Our memories of Deborah Martinsen

On November 28, 2021, our colleague and friend, Deborah A. Martinsen, passed away. Immediately we were overwhelmed with an outpouring of love and memories of her. We have collected those shared with us and share them here and on the memorial page we created on dostoevsky.org. Deborah will be forever missed.

To read the obituary written by an international collective of Dostoevsky scholars and friends of Deborah, click here. This memorial page also includes a photo gallery.

Мы все здесь, в Петербурге, потрясены известием о кончине дорогой Деборы. Она так надеялась победить свою коварную болезнь, так верила в своих врачей. И мы  вместе с нею. Многие из нас знали и любили Дебору (Деборочку, как ее любовно называла незабвенная Надин Натова) еще с 1998 г., со времени нашего знакомства в Нью-Йорке во время проведения Х Симпозиума IDS, одним из деятельных организаторов которого она была. Мы счастливы были встречаться с нею в Москве, Петербурге, Старой Руссе, а также в Баден-Бадене, Женеве, Неаполе, Пекине, Бостоне и других городах, где проходили форумы IDS. Ее нельзя было не любить! Она заряжала всех энергией, дружелюбием, тонким юмором. А как она умела смеяться! Образовалась страшная пустота!! С этим известием долго невозможно будет примириться! Вечная память! Пусть земля будет ей пухом.

Наталья Ашимбаева, Борис Тихомиров, Наталья Чернова, Наталья Шварц, Валентина Ветловская, Наталия Тарасова, Владимир Котельников, Сергей Кибальник, Нина Буданова, Ирина Якубович, Надежда Михновец, Алина Денисова

It is with sadness that the Editors of The Dostoevsky Journal: A Comparative Literature Review, together with the Executive of the Australian Dostoevsky Society, note the passing, on Sunday, November 28, 2021, of the American Dostoevsky scholar, Deborah Martinsen.

We knew Deborah as an energetic President of the International Dostoevsky Society, who welcomed us at various international symposia. We also knew her as a student of the late Robert Belknap at Columbia University who carried on his legacy with her innovative work in Dostoevsky research, which had resonance right around the world, including the postgraduate scene in Australia. Her ground-breaking study Surprised by Shame represents a lasting legacy to her scholarly acumen.

Remembered with fondness by Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover and the Editorial team.

Дорогие коллеги, друзья!
С образом Деборы Мартинсон у нас связаны самые светлые, самые тёплые воспоминания, в особенности, – с симпозиумом в Бостоне. Она своим добрым, большим сердцем почувствовала, что нам нужна её помощь, пришла к нам, объяснила обо всём, что нам необходимо было знать.И вместо наших тревог, недоумений, вопросов в душе возникли свет и красота. Ещё при первой нашей встрече с ней – в Москве, в 2013 г. – на Международном симпозиуме – мы почувствовали значительность её личности , её подвижничество, её высокий ум и её душу, открытую добру. Как говорят в России – на таких людях земля держится. Она стала для нас добрым и дорогим человеком и таким остаётся в наших сердцах навсегда.

Т.П. Баталова и Г.В. Федянова.

My candle for her is still burning and our hearts are so full. And grieving over her loss and her suffering.

Robin Feuer Miller

Kingdom of Heaven! Everlasting memory!

Татьяна Карпачева

Тяжёлая утрата. Большое горе. Невосполнимая потеря. Дорогая Дебора! Светлая, энергичная, надёжная. Добрый, заботливый друг. Серьёзный учёный, прекрасный организатор. Невозможно примириться с её уходом. Она была душой нашего сообщества. Мы всегда будем помнить её светящиеся глаза и лучезарную улыбку. Вечная память!

Павел Фокин

Мир светлой душе

Елена Степанян

I am shocked by the death of our beloved colleague and friend, Deborah Martinsen, a wonderful scientist and wonderful kind person! I express my deepest condolences! The memory of her will forever remain in our hearts and in the history of literature!

Irina Dergacheva

From the time I met her fourteen years ago, Deborah was an inspiration to me and a constant source of support. When we first met at Columbia in early 2008, she encouraged me to present an essay to a Holy Cross conference on The Brothers Karamazov; a couple of years later I attended my first first IDS Symposium in Naples, and she warmly welcomed me and introduced me to wonderful people who became friends; and in Granada, she gave me a crucial piece of advice: “Take an index card, in one sentence, write the thesis of your book, and keep it on your desk until you’re finished.” I followed her good counsel… and finally finished my book. For these memories, and for many others, I am so grateful to Deborah. She was a blessing to all who knew her, and she and her family are in my prayers.

Paul Contino

I first met Deborah when I was a graduate student and came to New York to attend the IDS symposium, when it was hosted by Columbia University, and she was as gracious a Dostoevsky scholar then as she was when I saw her last at the 2019 IDS symposium in Boston. It is difficult to imagine that we will not see her again at our gatherings as the indefatigable organizer, presenter, discussant, and facilitator of all things Dostoevsky. Her institutional knowledge of IDS, the myriad ways in which she supported research on the novelist, and her own publications on the Russian literary tradition are irreplaceable.

May eternal rest be hers,
E. Blake

When I set about refashioning myself as a Dostoevsky scholar, Deborah was my guardian angel. When I couldn’t find a venue for my first article, Deborah helped me find a place in Dostoevsky Studies–and I was on my way. A few years later Deborah warmly welcomed me at what she called “Dostoevsky camp,” the XVII International Dostoevsky Symposium in Boston, and I treasure the memory of our train ride back to NY together, complete with coffee and pastries from her favorite cafe around the back of South Station, and a lovely conversation with her friend Lyudmil Dimitrov, yet another Dostoevsky scholar, of course–it was her talent and her joy to bring her intellectual interlocutors together as friends. Deborah, I will miss above all your warmth and generosity of spirit.

Melissa Frazier

Our field is so much poorer for the loss of Deborah Martinsen, the brilliant scholar, dedicated teacher, and incomparable colleague. Although I am a reluctant conference goer, one thing I have always looked forward to about conferences is seeing Deborah. She was so genuinely thrilled to see her colleagues and so filled with joy at discussing Dostoevsky that she filled any conference with light. To have Deborah respond to your work was a bracing and strengthening experience: she shared both a penetrating critical intelligence and a generous collegial warmth and appreciation that made it seem as if ours was the most worthwhile profession in the world.

Susanne Fusso

This tribute is not easy to write. My last in-person contact with Deborah was at the luminous IDS gathering in Boston in July 2019, where somehow we ended up with an hour alone in the dormitory lobby, talking about shame and laughter. Then it seemed as if the whole world closed down. When the health updates began, each one such a model of hope and positive thinking, I’m sure I was not alone in waiting for them, like a sort of index to the possibility of health and healing for the world at large. Admiration mounted further when Academic Studies Press asked last spring if I would read her Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: A Reader’s Guide — so here Deborah was, like Robert Bird in 2019, still writing and working. Never did I hear a word of complaint, that time might run out before the ideas were in place. And looking at my endorsement now, it seems wholly unreal that Deborah will not be one of her own readers. How grateful we are for her energy, intelligence, and generosity, to so many people over so many years.

Caryl Emerson

I wish to share my sad feelings about Deborah’s in my language – Brazilian Portuguese.
Lamento profundamente a partida de Deborah, que deixou grande legado, em especial, nos corações de todos que a conheceram. Apesar de não tê-la conhecido, eu sinto um grande carinho e a imensa saudade de todos nas palavras do mural. Vejo a notável presença de Deborah, que permanecerá nos seus trabalhos realizados e nos futuros desdobramentos que virão.
Como associada recente, eu deixo meus sinceros sentimentos e gratidão por terem me recebido nesta comunidade tão amigável e carinhosa. Que o sorriso de Deborah, que contagia todos os momentos registrados nas fotografias do mural, aqueça o coração de cada um. Deixo aqui um grande abraço.

Ângela A A Barbosa

Дебора, мы встречались с Вами в Гаминге, Баден-Бадене, Неаполе, Нью-Йорке, Нагойа, Токио и многих городах в мире. Вы всегда увеселяли и поощряли меня своей улыбкой и острыми замечаниями. В результате в моих статьях и книгах находятся много цитат из Ваших работ и упоминаний Ваших идей. Даже после того, как Вы заболели, Вы неизменно поощряли нас очередными электронными почтами и фотографиями. Спасибо огромгое! Я не забуду Ваше доброе, доброе сердце.

Тэцуо Мотидзуки (Япония)

Dear Deborah,

We are not letting you leave us… As the grief-stricken Devushkin, having lost his beloved Varenka addresses her in a monologue, we continue talking to you from our souls, feeling your presence, which is so intensive, heartfelt and radiant as you were in life. In our letters we sometimes discussed art and music. Let’s convey through Schubert’s final tune in his song (Death and the Maiden, op. 7 no. 3) the hope of your quiet, peaceful, harmonious sleep. We are always with you.

Das Mädchen / Девушка:
Vorüber! Ach, vorüber! / Прочь, прочь
Geh wilder Knochenmann! / Уйди, дикарь костлявый!
Ich bin noch jung, geh Lieber! / Я слишком молода, чтоб умирать.
Und rühre mich nicht an. / Не смей меня касаться!

Der Tod / Смерть:
Gib deine Hand, Du schön und zart Gebild! / Дай руку мне, прекрасное и нежное созданье!
Bin Freund, und komme nicht, zu strafen. / Я друг тебе и не казнить пришел.
Sey gutes Muths! ich bin nicht wild, / Смелее будь! Совсем не так я страшен,
Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen. / В моих руках ты будешь сладко спать!
(Matthias Claudius)

Светлая память!

Katalin Kroó in the name of the Hungarian friends and colleagues

Мы глубоко скорбим о безвременно ушедшей дорогой нашим сердцам Деборе Мартинсен. Это трагическое известие мы получили в дни, когда у православных христиан начинался Рождественский пост, в дни памяти святых, покровительствующих семье. Возможно, поэтому печальное известие особенно обострило нашу общую утрату: ведь общество Достоевского – это большая семья, объединённая гением писателя-христианина, – в которой Дебора была президентом, и организационно, и  душевно укреляла всеобщее  единство.

С образом Деборы у нас связаны самые светлые, самые тёплые воспоминания. Впервые мы увидели её на 15 Международном симпозиуме Международного общества Достоевского в Москве. Но познакомились с ней лично на 16 симпозиуме – в Гранаде. Уже в Москве мы почувствовали её незаурядность, огромную энергию,  преданность  культурному служению через работу МОД.

Она очень много сделала, чтобы симпозиум в Бостоне состоялся.

В Бостоне Дебора своим добрым, большим сердцем почувствовала, что нам нужна её помощь, сама  пришла к нам, объяснила всё, что нам необходимо было знать. И вместо наших тревог, недоумений, вопросов в душе возникли свет и красота. Особенно в памяти осталась её добрая, мягкая, даже кроткая улыбка, и, в то же время, –   её подвижничество, её высокий ум и её душа, открытая добру. Как говорят в России – на таких людях земля держится. Она стала для нас не только учёным с достойным и авторитетным научным именем, значимыми научными исследованиями, но и добрым и дорогим человеком и таким  остаётся в наших сердцах навсегда.

Тамара Баталова и Галина Федянова

I was not part of Deborah’s Dostoevsky circle but we were pen-pals and fellow cat-lovers and had the occasional meal. As a pen-pal, I discovered that she had quite a wicked sense of academic satire. She had real humanity and compassion. Some years ago when a mutual friend at Columbia fell ill, Deborah sent me regular bulletins and I’m sure that her kindness helped our friend pull through. More recently, Deborah shared the VSI chapters, trusting me, I think, as a general reader. Although she was already unwell, the book is finely written and full of helpful, expert observation. She had such a passion for her subject.
Deborah was someone I always looked forward to seeing on visits to NY. Brightness is a good word for her—she sparkled. She had great vitality and spirit and the world is certainly diminished. My condolences to her family and her many close friends and colleagues.

Andrew Kahn

I met Deborah in 2016, the year of the Granada symposium and the Crime and Punishment at 150 festivities which we both attended, and, although I only knew her for a few years, she quickly became an important interlocutor for me about Dostoevsky studies. It was a joy to meet with her at conferences, get caught up, and discuss Dostoevsky. She was a generous and thorough reader and editor. Just last week I submitted proofs on two projects in which she played a role: my first book manuscript, which she read from start to finish and gave feedback on, and an article, which she suggested I write based on a footnote in the book manuscript. Both of these projects are better from her guidance, and the article would not exist without her.

My favorite memory of Deborah is from Granada. We were staying in the same hotel and had gone to the rooftop pool for an early afternoon swim on our last day before leaving. And the sun was sparkling on the water under the bright blue Granada sky and a few of us, Deborah included, were relaxed and cool and basking in the glow of both the warm Spanish sunshine and a wonderful Symposium. It was the perfect end to an idyllic week of dialogue and discussion.

The reason that this memory stands out, I think, is that Deborah was such an effervescent person, her brightness touched everyone. And that moment floating in the rooftop pool under the bright sky encapsulates that feeling of talking with Deborah for me: warm and bright and relaxed and inspiring. I wish I had had more time with her, but I am so grateful for the time that I had. My sincere condolences to her family and friends. Deborah will be deeply missed.

Katia Bowers

I had known for a long time of Deborah’s illness but it still came as a shock to learn of her passing. Like everyone else who knew her professionally I was and am full of admiration both for her contributions to the study of Dostoevsky and for the service she gave to the International Dostoevsky Society, particularly as Treasurer and President.

But I was also privileged to know her as a friend. Ever since I had mistakenly addressed her in French at the Cerisy Symposium in 1983, we had looked out for each other at each successive Symposium and we had arranged to meet over meals with other participants. What I shall especially remember are the walks we took round the streets of the venues where Symposia were held, supposedly admiring the scenery but actually sharing our current thinking about Dostoevsky’s life and work, and rehearsing the evidence and the arguments that we planned to incorporate in our next piece of research. For me, such conversations were what Symposia were all about: the generous and unrestricted exchange of views, whether or not we saw eye to eye, more perhaps than the formal sessions. And Deborah was one of those whose conversations I most looked forward to.

I particularly remember the New York Symposium, which she helped to organise with Bob Belknap during my period as President. From then on we would seek advice from the other as problems arose, sometimes quite contentious ones. It was always good to know that she was there to be consulted whenever necessary and to know that she valued the experience that I could sometimes bring to bear.

I shall miss her terribly and my deepest sympathy goes to her husband and family.

Malcolm Jones

I first met Deborah as a postgraduate student when I came to the Dostoevsky Symposium at Columbia University in 1998. As I appeared at the conference registration desk, awestruck and jetlagged, she was instantly kind and welcoming. On the day I presented my paper, she asked penetrating, constructive questions, and afterwards talked to me seriously and enthusiastically about my thesis. This typified all my subsequent interactions with her: from the outset she made me feel like an equal and gave me the confidence to believe I was worthy of a place in the pantheon of Dostoevsky scholars. Thereafter it was always a joy to see her on the conference circuit where she would greet me like an old friend. I remember particularly that after I had children she always asked after them and wanted to see photos.

I admire Deborah’s work immensely and it has had a great influence over my own. As a scholar she was super sharp and also generous; every conversation, every discussion was productive. One of my most rewarding scholarly experiences was contributing to the volume she co-edited with Olga Maiorova, especially thanks to the editoral workshop they organised, which was a genuinely collaborative and supportive event, as well as being great fun.

I wish I had known Deborah better and I shall miss her very much. My heart goes out to her family, friends and colleagues.

Sarah Hudspith

I first met Deborah when I was a graduate student at a conference at Yale organized by my advisor, Robert Louis Jackson, on The Brothers Karamazov. As an undergraduate I had read and been inspired by her edited volume on Russian periodicals and it had shaped my early work as a graduate student. I was only in my second year of graduate school and Deborah took me under her wing and introduced me to many Dostoevsky scholars I’d read but never met. I spent time with her at the strange but wonderful IDS in Baden-Baden in 2001, just after the terror attacks of September 11th, an alienating time to travel, but made marvelous by Deborah’s spirit of bringing people together. Like many, I benefited enormously from Deborah’s generosity and collegiality as a reviewer: she reviewed my first book manuscript and included a vast number of small copy edits which made the language and style immeasurably better. She went on to review several of my articles. When I joined the board of the North American Dostoevsky Society, Deborah was enormously encouraging and supportive and helped to show me the ropes, and when she suggested that I should become President of NADS, I accepted because I had her as role model. She was the perfect person to lead the IDS too, bringing together scholars from across the world in inspiring and meaningful dialogue. Her scholarship is extraordinarily inspiring, especially her book on shame, and I have a graduate student writing a final paper which emerges out of her ideas at this very moment. I cannot express how devasting it is for me personally and for Dostoevsky scholarship more broadly to lose such a scholar in their prime.

Kate Holland

These moving tributes remind us of the magnitude of what we have lost, but they fill us with gratitude for what Deborah gave us. We have all benefitted from her powerful intellect, her body of work on Dostoevsky, and her devotion to the field. She was a tough but extraordinarily giving editor, who read the texts entrusted to her word for word, and made our work—and by extension, that of the whole field—better. But what moves us is her humanity, her kindness and ability to find the best in each person who came across her path. 

Without Deborah’s support, I would not have continued studying Dostoevsky. I met her sometime in the nineties at a conference. Nadine Natov was there too, which I feel is important, that the two of them, so seminal to the history of NADS and IDS, were together that first time. Deborah read and edited many of my works-in-progress, including the manuscript for my Dostoevsky’s Secrets for Northwestern. The review was anonymous, but the manuscript came back with rich comments on every page, including micro-edits which I apply in my writing to this day: don’t overuse “is”! Don’t overuse “of”! I recognized them from both her handwriting and their meticulous care—only Deborah invested so much in the writing of others. Dostoevsky in Context is a masterpiece, a book that has set the standard for the other Russian collections that will follow in that series. It bears her mark on every word and reminds me that editing, too, is a form of authorship that rarely gets the credit it deserves. When I give the same care to my students, and to my readings of peers’ work, it is just “paying forward” what Deborah gave me.  

The memories that stay most vividly in my mind are from the IDS Symposia: a joyous expedition to the Baden-Baden baths; a hilarious episode counting dues in Boston (complete with leers and jokey proposals for how to spend the cash); the award she was given in Naples for her contributions to the Society; her introductions to scholars from around the world who would become my valued colleagues. I treasure the times we met at conferences between the Symposia, and in New York, including this August when she outwalked me, shared insights about Dostoevsky scholarship and human nature, and gave me a lifetime’s supply of positive attitude and generosity.

Deborah, we miss you, we will follow your example, and we will live in your spirit.

Carol Apollonio

I had, of course, applied months late to join the 2014 IDS symposium in Moscow. And I was a completely new scholar in the field, so nobody knew me by reputation or even by name. I wrote, hesitatingly, to introduce myself. Instead of the expected brush-off came the most charming email. Don’t worry, it said, let’s see what we can do. Within a week or two I was on the programme. On my arrival in Moscow a diminutive, smiling tornado adopted me, sight unseen, and more or less single-handedly launched me into the world of Dostoevsky studies. That, of course was Deborah. 

It wasn’t just her mischievous enthusiasm and energy, though, which set her apart. She was driven by a real desire to improve the quality of academic work on Dostoevsky across the board. Her expectations – of herself as well as of others – were high , but never prevented her taking risks in promoting new work she found interesting. Her lasting legacy to scholars is to raise the academic standard expected of Russian scholars across the nineteenth century. 

She was the driving force in the relaunch of the International Dostoevsky Society following the Granada symposium in 2016, a task which involved taking Dostoevsky Studies online, re-establishing the society as a US not-for-profit in preparation for the Boston symposium, reinvigorating its membership and processes – and laying the foundations for developing a new website, all tasks which Carol Apollonio has carried forward over the course of Deborah’s illness. 

We will all miss and mourn her. 

Jonathan Paine

If you would like to share a memory of Deborah, you can do so through this website.

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