Sologub’s Bad Dreams.

As promised in my review of The Petty Demon, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading Sologub’s first novel, the 1895 Тяжёлые сны [Bad Dreams], and while it’s not nearly as good, I’m not sorry I read it — it illuminated the world of what Blok, and after him Mandelstam, called Russia’s глухие годы (“remote and desolate years,” in Clarence Brown’s translation), the last couple of decades of the nineteenth century, and it gave rise to thoughts about the genre of satire that I will report on below.

In form it’s a mashup of Turgenev (love entanglements in a nest of the gentry, progressive ideas crushed by the dead weight of Russian conservatism) and Dostoevsky (anguished psychology, suffering children, and a murder straight out of the Brothers K), laced with the openness about sex that was just bursting into Russian literature (this is considered its first “decadent novel”) and Sologub’s own depressive attitude toward life (favorite words: злоба ‘spite, malice’ and its adverb злобно, мучить ‘to torment,’ мрачно ‘gloomily, drearily, glumly,’ хмуро ‘gloomily, dismally, sullenly,’ тоскливый ‘melancholy, dreary, depressing,’ злорадство ‘malicious pleasure, schadenfreude’). The protagonist is a provincial teacher named Login (Sologub was just such a provincial teacher, and the novel is apparently full of autobiographical elements) who is being driven mad because of the stupidity, drunkenness, and malicious gossip that surround him; his friends are worthless, his bosses are evil, and the only light in his life is Anna, the daughter of an oddball local member of the gentry who has taught her to be independent and value virtue over society’s baubles. The descriptions of nature are magical (this is a specialty of Russian literature, from Gogol to Pasternak and beyond) and there are marvelously effective scenes (the former general who shows off the obedience of his six children, ordering them to laugh, cry, fall down, play dead, and wriggle out of the room, is straight out of Saltykov-Shchedrin), but on the whole the book takes too long to get from setting up its characters and situations to the concluding cholera, murder, and riot. Like everybody else, he needed an editor.

And really, the decadent grumpiness is way over the top; I laughed out loud when I got to a scene where some boys were being naughty and he sums up with “Их шалости были флегматичны” [their naughtiness was phlegmatic] (for shalost’ ‘prank, mischief, naughtiness’ see here and here). Furthermore, the intense focus on (what I see as) adolescent angst is boring to me; as I said here in the context of Lermontov’s Pechorin, I’m no longer young and bamboozled by flair and a good line of existentialist patter. Here’s a particularly ripe sample:

— Да, да, я не люблю тебя, хоть ты дороже всего для меня на свете. Я не знаю, что это. Я такой порочный для тебя, и я хочу обладать тобою. Я ненавижу тебя. Я бы хотел истязать тебя, измучить тебя невыносимою болью и стыдом, умертвить, — и потом умереть, потому что без тебя я уже не могу жить. Ты околдовала меня, ты знаешь чары, ты сделала меня твоим рабом, — и я тебя ненавижу, — мучительно. Что ж, пока еще ты свободна, — прогони меня, видишь, я-дикий, я-злой, я-порочный. Скажи мне, чтоб я ушел.

“Yes, it’s true, I don’t love you, even though you’re dearer to me than anything in the world. I don’t know what it is. I’m so depraved for you, and I want to possess you. I hate you. I would like to torture you, to torment you with unbearable pain and shame, to destroy you, and then to die, because without you I can no longer live. You have bewitched me, you know magic spells, you have made me your slave, and I hate you, agonizingly. Well, while you’re still free, drive me away; you can see that I’m wild, I’m wicked, I’m depraved. Tell me to go away.”

Oh, come on. I’m too old for that shit.

And aside from plot, abnormal psychology, and nature description, the book is largely preoccupied with detailed satire of provincial life, focusing on but not limited to the educational establishment; there are the usual mayor, police chief, superintendent, all the characters out of Gogol’s Inspector General and every other takedown of life in the boondocks, and of course the women, scheming to marry their daughters off to the most promising up-and-comers and gossiping viciously about everyone. It skewers its targets accurately, but in the end, who cares? The point of social satire, it seems to me, is to draw people’s attention to social ills so they may be corrected, and that is not a literary aim. For it to work as literature, the characters have to break free of their social purpose and leap off the page with their own quirks and obsessions having nothing to do with the betterment of things, such as happens everywhere in Gogol and often in Shchedrin. Here, apart from the general with the obedient and terrified kids, it doesn’t; the townspeople are variously drunken, loutish, and corrupt, and there’s not much more to say about them. People at the time might well be driven to indignation, but after over a century, who cares? And, in the lapidary formulation of Village Explainer Ez, literature is news that STAYS news.


  1. a provincial teacher named Login

    The name, of course, has nothing to do with computer logins, because computers weren’t invented yet.

    It’s an unusual surname formed directly from rare Russian first name Login or Loggin, variant of Longin (from Latin cognomen Longinus which must be somehow related to Latin word ‘longus’ – ‘long’). More common is a popular surname Loginov of the same origin.

    In addition to distinguished Roman aristocratic family which gave Rome a number of prominent senators and one of the murderers of Julius Caesar, the most famous person with such name was Saint Longinus, a Roman soldier who pierced Jesus with a spear during Crucifixion.

  2. It’s an unusual surname formed directly from rare Russian first name Login or Loggin, variant of Longin

    Thanks, I was wondering about that.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Tell me to go away.

    …”Yes, go away, because you’re not making any sense.” ~:-|

  4. No, no, she tells him she’ll follow him anywhere and they’ll find a beautiful world together. She’s the symbolist Beautiful Lady, the savior of fallen mankind.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Of course.

  6. @SFReader: this explains the first name Lo(n)g(g)in and the last name Lo(n)g(v)inov but not Login – not directly, anyway. If Login is the possessive of Loga, as it seems to be, how do we derive Loga? It could be a folk variant of Login, in which case your explanation would work all right. On the other hand, there are similar Russian surnames apparently derived from common nouns: Zhogin from zhoga, “a bird with a long beak” (regional), Vagin from vaga “scales,” Krokhin from krokha “little one,” and so on.

  7. SFReader says

    Some Russian first names ending with -in could in some cases form surnames directly, without taking possessive form.

    Because it already looks like a Russian surname.

    Eg, Martin, Severin, Markelin, etc.

  8. It’s like with the surname Berlin, which may be either a possessive form of male given name Berl or a toponym

  9. By the way searching Russian genealogy portal shows that Login was invariably a given name in Russia, while surname Login is much more rare and only attested in Latgalians. So it’s reasonable to assume that the hypothesis about “an unusual Russian etymology from the male name with an added suffix” is superfluous because the surname in question doesn’t exist for real in this population.

  10. Interesting; I wonder why Sologub chose it? It doesn’t have any obvious resonance that I can see.

  11. SFReader says

    Encyclopedia of Russian surnames says that surnames Logachov, Logashov, Logvinov, Login, Loginov, Logunov, Logutin (perhaps also Lagunov and Lagutin), Longin, Longinov were formed from first name Login.

  12. SFReader says

    It doesn’t have any obvious resonance that I can see.

    Saint Longinus, obviously.

    Who pierced Jesus with a spear.

  13. Would the average Russian in 1895 have looked at Login, the name of the protagonist of a novel, and thought “Ah, Saint Longinus”?

  14. Well, that’s not a fair question; he might have created the name for his own amusement and not cared who picked up on the reference.

  15. David Marjanović says

    male given name Berl

    What would that be?

  16. SFReader says

    Incidentially, Login Loginovich Heyden apparently was a Lutheran and his German name was Ludwig.

    Apparently he (or his father) felt that Login was proper Russianization of Ludwig.

    Strange choice.

    I would have chosen Leonid.

  17. David Marjanović says

    I would have chosen Leonid.

    Equally strange.

    The Serbian name Vojislav seems like a good translation.

  18. I always thought that giving the Roman soldier who killed Jesus with a spear the name “Longinus” was a bit too on the nose.

  19. @David Marjanović, Berl or Berlya are diminutive forms of Yiddish given name “Ber” which may form “Berlin” in a way which is grammatically correct in Russian (although in Yiddish and, occasionally, Belorussian surnames, the suffixes which aren’t grammatically gender appropriate in Russian were occasionally used).
    If I got your question…

  20. Лог is a Russian word for ravine and it would not surprise me at all if the surname Логин was formed from it. After all the surname Оврагин is out there. But it’s just a speculation.

  21. SFReader says

    Apparently there is a surname Logvin alongside with more common Logvinov.

    And there is a surname Longin along with Longinov as well.

    All four, of course, are of the same origin – Christian name spelled variously as Login, Loggin, Longin, Logvin.

    Existence of surnames Longvin, Longin and Login are a sufficient proof that first names ending with -in can form surnames directly.

    No further explanation necessary.

  22. SFReader says

    By the way, while searching, I learned about existence of His Eminence Longin, Metropolitan bishop of Saratov & Volsk.Лонгин_(Корчагин)

  23. David Marjanović says

    Berl or Berlya are diminutive forms of Yiddish given name “Ber” which may form “Berlin”

    Ah, but that’s anachronistic for the 13th century.

  24. @SFReader: Russian patronymic surnames don’t work like that: they are possessives, “whose son or daughter?” Although the last name Martin coincides with the first name Martin, the former is probably the possessive form of Martya, a diminutive of Martin/Martyn and Martem’yan (from Martinianus). Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if (in some cases at least) Martin were a corruption of Markin.

    I wouldn’t deny that the surname Logvin could be ultimately derived from Longinus but through more intermediate stages: say, a man baptized Longin would be commonly called Logva so his son would be Logvin syn. Note however that logva is also a dialectal word attested in Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian, with a meaning close to “lair.” Logva is also a Ukrainian surname.

    Speaking of Login, googling turns up a few dozen Russian men with the first name Loga or the patronymic Logich, mostly in Cossack settlements east of Baikal and in the Perm and Vyatka regions. Finally this surname makes sense to me.

  25. Me too; thanks for digging that up!

  26. SFReader says

    Russian patronymic surnames don’t work like that: they are possessives

    Not all.

    Tretyak, Morzh, Moroz etc. are perfectly normal Russian surnames without possessive suffix.

  27. SFReader says

    It would be fitting to add Sologub as well, but it’s probably Ukrainian.

  28. Yup, as discussed here: “по-украински ‘торгаш’.”

  29. anachronistic for the 13th century

    ugh, surname “Berlin” only dares back to early XIX c. (unlike the city – but we were talking about surnames in this thread).

    perfectly normal Russian surnames without possessive suffix

    we are talking specifically about patronymic surnames though … the ones derived from male given names?

    I have to retract my statement that the surname Login doesn’t exist in the Russian heartland. WWII rolls contain many bearers of the surname. Some are Lagins in parentheses, and some are from Latvia, but Russian regions are represented as well

    (the database added lots of card files and personnel rolls in recent weeks and has become an even fuller repository of the names of the USSR residents .. highly recommended)

  30. David Marjanović says

    but we were talking about surnames in this thread

    Oh. Yes, I wouldn’t be very surprised if some occurrences of the surname had nothing to do with the city at all.

Speak Your Mind