flowery and beautiful... it's not obscure... but it's clearly written in templates and symbols.I downright loved this novel. I guess I don't have too much to say about it now, but maybe I will later. And, at that, I will be telling it outloud in conversation. For this goodreads review though, just let the records show I loved this.P.S.---just as note to self: I picked this book up at Mermaide Books in Williamsburg, Virginia. Never heard the author or title before, but it looked good. The back reads: "the book reflects Sologub's own tormented psyche. The novel's protagonist, Peredonov, a paranoid schoolteacher who destroys himself in his quest to become a school inspector..." These are teh words that read to me as "READ THIS SHIT!"

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