Dostoevsky's Doodles

Monday, October 27, 2008 to Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Harriman Atrium, 12th Floor IAB

Fyodor Dostoevsky created his fiction step by step as he lived, read, remembered, reprocessed and wrote. For much of his life, he would plan his novels and then his chapters through much of the night, sleep in the morning and dictate them in the afternoon to his wife, Anna Grigoryevna, whom he had first met as a stenographer. The hundreds of pages of notes that the greatest Russian scholars have edited over the years, therefore, represent that key moment when the accumulated proto-novel crystallized into a text. Like many of us, Dostoevsky doodled hardest when the words came slowest.

Konstantin Barsht, a researcher at the Russian Academy's Institute for Russian Literature (Pushkin House) in St. Petersburg deplores the absence of the doodles from the great editions of Dostoevsky's notebook materials and in 2005 edited an eight-hundred-page volume of them (XVII) for the Voskresenye edition of Dostoevsky's works published in Moscow. His notes for this exhibit, a selection of those materials, suggest persuasively that some of Dostoevsky's descriptions of his characters are actually the descriptions of doodled portraits he kept reworking until they were right. Dostoevsky doodled with calligraphy as much as human and architectural images, and Barsht has offered notes that may connect these doodles, too, with the concerns and thought processes that emerge in Dostoevsky's novels and other writings. It is exciting to find new access to the workings of literary genius through an activity so many of us mortals engage in, too.