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.” Boston.com. 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.

The Brothers’ Theme Songs

by Johnathon Huizar, Greta Matzner-Gore, Kelsey Steele, and Zhiqing Tan

tumblr_mxhrvmadig1sgk9e0o1_1280The personalities of the brothers Karamazov reflect their time and place (late nineteenth-century Russia), but they are also universal, at least to some degree. One can imagine meeting some like Dmitry (the passionate profligate), Ivan (the tortured intellectual), or Alyosha (the would-be saint) in the United States today. With that in mind, I asked my students to choose one of the brothers Karamazov and find a “theme song” for him, i.e. a contemporary song or piece of music that captures his personality. They posted links to their “theme songs” on our course’s discussion board, alongside short explanations of how their song captures their character’s personality. In class we put it to a vote. Here are the “theme songs” we voted best for each brother, introduced by our student winners!


Student: Johnathon Huizar

Theme Song: “Jesus and Jones” by Trace Adkins

Explanation: Trace Adkins’s song, titled “Jesus and Jones,” allowed fans to look into his life and see the struggle between sin and the righteous path and finding an equilibrium. I feel Dmitry struggles with this urge to spend money on drinking and women as he did with Grushenka, and much like Trace Adkins he is remorseful for it. The frantic state Dmitry is in when he is searching for 3,000 rubles shows he wants to be at peace with Katerina and that he understands this struggle between good and evil, but he cannot control it. Dmitry struggles with sin and seems to spend a large portion of the book attempting to overcome it and seek spiritual recovery.



Student: Kelsey Steele

Theme Song: “You Found Me” by The Fray

Explanation: It was hard to find a song that represents Ivan accurately. I believe that “You Found Me” by The Fray is indicative of the anger, resentment, and confusion Ivan demonstrates towards God. As we see in “The Grand Inquisitor,” even if he is able to reconcile his thoughts enough to fully believe in a higher power, Ivan cannot justify worshiping a God that allows so much unnecessary suffering to go on. While I think the entire song applies to him (including his relationship with Katerina), I particularly like the chorus, because I think it perfectly captures Ivan’s internal state. As I listened to the song, I could envision Ivan shouting the words to the sky, to God.



Student: Zhiqing Tan

Theme Song: “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens

Explanation: I picked “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens. This song shows that God created a beautiful world where people love each other and people can get along with animals. Alyosha loves God, and he believes that because of God’s mercy, people can love each other and live in happiness and peace. When I listen to this song, I feel very warm and sweet because it brings us a positive feeling and lets us know this world is full of miracles. Even a beautiful scene or a wet garden can make us feel happy. This song is full of love which is the same as Alyosha. Alyosha always loves and helps other people and makes them happy.


What theme songs would you give to the Karamazovs or other Dostoevsky characters?


Russian Language Students Stage Dostoevsky’s “The Crocodile”

by Michael Marsh-Soloway

Michael Marsh-Soloway is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia.

At the end of the fall 2015 semester, Russian language students in the UVa Slavic Department held two performances of F.M. Dostoevsky’s “The Crocodile.” The first was held at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday, December 5, and the second was staged in the Nau Hall auditorium on Wednesday, December 9. The all-student cast recited dialogue in Russian, but English subtitles were also projected above the stage so that non-Russian speakers could follow the action of the play. The UVa College Council and Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures generously provided support to the production, allowing both performances to be free and open to the public. About 120 people attended the two shows, and the audience included university students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community.


First published in Dostoevsky’s journal Epokha in 1865, the short story was not originally intended for the stage. Sensing that the short farce and its humor would readily translate into theatrical comedy, two PhD students in the UVa Slavic Department, Michael Marsh-Soloway and Abigail Hohn, worked closely throughout the semester to adapt the satirical farce into a 15-page script. After visiting Russian-language classes at the start of the semester, they recruited an enthusiastic cast of 15 students and commenced holding rehearsals on a weekly basis starting in late September. The students in the cast all assisted with making props, costumes, and set décor. Maria Bakatkina, a native speaker of Russian in the 4+1 BA and MA program in Slavic Languages and Literatures, provided special phonetics instruction to members of the cast, while Michael and Abby addressed questions regarding grammar, syntax, and the semantic meaning of lines conveyed in the dialogue and stage direction of the play. In addition to writing the script and fielding Russian language questions about the script, Michael and Abby co-directed the production.


Video recordings of the “The Crocodile” are on YouTube: