Insidious Intent: An Interpretation of Fedor Sologub's The Petty Demon

Diana Greene

Fedor Sologub's peculiar masterpiece, The Petty Demon (1907) today provokes the same reactions of irritation and delight as when it first appeared. This first full-length study of The Petty Demon shows that part of the novel's uniqueness can be explained by its particular relation to several historical and literary-historical factors: the era of political reaction during the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II, the decline of the realistic novel, and the evolution of the Russian symbolist movement. Beyond these factors, however, this study suggests an intrinsic reason for the novel's enduring power: the story of the protagonist's growing insanity is echoed by a structure designed to induce in the reader an aesthetic equivalent of this insanity. To support this hypothesis the study analyzes Sologub's unusual reworking of the novelistic categories of character, plot, setting and narration, and offers a convincing interpretation of the novel. "The conclusions ... are interesting and thought-provoking. Greene knows the material well and manages to sustain a lively discussion throughout, asking quite relevant questions." (SR) " extremely lucid and useful study." (MLR)