Fyodor Dostoevsky Draws Elaborate Doodles In His Manuscripts


Few would argue against the claim that Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky, author of such bywords for lit­er­ary weight­i­ness as Crime and Pun­ish­ment, The Idiot, and The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov, mas­tered the nov­el, even by the for­mi­da­ble stan­dards of 19th-cen­tu­ry Rus­sia. But if you look into his papers, you’ll find that he also had an intrigu­ing way with pen and ink out­side the realm of let­ters — or, if you like, deep inside the realm of let­ters, since to see draw­ings by Dos­to­evsky, you actu­al­ly have to look with­in the man­u­scripts of his nov­els.

Above, we have a page from Crime and Pun­ish­ment into which a pair of solemn faces (not that their mood will sur­prise enthu­si­asts of Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture) found their way. Just below, you’ll find exam­ples from the same man­u­script of his pen turn­ing toward the orna­men­tal and archi­tec­tur­al while he “cre­at­ed his fic­tion step by step as he lived, read, remem­bered, reprocessed and wrote,” as the exhi­bi­tion of “Dos­toyevsky’s Doo­dles” at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty’s Har­ri­man Insti­tute of Russ­ian, Eurasian, and East Euro­pean Stud­ies put it.


Accord­ing to the exhi­bi­tion descrip­tion, Dos­to­evsky’s notes to him­self “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.” Some of Dos­to­evsky’s char­ac­ter descrip­tions, argues schol­ar Kon­stan­tin Barsht, “are actu­al­ly the descrip­tions of doo­dled por­traits he kept rework­ing until they were right.” He did­n’t just do so dur­ing the writ­ing of Crime and Pun­ish­ment, either; below we have a page of The Dev­ils that com­bines the human, the archi­tec­tur­al, and the cal­li­graph­ic, appar­ent­ly the three main avenues through which Dos­to­evsky pur­sued the doo­dler’s art.

Even if you would per­son­al­ly argue against his claim to great­ness (and thus side with his coun­try­man, col­league in lit­er­a­ture, and fel­low part-time artist Vladimir Nabokov, who found him a “mediocre” writer giv­en to “waste­lands of lit­er­ary plat­i­tudes”), sure­ly you can enjoy the charge of pure cre­ation you feel from wit­ness­ing his tex­tu­al mind inter­act with his visu­al one. Works by Dos­to­evsky can be found in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vir­ginia Woolf Loved Dos­to­evsky, Oscar Wilde Some­times Despised Dick­ens & Oth­er Gos­sip from The Read­ing Expe­ri­ence Data­base

Albert Camus Talks About Adapt­ing Dos­toyevsky for the The­atre, 1959

Crime and Pun­ish­ment by Fyo­dor Dos­toyevsky Told in a Beau­ti­ful­ly Ani­mat­ed Film by Piotr Dumala

Nabokov Makes Edi­to­r­i­al Improve­ments to Kafka’s “The Meta­mor­pho­sis”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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Comments (5)
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  • rfhartzell says:

    The faces in the first image look to me like draw­ings of death masks.

    And it’s intrigu­ing in the third image to see Dos­toyevsky doo­dling in the roman alpha­bet as he writes out “Le”, “Raphael”, “Bach”, “Rachel”, and “Paris”. It’s tempt­ing to think he was in Paris at the time and, sur­round­ing every­where by the roman alpha­bet, decid­ed to give it a go. Though now that I think about it French was com­mon­ly spo­ken and writ­ten by the Russ­ian nobil­i­ty of Dos­toyevsky’s day, so per­haps he need­ed no prac­tice in it at all.

  • michael siber says:

    As far as I have read, he dic­tat­ed much of his work to his wife/secretary, which might be a par­tial expla­na­tion for the doo­dling, but beau­ti­ful…

  • Subir Sen says:

    Reminds me of the Indi­an poet and Nobel Lau­re­ate Rabindra Nath Tagore. He too used to doo­dle a lot while writ­ing poems and which was the gen­e­sis of the bril­liant paint­ings of his lat­er years.

  • Tim Shey says:

    One man’s doo­dle is anoth­er man’s work of art.

    Here is a lit­tle more on Dos­toyevsky:

    “Tol­stoy and Dostoyevsky“http://hitchhikeamerica.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/tolstoy-and-dostoyevsky-philip-yancey/

  • Nick says:

    Dos­to­evsky Draws Shake­speare: The Fas­ci­nat­ing Dis­cov­ery


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