Straddling between decadence and symbolism - Fyodor Sologub
Fyodor Sologub spent an entire decade writing his most popular novel, “The Petty Demon,” which he completed in 1902. But editors repeatedly rejected the manuscript and the writer waited another five years before it was published.
The novel ran through 10 editions during the author’s life, despite predictions by some critics that it was obsolete and everything described in it would be forgotten like a bad dream within another 10 years. More than a century after it was written, this strange book is as relevant as ever.
The protagonist, a provincial schoolteacher named Peredonov, is a difficult, cowardly, and unbearably banal man who finds pleasure in hurting people, while barely managing to conceal his madness under the mask of respectability.
There’s something in Peredonov that is frighteningly familiar to any Russian, and heartbreakingly so--something that has long languished in provincial boredom and can rise from the darker edges of one’s soul. Sologub describes the life of a remote town with detailed monotony.
While there are many characters in the novel, one of its most formidable characters is not even a person – it is more like Peredonov’s hallucination, a creature called Nedotykomka. Sologub had invented and described her in his earlier poems, but this shadow became frighteningly real in his novel; anyone who has ever read about Nedotykomka will never forget her.
It is in this way that Sologub’s writing wonderfully combines reality and mysticism, nobility and baseness, everyday life and the miraculous. He occupies a special niche in Russian literature for his unrivaled ability to express the dark sides of the Russian soul.
Silver Age poet Nikolay Gumilev (and first husband to Anna Akhmatova) used to say that while Russians didn’t memorize Sologub’s poetry, in a moment of sadness it came to mind all by itself.
Sologub was a young contemporary of Dostoevsky and a senior representative of the Decadent and Symbolist movements. He was celebrated by many of his contemporaries, including Alexander Blok, who called Sologub’s writing “complete and whimsical,” and his muse “sad and crazy.”
Fyodor Sologub was born on March 1 1863 in St. Petersburg into the family of a tailor who had been a serf, the illegitimate son of a landowner.
The future writer grew up in the home of a petty aristocratic family where his mother was a servant. He became fond of reading when he was small and started writing poetry as a teenager. After graduating from a teacher- training institute, Sologub spent 10 years teaching mathematics in various provincial towns and even authored a geometry textbook.