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.
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.
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.