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.