He thought about the fact that each of those houses had its dead. And everyone who had lived in those old houses fifty years ago, they had all died. Some of the dead he still remembered.

“When a person dies, they should burn down the house, too,” Peredonov thought wistfully, “it’s just too frightening.”

The Petty Demon, Fyodor Sologub

Almost halfway through, I’m still not sure what to make of Sologub’s masterpiece. There are clear affinities with Dostoevsky’s Demons, which I just finished earlier this month—for good and for ill. The characterization in the first half has been Dostoevskian (that’s the “for ill”), certainly. (Edit: the second half was amazing, though still without much movement of characters not named Sasha or Lyudmila, and put this in the pantheon of my absolute favorite books!)

This little moment of Peredonov’s captures something interesting and true about human experience, however. We can’t shake the ghosts around us, especially if we continue to inhabit the same physical ground where we encountered them in life.

Original text:

Он думал, что у каждого здесь дома есть свои покойники. И все, кто жил в этих старых домах лет пятьдесят тому назад, все умерли. Некоторых покойников еще он помнил.

“Человек умрет, так и дом бы сжечь, — тоскливо думал Передонов, — а то страшно очень”.

«Мелкий бес», Ф. Сологуб

In sentimental retrospect, the Russian reader of the past seems to me to be as much of a model for readers as Russian writers were models for writers in other tongues. He would start on his charmed career at a most tender age and lose his heart to Tolstoy or Chekhov when still in the nursery and nurse would try to take away Anna Karenin and would say: Oh, come, let me tell it to you in my own words (Day-ka, ya tebe rasskazhu svoimi slovami [slovo-word]). That is how the good reader learned to beware of translators of condensed masterpieces, of idiotic movies about the brothers Karenins, and of all other ways of toadying to the lazy and of quartering the great.

And to sum up, I would like to stress once more, Let us not look for the soul of Russia in the Russian novel: let us look for the individual genius. Look at the masterpiece, and not at the frame–and not at the faces of other people looking at the frame.

“Russian Writers, Censors, and Readers,” Lectures on Russian Literature, Vladimir Nabokov

I find more to disagree with in Nabokov’s critical work than to agree with, and his tone is often petulant verging on offensive. I like him only as a novelist, almost never as a critic or translator. But when he’s right, he’s right.