Twitterature in the Dostoevsky Classroom

by Katherine Bowers

The following blog post emerged from a roundtable on “Teaching Dostoevsky in the 21st Century” organized by Daniel Brooks at the 2019 AATSEEL conference in New Orleans. This is the fourth in a series of posts by roundtable participants. The first three posts in the series can be found here, here, and here.

My adventure with Twitterature began three years ago, when I began to work with the North American Dostoevsky Society as their social media curator. I began a twitter account for the society, and it quickly took off. Throughout 2015 we had some success with contests that aimed to engage our followers and encourage them to join an online conversation about Dostoevsky. There was a humor contest, a hoodie design competition, a quote competition— and all of these events were great, boosted membership, and really helped us create a kind of community, but there was one issue. We wanted to engage not just with the kind of commercial idea of Dostoevsky, but with Dostoevsky’s works on a deeper level, and these kinds of contests were fun but they didn’t really do that. This is where the question that framed my AATSEEL talk and this blog post really begins: social media is useful for sharing information, community building, and public engagement – but can it enhance the study of literature? And, if yes, how?

In fall 2015, the North American Dostoevsky Society staged an online event. #TheDoubleEvent was centered around Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella, and aimed to get people talking about the text itself. The idea was that we would encourage people to read the novel and post reflections on it to our social media. This group read would lead up to a screening of The Double, the 2013 Richard Ayoade film adaptation of the novel, which would take place on multiple campuses. We wanted to connect people reading the novel and watching the film via Facebook and Twitter. The reflections were kind of a bust – as you can probably imagine, the only people who wrote them were my students, who I bribed with extra credit. Alongside them we had people write posts on Bloggers Karamazov (Gender Trouble in The Double, Gothic Doubling or The Double Gothically, and Golyadkin’s Human Shriek), our then newly launched blog – these were well received, and helped give the event a bit more depth. The film screening and live tweet event was great, and showed us the power of twitter for connecting people in a meaningful way. But perhaps more important to the development of my narrative is the fact that, as a way of engaging with the text and promoting the event, we, Brian Armstrong and I, decided to tweet the novel from its hero, Golyadkin’s, perspective… And this brings us to the topic of Twitterature, that is the creation or representation of a literary text through the Twitter format.

@YakovGolyadkin focused on just Golyadkin’s perspective. The real key to the project was Brian’s finding of Golyadkin’s voice. Brian interpreted the twitter feed to be a kind of monologue, as if Golyadkin had a secret device in his pocket that enabled him to record everything, all his thoughts and events. This enabled him to tweet with some sense of narrative arc, and improvise away from the text a bit, but keep in character. Finding Golyadkin’s voice enabled the feed to emphasize the key ideas of the novel, but, at the same time, to allow them to blend into the mundane everyday details of the feed. It also enabled the separation of Golyadkin’s voice/perspective from that of the narrator, an interesting extraction that enabled new readings of the novel. When I teach Dostoevsky, I assign my students to read the novel, and also invite them to read the @YakovGolyadkin Twitter feed (which is preserved on Wakelet and archived on Humanities Commons). They invariably respond well to @YakovGolyadkin. The singling out of Golyadkin’s voice and the timeline embedded in the preserved Twitter account helps with adding more framework to the confusing novel. However, beyond that, I was interested to learn that @YakovGolyadkin enabled them to read the novel differently. Several students reported that they felt much more sympathy for Golyadkin after reading the Twitter feed; they could see how lonely he was. His loneliness exists in the novel, but is difficult to discern through the voice of the narrator and the antics of his double. Similarly, Brian commented that he hadn’t realized how obsessed with prestige Golyadkin was until working on the project. This project showed us the value of digitally reading and recreating a text through Twitter, and we began planning for a grander twitter project attached to a large celebration of the 150th anniversary of Crime and Punishment that Kate Holland and I were organizing…. And @RodionTweets was born.

We decided to transpose Crime and Punishment into Twitter for the 150th anniversary because we saw it as an exciting new way of reading the novel. To mine the novel for tweets, you have to do incredibly close reading of the text, picking up on nuance and minute shifts in the protagonist’s feelings. Although Dostoevsky originally had begun the novel in the first person, Crime and Punishment is written in the third person, and there are many scenes that Raskolnikov never witnesses. Similarly, some context is required, and so the omniscient narrator’s voice must, at times, be transposed into the first person and into Raskolnikov’s voice. The mediation of these voices in the text makes for an intensive reading experience, and reproducing them into one coherent (or sometimes not so coherent, but always believable) voice was difficult. Assigning a project to students that requires them to mine the text, analyze it on a structural and narrative level, and interpret it to some degree to produce tweets is a wonderful exercise in close reading and one that I will explore closer here with some insight from our own experience doing this.

Our project was complicated by the fact that six different scholars were mining the six different parts of the novel. Even when we are all working from the same translation of the same text, we each approached the task a different way. Kate Holland’s tweets are more sprawling stream-of-consciousness, while Jennifer Wilson’s are very succinct. Kristina McGuirk, my ace RA, had a difficult task in trying to create a single Twitter persona out of them, but found that the Twitter medium helped this task as it required concision and some attention to hashtags. Hashtags seemed somewhat anachronistic, but several of the team members commented afterwards that hashtags proved useful in rendering the text from one person’s point of view. Sarah Hudspith wrote afterwards:

“At the earliest stages of envisaging the novel, Dostoevsky described in a letter to the editor Katkov his plan to write a story about a young man falling under the influence of “strange, ‘unfinished’ ideas afloat in the atmosphere” and committing a murder. I saw that the use of hashtags created a certain emphasis when added to words, and I felt that this would nicely suggest ideas and concepts afloat in the Twittersphere that were preying on Raskolnikov’s mind, even at an unconscious level. In this way, I could highlight the obvious #crime, but also #soul, #sacrifice, #fate and even #deadbody, adding a possibility of a double reading to the exclamation “Over my #deadbody!”

Beyond these questions of voice, there were questions of representation as well, and how the text would best (and most believably) be represented in Twitter format. Sarah Hudspith struggled with whether and to what degree to livetweet the murder, which is minutely detailed in the text, and I was confounded by delirious wandering. Yet, although these moments were confounding, they were also illuminating in that they forced us to think through places in the text in new ways. On livetweeting the murder, Sarah decided to do it in the end, but the decision prompted her to think more about the nature of social media and its meaning for searching for personal meaning:

“We live in an age where many people feel compelled to broadcast their lives online, to create a narrative of themselves which can become more real than the intimate, offline self. Raskolnikov is a character searching for an identity for himself: is he an intellectual, a philanthropist, a pioneer of a new morality, a sensualist, a beloved son and brother, a criminal? What parallels could be drawn between his anguished self-seeking, when put into the context of a Twitter account, and the contemporary mediation of personal identity? Further, social media are increasingly platforms for the propagation of ideologies and their distillation into ever more extreme forms, indeed are sadly the venue for publicising horrific crimes in the name of a so-called ‘new word’.”

These questions of public/private are opened only by reading the novel through Twitter; they are relevant, and important in tying the novel to our 21st-century experience, but they don’t come naturally to a text set in the 19th century.

In addition to reading alongside as I assign my students to do with @YakovGolyadkin and The Double or tweet mining themselves as I have just discussed, Kate Holland has also suggested one classroom activity that would work well with the feed (her students have done this several times): they read a section of the novel and the corresponding section of @RodionTweets, then write a series of tweets from another character that respond to Raskolnikov and the situation. In this way, they are given a small taste of intensive close reading and are encouraged to come to a better understanding of at least one character’s motivations and feelings. For Dostoevsky, who used his characters’ reactions and voices to such good narrative effect, I think twitterature in this sense opens up new avenues to understanding human nature in the classroom and beyond.

And a small public service message: both @YakovGolyadkin and @RodionTweets are preserved as a Wakelet (@YakovGolyadkin, @RodionTweets) and on Humanities Commons (@YakovGolyadkin, @RodionTweets pt 1, @RodionTweets pt 2) for use in the classroom in the future or for interested readers who stumble upon it online.

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her publications include the recent co-edited collection A Dostoevskii Companion: Texts and Contexts (2018). She edits Bloggers Karamazov and curates the Society’s social media. She can also be found on twitter @kab3d

Rodion Raskolnikov, Your Tweet Archive is Ready

by Katherine Bowers

Two years ago, on May 1, 2016, the Twitter account @RodionTweets sent its first tweet. Since then @RodionTweets has “live-tweeted” the events of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, broken into 140-character-or-less snippets, from its hero Raskolnikov’s perspective. The bulk of the novel’s events take place over the course of three intense weeks in the summer, and the bulk of Rodion Raskolnikov’s tweets similarly appeared in July 2016, but the account has continued to tweet the book’s epilogues, which spread over the course of nearly two years. Finally, on April 24, 2018, Raskolnikov’s new life began and the twitter account went silent.

@RodionTweets was the brainchild of myself and Brian Armstrong, a kind of extension of our first experiment with Twitterature, @YakovGolyadkin. Both accounts were created through a process of tweet mining. For @RodionTweets we received permission from Penguin Classics to use Oliver Ready’s translation of Crime and Punishment. Then one Dostoevsky scholar mined one of the novel’s six parts and Kristina McGuirk, my wonderful RA, did a round of edits and loaded the tweets into TweetDeck, scheduling them in to tweet out according to the timeline for the novel that Brian and I had mapped.

Rodiontweets-end-2As each part of the novel was tweeted out, we reflected on our experience in creating the tweets in a series of blog posts. Sarah Hudspith mined Part 1 and reflected on the divide between public and private online and the use of hashtags as a narrative device. In her discussion of mining Part 2, Sarah Young considered the way digital approaches to the novel (tweeting, digital mapping) expand our avenues for understanding and interpretation. Kate Holland’s experience mining Part 3 led to a new perspective on the novel’s narrative structure. Brian Armstrong discussed the insight he gained into empathy in both Crime and Punishment, Part 4 and The Double through the intensely close scrutiny tweet mining requires. Jennifer Wilson’s mining of the scandal scene in Part 5 led to her reflection on social status and projection, and how pain, humiliation and suffering impact them. And my experience mining Part 6 and the epilogues led to a new realization on my part about timing in the novel. The blog post you’re reading serves as the project’s final, final note: one last reflection on what we’ve learned from @RodionTweets.

Of course, the first thing we, as literary scholars, noticed was that twitterifying Dostoevsky raised a number of questions that made us see the novel’s narration and themes in a new light. You’ll notice this from the blog post topics above. We began, however, with a basic question: how do you break a novel that’s narrated in the 3rd person down into tweets in the first person? Where does the narrator’s voice go? The switch from 3rd person narration to 1st reverses Dostoevsky’s own narrative switch from the 1st person he originally planned on to the 3rd person the novel ended up with.

Rodiontweets-end-3One of the conceits of the project is that Raskolnikov tweets as if he keeps a constant feed of everything that goes through his head. This, of course, means that the account presupposes that no one else from the novel world is reading it. For example, Raskolnikov live tweets the murder on @RodionTweets, and if Porfiry Petrovich were to read this in his Twitter feed, the novel would likely have been much, much shorter! – although this point is well taken. This style also renders @RodionTweets more like those Dostoevsky protagonists who monologue or write zapiski and less like most (active) twitter users, who may do this kind of live-tweeting some of the time, but not all of the time. Furthermore, as we mined the novel’s text for tweets, thinking critically about what would be omitted from the twitter narrative and what would be emphasized, as well as what Raskolnikov would be tweeting about, we created a feed that both captures the novel’s tone and renders the work more real-feeling, or, at least, more contemporary.

This contemporaneity was a really unexpected yet rewarding result of @RodionTweets. Beyond the experience of Raskolnikov’s tweets periodically appearing in his followers’ twitter feeds, the serendipity of their timing or placement allowed for connections to be drawn between followers’ lived experiences and Dostoevsky’s novel. Followers remarked on the eeriness of @RodionTweets juxtaposed with twitter updates about the Turkish coup attempt or the odd resonance between @RodionTweets and the mood of many in post-Brexit Britain. One of the strangest coincidences was that Raskolnikov’s monologue leading to his confession took place at the same time as Trump’s speech at the RNC in Cleveland on July 21, prompting a flood of comments from followers experiencing the two feeds – RNC live tweeters and @RodionTweets – together; here are a few examples. While unintended when we conceived the project, these juxtapositions highlight the power of Dostoevsky’s novel and speak to the relevance of his hero’s psychology for the present.

The project, though, was not all serious. Beyond the geopolitical resonances and the literary analysis, it is a project based in Twitter, a medium that’s equally political squabbling and entertaining puns, jokes, and sarcasm. The spirit of the project is one part Dostoevsky, one part Twitterature, and it also encompasses @RodionTweets’s love of strange hashtags and sublime Twitter moments such as a Dostoevsky account interacting with his creation or a Shostakovich account liking some of @RodionTweets’s tweets. Or this, my favorite follower interaction with the account, which continues to crack me up nearly two years later.

So what now? We have archived the project here: @RodionTweets, parts 1-3; @RodionTweets, parts 4-6 + epilogues. The archives are complete and tweets within them appear in chronological order (so you can read them alongside the book). They have already been used in the classroom by some. Professors assign students to read part of the novel alongside the corresponding tweets and then discuss, or to generate their own tweets from a different character’s perspective (this last idea is an assignment Kate Holland has implemented in her Dostoevsky class). If you are using the project in your class, please let me know!


At the end of my blog post about tweeting Part 6, I concluded by saying that the epilogues on Twitter would be spread across 18 months and then Raskolnikov would fade away. Now, though, I think that statement needs some revising. The spring of 2018 feels far removed in many ways from the summer of 2016. Much has happened since then. But I think the drawn-out nature of the epilogue, and Raskolnikov sporadically appearing in our feeds, has perhaps made it seem more like he is one of us – a Twitter user who is sometimes active (the conceit being he somehow manages to get online from his Siberian prison camp…), but more often not. And perhaps this silence is simply because his life is full and he hasn’t got time for social media. In this sense, although @RodionTweets has gone quiet, I hope he is not forgotten, but lingers on as part of our network, somewhere on the edge of our consciousness.

Katherine Bowers is Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism and tweets about Russian lit and other things on @kab3d. She also edits Bloggers Karamazov and curates the North American Dostoevsky Society’s social media.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias, the blog of the NYU Jordan Center.

Twitter, Criticism, Dialogue: Dostoevsky and a Call to Action

by Tomi Haxhi

cvzxbh6usaa96lcBy now, you have no doubt heard about the @RodionTweets project (still ongoing!), whereby an ambitious team of Dostoevsky scholars brought Crime and Punishment into the twenty-first century, tweeting the events of the novel from Raskolnikov’s point of view to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the novel. As Professor Carol Apollonio put it during her keynote address at the Crime and Punishment at 150 conference this past fall, criticism is “nothing but long, smart tweets.” She went on to say that, “in this hasty, impatient age, there is a whole lot to be said for short, smart tweets.” Her absorbing address, handily performed and very witty throughout, began with one of the primary concerns of the Twitter project and of the conference at large: how to update the text (indeed, any text) for the contemporary reader—or “non-reader”—, whose attention has become the site of a continuous battle between various media. Academics must not point fingers, Apollonio warned us, but must rather step up to the plate and do the greatest kindness, that is, initiate a conversation.

Bakhtin tells us that “to be means to communicate dialogically,” that “two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence.” (Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics 1984 p. 252). Thus, the importance of any novel, not least of all of Crime and Punishment, lies in our discussion of it, irrespective of the medium. Literature comes to life in dialogue—not only in dialogue between author and reader, but between the readers themselves, thereby enriching our understanding of both self and other. It is in dialogue that the human subject is born, for the subject does not stand alone: we live in the world—and through the word—of the other. In Bakhtin’s words, “only in communion, in the interaction of one person with another can the ‘man in man’ be revealed, for others as well as for oneself” (Ibid.).

With this in mind, throughout her talk Apollonio encouraged her audience to participate, right then and there, in an ongoing, live Twitter discussion under the hashtag #CP150, transforming each audience member from a passive listener into an active participant (granted, of course, that they are active on Twitter).

What gets Raskolnikov into trouble, according to Apollonio, is exactly his lack of communion, i.e. communication. He reads, and reads, and reads, but he keeps his thoughts bottled up, denying himself the dialogue so necessary to life. As such, Raskolnikov remains to a degree unformed, incomplete—in cutting himself off from the world, he cuts himself off from his self. Despite the fact that the bulk of Crime and Punishment is composed of his thoughts, they are rarely in reality voiced. Apollonio noted that, even in the novel’s most famous dialogues, Raskolnikov is mostly silent, be it with Marmeladov, Porfiry Petrovich, or Svidrigailov.

To prove her point, Apollonio did the kind of thing which, admittedly, “non-academics mock academics for doing”—that is, she took advantage of the ‘find’ function on a Word-document version of the entire novel, searching for each and every quotation mark in the text to find where, exactly, Raskolnikov is speaking, and on the other hand, where he is thinking. Unlike in English translation, where dialogue and thought are both marked by quotation marks and differentiated by quotation words (“he said” vs. “he thought”), in the Russian original, dialogue is marked by long dashes at the beginning of utterances, and thoughts by quotation marks. Here, however, she came up against some trouble, noting that serious slippages occur throughout the novel. In fact, Raskolnikov appears to think his thoughts aloud time and again, directed toward no one in particular.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-11-03-58-pmFor Apollonio, this presents one of the central problems of the novel: what is dialogue without an other? “Does it matter if he speaks aloud if no one seems to hear him,” she asked her audience, deeming this this the classic ‘tree falling in the forest’ dilemma, presented anew throughout Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky blurs the boundaries between the speaking and the thinking subject in much the same way as he blurs the boundaries between his protagonist’s inner life and the outside world. According to Apollonio, Dostoevsky thereby brings us back to the problem of “the isolated individual’s uncertain ontological grounding,” again reminding me of Bakhtin’s emphasis on dialogue. In isolation, the subject does not exist in full capacity—if at all. And this could not be truer of the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. Ultimately, the reader witnesses Raskolnikov move from “mute isolation” to “speaking his guilt” and finding new life in the world of the other.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-11-04-40-pmToward the beginning of her talk, Apollonio suggested the following, which touched me greatly. “Tweeting does not assume anyone is listening,” she said, “but it does convey our yearning for conversation, for someone to listen and respond. It is a free leap, full of trust and hope, into an invisible community.” I now see that this leap of faith is related directly to Raskolnikov himself—it is the leap which he denied himself throughout the novel, too frightened to act on this basic human need, and which he finally learns to take, born again, in its last pages.


Tomi Haxhi is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Columbia University. He received an MA in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Toronto in 2016. His talk at CP150 was entitled “Schismatic Temporalities: Raskolnikov and the Raskolniki.”


A New Film Version of a Dostoevsky Novel: Andrew O’Keefe’s Crime and Punishment

Review by Ellen Chances

Over the years, there have been many responses to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. For example, Nabokov wrote dismissive words about the novel and intentionally distorted its title when he referred to it as Crime and Slime. Russian sculptor and artist Ernst Neizvestny’s non-realist illustrations of Dostoevsky’s novel were published in a 1970 Soviet edition of the work. Maurice Sagoff, in his bestselling book, Shrinklits. Seventy of the World’s Towering Classics Cut Down to Size, summarizes Crime and Punishment in the following way:

“Up-tight student/ Axes pair./ Fearful, with the/ Cops aware./ Yet vainglorious,/ He won’t chicken/ Till by saintly/ Sonia stricken;/ Then confessing,/ Trial and sentence:/ Eight Siberian years,/ Repentance/ Floods his spirit,/ Hang-ups cease;/ She will join him/ Seeking peace…/ In that bleak/ Siberian hovel./ Watch him, Sonia,/ With that shovel.” (Maurice Sagoff, Shrinklits (New York: Workman Publishing, 1980, p.59).

Cinematic renderings of and responses to Dostoevsky’s novel have been created in different countries – to name but a few, Russia (no surprise!), France, the United States, and Australia. There is the Russian Lev Kulidzhanov’s classic film, Prestuplenie i nakazanie. There is French director Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket. Woody Allen wrote and directed three films connected to Crime and Punishment: Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point, and Irrational Man. And now, there is, from Australia, Andrew O’Keefe’s 2016 Crime and Punishment, a “translation” of the novel into the modern age. It is on the latter, filmed in Melbourne, that I shall focus my comments.


The crime, stripped bare of its nineteenth-century Russian context, is motivated, in part, by the exorbitant cost of a university education and resulting financial burden on the student Raskolnikov. O’Keefe’s Crime and Punishment was distributed by Apocalypse Films, a company that he started with several fellow graduates of the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of Art. During 2012, as O’Keefe was working on Crime and Punishment, he was asked, “Who are you?” by The Melbourne Local. He replied, “A dad. A Melburnian. A filmmaker. A writer. A lecturer. A Pisces. A dreamer. In that order.” In his adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel, O’Keefe’s second feature film, we are certainly made aware of his talents as a filmmaker and a writer.

O’Keefe’s Crime and Punishment is a low-budget endeavor that does not seem, on screen, to be low budget. For instance, the fact that there is a claustrophobic feel to Raskolnikov’s spartan room reflects the novel and Raskolnikov’s own closed-in inner psychological space. The musical score, by Amy Bastow, matches the psychological mood of the film. The music mimics Raskolnikov’s frenzied state of mind. The sound effect of Raskolnikov’s quick and heavy breathing contributes to the depiction of his heightened anxiety. This is a good touch, but for me, this sound effect is a bit overused.

For those who have read Dostoevsky’s novel, a question might arise: what is O’Keefe’s rationale for changing some of the names of characters in the book, but identifying other characters by the names that Dostoevsky had chosen for them? Thus, Raskolnikov, Porfiry, and Sonya’s names remain unchanged. Certain names are slightly altered. Marmeladov becomes Marmelade, Lizaveta Ivanovna is Elizabeth, and Polina is Polly. Others bear no resemblance to the originals — for instance, Quincy as Luzhin, and Helen as Dunya. Could the reason be that the combination of Dostoevsky’s names and the decidedly unRussian names reflects the essence of the film itself, which contains both a combination of faithfulness to certain aspects of the novel, and the addition of elements that place the events in a contemporary foreign milieu?

O’Keefe has stated that the idea for the film came to him because he was fascinated by the interplay, in the book, between Raskolnikov and Porfiry. He said that he immediately thought of the two actors, friends of his, who would play those two roles. Lee Mason, as Raskolnikov, and Christopher Bunworth, as Porfiry, are indeed well cast. They give performances that are true to the personalities of Dostoevsky’s characters. Mason displays the requisite frenzy, anxiety, and obsessive qualities. Bunworth exhibits the same kind of cunning with which Dostoevsky’s Porfiry ensnares Raskolnikov.

In terms of visual aspects of the film, O’Keefe makes interesting artistic decisions by conveying Dostoevsky’s thematic concerns. Sonya’s religiosity is alluded to by the cross that she wears around her neck and by the camera’s focus, more than once, on her fingers as they touch the cross. A poster of Napoleon, with the words, “Destiny. Power. Passion,” is affixed to the door in Raskolnikov’s room. Raskolnikov explains his extraordinary man theory in a paper that he presents at a university conference. Porfiry, in the audience, asks him to distinguish the extraordinary man from the ordinary man. Raskolnikov later tells Sonya that he killed because he wanted to be like Napoleon. Another imaginative decision, on O’Keefe’s part, is the way in which he films a conversation that Raskolnikov and Sonya have as they are seated outside, on a bench. They are filmed against the background of greenery and flowers. In the novel, before the murder, Raskolnikov is among greenery, as he decides not to commit the murder, but then later changes his mind. In the film, at the end of the Raskolnikov-Sonya bench scene (well after he has killed two people), Sonya places her head on his shoulder. He abruptly gets up. Thus, O’Keefe is showing Raskolnikov’s ambivalence, at that moment, toward choosing good over evil.

The Australian director successfully “translates” certain scenes of the novel into episodes that rely on the capabilities of modern machines, a car, in one instance, and mechanical surveillance techniques, in another. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov contemplates suicide by gazing into a Petersburg canal. O’Keefe’s Raskolnikov pipes carbon monoxide into a car, but then decides to escape from the car. As in the novel, the Svidrigailov character overhears Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya, but not, as in the novel, by listening through the wall that separates his room from Sonya’s. Instead, the conversation is taped.

In O’Keefe’s film Raskolnikov does not ask Sonya to read him the raising of the Lazarus passage in the Bible. There is no post-confession equivalent of Raskolnikov’s gradual path, in Siberia, to redemption. Yet O’Keefe does include, in his adaptation of the novel, the promise of a new life for his protagonist. The audience sees Raskolnikov outlined against the background of Melbourne fireworks celebrating the new year.

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment ends with these famous words: “All that might be the subject of a new tale, but our present one is ended” (Crime and Punishment, translated by Jesse Coulson, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988, p.465). Fortunately, “new tales” based on Dostoevsky’s novel keep being told.

Andrew O’Keefe’s film is definitely one of those “new tales.”

Ellen Chances, a professor of Russian literature at Princeton University, is the author of Conformity’s Children. An Approach to the Superfluous Man in Russian Literature;  and Andrei Bitov. The Ecology of Inspiration (Cambridge University Press), the first book in the world on Bitov’s works. Her specialties include the 19th, 20th, and 21st-century Russian novel; contemporary Russian literature and culture; the study of literature in its historical context; journalism; the interplay between literature and other arts; literature and cinema; the ethical dimensions of cinema; Dostoevsky; Chekhov; Kharms; and Bitov. She is currently working on a second book about Bitov’s writings.

To learn more about Andrew O’Keefe’s film, you can read Alexander Burry’s interview with him on our blog: Envisioning Crime and Punishment: An Interview with Andrew O’Keefe

A Virtual Visit to the Robarts Library, part 2

University of Toronto professor Kate Holland asked her SLA314 Dostoevsky undergraduate students to visit the Robarts Library exhibit Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts and write up their reflections on one exhibit item. Their writing, collected here, reflects not only the global spread of Dostoevsky’s influence, but also the diversity of media used to engage with his 1866 novel. To learn more about the exhibit, read curator and Toronto PhD student Barnabas Kirk’s blog post from last month. To read the first group of students’ posts, see A Virtual Visit to the Robarts Library, part 1.


Rory McCreight

pickpocketAfter checking out the 150th anniversary exhibit of Crime and Punishment at Robarts library, I was interested to see the film Pickpocket by Robert Bresson among the artifacts. I had seen two of the esteemed French director’s works: Au Hasard Balthazar and A Man Escaped, and thought his style would make for a unique take on Dostoevsky’s work. Stylistically, the two auteurs are quite different. Bresson’s works have a cold, muted feel, where characters interact dispassionately towards one another and emotions are buried deep behind blank expressions. On the other hand, Dostoevsky’s characters spark with life, and given Raskolnikov’s feverish internality, it seemed like a tough character to represent on screen.

That being said, the thematic undercurrent of Bresson’s and Dostoevsky’s works are highly spiritual, this reveals the common area Bresson sought to explore in Pickpocket. Raskolnikov’s counterpart in Pickpocket, Michel, is less obviously haunted by his crimes; in this case he is a serial pickpocket. However, he, his friends and family respect the moral corruption of the crime, but, like the murder, it was a crime somewhat brought about by poverty. Pickpocket is a lean 70 minute version of Dostoevsky’s novel and it cherry picks the ideas it wants. It leaves out a large part of the extra characters, keeping only Raskolnikov, Razumikhin, Sonya, and Porfiry, it also keeps Raskolnikov’s Napoleonic vision of crime as well as his final redemption in prison through Jeanne, Pickpocket’s Sonya surrogate.

Dostoevsky and Bresson’s fixation on spirituality meant that both artists wanted to include the controversial redemption epilogue in their works. Bresson’s may work better because the film has Michel fail once at becoming honest and finding redemption, but he falters and finds redemption in prisonthrough Jeanne’s forgiveness. He had earlier told her that he could quit stealing and her forgiveness of his faults redeems Michel, just as Sonya’s love redeemed Raskolnikov.


Max Burchartz’s lithographs

Brodie McLeod

burchartz_max-zu_raskolnikoff-om457300-10678_20140531_27449_1049When browsing the Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts exhibit, Max Burchartz 1887-1961: Kunstler, Typograf, Padagoge (Berlini Jovis, 2010) stood out to me almost right away. The imagery portrays a distorted Raskolnikov along with some of the people in his life. I found this imagery to be an almost perfect symbol of how I imagined Raskolnikov’s mind to be while reading Crime and Punishment: a very active one caught up in its own distorted version of reality. Amid the intended chaos, the imagery draws attention to the characters’ faces, something I found particularly interesting. Amid the chaos of the lines, they all portray very strong and distinct expressions. With Raskolnikov specifically, one can see expressions ranging from distrustful annoyance, to panic, to what appears to be genuine remorse or sorrow. While likely unintentional and just a component of the medium, the lack of colour helped to highlight this.

On to the painter, Max Burchartz: he created the featured lithographs in 1919 upon his return from World War I. Following this, Burchartz went on to work in advertising, creating new methods of typography. He once again enlisted in the military in World War II. Following the end of the war, he went on to cement hisprominence in early modern art and design.


Sabine Meier’s Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov: Portrait of a Man

Matthew Reid

In the display case Sabine Meier’s Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov: Portrait of a Man, captures the eye in its sharp angles and vivid intensity. The face of Raskolnikov is entirely exposed as every angle is shown over two pages of a photograph in the book. This imposing portrait allows for nothing to be hidden on the face of Raskolnikov. In relation to the novel a clear connection between the many faces and many angles to the same face of Raskolnikov emerges from the display photograph. In the novel the reader as well as the characters in the novel never find out who Raskolnikov is in his entirety. The question of his motive to murder, his sanity, his faith, and love are covered by authorial silence or only brief glimpses into each of these facets of Raskolnikov’s life. Like the novel, this picture only shows small portions of Raskolnikov’s face at a single time. The viewer is forced to piece together the fragments in order to fully see his portrait. It is this schismatic representation of Raskolnikov that stays true to the novel even in a modern urban setting. Meier chose to use New York and le Havre as the setting of her photos[i]. A selection of Meier’s photos have been printed and are being displayed as an exhibit at the Knockdown Center in New York. The exhibit attempts to “capture the inner workings” of Raskolnikov. Meier’s use of dark colours and shadows in many of the images reflects the novel’s fixation on night time and darkness especially surrounding Raskolnikov’s ventures around Petersburg at night.


Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View by Roberta Rubenstein

Kaitlan Sooknanan

220px-roger_fry_-_virginia_woolfThe item that I found most interesting within the Dostoevsky exhibit was Roberta Rubenstein’s Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View. Virginia Woolf has always been one of my favourite authors and so it was extremely interesting to discover that she was inspired by Dostoevsky and to connect her writing to the writing and ideas of the literature we have been working with in class. Before researching the actual book, I thought it would be helpful to verse myself first on the subject matter, and what I learned was that while the text was written about the way in which Russian authors influenced Virginia Woolf’s creative process and subsequent writing, Dostoevsky was the one who appealed most to her. She thought “Dostoevsky’s novels seem to have “permeated” the realms of both literature and psychology, and she viewed readers as having somehow internalized the significance of his novels.”[ii] That sentence show the profound effect Dostoevsky had on Woolf and it is analyzed in Rubenstein’s book, “It’s like peaking over the shoulder of a great writer reading.”[iii] The book shows the connecting themes of the two writers, and how they “sought to open up the world within.”[iv] The biggest take away the book gives is “prodding a reader to go back and reread Woolf in the company of these Russians,”[v] and that is what resonated most with me; to be able to go back and read her work with new significance, and to fully realize the scope of Dostoevsky’s influence.


“The Russian Messenger” (Русский Вестник)

Tara Subotic

I chose to write about the Русский Вестник item because I found it the most intriguing one. My main reason was because I wanted to know where Dostoevski first published his stories. I was always curious as to where famous writers initially started publishing their stories, and how it helped them gain recognition for their work. I found it interesting that not only did the Русский Вестник publish several stories of Dostoevski that are considered to be one of the most popular ones in today’s world, but also several other notable and famous work from Russian authors. I was surprised to see that the stories of Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Leskov were also published in the Русский Вестник in the 19th century. Some notable stories which I consider to be outstanding are Ana Karenina, War and Peace by Tolstoy, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, At Daggers Drawn, and The Sealed Angel by Leskov, and of course Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevski. Another interesting fact is that the newspapers motto is ‘Кто любит Царя и Россию, тот любит Бога’, a motto I personally agree with and support. Some of the main topics that the Русский Вестник concerns itself with are the rebirth of Orthodoxy in Russian, Cossacks, the history, economics, health, science, school and education, army, and politics in Russia. One of the most interesting topics they also deal with is Slavic brotherhood, a theme I am personally interested in. A rather controversial topic they also dealt with were reunions with ‘Little Russia’ which would be Ukraine and Belarus, given the argument it would be a ‘legitimate union of unjustly separated people’. Since 1991 Русский Вестник is funded by a charity foundation called “International Fund for Slavic Literature and Culture”, and the editor in chief from 1991 to 2013 was Aleksei Senin. The current publisher is Oleg Platonov who resides in Moscow. The original location of Русский Вестник was St. Petersburg, the hometown of Dostoevski, however now the journal has moved to Moscow.



C&P-RasCrime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts was on display at the Robarts Library in Toronto in the fall of 2016. It was co-curated by Ksenya Kiebuzinski, Barnabas Kirk, and Kate Holland. The exhibit was part of the 2016 global outreach program Crime and Punishment at 150. For more information, visit the CP150 project website.




[i]  There’s an explanation of the exhibit here.

[ii] Ashley Dolan. “The Influence of Fyodor Dostoevsky on E. M Forster and Virginia Woolf” (Masters Thesis, University of Missouri- Columbia, 2011), p. 35.

[iii] Jane Costlow. “Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View by Roberta Rubenstein.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2010, p. 482.

[iv] Claire Davidson-Pegon. “Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View.” Woolf Studies Annual, 18. 2012, p. 158.

[v] Costlow, p. 484.

A Virtual Visit to the Robarts Library, part 1

University of Toronto professor Kate Holland asked her SLA314 Dostoevsky undergraduate students to visit the Robarts Library exhibit Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts and write up their reflections on one exhibit item. Their writing, collected here, reflects not only the global spread of Dostoevsky’s influence, but also the diversity of media used to engage with his 1866 novel. To learn more about the exhibit, read curator and Toronto PhD student Barnabas Kirk’s blog post from last month.

Piotr Dumala’s Zbrodnia i Kara

Jennifer Batler

Zbrodnia i Kara, the short animated film released by Polish filmmaker Piotr Dumala in 2000, is a provocative contribution to the canon of artistic works inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Avoiding a linear retelling of the novel, the plaster-scratch animation instead enhances specific themes from the story, all drenched in the sinister atmosphere created so masterfully by Dumala through his unique artistic process. Hazy pictures fading into darkness, cloud-muffled visions of the city, and faces marked by shining feverish eyes do an excellent job of portraying the world seen through Raskolnikov’s tortured mental state. The detective story takes on an aspect of horror through the eerie piano score, grotesque images of insects, grubs and flies that fester under ground and behind walls. There is the mysterious figure of the old man who peers out of windows and through keyholes, who, according to one’s interpretation, could be Svidrigailov, the malicious Luzhin, or Dostoevsky himself, spying on his characters actions. The redemptive relationship between Sonia and Raskolnikov is whittled down to the offer of an extended hand and the smile on Sonia’s beautiful, understanding face.


In its visual form, the story is stripped of much of its philosophical discussion of man, God, and morality, leaving instead the impression of three characters alone and unable to connect. Despite the fact that together they occupy the claustrophobic and hostile environs of the city depicted in the film, each is restricted to their own solitary struggle; Raskolnikov and his schismatic need for greatness but also for love; Sonia’s tightrope existence of a pure soul consigned to prostitution; the old man’s attraction to both life and oblivion through suicide. By distilling the much broader scope of Crime and Punishment down to these essences, Dumala manages to tie the great ideological struggle of Dostoevsky’s characters to that central problem of humankind; needing, but never achieving, perfect understanding and connection to another.


Mikhail Chemiakin’s Illustrations of Crime and Punishment

Molly Dawe

Chemiakin’s illustrations captivated me foremost because of their unique, discomforting style, and further because of the parallels between Chemiakin’s and Dostoevsky’s lives. Both artists were political exiles who rebelled against the Russian intelligentsia of their respective eras. Chemiakin refused to conform to socialist realism, the official artistic doctrine of the USSR that went virtually unchallenged until Stalin’s death in 1953.[i] Instead, he created his own philosophy, metaphysical synthesism, “dedicated to the creation of a new form of icon painting based on the study of religious art of all ages and peoples.”[ii] His emphasis on religious iconography and symbolism is apparent in the first illustration of the exhibit. Crosses placed in the windowpanes, as well as a skull and axe reflected in water, juxtapose traditional Christian symbols of redemption with murder. In the second illustration, Porfiry’s interrogation of Raskolnikov is depicted, and features a large question mark in the foreground. This overt symbol recalls the second-guessing of each character’s motives, Raskolnikov’s own propensity to self-scrutinise, as well as the main interpretive crux of the novel, that is, the motivation for committing the murder. Chemiakin’s use of colour is also symbolic, mirroring Dostoevsky. The viewer is drawn toward the centre of the first image, as it is rendered in colour rather than the dull grey surrounding it. Raskolnikov’s room is a sickly yellow, and in the bottom right corner is Sonia, cleverly linked with Raskolnikov via the top of her blonde head, and at a direct diagonal with his gaze. The yellow marks each as contaminated with sin, but also implicates them in a shared spiritual destiny; conversely, the green space in the uppermost corner is the distant possibility of redemption.


Crime and Punishment in the ‘Graphic Canon’ by Kako and edited by Russ Kick

Christian Dungca

Crime and Punishment in the ‘Graphic Canon’ is a visually mesmerizing piece in its depiction of Raskolnikov’s violent murder of Alyona Ivanovna. What I found most interesting about the piece is that Kako offers a unique twist on the Dostoevskian classic with his inserts of the horse slaughtered senselessly in Raskolnikov’s dream during the act of murder. So not only does Kako convey Raskolnikov’s intense subjectivity through thought bubbles but with a visual accompaniment of the slaughtered horse that articulates Raskolnikov’s unstable dream state. Readers of Dostoevsky understand that fantasy has a massive influence in developing Raskolnikov’s drive towards murder. But as the inserts of the horse suggest, Raskolnikov goes through with the murder in a frantic, desperate manner as opposed to the well-executed, clean manner that he envisioned. In his rich interplay of fantasy and reality, Kako demonstrates that he is well-informed about Crime and Punishment and successfully offers a dynamic interpretation of the Dostoevskian classic.

Kako’s piece on Crime and Punishment is found within Volume Two of the ‘Graphic Canon’ series. The ‘Graphic Canon’ series is a set of graphic interpretations of other classic literary works across various time periods and locations, spanning three volumes. The series as a whole emphasizes a dynamic re-imagination of classic literary works as opposed to “a literal interpretation of the text in the pictures.”[iii] The ‘Graphic Canon’ project serves as a confirmation to the lasting influence of Crime and Punishment, not only through literature but also in alternative forms of media like comics, movies, and music. Crime and Punishment can be appreciated by individuals of varying statuses, hence the universal appeal. Simply put, Crime and Punishment transcends literature and its interpretations spread across all kinds of art.


Batman and Crime and Punishment

Mitzchie Espedido

10426548_844175225646789_9115372522862382_nRobert Sikoryak’s adaptation of Crime and Punishment (C&P) is perhaps the most interesting item in the exhibit. It is a parody of Dostoevsky’s work which is a fitting concept since Dostoevsky himself parodied various works. Sikoryak cleverly connects Batman and C&P in two ways. First, he bridges the characters on an artistic level by illustrating Raskol as a hybrid between Batman, the masked hero, and Raskolnikov, the axe murderer. Alyona also looks strikingly similar to the the Joker.[iv]

On a narrative level, Batman and Raskolnikov are quite similar. For instance, both are suffering from an ethical dilemma due to their utilitarian view of life. Specifically, they contemplate who gets to die for the sake of everyone. In this case, Batman is conflicted about whether or not he should kill the Joker whereas Raskolnikov finds justifications to murder Alyona. Furthermore, both characters are ordinary humans; they have limitations and dilemmas which Superman is immune to.[v] Despite their similarities, Batman is unable to kill his enemies, claiming that doing so would bring him to a level of a murderer.[vi] Ultimately, the synthesis between the two allows the parallel novels to intersect into one literary work.

One personal critique however, is Sikoryak’s failure to illustrate the window scene during the murder. The scene is quite significant because of the great contrast Dostoevsky depicts: the darkness of Alyona’s room versus the bright outside. This suggests the importance of setting and the restricting and isolating effects of a room. However, it seems that Sikoryak compensates for this by superimposing the murder scene with a target background. Alyona’s head is just outside the bull’s eye, suggesting that Raskol’s carefully planned murder is not going to work out. This is evident as Raskolnikov murders Lizaveta and ends up feeling guilty for his crime. While Sikoryak’s version has less depth than C&P, it nonetheless provides a great step to introducing Dostoevsky to people because it combines pulp fiction with high art, similar to what Dostoevsky depicted in Poor Folk.


Prestuplenie i Nakazanie by Edison Denisov

Joanna Gorska-Kochanowiz

edisondenisovDostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment has inspired many authors and artists over the last century and a half, with numerous plays, movies and novels commemorating this renowned work of literature. Dostoyevsky’s presence in music, however, is far more scarce, thus making Edison Denisov’s Prestuplenie i Nakazanie an interesting work of art to analyse. Denisov, a famous Soviet composer wrote the first musical adaptation of Crime and Punishment in 1977, which was meant to accompany Yuri P. Lyubimov’s theatrical production at the Taganka Theater. While maintaining a close relationship to the novel and musically reflecting key plot elements, Denisov’s Prestuplenie i Nakazanie is a prime example of post-Shostakovich Soviet music. The combination of rhythmic ambiguity, jarring dissonance and brief passages of classical tonality make this composition a noteworthy example of the aforementioned genre, as opposed to being a mere theatrical accompaniment.[vii]

The piece itself is split into seven movements, and composed for mixed choir, celesta and percussion. Denisov favoured musical freedom above all compositional styles, and despite his piece being riddled with atonality, he rejected the twelve-tone row technique promulgated by the Second Viennese School of music, opting for a disjointed series of notes that were not subjugated to any rules of repetition.[viii] This technique gives Denisov’s work a sense of suspended fragmentation, alluding to Raskolnikov’s frenzied state of mind throughout the novel. This sense of disunity is found mainly in the movements featuring solo celesta with percussion accompaniment. The remaining four movements feature the choir, which sings tonal harmonies set to Eastern Orthodox liturgy. This measured shift from dissonance to more traditional tonality represents Raskolnikov’s gradual spiritual transition. The final movement was meant to embody Sonia, Raskolnikov’s confessor, and has the female choir sing Oh Gladsome Light, an ancient Christian hymn directly referencing God’s grace as a redeemer.[ix] Denisov’s work is highly teleological in nature; the harmonies, melodies, phrasing and textual setting all lead to the symbolic and triumphant seventh movement that ends in C major, a key considered to represent simplicity and purity, thus demonstrating Raskolnikov’s redemption.


The virtual exhibit continues with a second group of students’ posts here: A Virtual Visit to the Robarts Library, part 2.

C&P-RasCrime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts was on display at the Robarts Library in Toronto in the fall of 2016. It was co-curated by Ksenya Kiebuzinski, Barnabas Kirk, and Kate Holland. The exhibit was part of the 2016 global outreach program Crime and Punishment at 150. For more information, visit the CP150 project website.



[i] Elizabeth Rogers. “Socialist Realism.” The School of Russian and Asian Studies, 28 Feb. 2012 

[ii] Maria Gadas. “Mikhail Shemyakin: Royal, Religious, Artistic.” Journal Desillusionist.

[iii] Calvin Reid. “Graphic Canon: Comics Meet the Classics”. Publisher’s Weekly. Feb 3 2012. 

[iv] Richard Bruton. “Robert Sikoryak’s Aptly Named Masterpiece Comics.” Forbidden Planet Blog. Comics, Reviews, 02 Aug. 2013. 

[v] Peter Bebergal. “A Talk with Robert Arp and Mark D. White What Batman Teaches Us about Philosophy.” The New York Times, 13 July 2008. 

[vi] Steve Brie and William T. Rossiter. “Spandex Parables.” Literature and Ethics: From the Green Knight to the Dark Knight. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, p. 210.

[vii] Kholopov, Y. N. Edison Denisov: The Russian Voice in European New Music (Berlin: Kuhn, 2002), 154.

[viii] Kuprovskaia-Denisova, Ekaterina. Edison Denisov: Compositeur De La Lumière (Paris: Centre De Documentation Sur La Musique Contemporaine, 2011), 75.

[ix] Kholopov, Edison Denisov, 172.


Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts

by Barnabas D. Kirk

2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Dostoevsky’s seminal novel Crime and Punishment (1866). Originally, the novel was serialized over a period of 12 months on the pages of the literary journal Russian Messenger. It was hailed as a revelation for giving readers unprecedented insight into the human psyche that spoke of the individual’s role and responsibility within society. To commemorate the novel’s overwhelming success during the past 150 years, the Petro Jacyk Resource Centre, in collaboration with Professor Kate Holland of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto, organized a special exhibition on the 1st and 3rd floors of the John P. Robarts Library, running from October to November 2016. This event is part of an international outreach program that has brought together the Universities of Cambridge, Bristol, British Columbia and Toronto, as well as the North American Dostoevsky Society—all contributing to a year-long festival celebrating the novel’s legacy. The findings of the exhibition were presented at the “Crime and Punishment at 150” conference held at the University of British Columbia. A full exhibition guide can be found online through the University of Toronto Libraries (UTL).


The main goal of the exhibition has been to celebrate the success of Crime and Punishment across the boundaries of national norms and cultural media. In doing so, it has been imperative to highlight the richness of our library collection. The University of Toronto Libraries hold more than 12 million print volumes in 341 languages, and support the scholarly needs of 700 undergraduate and 222 graduate degree programs. Keeping in mind the vast range of intellectual and personal interests, the exhibition’s design principle has been to appeal in some capacity to each individual visiting the University of Toronto’s largest library.

In order to make sense of this prodigious collection of materials, the celebration of Crime and Punishment’s legacy has been divided into five themes: translations; art and illustrations; literary adaptations; theatre, film, and music; and critical receptions. Through a collaborative process with UTL subject librarians and Dostoevsky scholars from across the world, we have assembled more than 50 items from 25 countries, each with an extended caption detailing the work and its author.

The five themes offer new perspectives on how Dostoevsky’s novel has been interpreted at different levels of cultural dissemination. The selected translations highlight the fascinating history of how a book is received and then globally propagated. Our earliest featured translation of Crime and Punishment is Victor Derély’s (1840- 1904) French translation of 1884, an early edition that is significant for its prominent role as international intermediary – it was Derély’s translation that was most widely used as a source text for translations into Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, amongst other languages; and it was this French translation that made such a lasting impression on the English intellectual circles of the early 20th century through the Bloomsbury Group. With so few nations sharing the close relationship that France and Russia enjoyed, it fell to this early edition to act as the bridge between Russia and the world at large. It is interesting to note that the celebrated 2001 Brazilian-Portuguese translation by Paulo Bezerra (b.1940) is the first of its kind in Brazil to be translated directly from the original Russian, as opposed to existing French, Spanish, and English editions. It goes to show, that even after so many years and so many miles of separation, it is never too late for Raskolnikov’s chaotic steps in St. Petersburg to be retraced along the intricate pavements of Paulista Avenue in São Paulo.

Materials for the theme of art and illustration offer a highly-condensed and subjectively-distilled snapshot of key scenes from Crime and Punishment. Each artist featured was confronted with the dilemma of how to choose a scene that was the most striking to the reader, most resonant with the artist, and most illuminating to the novel. As the featured illustrations show, German-American illustrator Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) highlights the high sanctity of Sonia; Belarusian-born Benjamin Kopman (1887-1965) employs a much heavier mode of drawing to capture the troubles undercurrent of Raskolnikov’s confession; and Max Burchartz (1887-1961) embraces the novel’s darkness by distorting space and characters.

Literary adaptations provide rewarding examples of how a single novel can be received and assimilated into foreign cultures. Ten works are showcased from countries including South Korea, Israel, Macedonia, Brazil, China, France, USA, and Russia. The selection is made up of short stories, comic books, children’s literature, and full-length novels. These diverse stories all connect through their study and contemplation of the theme of schism – raskol. Just as in Dostoevsky’s novel the name Raskolnikov presupposes a split in the troubled mind of the antagonist, so do these adaptations that transpose this conflict into foreign, but recognizable settings. Robert Sikoryak’s (b.1964) chapter in Masterpiece Comics reimagines Raskolnikov leading a dual life as a Bob-Kane-style Batman. Yu Mu-Yong’s (1908-1960) Korean short story discusses divine and secular responsibilities – the protagonist is a Catholic priest. And, Brazilian author Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) uses the grotesque image of a severed cockroach to confront the question of one’s individual place and connection with the outside world.

A selection of materials from the exhibit showcasing Crime and Punishment’s global reach

The breadth of cultural appropriations of Crime and Punishment is further investigated in the fourth theme, which highlights the novel’s exemplary history across different cultural media. First performed on stage in 1888, the subsequent stream of productions featured in our exhibition illustrate how the novel’s ingenuity is by no means restricted to any particular genre of literature and mode of language. Gaston Baty’s (1885-1952) production of 1933 was praised for capturing the very height of popular interest in crime literature in early 20th-century France, and Andrzej Wajda’s (1926-2016) play of 1989 promoted the ongoing appreciation for the novel beyond national boundaries by touring Madrid, Berlin, Belgrade, Palermo, and Tel Aviv. Be they from Peru or the Philippines, films have engaged audiences throughout the age of cinema. Directors such as Robert Bresson (1901-1999) and Woody Allen (b. 1935) have attempted to further develop the enduring appeal of Dosteovsky’s novel.

The final theme, a gathering of critical receptions, brings us to the long-term significance of this exhibition. Featuring critical works from a diverse body of authors, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Norwegian scholars at a Slavic-Baltic symposium, the appeal and relevance of Crime and Punishment to society is demonstrably universal and contemporary. Recent works like Boris Akunin’s (b. 1956) post-modern novel F. M. (2006), the 2013 stage production by Chris Hannan (b.1958), and the 2014 English-language translation by Oliver Ready (b.1976) are proof that 150 years later Dostoevsky’s classic novel can still satisfy the cultural and intellectual demands of contemporary society.

This article originally appeared in PJRC Update, vol. 9 (Fall 2016) and appears here with the permission of the Petro Jacyk Resource Centre at the University of Toronto.

Barnabas D. Kirk is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto. In 2016 he co-curated the Crime and Punishment at 150: Global Contexts exhibit at the Robarts Library with Ksenya Kiebuzinski and Kate Holland.