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Dämonen (DEMONS)

Fjodor M. Dostojewskij | In der Übersetzung „Böse Geister“ von Swetlana Geier
© Matthias Horn

The tsar has lost a war in Crimea, and it is becoming clear that he will not be able to maintain his absolutist rule for much longer. He tries to hold onto his position by making concessions and introducing reforms, but the society Dostoevsky describes in his 1871 novel DEMONS is already in a state of dissolution.

Times like these are fertile ground for comedies. After all, what could be funnier than watching people trying to follow rules that have become pointless? The wealthy widow Vavara tries to marry her son Nikolaj off to the daughter of another rich lady. But because Nikolaj apparently had a brief affair with Dasha, Vavara’s protégé, Vavara hits on the idea of getting rid of her by marrying her off to Stepan Verkhovensky, a significantly older gentleman who is both emotionally and financially dependent on her. How it comes to pass that the wedding ultimately does not take place as planned is the stuff of soap operas. At the same time DEMONS is a tragedy of ideas. In light of a crumbling social order the hostility between socialists, nihilists, West-oriented liberals and religious nationalists is palpable.

Dostoevsky’s novel foreshadows both the horrors of Soviet communism and – highly relevant today – Orthodox-based nationalism. Nikolaj’s confession is the dramatic ending. Having experimented with a life of absolute individual freedom, he takes that concept all the way to its horrific ultimate conclusion.

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