A Chat with Vadim Shneyder about Russia’s Capitalist Realism

This week NADS President Kate Holland sat down with Vadim Shneyder to talk about his newly published book, Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov.

KH: Congratulations on the publication of your book! Tell us a little about the book’s premise. What questions does it pose and how does it go about answering them?

VS: Thank you, Kate! The book’s basic premise is quite simple: nineteenth-century Russian realist literature grappled intensely with how to make sense of a world that was being transformed by the economic and social forces that we today call capitalism. The Russian Empire in the decades after 1861 (when the slow, complicated process of emancipating the empire’s tens of millions of serfs began) experienced the same phenomena—urban migration, industrialization, the growth of railroad and banking industries—that are familiar from accounts of the industrial revolution in the West. The questions the book asks all stem from this. How did Russian realist writers respond to these changes? How do their responses compare to those we find in Western literatures—particularly British, French, and American—and in other genres of writing in nineteenth-century Russia, including journalism, social criticism, and scholarship? How did developments like industrialization, the growth of the money economy, and the increasing importance of abstract economic forces shape the narratives of Russian novels and stories? What kinds of formal innovations, what kinds of new techniques of narration and description, did writers have to develop to grapple with these phenomena? How might the Russian realist tradition have helped people to imagine what it means to live in an economy—a system of invisible economic connections that shape both individual fortunes and the material world that people inhabit?

My strategy for trying to answer these questions relies in part on contextualizing the realist classics in a particular way. I read them alongside the many other genres of writing that made up public discourse in Russia at the time and which also grappled with the meaning of economic transformation, as well as numerous lesser-known contemporary novelists. With that context in mind, I then returned to the classics. When I read novels like Dostoevsky’s The Idiot or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with these economic matters in mind, I was amazed at what I noticed for the first time. Certain famous scenes made sense in an entirely different way. In other cases, marginal characters and peripheral episodes suddenly took on much greater significance. What this experienced confirmed was my impression that these novels were marvelously sensitive and responsive to their times, but that the responses often came not so much as explicit commentary on some issue, but in moments that initially struck me as difficult or strange or boring. Why does Anna Karenina devote endless pages to the discussion of farming? Why does everything in The Brothers Karamazov cost exactly three thousand rubles?

KH: I was fascinated by the story you tell in the introduction about the book’s inception and historical timing. Tell us a little about how you came to write the book.

VS: This thing called “the economy” has been on my mind for many years. My scholarly career has been punctuated by economic crises. I was approaching the end of my undergraduate years when the 2008 financial crisis took place. Twelve year later, as the book is coming out, the world is once again in a severe recession. Politicians have been talking about the need to make sacrifices—including sacrifices of human lives—for the economy. But what does that mean? What is the economy? How is people’s material welfare connected to the numbers that scroll across the bottom of the television screen during the evening news? Questions about how people have made sense of economic forces—how they have made economic abstractions comprehensible, narratable, thinkable—lie at the heart of my project. I wanted to look at a period when the idea that there is such a thing as a national economy, extending far beyond the boundaries of anyone’s community, became necessary for making sense of life, but before we learned to take the economy’s existence for granted.

That said, I didn’t initially recognize that Russian literature of the second half of the nineteenth century had much to say about all this. I was studying for my qualifying exams and reading a lot of the realist classics. It was The Brothers Karamazov in particular that struck me with its veritable obsession with sums of money and the language of indebtedness. What was this all about? The novel captured my attention, but it seemed so archaic, so distant from the standard nineteenth-century realism of the big cities and the modern world, like the works of Dickens or Balzac, that I didn’t quite know what to do with Dostoevsky’s novel. But once I started paying attention to Russian literature’s interest in money, I began to see more and more of it. And as I read more widely, I began to see two things—one, that the Russian realist tradition was profoundly interested in economic matters, not just money, but commerce more broadly, economic calculation, industry, and many other things, and two, that in this respect, while the Russian tradition wasn’t identical to the European realisms, it was engaged in a comparable kind of inquiry into what it meant to live in, and write about, a world shaped by economic forces. In the end, nineteenth-century Russian literature illuminated these vague questions about twenty-first-century economic life that I had been living with, while those twenty-first-century questions encouraged me to look at nineteenth-century literature in a different way.

KH: In examining the economic background of classic Russian novels and the ways they engage with that background, you seem to be going against the strong critical legacy that sees those novels as expressing timeless truths. Is that the case? What is the payoff in examining these works in the particular context of their historical moment? How does it contribute to a renewed understanding of these works? For instance, how do such questions help us understand Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov, two of the central novels you examine.

VS: This book is historicist at its core. I am interested in the relationship of Russian literature to historical time—to the ways that realist novels conceived of their present and imagined the future, the ways that they struggled to articulate concepts that did not yet exist, but for which many people felt a clear need. In these respects, I do think that my book takes a different path than those interpretations of Russian literature that emphasize its timeless qualities. Art serves many different needs. One of those needs that I am particularly interested in is how art helps people make sense of what seems unprecedented about their own times, how it helps people feel a little bit less lost in their present. One of the payoffs of this approach is simply to accumulate knowledge about what the past was like and how the it differed from our present. The past is a vast repository of alternatives, and those alternatives can teach us about ourselves: things have not always been as they are now, and they can be different in the future. But that is a relatively timeless truth, I think.

One of the advantages of this approach is that it can renew our appreciation of the classics. As I said above, some of the passages and episodes that turned out most important for my argument are difficult or strange or somehow artistically unsatisfactory. If we focus on the eternal truths, then asides about banknotes or debates about how to calculate the value of a plot of land come to seem like mere ephemera, chaff to be discarded when we have extracted the kernel of wisdom from the work. I would suggest that every word of an older work of literature holds the potential for new discoveries and that the more resistant a passage is to our understanding, the more likely it is that it can teach us something unexpected.

KH: As well as dealing with major writers like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, your book also deals with lesser-known Russian novelists. Tell us about one of these writers you found particularly helpful in elucidating the particular “symbolic economy” of Russia’s transition to capitalism.

VS: Of the lesser-known writes whom I discuss in the book, the one who strikes me as particularly remarkable is Petr Dmitrievich Boborykin. He was an extraordinarily productive writer—so much so that he was regularly ridiculed for writing too much and for being too responsive to unfolding events. He was a novelist, dramaturge, theater critic and theorist, essayist, literary scholar, journalist, journal editor, and memoirist, who was active from the late 1850s until the second decade of the twentieth century. Boborykin wrote at times with a great deal more admiration for the emerging capitalist elite than any of the Russian novelists we continue to read today. He is one of the few Russian writers who seems to admire the transformative energy of capitalism rather than just lamenting what is being lost. He was also a naturalist writer—and a big admirer of Émile Zola—and critics have attacked him for the kinds of excessive and narratively pointless descriptions that Georg Lukács, for example, found so unsatisfactory in Zola’s own novels. It is these descriptive passages—for example, in the opening and closing chapters of his best-known novel, Kitai-Gorod of 1882—that give us a picture of Russia’s economic transformation like no other. Boborykin’s Moscow is exploding with newfound economic energy. Goods flow in from across the world, while money seems to waft through the city’s air. The narrator of the novel is evidently utterly fascinated by the endless procession of carts laden with every variety of commodity. It is a view of Russia that one never gets from the classics, a view that emphasizes its convergence with the West rather than its essential difference. Many Russian writers were deeply concerned by the capitalist future, and this anticipatory anxiety fueled their narrative investigations into what that future would be like. Boborykin thought the future had already come, both to the bustling streets of Moscow and to more provincial locations, such as the industrial town of Ivanovo, which he calls the “Russian Sheffield” in one of his articles.

KH: Your book has a special take on the eternal Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky debate. What can you tell us about the difference between how Russia’s economic development is represented in Dostoevsky’s novels versus in Tolstoy’s?

VS: Thank you for this question! I didn’t think that I was taking part in this long conversation, but now I realize that I am. This makes me think, for example, of the famous distinction, belonging to the symbolist Dmitrii Merezhkovskii, between Dostoevsky as the “seer of the spirit” and Tolstoy as the “seer of the flesh.” Dostoevsky’s novels have struck many readers as somehow immaterial. Characters talk endlessly, and the narrator give us abundant insight into their inner experience, but we often have only the faintest idea what they look like. Their physical and environmental setting is often sketched out with just a few telling details—a technique that encourages comparisons of Dostoevsky’s novels to dramas. Tolstoy’s works, on the other hand, abound in rich empirical detail. His characters are firmly planted in the physical world, and their inner states are often linked to bodily experiences. There is an echo of this distinction in my book, where Dostoevsky’s novels The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov devote considerable attention to money in all its slippages between concreteness and abstraction. Dostoevsky’s writing seems particularly well suited to the investigation of money because it so rapidly shifts between registers: at one moment, we are dealing with the most particular transaction involving a specific (typically tiny) sum of money and some trifling commodity. At another, we read an interpretation of the Book of Job in which a quasi-monetary logic of recompense prevails. I argue that there are many kinds of money in Dostoevsky’s novels, and I think that the very sketchiness of his descriptions makes it easier for money to carry on its movements and phase changes. It would be absurd for everything in a Tolstoy novel to have the same three-thousand-ruble price or for a bundle of cash to remain undamaged in a blazing fireplace. In Dostoevsky, this lack of precision with respect to real life and empirical detail strikes me not as sloppiness or incompetence, but as an expression of his tendency to allegorize—which works quite well for making the transformations of money narratable.

On the other hand, the intensively rendered empirical detail of Tolstoy’s fiction creates a space for physical labor that would be impossible in Dostoevsky. I devote a lot of space to a discussion of the mowing scene in Anna Karenina. I think that no other writer could render agricultural labor with such vividness. But what is important for my argument in that chapter is that the whole point of writing about the physical sensations of mowing a field is that this way of life—both as a set of social relations and a particular mode of attention to the human body in its natural setting—is in a state of historical transition. Levin pays such impassioned attention to mowing because the ancient agricultural way of life is under assault. In a modern world where nobles are either desperately selling off their lands to escape debts, like Stiva, or careening through life in a state of physical and emotional overstimulation like Anna on the train, the natural rhythms of agricultural labor will become inaccessible to the kinds of people who read and write novels. Tolstoy’s famous corporeality is linked—at times, I would argue, dependent upon—the way of life of the old Russian nobility, including its ways of owning and managing property. Levin lavishes attention on the land and the peasants because he sees himself as their steward, and he worries that the nobility’s sacred role is slipping into obsolescence.

KH: The final chapter of your book deals with Chekhov, beginning with his powerful account of a changing historical order, The Cherry Orchard. How does Chekhov’s representation of capitalism round out your story? Does Chekhov’s representation of capitalism have anything to tell us about our own times?

VS: What fascinates me in Chekhov’s response to all this is that his works deal more explicitly with the world of factories and big business than any of the earlier writers, and yet, the result is somehow that these things seem even harder to grasp. The earlier writers were mostly concerned with anticipations of the future; by Chekhov’s time that future of industrialization and the money economy had arrived. I argue in my last chapter that, while Chekhov makes businesspeople protagonists in his stories, bringing them out of the narrative shadows where they had dwelled for decades, but he does not take their businesses with them. Factory owners are afraid of their own factories. A man who runs a warehouse avoids going inside it, does not know how it is run, and is baffled to learn that his business is bringing in an ever-growing profit while nobody tends to it. Chekhov does not attempt to map out the economic system or explain how it works. His concern is with the sheer strangeness of these systems and forces that humans have made, but which now seem to have escaped human agency. There is something strikingly relevant in this perspective for our times, in which we might struggle to understand how a tech company can be worth as much money as the GDP of a small country or how collateralized debt obligations helped plunge the world into a financial crisis. A work of literature from 130 years ago can remind a contemporary reader that this uncomfortable feeling of being at the mercy of mysterious forces has been with us for a long time. In the face of such forces, there is little room for individual agency. In the end, Chekhov’s confused capitalists might convince us that there is something wrong with this situation, where we are at the mercy of the stock market as if it were an earthquake or a hurricane.


Vadim Shneyder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Languages and Cultures at UCLA. His first monograph, Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, was published this month by Northwestern University Press. Vadim is the Secretary-Treasurer of the North American Dostoevsky Society.

The North American Dostoevsky Society Bicentennial Speaker Series

This year, the North American Dostoevsky Society is pleased to announce a virtual speaker series to celebrate Dostoevsky’s bicentennial in 2021. The series will include two talks in the fall of 2020 and two in the spring of 2021, organized by or featuring North American Dostoevsky Society members! We are excited about this line up!

All are welcome at the events with registration. Registration details will be posted and announced as they are available.

The first talk is coming up!

Thurs, Oct 29, 12pm Eastern – “Selling the Story: Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Economic Criticism” by Dr Jonathan Paine (Wolfson College, Oxford). Hosted by the Davis Center and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University – Link for registration and more details

Future talks:

Nov 23: Dr Katherine Bowers (University of British Columbia), hosted by the University of Toronto Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Feb: Dr Barbara Henry (University of Washington), hosted by the University of British Columbia Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies

Mar 1: Dr Greta Matzner-Gore (University of Southern California), hosted by the University of Bristol Department of Russian

And more to come! Stay tuned…

See the Stars from a Bottomless Pit: Authors’ Commentary

by Natalya Osipova, translated by Marina Rubinova (the original Russian appears below)

Introducing The Grand Inquisitor: A Graphic novel
adapted by Natalia Osipova
illustrated by Elena Avinova
Introduction by Gary Saul Morson
Plough Publishing House, 2020


“The Grand Inquisitor” is one of the key texts of the Russian culture. Reflections on it determined the thinking of an entire generation of Russians from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. In this “poemette,” narrated by Ivan Karamazov to his brother Alyosha in the tavern, they seek an answer to the big Russian questions. In our graphic novel The Grand Inquisitor, we endeavored to translate the Dostoyevsky’s texts into graphic language, and to make the story understandable and relevant to a modern reader. The text is drawn from two chapters from The Brothers Karamazov, “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor.”

The authors are deeply grateful to Peter Mommsen and Sam Hine for publishing this work, and to Gary Saul Morson for his brilliant introductory article. Our special thanks go to Banke, Goumen & Smirnova Literary Agency, as well as to Julia Goumen, for making our dreams come true.

The Bloggers Karamazov is grateful to Plough Publishing House for allowing us to include illustrations from the graphic novel. Illustration #4 appears here for the first time.

The book is available through Plough Publishing House.

1. The cover

What is this story about? It is about the craving for, the need for, and the impossibility of faith. It is about facing a choice for happiness for all mankind at the cost of an innocent child’s suffering. It is about forgiveness and temptation. Ivan tempts Alesha in the same way the Inquisitor tempts Christ, who had come down from heaven to Seville. Both temptations go back to the Bible; they both develop the idea of resisting seductions not only of bread and power, but also of embracing the suffering of another person, especially the suffering of children.

The three temptations create three circles of meaning: the Temptation of Christ in the desert is the matrix on which Dostoevsky overlays two new filters. The Inquisitor moves the focus from the religious matrix to the political one, concentrating on the freedom of the minority and the responsibility of the ruling elite to the people, and presenting the relations between the people and the ruling classes as between irrational children and omniscient parents.

In the novel, the Inquisitor tells Christ, “Didst Thou not often say then, ‘I will make you free?’ <…> For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that? Thou lookest meekly at me and deignest not even to be wroth with me. But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou didst? Was this Thy freedom?”

Ivan Karamazov shifts the focus to the problem of personal acceptance and personal faith. He tempts Alyosha with images of tormented children. The famous statement about the tear of an innocent child is a temptation, too. The suffering of children is the crucial center of the story. Ivan not only speaks of suffering, he adds details. His passionate description of the torture and massacre of innocent children causes even Alyosha, the novitiate, to lose his temper, to the point that, when asked what the punishment for the mother torturing her own child should be, he says: “To be shot!”

2. Ivan and Alyosha talking with children in the background

Dostoyevsky did not finish The Brothers Karamazov. In this first part of the novel, the “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” chapters are the key to the novel he completed, as well as to the unrealized design of his great work of art. The four brothers represent four pathways, four motives guiding Russians. Dmitry is Passion, Ivan is Reason, Alyosha is Faith. Smerdyakov, the fourth brother, is an anti-motive, he is the Void consuming all the good while transforming it into filth, sin and evil. The power of the Karamazovs is fueled by the energy of doubt. Karamazovshchina is a paradoxical life force, sprouting up from the coupling of love and lust, of goodness and vice. The same paradox is the trigger of the novel, its resolution of the issues facing the Russian World and its salvation.

Creating a graphic novel based on “The Grand Inquisitor” was a great challenge. Our Grand Inquisitor is the third in a cycle of five planned graphic novels based on Russian classics. These are The Overcoat Affair based on the Nikolai Gogol’s novel The Overcoat; The Lady of Spades based on The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin; To Kill a Seagull based on Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull; and The Devil based on the novella of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. All these novels tell about death, passion, the Russian people, and the paradoxes of Russian life. All five stories contain an element of mysticism and a voice from the after world – of the Lord sometimes, and the Devil more often. These five Russian classical stories, which tell how to understand the Russians, represent our view on the history of Russian classical literature and its value for modern man. Reading the Russian classics, you can better understand the bitter tragedy of life, the impossibility of and desire for happiness, the illusory nature of any joy, material acquisition, and peace. This world is very anxious, even cruel sometimes, but it struggles its way through to metaphysical heights, and provides us with a chance to know the meaning of love. Russian literature offers a view from a bottomless pit up to the sky, where there is a chance to see the stars.

3. Ivan’s eyes

The Grand Inquisitor is the central piece in our series, both by its timing as the third book and by its meaning, which focuses on the “accursed questions.” This novella has no mysticism. It has been replaced with the character’s tale – Ivan’s poemette. The lowering intonation is also present in the choice of place – a tavern in Dostoevsky’s text, and a modern bar in our version, the kind that can be visited in today’s Moscow, London, or New York. Our characters are modern thinkers. For people today struggle to find the answers to the same questions: if there is God, why are poverty, suffering and death still possible? If He exists, why is there salvation only after death? How can one believe if one must first overcome the imperfection of the world? How can one understand the greatness of God’s plan, and what is even worse, how can one embrace it without irony and pathos? Those very questions which tormented Russian writers in the 19th century also face people in our day and age.

For our graphic novel, the most difficult task was to synchronize the visual language with the Dostoevsky’s wording and style. We were looking for a graphic solution that could correspond to the style of The Brothers Karamazov. That was a matter of lines and marks. While selecting the background theme, we thought of color minimalism. This led us to renounce colorful style in favor of radical black and white. There is a lot of black in our comics. Initially this may feel dismal and create a sense of frustration. But when the image of Christ appears in Ivan’s story, it is surrounded by light.

4. Three color options

There are two dialogs in The Grand Inquisitor: Ivan’s with Alesha, and another between the Inquisitor and Christ. The latter is rather a monologue, as the Grand Inquisitor speaks and Christ keeps silent and just listens. The first conversation reveals a story about terrible tortures; “children” are drawn in a single-line method, as if they are weightless ghost images, who appear during the conversation and silently watch the characters, the same way Christ listens to the Inquisitor. The outlines of tortured innocent children appear in the bar where the story is told, as they represent the incarnation of air and thought into the outlines, which move from the Ivan and Alesha’s conversation to another character sitting in the bar – the Writer.

The characters of the comics exist in two stories simultaneously: in addition to Ivan and Alesha, there is also a bartender, who very much resembles the Inquisitor; and a taciturn fellow who sits behind the counter, and looks like either John Lennon or Christ. At the far table with a glass of beer sits the Writer. We chose not to make any direct allusions to either Lennon or Dostoevsky. We wanted the readers to be able to identify them in the characters, and to choose who these people are and why they are here.

5. In the bar with Christ

In the poemette, the story is set in 16th-century Seville, in the time of the Inquisition, “when fires of splendid auto da fé were lighted to the glory of God.” Dostoevsky’s choice of place and time was rather schematic. It was not a historically accurate Seville, but rather an imaginary place, shifted from Dostoevsky’s Russia both in time and space. It was some distant ancient Catholic city.

Jittery strokes and uneven edges of the word bubbles, we think, correspond to Dostoevsky’s style. This is our attempt to translate Dostoevsky’s speech into visual language. 

Two types of fonts create a distance between the two different layers of the story. The main font is a customized font designed by Elena Avinova. This is our narrative, the adaptation of two chapters into the comics format. The additional font – Gothic style imitating old manuscripts – appears when Christ enters Ivan’s story. The Gothic scrolls enhance the philosophical mood. 

6. With Christ walking

How do we see Ivan and Alyosha? Alyosha has not changed much over the past hundred years; from a novitiate he has turned into a secular-minded Divinity School student; his clothes are of an ordinary boy of twenty. There is nothing special about him, except his faith. He is the one who is meant to become a Hero.

Ivan in the novel is a student who did not complete his studies, tormented by eternal questions. In our version, Ivan Karamazov is a man who doubts the existence of God without scientific evidence, who seeks God not only in Orthodox Christianity, but also in Buddhism, Islam, in his travels around the world, and in altered states of consciousness. He has enough money and time to philosophize. He is a blogger who throws his questions out to the community of deadbeats like himself. We have not altered Dostoevsky’s original text; instead we have provided our readers with visual clues to the present day, such as prints on T-shirts, jeans, earrings, and the modern interior design of the bar. The brothers are drinking vodka and smoking cigarettes. Why does modern man need Dostoyevsky? How can one believe in God when there is so much pain, cruelty, and injustice in the world; and how can one live without believing in God? This question is even more relevant now than a century ago. Because there are even more people who have abandoned faith, while the need for faith is even stronger.


The Bloggers Karamazov is grateful to Plough Publishing House for allowing us to include illustrations from the graphic novel. Illustration #4 appears here for the first time.

Learn more about the book and buy a copy here.

Elena Avinova is a theater designer, graphic artist, and instructor in the Comics Workshop of the School of Creative Writing in Moscow.

Natalya Osipova is a specialist in Russian literature of the second half of the nineteenth century and the works of the late Leo Tolstoy. She is the co-founder and director of the literary workshops of the School of Creative Writing in Moscow.


Увидеть звезды со дна колодца

Авторский комментарий к графической новелле «Великий инквизитор»

Представляем графическую новеллу «Великий инквизитор»
Адаптированный сценарий – Наталья Осипова
Графика – Елена Авинова
Вступительное слово – Гэри Сол Морсон
Издательство Плуг, 2020


Легенда о Великом инквизиторе – один из ключевых текстов русской культуры. Рефлексия над ним определила размышления целого поколения русских людей конца 19 – начала 20 века. В этой «поэмке», рассказанной Иваном Карамазовым в трактире брату Алеше, искали ответ на главные русские вопросы. В графической новелле «Великий инквизитор» авторы Елена Авинова и Наталья Осипова попробовали перевести Достоевского на графический язык и сделать историю более понятной и актуальной для современного читателя. Литературной основой стали две главы «Братьев Карамазовых» – «Бунт» и «Легенда о великом инквизиторе».

Авторы выражают глубокую признательность Питеру Монсену  и Сэму Хайну за публикацию работы в специальном выпуске журнала «Плуг» и Гари Соул Морсон за блестящую вступительную статью. Особая благодарность Литературному агентству Banke, Goumen & Smirnova и Юлии Гумен, осуществившей наши мечты.

Иллюстрация 1: Обложка

О чем эта история?  О страстном желании, необходимости и невозможности веры. О выборе между невинно замученным ребенком и счастьем всего человечества. О прощении и искушении. Иван искушает Алешу так же, как инквизитор искушает сошедшего в Севилью Христа. Оба искушения восходят к библейскому, оба развивают идею противостояния соблазнам, которые не только в хлебе и власти, но и в принятии чужого страдания, особенно страдания детей.

Три искушения создают три круга смыслов: искушения Христа в пустыне – та матрица, на которую Достоевский накладывает два новых фильтра.  Инквизитор переносит фокус с религиозной матрицы на политическую, на вопрос свободы меньшинства и ответственности элит перед народом, на отношения народа и власти как неразумных детей и всезнающих родителей.

Инквизитор в романе говорит Христу: «Не ты ли так часто тогда говорил: „Хочу сделать вас свободными“. <…> Пятнадцать веков мучились мы с этою свободой, но теперь это кончено, и кончено крепко. Ты не веришь, что кончено крепко? Ты смотришь на меня кротко и не удостоиваешь меня даже негодования? Но знай, что теперь и именно ныне эти люди уверены более чем когда-нибудь, что свободны вполне, а между тем сами же они принесли нам свободу свою и покорно положили ее к ногам нашим. Но это сделали мы, а того ль ты желал, такой ли свободы?»

Иван Карамазов переносит фокус на вопрос личного принятия и личной веры. Он искушает Алешу картинами истязания деточек. Знаменитая фраза о слезе невинно замученного ребенка – это тоже искушение. Страдания деточек – наиболее острое место в этом сюжете. Иван не просто говорит о страдании, но с деталям, с упоением описывая пытки и убиение невинных так, что даже послушник Алеша не выдерживает и на вопрос, что делать с матерью, мучающей ребенка, отвечает: «Расстрелять!».

Иллюстрация 2: Деточки на фоне говорящих Ивана и Алеши

Достоевский не закончил роман «Братья Карамазовы» и в этом незаконченном теле романа главы «Бунт» и «Легенда о Великом инквизиторе» – ключ не только к написанному роману, но и к неосуществленном замыслу большого произведения. Четыре брата – это четыре пути, четыре ответа на вопрос о том, что движет русским человеком. Страсть – Дмитрий, ум – Иван, вера – Алеша. Смердяков, четвертый брат – это анти-ответ, это та бездна, которая сжирает все хорошее, переплавляя это в мерзость, в порок, в грех. Карамазовскую силу питает энергия сомнения. Карамазовщина – парадоксальная сила жизни, рождающаяся от соединения любви и сладострастия, доброты и порока. Этот парадокс – пружина романа, ответ на вопрос о русском мире и его спасении.

Нарисовать графическую новеллу по «Легенде о Великом инквизиторе» – большая смелость. Наш «Великий инквизитор» – третья из пяти задуманных графических новелл по русской классике. «Дело о шинели» по повести Н.В. Гоголя «Шинель», «Королева пик» по «Пиковой даме» А.С. Пушкина, «Убить чайку» по пьесе А.П. Чехова «Чайка» и «Дьявол» по повести Л.Н. Толстого. Все эти новеллы про смерть, про страсть, про русского человека и парадоксы русской жизни. Во всех пяти сюжетах есть мистика и голос потустороннего, иногда Бога, а чаще Дьявола. Пять сюжетов русской классики, по которым можно было бы понять русского человека, – это наш ответ об истории русской классической литературы и ее ценности для современного человека. Читая русскую классику, лучше понимаешь, острый трагизм жизни, невозможность и желанность счастья, иллюзорность любой радости, любого обретения, любого покоя. Этот мир очень тревожный, иногда жестокий, но он прорывается к метафизическим высотам и он дает шанс познать смысл любви. Русская литература – это как взгляд на небо из колодца – есть шанс увидеть звезды.

Иллюстрация 3: Глаза Ивана

«Великий инквизитор» в этом ряду центральный текст и по положению в цикле и по значению, которое концентрирует «проклятые вопросы». В этой новелле нет мистики – она заменена вымыслом героя – придуманной «поэмкой». Снижающая интонация продолжается в выборе места – у Достоевского трактир, у нас – современный бар, такой, какой можно встретить сегодня в Москве, Лондоне или Нью-Йорке. Наши герои – сегодняшние думающие люди. Ведь и сегодня есть люди, которые мучаются теми же вопросами: если есть Бог, то как возможна бедность, страдания, смерть? Если Бог есть, то почему спасение только после смерти? Как уверовать, переступив это несовершенство мира? Как понять величие замысла божия и еще хуже, как принять его без иронии и пафоса? Те же вопросы, которые мучали русских писателей в 19 веке, те же вопросы приходят к современным людям.

Наиболее сложная задача в графической новелле – синхронизация визуального языка со словом и стилем Достоевского. Мы искали графическое решение, которое бы подходило к стилистике «Братьев Карамазовых». Это был вопрос линии и пятна. Выбирая тональное решение, мы думали о цветовом минимализме. Поиск цветового решения привел к отказу от цвета в пользу радикального черно-белого. К нашем комиксе много черного. Возможно, сначала это давит и создает ощущение безысходности. Но когда в рассказе Ивана появляется образ Христа, он окружен светом.

Иллюстрация 4: Три цветовых решения

В «Великом инквизиторе» два разговора: разговор Ивана и Алеши и разговор Инквизитора и Христа, точнее монолог великого инквизитора, потому что Христос молчит и внимает. Внутри первого разговора есть рассказ об ужасных истязаниях, «деточки» нарисованы одним контуром, так, словно это невесомые образы-призраки, являющиеся в разговоре и также молчаливо внимающие героям, как внимает Инквизитору Христос. Контуры невинно замученных детей появляются в баре, где происходит действие, воплощением из воздуха и мысли в контур, который из разговора Ивана и Алеши переходит к еще одному персонажу, сидящему в баре – писателю.

Герои комикса существуют в двух сюжетах: в баре, кроме Ивана и Алеши, еще есть бармен, очень напоминающий Инквизитора, и молчаливый парень за стойкой, напоминающий то ли Джона Леннона, то ли Христа. За дальним столиком с кружкой пива сидит Писатель. Нам не хотелось делать прямых аллюзий на Леннона и Достоевского, нам хотелось, чтобы они угадывались в персонажах, чтобы читатель комикса сам решил, кто эти люди и зачем они здесь.

Иллюстрация 5: В баре с Христом

В «поэмке» действие происходит в Севилье 16-го века во времена инквизиции, «когда во славу Господа пылали великолепные аутодафе». Выбор места и времени и у Достоевского был довольно условен, это не историческая Севилья, а скорее воображаемое место, отодвинутое от современной Достоевскому России и по времени и по расстоянию: какой-то далекий древний католический город. Это историческое отстранение позволяло говорить на остро актуальные для тогдашней России темы. Как показало время, эти вопросы оказались из категории вечных.

Нервный штрих и неровные края баблов, как нам кажется, соответствуют стилистике Достоевского. Это попытка перевода речи Достоевского на визуальный язык. 

Два вида шрифтов создают дистанцию двух разных текста. Основной шрифт – авторский шрифт Лены Авиновой – это наш авторский текст, адаптация двух глав романа к формату комикса. Дополнительный шрифт – готика, имитирующая древние манускрипты, появляется тогда, когда в рассказе Ивана появляется Христос. Ленты готического письма создают  философский лейтмотив. 

Иллюстрация 6: С идущим Христом

Кто Иван и Алеша для нас? Алеша за сто лет не очень изменился, из послушника он превратился в студента духовной семинарии в миру, он одет, как обычный парень двадцати лет. В нем нет ничего особенного, кроме веры. Он тот, что должен когда-то стать Героем.

Иван в романе – недоучившийся студент, мучимый вечными вопросами. Наш Иван Карамазов – человек, который сомневается в существовании Бога без научных доказательств, ищет Бога не только в православии, но и в буддизме, исламе, путешествиях по миру и изменении сознания. У него есть деньги и время философствовать. Он блогер, задающий свои вопросы сообществу таких же бездельников. Мы не изменили текст Достоевского, но визуально дали читателю намеки на сегодняшний день: принты на футболках, джинсы, серьга в ухе, современный интерьер бара. Братья пьют водку и курят.

Зачем Достоевский современному человеку? Как возможно верить в Бога, когда в мире так много боли, жестокости и несправедливости и как жить, не веря в Бога? Сейчас этот вопрос звучит еще актуальнее, чем век назад, потому что отпавших от веры больше, а необходимость веры сильнее.

Наталья Осипова

Август 2020

Call for Papers: Beyond Carnival – Funny Dostoevsky

Dartmouth College, Hanover NH, May 2021
Conference organizers: Lynn Patyk (Dartmouth College) and Irina Erman (College of Charleston)

Has the global pandemic, economic recession, and creeping authoritarianism of 2020 got you down? If it has, then there’s one surefire cure: read Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky is chock-full of hilarity in all forms: satire, parody, good old-fashioned vaudeville, the carnivalesque (of course!), and micro humor. Sadly, literary criticism has focused overwhelmingly on “dark Dostoevsky” or “heavy Dostoevsky,” in the process saddling Dostoevsky with the partially undeserved reputation of being one of the deepest, darkest, and most depressing writers of European modernity. No doubt this is because the high seriousness of the academic enterprise, following the classical genre system, leads it to devalue the comedic and privilege more elevated styles and themes: the philosophical, the psychological, the metaphysical. Yet in Dostoevsky’s novels, many of these themes sound or are manifest in a slyly or raucously comic key, Ivan Karamazov’s devil being one outstanding example.

In order to celebrate the full range of Dostoevsky’s talent, personality, and artistry for his 200th anniversary in 2021, we are soliciting abstracts for conference papers (form of conference TBA: via Zoom, in person, or hybrid) that will identify, theorize, and above all demonstrate Dostoevsky’s prodigious comedic powers and situate the “pro” of his comedic vision vis-a-vis the “contra” of his tragic one to show that the two are in fact inseparable.

We are intending to host this conference at/under the auspices of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, in May 2021. At the very least, we will gather on the most felicitous digital platform, share our papers, and crack each other up courtesy of Dostoevsky. Topics to be explored may include but are by no means limited to:

•       Dostoevsky’s comic types and tropes
•       Comic genres: vaudeville, satire, farce, literary parody, etc.
•       Funny words (heteroglossia and humor) and their intonations
•       The comedic function: resistance, subversion, provocation, joyful transcendence
•       Dostoevsky’s comedic influences and contemporaries
•       Gender and comedy: subjects or objects of humor?
•       Theories of the comic and comedy and Dostoevsky
•       The problems and possibilities inherent in Bakhtin’s approach to Dostoevsky’s comic poetics

Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words to Lynn Patyk at Lynn.E.Patyk@dartmouth.eduand Irina Erman ermanim@cofc.edu by September 15, 2020. Prospective participants will be notified by October 15, 2020.

Call for Papers: “Dostoevsky and World Culture” no. 4

Dostoevsky and World Culture. Philological Journal invites submissions to its upcoming issue to be published both electronically and in hard copy.  

Dostoevsky and World Culture. Philological Journal is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal publishing research into the life and works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), into the influence of the world culture on him and his influence on the world culture in a wide range of areas. The journal welcomes submissions from scholars working in literary studies, history, cultural studies, philosophy, theology, psychology, and art history.

The journal accepts submissions in Russian and English. Articles may be submitted via the journal’s website. Submission deadline for articles to be considered for the 4th issue is September 30 2020. Submissions received at a later date will be considered for subsequent issues. 

The journal is published by the Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMLI RAN).

Current and back issues are available at: http://dostmirkult.ru/index.php/ru/

If you have any questions, please write to dosmirkult@yandex.ru or to dostoevskyworldculture@gmail.com.

A Chat with Greta Matzner-Gore about Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form

Today we’re sitting down with Greta Matzner-Gore to talk about her book, Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form: Suspense, Closure, Minor Characters, a fantastic new contribution to Dostoevsky scholarship and to our understanding of the novel, form, and nineteenth-century Russian literature.

BK: First, congratulations on the publication of your book last month! Tell us a little about your book. How would you describe it to a layperson? What questions do you ask in it? What would you say is its overarching narrative?

GMG: My book is about how Dostoevsky’s works work on us.

From the very beginning of his career (I’m talking 1847 here), Dostoevsky’s readers were comparing his novels to moral mirrors—look into the hearts of his most unlikeable characters, and you’ll see yourself there. My book asks how he creates this mirroring effect, how he draws us into the ethical dramas that play out on the pages of his novels.

I argue that Dostoevsky uses a slew of innovative narrative techniques in order to do so. He ratchets up the suspense, experiments with different kinds of endings, adds or subtracts minor characters from the plot—all in a bid to better control our reading experience and, ultimately, to transform us.

BK: How did you first become interested in the question of how Dostoevsky constructs his novels?

GMG: When I was 16 years old. It was a hot day in July (really!), and I was lying on a hammock devouring Crime and Punishment. I was already a fan of detective fiction, and I was struck by how different Crime and Punishment was from anything I’d read before. What impressed me most was the powerful justification Raskolnikov had for committing his crime. In most detective stories I’d read, the motive for the murder was the weakest part of the plot—in the end you find out that so-and-so killed x number of people in order to win an inheritance, in revenge for a personal humiliation, out of jealousy, etc. The motive is never anything very convincing, and it never really matters: the point is the intellectual exercise of solving the crime, not the crime itself. But in Dostoevsky’s novel, the crime matters, and Raskolnikov’s justification for it matters too. His justification is (at least on the surface) rational and compelling: the pawnbroker is cruel, destructive, and parasitical, and the world would be better off without her in it. At one point, I even caught myself agreeing with Raskolnikov’s thought processes. Then I immediately felt horrified with myself. “Did I really just think that? Did I really just think that the premeditated murder of an elderly woman was, well, maybe not so bad after all?”

By the time I finished the novel, I was convinced that I hadn’t simply come to this thought of my own accord. Instead, the novel was designed to lead me to it—to make me feel the full logical power of Raskolnikov’s justifications for murder, and then ultimately to reject them (and the part of myself that found them convincing). That’s when I started getting interested in how Dostoevsky did it, in the artistic sleight-of-hand that makes the readerly manipulation possible. That was my first serious encounter with Russian literature, and it set the course for my entire future career.

Many years later, I learned that Robert Belknap had been teaching Crime and Punishment along more or less those same lines for decades. So my “discovery” as a 16-year-old wasn’t exactly original, but at least I was in good company!   

BK: You call Dostoevsky’s novels “maximally interactive” – what do you think is the result of this kind of art? Why does Dostoevsky pursue it?

GMG: Dostoevsky believed that art changes us, and changes us for the better. In his polemic “Mr –bov and the Question of Art” (1861), he imagined what might happen to a young man who sees the Apollo Belvedere for the first time:

And because the youth’s impression was, perhaps, an ardent one, convulsing his nerves and making his epidermis turn cold; perhaps—who knows!—perhaps as a result of such sensations of higher beauty, as a result of this convulsion of the nerves, some sort of internal change even takes place in a person, some sort of shifting of particles, some sort of galvanic current, which, in one instant, makes the past not what it was before, turns a piece of ordinary iron into a magnet.

Twenty years later, Dostoevsky insists, that (no longer young) man may still be acting under the magnetic influence of this “majestic and infinitely beautiful image,” albeit in ways that he may not fully recognize or understand. According to Dostoevsky, works of art like the Apollo Belvedere can “form” people and form them for good.

Of course, Dostoevsky knew that his own work had little in common with the Apollo Belvedere. He wrote long, messy, disorienting narratives, where the moments of “higher beauty” are few and far between. (After all, he considered himself a realist, a writer committed to portraying 19th-century Russian life in all its chaos and disorder). But he still dreamed that his novels would have a positive moral impact on the people who read them, that they would produce their own kind of ethical-aesthetic shock.

And that’s, I think, why Dostoevsky aims for “maximal interactivity.” He knows he isn’t going to electrify his readers with images of beauty, kindness, or love, so he pushes hard in the opposite direction. With the help of his seductive, morally ambivalent narrators, he immerses us in violence, cruelty, and ugliness; he encourages us to emotionally participate in them; and then exposes us to ourselves. It’s a little sadistic, to be honest. But then we’re talking about Dostoevsky here! 

BK: What are the stakes of “narrative ethics”? How does Dostoevsky bring them to the fore?

GMG: People have been arguing about the moral stakes of novel reading for centuries. For hundreds of years, the usual worry was that novels would have a morally degenerative effect on their readers. In the past few decades, however, the standard line has shifted. The most influential critics have argued that reading novels (at least certain classics, anyway) is regenerative instead. It is a kind of moral training ground, instructing readers in empathy, sympathy, and compassion; teaching them to withhold judgment and respect difference—lessons that they can then take into their day-to-day lives.

What makes Dostoevsky so interesting for me is that he plays on both of these possibilities. His narrators do seem to be “training” readers in particular habits of mind, but often in bad habits: malicious gossip, attraction to violence, hasty judgments and social stereotyping (to name just a few).

I think that Dostoevsky is still trying to write novels that will, in the final account, have a positive impact on the people who read them. But he takes his readers on a circuitous route toward that ultimate goal, pushing them to recognize their own complicity in sin first. In a sense, the plots Dostoevsky writes for his protagonists and the ones he imagines for his readers are structurally similar: we have to descend in order to ascend. 

BK: Your book focuses on three novels, mainly: Demons, The Adolescent, and Brothers Karamazov – why these three?

GMG: It happened organically. Each chapter grew out of a sense of uneasiness with each of the three novels, a sense that there was something wrong with them. As literary critics, we’re trained to look for resonances between form and content. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a fundamental disconnect between the ethical principles championed by the positive characters in these novels, and the narrative form of the novels—which often seemed to be working at cross purposes.

I could write a lot about this topic, so I will limit myself to one example: how I came up with the idea for chapter one (“Curiosity, Suspense, and Dostoevsky’s Demons”). It all started with Liputin, who always got under my skin. A self-declared “gossip” and “spy,” he is one of the nastiest characters in the novel. But nevertheless, he (through his gossiping and spying) fulfills an essential narrative function—exposition. His gossip provides insider information about Stavrogin’s secret past, which readers need to know in order to make sense of the novel’s plot. The novel is built on the very mechanisms of knowing and telling that it explicitly critiques.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that such disconnects between form and content were not the insoluble problems they seemed to be at first glance—they were the point. Dostoevsky’s novels are not written about, for, or by perfect people who have already realized his dream of universal brotherhood on earth. They are written about, for, and by people who haven’t, who are still struggling with their personal weaknesses and limitations, and who are trying to do better.

BK: What is the most exciting part of your book for you? How does this book change the conversation?

GMG: One benefit of focusing on just three novels is that it allowed me to write in-depth, holistic interpretations of each one, showing how even their tiniest textual details resonate with their biggest philosophical questions. That’s what I was aiming for, and that’s what I am ultimately most proud of. I am also excited about the new insights the book provides into Dostoevsky’s artistic process. Each chapter traces Dostoevsky’s work on a single novel, from his notebooks to the finished product: how he grapples with some question of novelistic craft, starts thinking through its moral stakes, and in the end creates a narrator who is struggling with the same challenges to ethical storytelling that he is.  

Ultimately, I hope that the book will help change the way not just Slavists, but also literary theorists and historians in general think and talk about Dostoevsky’s legacy. He has an international reputation for being an emotionally explosive writer and an influential religious philosopher. But he is also one of the nineteenth-century’s most subtle thinkers about the ethics of reading and writing fiction. He didn’t write much in the way of literary theory, but he was still a great narrative theorist in his own way.


Greta Matzner-Gore is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California. A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature, her research interests include narrative theory, the ethics of reading, and the intersections between science and literature. She is also a founding member of the North American Dostoevsky Society’s Reader Advisory Board. Her first book, Dostoevsky and the Ethics of Narrative Form, is available now from Northwestern University Press.

Virtual Dostoevsky Day!

Dostoevsky Day is coming! The first Saturday in July, every July since 2010, the Dostoevsky Museum in St Petersburg has hosted Dostoevsky Day, a celebration of Dostoevsky’s life, works, and characters that has come to be a beloved annual festival in the city. The scheduled day is a reference to the beginning of Crime and Punishment, which starts on a hot day in early July.

If you’re not familiar with Dostoevsky Day, you can catch performances from years past on the event’s YouTube Channel, or check out photos on their Facebook or Vkontakte. In the past, though, the best way to experience Dostoevsky Day has always been to attend Dostoevsky Day (OR to read Tomi Haxhi’s eye witness account of the 2017 Dostoevsky Day celebration).

But in this year of global pandemic, the festival is moving online, so you can catch it from anywhere in the world. Plus! Given the Russian time zone, some of the events will be especially well-timed for North Americans experiencing insomnia. You can find the complete schedule online, but for those who can’t read Russian, here’s what you can expect to happen and when:


Friday, July 3 – The day BEFORE


3pm St Petersburg (8am Eastern, 5am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky as a Brand” documentary film (streaming on the Stremiannaia Library vkontakte page)


Saturday, July 4 – The DAY – official events


10am St Petersburg (3am Eastern, midnight Pacific)

“20 Addresses of Dostoevsky in 2020” Instagram tour (via #20адресовДостоевского2020 hashtag on Instagram)


from 12pm St Petersburg (5am Eastern, 2am Pacific)

Lectures on Dostoevsky from leading scholars (via the official Dostoevsky Day YouTube channel):

  • 12pm: Natalia Ashimbaeva, “Dostoevsky and his young contemporaries”
  • 12:15pm: Boris Tikhomirov, “Dostoevsky’s first Petersburg address”
  • 12:45pm: Maria Mikhnovets, “Did Dostoevsky live on ul. Dostoevskogo?”
  • 1:15pm: Natalia Chernova, “The literary sensibilities of Dostoevsky’s heroes”

from 2:30pm St Petersburg (7:30am Eastern, 4:30am Pacific)

Video tours of Dostoevsky’s Petersburg from leading scholars (via the official Dostoevsky Day YouTube channel):

  • 2:30pm: Alexandra Chernyshovaia, “Dostoevsky on Vladimirsky Square: the writer’s place in the city”
  • 3:30pm: Maria Mikhnovets, “Raskolnikov in the city: why can crime only happen in St Petersburg?”

7pm St Petersburg (12pm Eastern, 9am Pacific)

Preview of the FMD Theatre’s new production (via the official Dostoevsky Day YouTube channel)


8pm St Petersburg (1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky Route” documentary film (15 mins) – this is an event taking place socially distanced in St Petersburg, but the film, which will illustrate a brief episode from the Writer’s Diary — a journey from St Petersburg to Darovoe — will be done in the style of Instagram stories. (more information here)


Saturday, July 4 – The DAY – events in partner museums and libraries


3am St Petersburg (8pm Fri Eastern, 5pm Fri Pacific)

Video-tour of Dostoevsky’s tomb (from the State Museum of Urban Sculpture via YouTube)


from 9am St Petersburg (2am Eastern, 11pm Fri Pacific)

The “Diverse St Petersburg” State Museum is holding a series of virtual tours and events across its website and social media pages. These include events related to: Dostoevsky’s region of Petersburg and locations from the novel The Adolescent, the Feuilleton, and the “music of old Petersburg”, as well as a small (virtual) theatrical event and a photo competition (more info on the museum’s website).


11am St Petersburg (4am Eastern, 1am Pacific)

“An Appointment with Dostoevsky” – a virtual event that highlights Dostoevsky quotes on “the most vital questions” in order to imagine what it would be like if Dostoevsky became a psychologist (from the Central Children’s Library of the Petrograd Side via Vkontakte and Instagram)


12pm St Petersburg (5am Eastern, 2am Pacific)

Quiz on Dostoevsky’s life and works (from the Mikhailovsky Fortress branch of the Russian Museum via Instagram)

Quiz on “Dostoevsky’s world” (from the Nevsky Central Library Branch via Vkontakte)

“Dostoevsky Hour” – a quiz (from the A. S. Pushkin Central District Library via Vkontakte)

Video tour of “Dostoevsky’s Petersburg” (from the O. F. Berggol’ts Library no. 3 via Vkontakte)


3pm St Petersburg (8am Eastern, 5am Pacific)

Virtual guided excursion through the Mikhailovsky Fortress with particular focus on Dostoevsky’s time as an engineering student there (from the Mikhailovsky Fortress branch of the Russian Museum via Instagram)

“The Story of a Crime” – a virtual quest based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (from the B. A. Lavrenev Library via their VKontakte)


4pm St Petersburg (9am Eastern, 6am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky on the Islands” – an online event organized by the Kirov Islands Library (all taking place via the library’s Vkontakte group) including:

  • a presentation of the book A Look Through Time. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Three Petersburg Novels by author and photographer Yuri Panteleev
  • a quest
  • some short videos

Events organized by the Fyodor Abramov Library (all taking place in the library’s VKontakte group):

  • Dostoevsky’s city in the works of Boris Kostygov: a presentation of an album of architectural and graphic illustrations
  • In the footsteps of Dostoevsky’s heroes: an online-excursion
  • “Beauty will Save the World”: a virtual quiz on Dostoevsky quotes in our lives

“Dostoevsky in self-isolation” an interactive online walk of Dostoevsky places in St Petersburg, organized by the A. S. Pushkin Central District Library (via zoom, registration required – more details on the library’s Vkontakte)


from 10am-6pm St Petersburg (3am-11am Eastern, midnight-8am Pacific)

Events organized by the Alexander Pushkin Central City Children’s Library:

  • a pre-recorded lecture by legal scholar and lawyer S. A. Afanas’ev on “Two Views on Crime and Punishment of Dostoevsky’s Epoch”
  • A video excursion of the merchant A. P. Strubinsky’s house, where Dostoevsky lived for three years while he finished the novel The Adolescent
  • An illustration and book exhibit on “Dostoevsky and his Contemporaries in St Petersburg”
  • An illustration and book exhibit on “Dostoevsky’s Personality in Biographies and Memoirs”
  • A virtual presentation, “Dostoevsky’s Petersburg Studio: The Secret of the Picture’s Gaze”, on the significance of the gaze in Dostoevsky’s work, especially in The Idiot
  • An online test on Diary of a Writer

More information and links out to the events via the library’s website.


from 12-6pm St Petersburg (5-11am Eastern, 2-8am Pacific)

“Dostoevsky Day in the V. I. Lenin Library on the Petrograd Side” – an online program featuring quests, quizzes, and lectures, including:

  • A video excursion of locations important for Dostoevsky on the Petrograd Side
  • A special feature from Lev Lur’e’s book Dostoevsky’s Petersburg
  • A live visit with Dostoevsky’s great-great grandson to find out what it is like to be related to the great author
  • A special team quiz event
  • A feature on illustrations of Dostoevsky’s novels by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Mikhail Shemyakin, and Ilya Glazunov

Everything will take place online, live (via the YouTube channel of the Petrograd Side Libraries)


Rendered somewhat loosely from Russian into English by Katherine Bowers. Images and text borrowed from the Dostoevsky Day website.

Dr Katherine Bowers is Associate Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is the Vice-President of the North American Dostoevsky Society and Editor of this blog. She has tragically never attended Dostoevsky Day in person, but is very excited about the online events!

#DostoevskySaturday: Scrapbooking One’s Way Through Russian Classics

by Oli Akroyd and Dirk Puehl

In the uneasy quarantine climate of Spring 2020 in London, a University of Kent PhD candidate writing on 19th century English and Russian literature, Oli Akroyd, wanted to reach out and connect with the readers, scholars and fans of one of her favourite research topics: Dostoevsky’s landmark novels. Twitter seemed the ideal location to bring people together virtually and celebrate the writer’s rich legacy. Joined by her charming assistant Dirk Puehl from Frankfurt, who still claims he is just another one of Dostoevsky’s imaginations, they both kicked off #DostoevskySaturday in March. Read a bit more about the people behind the weekly Dostoevsky online festival on Twitter below

OLI

So… what is the idea behind #DostoevskySaturday? What prompted you to create this hashtag?

This came as a spontaneous decision! My “day job” involves reading A LOT, and specifically – reading a lot of Dostoevsky. And of course, what is the stereotype concerning the Russian classics? It’s imagined to be something highbrow, heavy-duty and difficult to digest – not pleasure reading, especially in translation. So very often, students, particularly those just starting to delve into Russian literature, become put off by that. My goal was to create something scrap-book like, full of fascinating, bite-size pieces and snippets of information and inspiration, to introduce the audience to one of the most complex writers in the realm of literature through a fun interactive activity, where you could share your findings and ideas with others, get inspired, amused, perplexed… On Twitter, there are many hashtags to do with literature (#MelvilleMonday! #WyrdWednesday! #ShakespeareSunday!), and so, creating #DostoevskySaturday was a natural step to bring the writer’s world in tune with social media, digital humanities and interactive learning.

How did you become acquainted with Dostoevsky in the first place?

Stemming from a bicultural, Russian-British background, Dostoevsky has been a household name for me since an early age. I was introduced to his key texts as a young teenager (after all, “Crime and Punishment” is a typical high-school programme presence in Russia). Later on, as a postgrad student writing a thesis on the interplay of themes in Herman Melville and Dostoevsky’s works, I was able to look closer at the complexities and hidden themes in the writer’s world.

 Do you have a favourite Dostoevskian text? And a least favourite one?

My favourite text would probably either be “Crime and Punishment” – because I cannot resist the detective element to the plot running alongside the more philosophical themes, and besides, it is probably the most interesting to teach! Or “Demons,” for its exploration of Nihilism as a topic. Although, as a 10 year-old, I was rather disappointed, upon finishing that novel, that there were no horned or hooved entities making mischief as part of the narrative! As for the least favourite text… that is a difficult choice, but perhaps “The Adolescent” pales a bit next to the others – purely my personal opinion!

There is a stereotype floating around the literary world, that Dostoevsky can be described as a “depressing” writer. What can you say about that?

I’d say that this stereotype is rather misleading, as, first and foremost, Dostoevsky is a champion of hope. Yes, he does describe the darkness, squalor and the suffering – but whether you pick up “Brothers Karamazov” or consider Raskolnikov’s fate, the message is clear – there is life at the end of the tunnel, hope and happiness. And we can all do our humble bit to bring this a little bit closer.

Do you have a character you really identify with / respect / want to strangle?

Normally, I’d say I identify with Grushenka from “Brothers Karamazov” (her fairytale about the onion is one of my favourite passages) or Dasha from “Demons.” Although lately, I am rather fascinated with the Limping Girl from “Demons” too, because of the echoes of the supernatural – she is a fortune-teller and a visionary! And I am still mildly terrified by Svidrigailov and his dream of a “bath-house full of spiders.”

What do you think of Dostoevsky on film? Any particular series, or movies you can recommend?

Probably the modern-day Russian rendition of “Demons” (2014) made as a TV series. It is filmed in a modern, accessible manner a bit reminiscent of the costume dramas and crime series thrown together, so it often appeals to the students just making their acquaintance with Dostoevsky. But I’ve yet to see a film version of any text that would fully and truly do it justice.

Have you ever attempted reading Dostoevsky in the original? Or read him in translation? Would you say there are any translations you particularly like/dislike, and why?

Being bilingual, I read Dostoevsky both in translation and in Russian. I probably won’t be very original in recommending the Constance Garnett translation, because it is quite lucid and easy to read.  Also, Michael R. Katz’s translation of “The Devils” is great.

 

DIRK

How did you get acquainted with Dostoevsky in the first place?

There were those three-volume novels in my parents’ bookshelves… high recognition value when I began to read the French Existentialists as a pale, bespectacled, black rollneck-sweatered and Gauloises-smoking teen. Grabbed them from said shelves and was… hooked.

What is your favourite novel?

Certainly the “Brothers”. Greatest novel ever written in my humble opinion.

And least favourite one?

Do I have one? Probably “The Adolescent”. Found it to be too deep into contemporary religious exegesis. Interesting from a historical perspective, but less polyphonous than the others. Didn’t talk to me like the other novels did.

Which of his characters do you most/least identify with?

Some 30 years ago I would have instantly cried out Raskolnikov and Ivan Karamazov. Today? Probably Stephan Verkhovensky.

And dislikes?

Oh dear, Dostoevsky has written of so many well-rounded, despicable arseholes… hard to choose. But I have a special place of contempt reserved for Katerina Ivanovna from “Crime and Punishment”.

There are some stereotypes floating around that Dostoevsky is a “depressing” writer. What would you say to this statement?

Absolutely is. Part of the many-voiced choir that is Dostoevsky. Depressing because he does not touch one but several nerves. And that’s a good thing because we are not reading edificatory literature here, right?

What do you think of Dostoevsky on film?

Truth be told, not much. The Russian adoptions are, generally speaking, rather good, especially in regards to the types they’ve cast, costumes and atmosphere. But they usually fail at capturing the magnitude of the novels.

Are there any particular series or movies you can recommend?

Offhandedly, no. I usually prefer movies that are more or less inspired by Dostoevsky, like Visconti’s “White Nights” – straightforward screen adaptions of Dostoevsky’s works.

Have you ever attempted reading Dostoevsky in the original? Or read him in translation?

My Russian is, at best, good enough to read a menu. Wanted to? Yes, absolutely. But I have to work with translations.

Would you say there are any translations you particularly like/dislike, and why?

As mentioned above, I’m not a judge here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – background, and so on.

Looked for literature and came upon philology. I did an MA but my heart never really was in the academic world. Had to pay the rent, too. Now in online sales & advertising, I really will finish that 12-volume series of epic novels one day.


Dirk Puehl received an MA in German and English Literatures at Frankfurt’s Goethe University 20 years ago. With a day job in online sales and marketing, he is still working on a dissertation on Lord Byron’s influence in 19th century literature focusing on Heine, Pushkin and Lermontov, he sincerely hopes he finishes it before he succumbs to ennui and disease in Western Greece or gets shot in a duel.

Oli Akroyd completed a BA degree in English and Russian at Queen Mary, University of London, and a Masters’ degree in Russian and East European Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford, where her dissertation addressed the topic of archetype evolution in post-1900 Russian literature. Now in the final stages of a doctorate at University of Kent, based in picturesque Canterbury, Oli in her spare time dabbles in yoga, watches folk horror films and is learning Scottish Gaelic.

Announcing: the 2020/21 North American Dostoevsky Society Student Essay Contest!

We are excited to announce that the Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society is running another student essay contest! This year, we are looking for outstanding undergraduate- and graduate-student essays on Dostoevsky-related topics. Nominate your best students… or nominate yourself! See the two separate CFPs below for more details. Good luck!

Note: because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have extended the competition to encompass 2019-21. Please note the updated submission date of June 1 2021 (submissions are welcome on a rolling basis).

Undergraduate CFP

The Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society (NADS) invites its members in good standing to nominate an outstanding undergraduate-student essay on a Dostoevsky-related topic. (If you are not a member of NADS, you can join at https://dostoevsky.org/). Current undergraduate students are also welcome to nominate their own work, in which case NADS membership is not required. The topic is open; however, Dostoevsky and his works should be the main focus of the essay. The winner of the contest will receive free membership in NADS for one year and a Dostoevsky-themed swag.  To submit a nomination, please send an email containing the student’s name, email address, institutional affiliation, and the title and level/number of the coursefor which the essay was written (e.g. BIOL 322 “Dostoevsky and Spiders”) to vladimir.ivantsov@mail.mcgill.ca. Please attach the essay to the email as a .pdf file containing no identifying information about the author.  The essay should be no more than 4000 words12 font size, double-spaced; it should consistently follow either MLA or Chicago style and contain full bibliographical information on the used sources, either in the footnotes or as a separate list of references. The deadline to submit a nomination is June 15, 2020 June 1, 2021, 11:59 PM EST.

Graduate CFP

The Readers’ Advisory Board of the North American Dostoevsky Society (NADS) invites its members in good standing to nominate an outstanding graduate-student essay on a Dostoevsky-related topic. (If you are not a member of NADS, you can join at https://dostoevsky.org/). Current M.A. and PhD students are also welcome to nominate their own work, in which case NADS membership is not required. The topic is open; however, Dostoevsky and his works should be the main focus of the essay. The winner of the contest will receive: 1) free membership in NADS for one year and 2) a guaranteed spot as a presenter on the NADS-sponsored panel at AATSEEL, 2022. To submit a nomination, please send an email containing the student’s name, email address, institutional affiliation to matzner@usc.edu.Please attach the essay to the email as a .pdf file containing no identifying information about the author.  The essay should be no more than 8000 words12 font size, double-spaced; and it should consistently follow either MLA or Chicago style and contain full bibliographical information on the used sources, either in the footnotes or as a separate list of references. The deadline to submit a nomination is June 15, 2020 June 1 2021, 11:59 PM EST.

CFP – MLA 2021 panel – Dostoevsky at 200: International Receptions

This is a call for papers for a proposed panel at the 2021 MLA Convention to be held in Toronto 7-10 Jan 2021. For more information about the convention, click here.

CFP: Dostoevsky at 200: International Receptions

Considerable research has been devoted to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s incorporation of non-Russian art and texts as inspiration for his writing. Comparatively less attention, however, has been to paid to the immense influence the author’s own life and works have had on literature, drama, philosophy, and art. This panel seeks to explore Dostoevsky’s reception, as a man and as an author, by 20th and 21st century writers and artists. It is co-sponsored by the International Dostoevsky Society and the Reception Study Society in celebration of the author’s 200th year.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Dostoevsky’s influence on existentialist philosophy
  • Postcolonial adaptations of Dostoevky’s writing
  • Dostoevsky’s role in shaping Modernist and Post-Modernist literatures
  • Shifts in international acclaim or censure
  • Diverse interpretations of Dostoevsky’s anti-heroes
  • Counters to Bakhtin’s influential reading of Dostoevsky
  • The global reach of Dostoevskian fiction
  • Fictional interpretations of Dostoevsky’s life
  • Adapting Dostoevsky for theatre or film

Less researched areas of influence are especially welcome. Please submit your abstract (max. 300 words) and CV to Melanie Jones (feuillyjones@gmail.com) by 15 March 2020.

Contact: Melanie Jones, Katherine Bowers, Kelsey Squire