The Littlest Demon: Pedophilia and Paranoia in Sologub’s The Little Demon

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.

Heroics in the Arctic with Satan

The motif of arctic exploration is not unique during the Romantic period in which many authors, such as Mary Shelley and Coleridge, utilize the setting of a sub-zero climate and its  dangers to highlight the macabre and mysterious nature of their plots and characters. In Wilkie Collins’s short story “The Devil’s Spectacles” the artic setting is reminiscent of such Romantic literary locations where characters are confronted with what they fear most — in this case, the devil and the dark nature of humanity.   Septimus Notman propels the tale by admitting on his deathbed to being a cannibal through eating his dead friend during an arctic adventure to save himself from starvation.  Upon his contemplation appears the devil with a pair of spectacles for Notman, which will give him the extra push needed to turn him from borderline sinful to full-fledged brute.  These spectacles allow their wearer to  “read everything in [one’s] mind, plain as print” and must be passed on to a different man before Notman can die.

When Notman dies, Alfred, his rich, empathetic, moralistic caretaker finds interest in the spectacles because he wants to determine whether he’s made the right choice to betroth himself to his poor maid, Cecilia, or if he should have followed his mother’s wishes to marry his young cousin Zilla.  “Cecilia,” which means “blind,” proves to have some indecipherable thoughts running through her mind: either they are very deceitful, or they are completely innocent and benevolent.  Alfred falls under the sway of the spectacles to believe that Cecilia is cheating on him with Sir John — a vague figure who once proposed to her and was refused.  After hiding in the bushes with his mother and eavesdropping on Cecilia’s conversation with a wayward maid, they both learn of Cecelia’s noble heart and Alfred never returns to the spectacles, passing them into Sir John’s hands.

The tale is rather more drab than it pretends to be in the first chapters, but it signals a couple important transformations and continuations between the Romantic and Victorian functions of the artic adventure.  Shelley’s Frankenstein, for example, exclaims of his artic trespass: “Prepare! your toils only begin: wrap yourself in furs and provide food; for we shall soon enter upon a journey where your sufferings will satisfy my everlasting hatred.”  It is the scene of hellish retribution.  Frankenstein here comes head-to-head with his creature-ish creation.  There is, perhaps, little less than the sublime element in the arctic, and it brings about deep pain that seems to continue on into infinity.

Collins’s artic is punctuated.  The devil is there — perhaps an ode to Dante’s Inferno in which Satan, weeping from his three colorful faces, is planted beneath a sheath of ice — but he doesn’t permeate beyond the artic; his malignancy is short-lived in England.  England undoes some of his evil work.  Here, the poor, innocent, faithful, and in-love Cecilia comes with a message to be “blind” to the devil’s spectacles; in her is the truth: in woman.

Woman is almost wholly missing from the Romantic confrontation with the arctic.  Where she tries to enter, she is silenced, ineffective.  But in this Victorian landscape we witness some permeability in which saving the tainted man is possible through, of course, the sweet truth of a pure, angelic woman.  That is fodder for another discussion.  But here, the artic, Dante-esque devil meets his foil and one soul has been saved.  The heroic act occurs within the domestic sphere in the safety of the English shrubbery.

The Devil’s in the Portrait

I have been enjoying — very much — reading a variety of works about portraiture (but who has time with a newborn baby?!).  My intention has been to write a series of posts about this theme in literature.

While reading, however, I wanted to pause and address a thread from a past series of mine: the devil in literature.  I find, not surprisingly, that there are many intersections between the portrait and the devil in the texts I have read.

One of these, in particular, feels most fundamental to a study of the devil in portrait: Nikolai Gogol’s “The Mysterious Portrait.”  Gogol hinges his short story upon many almost-universal topoi, found in related works such as Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Balzac’s “The Unfinished Masterpiece,” Poe’s “The Oval Portrait,” Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Stevenson’s “Markheim,” and even Faulkner’s “Evangeline” (to only name a small handful that come to mind).

The first topic that struck me in reading about the portrait in literature is that the beauty of the portrait is that an author/artist can project how the subject wants to look or how he views the subject, and not necessarily how that subject did look. (That has always been why one of my favorite rooms at the Museum of Fine Arts is the early American portraits.) This adds layers to a tale, complicating the status of reality, opening the door, of course, to the supernatural.

Gogol easily invokes the supernatural in the opening scene of “The Mysterious Portrait” as the young “artist of talent” Tchartkoff finds a rare work among other “monstrosities in the shape of pictures” in a shop that “belongs rather to a manufacturing automaton than to a man.”  Already, the stage is set.  Tchartkoff finds himself attracted to a dirty portrait of:

an old man, with a thin, bronzed face and high cheek-bones; the features seemingly depicted in a moment of convulsive agitation. He wore a flowing Asiatic costume. Dusty and defaced as the portrait was, Tchartkoff saw, when he had succeeded in removing the dirt from the face, traces of the work of a great artist. The portrait appeared to be unfinished, but the power of the handling was striking. The eyes were the most remarkable picture of all: it seemed as though the full power of the artist’s brush had been lavished upon them. They fairly gazed out of the portrait, destroying its harmony with their strange liveliness.

We all know, without further ado, exactly what this means.  It means that, like the poor weapon expert Cosmo von Wehrstahl in MacDonald’s Phantastes who is drawn to buy an old mirror that he can’t afford and finds the soul of a woman trapped inside it, Gogol’s protagonist comes face to face with the temptation of what he wants most.  For Tchartkoff, this is money and fame.  He buys the wayward painting because he falls in love with it, its undeniable expression of talent and of something else: its evocation of the feminine diabolical. What makes this devil — like so many devils before and after it in literature — “feminine” is its Asiatic garb: an aesthetic that Gogol does not want his readers to overlook.  Edward Said would have a lot to say about that.  And so do I, but that is for a longer piece.

Gogol’s portrait of the Asiatic devil has eyes like those in the portrait of John Melmoth’s namesake in Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer.  They are alive. Burn the portrait as he may, Melmoth cannot rid himself of that ubiquitous traveler and his temptations. Similarly, despite the artist’s nephew’s attempt to purchase the portrait and burn it after Tchartkoff dies, someone steals it from the auction; the devil lives on. His soul has been captured in the painting of his eyes.

Just as Culwin is haunted by the eyes of Alice Newell in Wharton’s short story “The Eyes,” Tchartkoff is haunted by “the two terrible eyes” which fix upon his face; “‘It looks with human eyes!'” he exclaims.  The eyes torment the young artist to such an extent that he suffers from a series of dreams-within-dreams in which he is never sure if he is awake or sleeping.  (Again, Gogol’s story could serve as the prototype for nineteenth-century topoi — this time, the “dream-within-a-dream” fascination exemplified by authors such as Poe,  Mallarme, Baudelaire, Shelley, or Grillparzer.)

Tchartkoff’s dream becomes reality as the dead man rises from the grave, jumps out from the painting, and fondles his roll of gold which, of course, makes the poor artist salivate.  The artist fantasizes about his life with that gold.  Lo! and Behold! the roll falls to the floor as the distracted devil finds his way back into the frame.  With the money from the devil Tchartkoff buys and writes himself an advertisement in the newspaper boasting of his talents (Geoffrey Tempest contemplates doing a similar thing in Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan). An aristocratic woman appears on his doorstep with her sallow, sickly daughter.  For the first time, Tchartkoff is asked to used his brush to lie.  The mother wants her daughter portrayed as robust and healthy: a very Psyche.  Tchartkoff weighs the options.

He lies with his art.  The devil has won.

Tchartkoff goes on to live a life of wealth and unhappiness.  Unhappiness leads to paranoia.  Paranoia leads to madness.  Madness leads to death when he makes a final, futile attempt to reclaim his forgotten real talents.  He dies while milking his last drop of blood to create a genuine piece of art.

In Part II of the tale Gogol reveals how the portrait came to be.  A talented artist was petitioned to paint a strange dying man’s portrait in the days before drawing his last breath.  The artist developed reservations when coming to terms with his subject’s eyes.  After painting them, he realized their supernatural powers — he refused to paint more.  No problem; the damage was already done.  The devil had been immortalized.  The poor artist was haunted by demons until he finally, many years later, created an angelic work inspired by Jesus and redeemed himself.  To save the rest of his family, the portrait must be found and burned.  No, never!

The portrait, like the devil, lives on.

The Devil is a Woman, Part V: Unless She Isn’t

After much effort I finally finished Mikail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which a student recommended to me years ago when she heard that I was interested in exploring how and why the “devil” becomes female in literature.  This, my seventh installment, presents what may seem at first a challenge to the rule that the devil is feminized or female, at least at some point, in most texts.

I generally enjoy reading Russian literature of the 20th century but my first dance with Bulgakov had me shooting in all kinds of directions.  I was enamored with his satirical imagery that often bordered on surrealism.  At times he painted such vivid pictures of the most ridiculous acts and people that I found myself pausing to imagine these images as they would appear in a film.  Maybe one directed by Maya Duren or David Lynch.

While the imagery verged on the cinematic, the prose read, for me, very much like a play.  The dialogue was so much like a tennis match that I couldn’t help but play out the conversations in my mind as if they were happening on the stage.  So, Bulgakov comes packing some not-amateur flair.

On the other hand, on nearly every page of the text appears a phrase that was funny at first but then quickly became the bane of my reading experience.  Characters are constantly interjecting remarks relating to the devil: “The devil take you!,”  “The devil I did!,”  etc.  A subtle touch of irony would have been nicer than the gratuitous overuse of such phrases.  I almost stopped reading the text because I just couldn’t take it anymore. Yes.  Yes, this book is about the devil in Russia.  Got it.  Thanks.

My primary interest in the text was to understand how Bulgakov fashions the devil and gender.  Unfortunately, he seemed not to take up the topic very interestingly.  The devil is Woland, male.  He has an entourage, mostly male except for a naked green witch.  (The cat Behemouth reminded me lovingly of Hoffmann’s Tomcat Murr.)  Gender matters in Master and Margarita because a woman is responsible for the first catastrophe and a woman is also responsible for the redemption of the soul.  Margarita believes in “the master,” her extramarital lover: a writer who, much like Geoffrey Tempest, is undervalued during his time as a creative thinker adhering to “old-fashioned” ideas.  Margarita believes in the master’s power of conjuring the story of Pontius Pilate. Bulgakov shifts his narrative between the story of the devil in Russia and the master’s story of the crucifixion.  Caught between these two stories is the love story of Margarita.

Margarita can withstand Hell for her lover.  In fact, she can even relish it.  Woland likes this.  The master, not so much.  She, in many ways, becomes the devil for some shining moments.  Like Hella (the female witch of Woland’s entourage), she performs devilry in the nude.  Her mischief, though, is for avenging her lover, who has ended up (with most of the other characters) in the insane asylum.  Margarita’s sins are the only ones forgiven — forgivable — in the text.

So, the devil has a soft spot for love.  But he isn’t feminized nor does he slip into a performance of female-ness at any point in the novel that I could find.  Then again, it was hard for me to stay focused.  The text was arduous reading; it didn’t hold my interest well.  Maybe Master and Margarita is an exception to the rule.  But I don’t want to read it again to find out.

The Devil is a Woman, Part VI: The Color of Sickness

I waited a long time to get my hands on Nawal El Saadawi’s novel The Innocence of the Devil.  I was interested in reading a novel by a contemporary Arab feminist/doctor/writer, and I also thought that this novel would be a nice addition to my exploration of the devil in literature.  This review is the sixth installment of my “The Devil is a Woman” series.

In its most basic incarnation, The Innocence of the Devil is a study in repetition and the role that repetition plays, not only as a literary device but also as a way of forming — and deconstructing — hegemonic systems.  El Saadawi is most invested in examining the constructs of gender difference from a religious standpoint, particularly in the context of madness.  The tale uses repetition as a way to articulate the “madness” of the main character: a three-prong personality, like “the father, son, and holy spirit.”  Her name is Ganat, Nefissa, and/or Narguiss.  Each personality has its own (repetitious) reflection of her life as a woman in Arabic society.  Ganat, for example, was born with her eyes open.  She walks with her head held high, barfoot like Jesus, and never falters physically or emotionally in the face of torment and injustice.  Nefissa has red sexuality and desire; Narguiss reverts most often to a childlike state of mind: wonder, fear, or nervousness.

The Ganat/Nefissa/Narguiss trinity is a patient at The Yellow Palace — and insane asylum — where she receives shock treatments frequently in order to erase her memory.  Her memory, it seems, is the source of her position as a public threat: “she remembers everything that has happened for five thousand years.”  The memory is the weapon — she cannot forget how she has been treated by others such as her grandfather, her lover, or her mother.  In each series of memories –which become confused or disjointed, or merged with beautiful dream-like imagery — she maintains authenticiy of herself (which is a strange thing because G/N/N is already so severed and mutilated).

To complicate matters that are already murky, El Saadawi suggests that G/N/N is not only the embodiment of a female holy trinity but is also the incarnate of the devil.  At first, I wondered if she were polarizing the two — good and evil.  But, she really wants to show how good and evil are one and that these are best articulated through a close examination of the position of women in Arabic society.

G/N/N is the holy trinity yet she is also Eblis, the devil, who, like her is an inmate of the The Yellow Palace.  They watch each other from afar (Ganat) or make love (Nefissa) or they fear each other (Narguiss).  “The devil is mad” but so is God…because there can be no other way in a world as limiting and as prejudiced and as white as hers.

One woman’s body (“a body which was unreal”) is the house of this power and at the same time, she is incredibly earthly.  Like her mother before her, she searches — endlessly — for a lost son, Zakaria, whose name is consistently conflated with the name of a pagan goddess, Zahra.  This one woman’s body is not her own; “it belonged to her father, or to the government, or to her dead grandfather, or to another man, whose features were strange to her, and whose name she had forgotten.”

There are two affective functions in the novel: guilt and pride.  These are juxtaposed with innocence, the outcome of El Saadawi’s interrogation.  The novel concludes with the death of G/N/N who, in her death (afterdeath) is told by God that “I wrote three books against you, and denied you the right to answer them […] In the court they made declared me innocent and made you the scapegoat […] Forgive me, my son.  You are innocent.”

The Innocence of the Devil is a labyrinth of memory, flared-through with some shots of spellbinding imagery.  At its core is a political challenge, a daring re-visioning of gender roles of the past, present, and for the future generations.  The devil is, as usual, a woman — at least temporarily.

The Devil is a Woman, Part V: The Devil Wears Nada

“Um,” says Andrea Sachs, that boring and undeveloped accessory of the “devil,” Miranda Priestly who is the editor of Runway fashion magazine.  “Um,” Sachs repeats as prominent literary people insist how eloquent she is.  “Um,” shouts Andrea Sachs as I turn another page in a novel that appears to have very little to do with the devil or with Prada.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger is a novel that I have been considering for my World Literature class on the devil in literature (and includes novels that I have been exploring in my “The Devil is a Woman, but only Momentarily” blog series).  Having finally gotten around to reading it, I will most likely never teach this text but it does make an interesting installment in my blog series as I continue to grapple with the devil and gender representation in literature.

The first aspect of the novel that struck me was its nonexistent devil references.  Weisberger does not make any witty connections between Priestly and the canon of other literature that takes up the devil.  In fact, the devil aspect seems to have been added in at the last minute with a quick change of the antagonist’s  name to “Priestly” and one key scene in which she appears in a very red ensemble.  Sachs takes a job that “a million girls would die for” but that is about as far as the threat goes. Only in the very last scene of the novel, when a victorious (because she tells Priestly to fuck herself) Sachs — who has returned to her doughnut-inhaling and Big Mac-munching persona — walks back into the fashion building is there any deep connection to devil imagery.  The cheeky check-in clerk, Eduardo, is singing “Bye, bye Miss American Pie…this will be the day that I die” as he buzzes Sachs into the building without authentication.  She feels, finally, like she is someone who “matters.”  When someone is let into the gates without penalty after a song about dying, one is forced to think about heaven and hell.  The Runway building is obviously supposed to be hell, but the ending imagery paints it like heaven.  Sachs feels empowered by getting let in “for free,” as Eduardo shoots her a wink.  I was confused about the metaphor of the location, but I was relieved that at least I could see some kind of landscape forming with some kind of connection to the discourse of devilry.

The second connection between the discourse of devilry and The Devil Wears Prada is religion.  Both Sachs and Priestly are Jewish, yet Priestly has apparently forsaken her family — along with her heritage.  Sachs titters dangerously on the edge of doing the same (living “in sin” with her soggy do-gooder boyfriend, and being told by Priestly that she reminds her of herself when she was young) but then when her best friend almost dies in a car crash caused by her drunkenness she realizes that the morality of her religion has merit.  In the end, Judaism conquers devilry.

But then, Priestly doesn’t really seem like the devil.  First of all, we are told by the title that the devil wears Prada.  Priestly does not wear Prada, she wears Hermes.  Prada appears on several characters at different points but the brand name is lumped with others in a few of the numerous lists of brands  that streak the pages.  Sachs wears Prada for the longest time and with the most attention from Weisberger.

Is Sachs the devil? 

Priestly is bitchy and unhappy, successful and brilliant.  Some devils are like this.  Yet Priestly doesn’t really ever tempt anyone, she doesn’t seem to want anyone’s soul.  In fact, when little Anita Alvarez writes to her about how she would give anything to be like one of the models in Runway, Priestly doesn’t care.  She receives millions of letters from people willing to “sell their souls” for a kind word from her.  The devil would move on this.

But Priestly doesn’t.  Sachs does.

Sachs takes it upon herself to tempt Alvarez with fancy clothing.  Sachs handles all of the soul-selling.

The devil has no soul.  Neither does Sachs.  As a character, she is one of the most flat characters that I have encountered.  There is really very little development of her character.  At first, I think that she is going to increasingly become like the shallow, fashion-slinging moguls around her.  That would have been interesting.  But she really never does.  Instead, she maintains her eye-rolling, soup-slugging, poor time managing, inability to judge priorities, and “um”-ing, charming approach to life from beginning to end.  A flat character is…well…soulless.

Sachs is the devil.  What she wears is Prada, sure.  But more than that, nada.  Ephemeral.  True devil form.

I was disappointed with the novel, and I am not sure yet what this entry has to add to my investigation of gender-shifting in devil literature.  Maybe nothing.  Maybe I will come back to it in time, once the disappointment dissipates and I am able to think a bit more critically.

The Devil is a Woman, Part IV: Sorrow is Power

That I have named this very blog after Marie Corelli — and her “electric creed” in the novel A Romance of Two Worlds — speaks to a fact that I don’t really need to reveal: I am in love with Marie Corelli. The pleasure that reading her books brings me is one that can only be had through reading Corelli.  But I will save my love-song for Corelli for another post (you’re welcome!).

Having just finished her novel The Sorrows of Satan reminded me of my blog series, “The Devil is a Woman, but only Momentarily.”  This is my fourth installment in the series.

The “sorrows” of Satan are many in this text, as the fallen angel takes the form of Lucio Ramanez and is bound to carry out a pact with God based on an accusation that he uttered in haste.  To the best of his ability, he must tempt man to surrender his soul, all the while longing to redeem himself in God’s eyes.  He tempts Geoffrey Tempest, who is an idealistic writer on the verge of starvation, with five million dollars (which he accepts).  All the while that Ramanez pushes Tempest toward more sin, he secretly wishes (and at one point even provokes) Tempest to reject his services. When man rejects his offers Satan is closer to regaining his seat in heaven: a position which he desires very much — so much so that Ramanez turns to brooding and  consistently iterates his feelings: “Judge then, how, under the peculiar circumstances of his doom, this ‘Lucifer, Son of the Morning,’ Satan, or whatever else he is called, must hate Humanity!”

Rimanez may hate humanity very much for its constant indulgence in sin but his most violent feelings are directed explicitly toward a certain kind of woman: the “New Woman,” like Sybil — the wealthy and “soulless” lady who marries Tempest in order to get closer to her love interest, Ramanez.  When Ramanez visits the Tempests after their marriage Sybil throws herself, shamelessly, on his person, begging for erotic love.  He, in turn, is repulsed: “I hate you, and all such women as you! For you corrupt the world — you turn good to evil — you deepen folly into crime — with the seduction of your nude limbs and lying eyes, you make fools, cowards and beasts of men!”  He tells Tempest, earlier, about his deep anthropomorphic feelings toward women: “But do not forget why I hate them! It is because they have all the world’s possibilities of good in their hands, and the majority of them deliberately turn these possibilities to evil.”

In this way, clearly, Corelli polarizes Satan with woman.  Ramanez detests “New” women who have been brought up on “French” literature and have given up their true calling, which is to guide men in moral practices. These new women are simply “the female of man [who] have no real soul save that which is a reflex of his, and being destitute in logic, she is incapable of forming a correct opinion on any subject.”

Yet, Ramanez himself is very womanly — even “New-” womanly.  In the first place, Ramanez’s defining characteristic is his attractiveness in Tempest’s eyes.  This is a point that Corelli never fails to repeat throughout the novel.  When Tempest first encounters Satan, he has “a strong and singular attraction” to this “good-looking” man with his “wonderful eyes,” “handsome presence,” “extraordinary good looks,” and “admirable build.”  Tempest goes so far as to compare his wife’s — Sybil’s — beauty to Ramanez’s. In a word, Tempest finds Ramanez HOT (pun, yes?).

Ramanez, additionally, constantly fingers the “glittering beetle body” of what readers are supposed to understand is the soul of a sinful Egyptian woman.  Later, when Tempest and Ramanez visit Egypt, Corelli suggests that this grotesque bug is the soul of Sybil, whose mummy is excavated.  Surprisingly, Sybil has been right all along. She doesn’t seem to have a soul.  That soul seems to be the “sprite” pet of Ramanez.  He even refers to “the radiant bat-shaped thing” as “an Egyptian female mummy,” with a “vampire soul” (he later tells Sybil that her “vampire soul” called to him), and is careful to identify it as “an evil creature.”

Nevertheless, he clings to her as she — the insect — clings to him. They seem to have a kind of equal relationship.

Moreover, Ramanez admits time and again that he — granted, against his will — has the agenda of doing the precise thing that he accuses the new woman of doing: corrupting and misguiding men.  He and Sybil are doing identical work.

In this way, the devil is a woman.

But then, there is one thing — and one thing only — that differentiates Ramanez from Sybil.  His sorrow.

Perhaps nineteenth-century literature hasn’t known such a pitiful Satan since Byron and Lamb. Corelli gives a new meaning to the Satanic hero: he is so sad.  The scene that reveals the depth of his sadness is when his services are rejected by the ephemeral and morally-superior Mavis Clare who is, not surprisingly for Corelli, a popular yet critically-bashed writer of fiction.  He tempts her.  She rejects him.  Then, he gets down on one knee before her and beseeches her to pray for his soul.  His redemption is possible, here, through the sympathy of a pure woman.

Reading The Sorrows of Satan I felt bad for Ramanez. But then, too, Corelli does not want me to only feel bad for Satan; she wants me to extend my sympathies to Sybil as well — because the predicaments of Satan and the New Woman are not dissimilar.

After she is rejected by Ramanez, Sybil decides to poison herself and write down her experience of death, as she dies. Her reflection reveals one very clear truth: that Sybil is not ashamed of her actions and that she is, despite her sins, an extremely truthful woman.  For example, when Tempest courts her she tells him blatantly that she is evil and damaged and will not be the kind of woman that he needs.  When Tempest catches her throwing herself at Satan she is forthcoming about her desire.  She even goes so far as to tell Tempest on their wedding day that she will tell him who she loves very shortly (even though it isn’t him).  All and all, Sybil has the presence of mind and sharp critical awareness enough to articulate herself as a product of society.  Corelli seems to want readers to pity her to some extent, especially since she earns the pity, eventually, of both Mavis Clare and Tempest: the novel’s obvious heroes.

Yet, Satan is also heroic — at least in the way that Sybil is heroic.  Satan, Sybil, and women in general are pawns in the same game, apparently.  For Corelli, at least, these figures are terrible but they are also products of male desire.  The real demonization is of men and, ironically, the devil somehow comes out clean.