Wednesday, October 15, 2014
THE 'П' ALL OVER PEREDONOV (IN SOLOGUB'S NOVEL "PETTY DEMON")
ВЕНЗЕЛЬ (MONOGRAM) OF TSAR PAUL THE FIRST (AND LAST), ON WALLS OF THE ENGINEERS' CASTLE, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
The "mad tsar" Павел I (Paul--ruled 1796-1801), son of Catherine the Great, made sure to stick his monogram all over the castle that he had built (complete with moat). He was terrified of assassination and hoped the castle (and the multiple monograms) might help him be secure. But he was assassinated in March of 1801, only forty days after he moved into his new fortress.
The writer Fyodor Sologub lived in St. Petersburg and would certainly have noticed all the monograms on the Mikhailovsky Castle (another name for the Engineers' Castle). Subconsciously or consciously these monograms may have been the impetus for a scene in Sologub's novel Мелкий бес (The Petty Demon--a modernist "Decadent" novel published in 1907), in which the paranoiac anti-hero Peredonov attempts to protect his identity from evil forces he imagines assailing him by painting the letter P (Cyrillic П, which looks like the Greek Pi and is the same letter on Paul's monograms) all over his body.
Incidentally, U.R. Bowie's illustrious career as Russian scholar begins with the publication of his Master's thesis on The Petty Demon, in 1969, Tulane University: "The Paradox of Peredonovshchina." That work of art is still probably extant, moldering away somewhere in the Tulane library, assuming that Hurricane Katrina did not wash it away.