Demons – Part Two

: “…this town here is like the devil took and shook it from a sack” (Fedya the Convict – p. 260)

This post discussed Part Two of “Demons” – I’ll follow up with Part Three when I’ve finished.

Let me start by saying that the second reading of this book as been far, FAR more enjoyable than the first, during which I would literally read 50 pages at a time and not understand what happened.  It’s not that you can’t understand the words, or even the sentences – but how all of it hangs together is so un-explained most of the time that you just have to maintain an extraordinary degree of focus the whole time.  Huge plot/character/thematic interactions will be explained in brief parantheses or asides; pages will go by which are completely insignificant.  This time, in reading it, somehow it all makes sense.  Incidentally, also it’s HILARIOUS.  Not like There’s Something About Mary hilarious, but more in that vein than you might think.  I promise.Okay – some more new characters introduced:

Pavel Pavlovich Gaganov – an old member of a club that Stavrogin outrages before leaving Petersburg at the start of the story (that was in part 1).

Artemy Pavlovich Gaganov – the son of the elder (see above), Stavrogin and him engage in a duel over unrelated matters, with Killilov as S’s second.

“Fedya the Convict” (not his real name obviously) – an escaped criminal with whom Pyotr V has negotiated, because he thinks he’ll help in whatever conspiracy is afoot.

In Part Two of Demons, three distinct levels of intrigue – political, literary and socal, interwoven quite cleverly, begin to take shape.

In the political arena, we come to understand the dimensions of a plot led by a clearly inept would-be revolutionary vanguard.  Pyotr is its leader, or one of its five leaders, who have apparently come to this town.  One of the heights of Part 2 is the depiction of one of their meetings – the chapter is called “With Our People.”  It features the hilarious, but sadly realistic scene that ensues among labor activists, burnt-out academics, college students, wealthy patronesses amusing themselves and even two high school pseudo-radicals.  The meeting falls to pieces after Pyotr, its leader refuses to swear to a loyalty oath he himself has demanded that the others take.  It’s about the 1860’s but the setpiece was executed so well it becomes timeless. Just as Part 2 ends, a protest spurred by poor working conditions at a factory, a resultant cholera outbreak and also pseudo-revolutionary aiding-and-abedding by the above discussed group lead to a protest and the hint that town-wide chaos looms just on the horizon.  Also, Stepan F’s apartment is searched, something he is both outraged by and also seems to take great pleasure (mostly in being able to be outraged).

In terms of literature – we get a lot more time with Karmazinov, apparently a parody of Turgenev.  A “literary fete” (around which much of the books finale ends up revolving) is slated to take place, to be hosted by the governor’s wife, at which both Karmazinov and also Stefan Trifimovich will both be speaking.

Lastly – the social front.  All of the novel’s principle characters are involved in one of the above two categories, or both, but what really ties them all together is their family or love-interest connections.  Stavrogin fights a duel with the son of a nobleman he had previously outraged (see above), but no one is hurt.  There is ongoing ambiguity as to the relationship between Stavrogin, Liza and his secret fiancee, though at the very end, he affirms categorically that he is in fact married.  Varvara Stavrogin (i.e., the protagonist’s mother) exiles Stepan T. from her salon and gives him some sort of ultimatum regarding his conduct.

Tying the three together:  Over the middle part of the book, D creates a sense of idleness among the town’s young people.  They go to visit a local “holy fool” and get kicked out.   They go to visit the police scene of a suicide, just because they never had seen one.  Some sort of intrigue involving a mouse and religious icons, and other social outrages occur.  It’s all summed to by an anonymous member of the younger circle: “everything has become so boring that there’s no need to be punctilious about entertainment, as long as it’s diverting” (326).  Somehow this and Fedya’s comment about the demons shaking up the town feel related…

It’s as though D is suggesting that political, literacy and social intrigue are all ultimately wound together with a kind of provincial idleness that represent, so to speak, the calm before the storm.  Or again – all three of these realms are revealed as similarly shallow, false, and ultimately, just material for the entertainment of bored members of the privileged classes.
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