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Literature / The Petty Demon

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Smooth is the surface of my mirror and pure its construction. Repeatedly measured and painstakingly checked, it has not a single blemish
—Fyodor Sologub about this novel

The Petty Demon is a notorious book by Fyodor Sologub which was gradually written in 1892-1902 and saw the light in 1905. It caused a scandal and was regarded an indictment aganst the Tsarist Russia of the time.

Its main character, Ardalyon Borisych Peredonov, is a Sadistic Teacher in a gymnasium. Moreover, he is also not all there, hallucinating when he does not torment people around him. However the society appears to accept him as he is.

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In general the novel depicts in broad strokes the everyday life of a provincial Russian town of the early XX century. At the time it was considered a scathing satire of the depravity of the small-town existence.


Tropes:

  • Age-Gap Romance:
    • For the main couple. Varvara is older than Peredonov, nearing 50. She is worried that hed quit her.
    • A troubling by modern standards example is the romance between Sasha Pylnikov, a gymnasium student who is in his early teenagehood and an adult girl Lyudmila Rutilova. Rutilova even dresses Sasha as a girl.
  • The Alcoholic: Another feature of Peredonov, although it is by far not the gravest of his vices.
  • Animal Metaphor: Pavel Volodin is repeatedly, somewhat insistently likened to a ram regarding borh his appearance, his voice an his behavior. It is certainly a foreshadowing of something bad.
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  • Author Tract: The narrator frequently comes out of his way to once more stress, how evil Peredonov actually is.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Peredonov abuses the household white cat, pulling him by the tail and ears. Poor animal cannot apply his teath to protect himself because he is aware that in this case he will be brutally beaten.
  • Chubby Chaser: It is said for Peredonov. Might be an informed thing, invoked to harass Varvara who is getting leaner with time.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • Once Peredonov, Varvara and their guest start kicking the wall in the sitting-room and spill the coffee on it because they have nothing better to do. Later comes their landlady, a vulgar and aggressive broad. They are fawning and try to accomodate her in another room so that she does not notice the recent havoc.
    • Peredonov, an insane man, is actually coward to the unbelievable extent. Once he plays billiard and his opponent, Murin, starts to aim at him with his cue. Peredonov seriously thinks that Murin is going to shoot and kill him so he ducks. Peredonov has several other instances of the same.
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  • The Ditz: Pavel Volodin. As it comes with the trope, he is generally kind-hearted though it rarely helps due to the level of his stupidity.
  • Downer Ending: Peredonov in the bout of drunken rage cuts the throat of his "friend" note  Volodin. This is an obvious crime and Peredonov is bound to at last be punished. Of course this trope is downplayed as Peredonov was utterly unsympathetic and had it coming to him since long.
  • For the Evulz: Peredonov acts evil only because of that. He torments his concubine and the household cat, is casually cruel to his gumnasium students. Because he enjoys being evil and he is also dim-witted so he cannot find other things to enjoy.
  • Gender Reveal: Sasha Pylnikov is dressed as a geisha and comes to the party in drag. After some misadventures he finds himself in a carriage with an actor who realises that the geisha is a boy. The actor acts magnanimously, promising to never tell anyone. Because when he was young he, as an actor, also had to wear drag at times.
  • Imaginary Enemy: Nedotykomka, a poltergeist whom Peredonov hallucinates in various corners of his apartment. The word became famous. In fact Nedotykomka was the creature that haunted Sologub himself IRL, he even wrote a poem about that.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Varvara is nearing 50 and her body is still young and awesome but her face has become ugly.
  • Kissing Cousins: Peredonov's concubine Varvara is his second cousin. Or so he says, because his landlady does not believe it a bit. Of course they are not always kissing, quite frequently they try to hurt each other.
  • Narcissist. Peredonov, a very self-centered character, is the one.
  • The Paranoiac: Peredonov is certain that he is observed and some malevolent forces (including the ghost called Nedotykomka) as well as actual people wish him bad and hurt his interests.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: Peredonov is afraid of this. He is a gymnasium teacher but dreams of the post of inspector in the educational system.
  • Protagonist Title: Peredonov is obviously the "petty demon" in the name of the novel.
  • Relatively Flimsy Excuse: Peredonov pretends that his concubine Varvara is his second cousin. His landlady is unconvinced.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Pavel Volodin is compared to a ram numerous times. In the end his thoat is cut by the crazed Peredonov without clear motives.
  • Sadistic Teacher: Peredonov oh so much. He gets off when his students kneel in front of him. He is also very keen on punishing them.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Peredonov casually and groundlessly accuses Varvara of this. When he is about to drink a cup of coffee he says that it should be poisoned.
  • Trash the Set: Once characters collectively kick the wall of the sitting room of Peredonov's apartment and spill the coffee on it. Just for entertainment.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Sologub not only confirmed that the occurences in this book were based on his own experiences as a school teacher in a small town. He also stated that he mitigated things in his novel, the reality had actually been harsher than the things depicted. However he denied that he was Peredonov. He claimed that Peredonov was based off one teacher he knew who in the end went completely mad.
  • Villain Has a Point: When Peredonov reveals that the Rutilov sisters dress Sasha Pylnijov as a girl and generally pervert him, he reeals this information to the head of his gymnasium. However both Pylnikov and Rutilovs deny it outright. Rutilov girls are so fresh and charming while Peredonov is so disgusting that people generally believe the ladies. It contributes to the final breakdown of Peredonov.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Peredonov is partly this (in contradiction with the description of the very previous trope). He is generally respected and the oddities in his behavior for some time go either unnoticed or overlooked. All mothers are ready to let his daughters marry the gymnasium teacher. Moreover young and charming girls themselves have nothing against wedding him. In fact he is quite well-established in life as his position is good enough to make him a satisfying party. Also he expectes to become an inspector.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Present in the sub-plot of the novel, dealing with the romance of the schoolboy Sasha Pylnikov and an adult girl Lyudmila Pylnikova. Sasha, perfumed and dressed in skirts and stockings looks attractive.
    • Moreover, later a contest for the best costume is arranged at a town party. Sasha, dressed a geisha and masked, becomes the most popular female contestant and receives the most votes, although it is partly due to the efforts of the Rutilov sisters. Later people are angered by his success and attack him, trying to tear his mask off. He very barely escapes unnoticed.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Peredonov definitely would hurt Varvara.
    • Also Sasha at times hits his older lover Rutilova when he becomes annoyed by her perverse demands.


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