ON THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY
"An Amazing Mixture of Good and Evil”
#4 2020 (73)
“The Brothers Karamazov” as Illustrated by Russian hmigre Artists in the 1920s-1930s
In the late 1910s, certain influential theoreticians insisted that illustrating Dostoevsky’s novels was an undertaking that made no sense and, moreover, was doomed to failure from the start. Indeed, the attempts to visually interpret the writer’s works turned out so inauspicious (with but a handful of exceptions) that they could simply be disregarded. As literary critic Nina Goncharova noted, the illustrators “were scratching the surface without any appreciation of the depth of the material. With his 20th-century consciousness, Dostoevsky was out of step with his generation, so it took some time before ... his revelations were heard and understood.” The first visual interpretations of the great writer’s works that managed to be daring and unconventional but also compelling appeared in the 1920s and early 1930s, when, enriched with avant-garde experimentation, book design was flourishing and discovering new horizons. Unsurprisingly, this complex literary material received special attention from Russian artists living outside Soviet Russia. In the official Soviet culture of that period, Dostoevsky was an objectionable, semi-banned writer; however, among emigre intellectuals, he remained a dominant influence, his personality and writings provoking heated debate and his works seen as a place where one could find answers to vital questions of the times.