Crime & Punishment at 150 wins SSHRC Connection Grant

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Katherine Bowers (British Columbia) and Kate Holland (Toronto), together with a team of collaborators including Carol Apollonio (Duke), Brian Armstrong (Augusta), Mel Bach (Cambridge), Connor Doak (Bristol), and Ksenya Kiebuzinski (Toronto), have been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Connection Grant for the conference and outreach program “Crime and Punishment at 150.” The program will celebrate 150 years of Dostoevsky’s novel with a series of events, both on location and online. These will include library exhibits at the Universities of Toronto and Cambridge, and online; a panel discussion at the University of Bristol; a conference at the University of British Columbia; a Twitter project @RodionTweets; and more. Stay tuned for more details coming soon!

If you are interested in attending and presenting at the Vancouver conference, the Call for Papers is online. Abstracts are still being accepted until May 15.

Congratulations to Katia, Kate, and their team!

Painting the Town Black: A Japanese Take on Brothers Karamazov

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by Connor Doak

Connor Doak is a lecturer in Russian at the University of Bristol. He is grateful to Ritsuko Kidera of Doshisha University for advice on Japanese culture when preparing this piece. This piece originally appeared on All the Russias, the blog of the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russian, and is reproduced here with their permission.

Many of us who share a love for nineteenth-century Russian literature have found a recent fix of television drama in the BBC’s sumptuous adaptation of War and Peace. My tastes, however, have always leaned toward Dostoevsky rather than Tolstoy, so I put the BBC drama on the back burner while I finished a 2013 Japanese adaptation of Brothers Karamazov, now available on DVD with English subtitles. This award-winning eleven-part miniseries relocates the action from nineteenth-century Skotoprigonevsk to twenty-first century Karasume, a fictional provincial town in Japan. The popular series provides a case study in how Dostoevsky has been indigenized for a contemporary Japanese audience. Moreover, it is fascinating to observe how this miniseries is influenced by recent trends in televised crime drama, a genre that, of course, had its origins in nineteenth-century literature, and to which Dostoevsky’s own novel made an important contribution some 150 years ago.


Even more than Dostoevsky’s novel, the miniseries highlights the family conflict at the heart of the story. The Karamazov family become the Kurosawas. This name offers a nod to the great Japanese director whose 1951 adaptation of The Idiot remains a classic, but its Japanese meaning—“black swamp”—also reflects the family name Karamazov’s connection to blackness. The terrifying presence of Bunzo Kurosawa, the Japanese incarnation of Fyodor Pavlovich, looms over the entire miniseries. Veteran actor Kotaro Yoshida’s wealth of experience as a Shakespearean stage actor shines through in his portrayal of the consummate villain, complete with maniacal laughter. It is difficult to forget him as, even once murdered, his grotesque image lingers through a huge portrait that dominates the interior scenes of the Karamazov house, and, of course, frequent flashbacks provide ample opportunity to add to his screen time.


Yoshida’s hyperbolic performance fits with the overblown aesthetic that characterizes the series as a whole. This mood is enhanced by gothic-inspired cut-scenes featuring sinister crows, as well as an emotionally laden soundtrack that mixes late Romantic composers (Grieg, Ravel, Tchaikovsky) with angry rock (Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed, Nirvana). “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones, with its tones of frenetic desperation, provides a fitting anthem for the series. At times, the program overindulges in this dark aesthetic, risking becoming a parody of itself. Perhaps that danger is particularly present for European audiences, whose taste in crime drama is currently more attuned to Scandi crime dramas. Nordic noir, though it deals with equally gruesome themes, tends towards a slower pace, bleaker, sparse settings, and more restrained performances. Yet for the viewer equipped with knowledge of Dostoevsky’s source text, the over-acting and heavily charged atmosphere appear as an asset in the Japanese miniseries, since these features have direct equivalents in the novel.


As in the novel, the miniseries opens with a reunion of the family. The father’s murder soon follows, leaving the audience wondering which of the brothers committed the crime. Even those familiar with the book are drawn in, as we wonder whether the adaptation might yield a different killer than the novel. The miniseries switches between different time periods: the lead-up to the murder, its aftermath, and the boys’ traumatic childhood. This editing technique creates a fragmentary narrative, inviting the audience to piece together the sons’ long-term resentment of their father as well as the events on the day of his murder. Though long familiar to viewers of crime drama, this device proves poignantly effective for an adaptation of Brothers Karamazov, as it allows for an exploration of the power of memory, so important to that novel.


Modern-day analogues are found for each of the three brothers, with varying degrees of success. Dmitry’s equivalent is Mitsuru (Takumi Saito), whose brooding good looks make him attractive to women, but who is struggling with debts and alcohol abuse. Perhaps the best performance comes from Hayato Ichihara as Isao, the counterpart for Ivan. His success not only stems from the fact that Isao has all the best lines—as many would argue Ivan does—but because Isao’s role as a lawyer proves an apposite twenty-first century equivalent to the questioning skeptic found in the novel.


It proves more difficult to find a modern-day analogue for Alyosha, the novice monk. He becomes Ryo (Kento Hayashi), a student of psychiatry, his kind spirit channeled into medicine rather than Christian virtue. As Ritsuko Kidera, a Dostoevsky specialist at Doshisha University, points out, Japanese versions of Dostoevsky have historically tended to play down the writer’s Christian themes because of the difficulty of finding cultural equivalents. Zosima’s role is even more difficult to reproduce. Although the early episodes feature a university tutor whom Ryo much admires, the character and his values are not articulated strongly enough to provide the same presence that the Russian monk offers in the novel.

It is, in fact, the social rather than the religious dimension of the novel that this adaptation foregrounds. The tyrannical patriarch Bunzo, a corrupt and uncompromising entrepreneur has bought up a good portion of the town of Karasume. According to the creator of the series, Misato Sato, Bunzo is “a relic of the bubble economy of the 1980s” [1]. The dark side of economic growth is explored through a recasting of the subplot involving Snegirev, who is reimagined as a petty businessman whom Bunzo destroys financially by enlisting the help of his lawyer son Isao. Here the series points to the collusion of the law with big business, showing how Dostoevsky’s text can be repurposed as a critique of capitalism for our contemporary era of recession.


The police investigation occupies more space in the miniseries than in the novel. The idea of universal responsibility, arguably the novel’s central theme, is not entirely neglected, although it takes a back seat to the exploration of policing and justice in the miniseries. The detective’s assumption of Dmitry’s guilt echoes the social determinism of the prosecutor in the novel. The law is presented as coldly calculating and rational. Although the lead detective is not as wantonly cruel as the patriarch Bunzo, the system that he represents is almost as heartless.

Nabokov derisively called Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov “a typical detective story, a riotous whodunit—in slow motion” [2]. This assessment purposely fails to mention all the ways in which Dostoevsky reworks the tradition of the whodunit: his questioning of human justice, his exploration of free will and determinism, and his Christian ethics, to name but a few. Although the miniseries does not attempt to replicate the full range of Dostoevsky’s philosophical inquiry, it, too, is more than a “riotous whodunit” on the small screen. The series not only uses Dostoevsky’s text to create an entertaining crime drama, but also as the basis for an inquiry into the psychology that accompanies the current socioeconomic moment in contemporary Japan.


[1] Misato Sato is interviewed in Anna Fediakina and Horie Hiroyuki, “Arigato, Karamazov-san,” Rossiiskaia gazeta,, 11 April 2013.

[2] Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers (New York: Harcourt, 1981), 133.


Congratulations to Dr. Martinsen!

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Congratulations to Dr. Deborah Martinsen! Dr. Martinsen (Columbia University), who is the former president of the International Dostoevsky Society and a current member of the North American Dostoevsky Society Executive Board, was recently awarded the Donald Barton Johnson Prize for the best essay published in Nabokov Studies. The prize, which is awarded every two years, was for her article, “Lolita as a St. Petersburg Text.” The article is not yet available, but for those who would like to read some vintage Martinsen, check out “Shame and Punishment” from the fifth volume of Dostoevsky Studies (the new series). It begins with the question, “Why doesn’t Raskolnikov repent?” – perfect reading for the 150th anniversary of Crime and Punishment!

Russian Language Students Stage Dostoevsky’s “The Crocodile”

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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:

  • Nau Hall performance:
  • JMRL performance:

2016 AATSEEL and MLA Panels

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MLA Dostoevsky Panels and Papers

MLA Dostoevsky Panel: Reading Dostoevsky, Dostoevsky Reading

Saturday, January 9, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 202, JW Marriott

Chair: Katia Bowers (University of British Columbia) (Dr. Bowers will be unable to attend)

Panelist: Brian Armstrong (Augusta University)

  • Title: Rereading Nietzsche Reading Dostoevsky: Guilt Is Good

Panelist: Alexander Burry (Ohio State University)

  • Title: Reconstructing Dostoevsky’s Reading of Pushkin: ‘Cold Winds Still Blow’ as Key to Rebellion in The Brothers Karamazov

Panelist: Susan McReynolds (Northwestern University)

  • Title: Guilt and Punishment: Reading Dostoevsky through Kafka

Cate Reilly (Princeton University) will also be presenting on Dostoevsky as part of the “Fort-Da: Contested Legacies of Psychoanalysis in Russia” panel, which was organized by NADS member Emma Lieber (Rutgers University). Information can be found on the panel website.

AATSEEL Dostoevsky Panels

Panel: Dostoevsky and Addiction

Friday, January 8, 10:30am-12:15pm

Organizer and Chair: Justin Trifiro (University of Southern California)

Panelist: Lonny Harrison (University of Texas at Arlington)

  • Title: The Suffering Games: De Quincean Prodigality and Self-Production in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Igrok

Panelist: Victoria Juharyan (Princeton University)

  • Title: Between Humility and Humiliation: Love as Freedom and Love as Addiction in Dostoevsky

Discussants: Robin Feuer Miller (Brandeis University) and Donna Tussing Orwin (University of Toronto)

Texts and Contexts: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

Friday, January 8, 4:30-6:30pm

Chair: Jennie Wojtusik (University of Texas-Austin)

Panelist: Soelve Curdts (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)

  • Title: ‘Borodino is the word that comes to me in my sleep’: Coetzee reads Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

Panelist: Rebecca Bostock-Holtzman (The Ohio State University)

  • Title: Chronic Issues: Spatial/Temporal Manipulation in The Death of Ivan Ilych

Panelist: Michael Marsh-Soloway (University of Virginia)

  • Title: Dostoevsky and the Natural Philosophy of Classical Antiquity

Panelist: Alexei Pavlenko (Colorado College)

  • Title: The Higher Stakes

Panel: The Subjectivity of the Novel: The Case of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot

Saturday, January 9, 1:15-3:00pm

Organizer and Chair: Irina Paperno (University of California – Berkeley)

Panelist: Brian Egdorf (University of California – Berkeley)

  • Title: Narrative and the Mind: Epilepsy in The Idiot

Panelist: Kathryn Pribble (University of California – Berkeley)

  • Title: Hero as Author: Unethical Narrating in The Idiot

Panelist: Ernest Artiz (University of California – Berkeley)

  • Title: Slipping Destiny: The Allegoric Unraveling of Narrative in The Idiot

Discussants: Caryl Emerson (Princeton University) and Alex Spektor (The University of Georgia – Athens)

Panel: The North American Dostoevsky Society

Saturday, January 9, 5:15-7:00pm

Organizer: Carol Apollonio (Duke University)

Chair: Eric Naiman (University of California – Berkeley)

Panelist: Katia Bowers (University of British Columbia) (Dr. Bowers will be unable to attend)

  • Title: Dostoevsky’s Gothic Autobiography: Anxiety and Terrible Tableaux in The Idiot

Panelist: Jennifer Flaherty (University of California – Berkeley)

  • Title: The Peasant in Dostoevsky’s Zapiski iz mertvogo doma and “Muzhik Marei”

Panelist: Anna Berman (McGill University)

  • Title: Dostoevsky and the Family Novel

Discussant: Vadim Shkolnikov (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Texts and Contexts: Dostoevsky

Sunday, January 10, 12:00-2:00pm

Chair: Victoria Juharyan (Princeton University)

Panelist: Lisa Woodson, University of New Mexico

  • Title: Job in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov

Panelist: Alina Wyman (New College of Florida)

  • Title: Between Empathy and Ressentiment: Ivan Karamazov’s Social Dilemma

Panelist: Elizabeth Blake (Saint Louis University)

  • Title: Fedor Dostoevsky’s Authoring and Editing of Notes from House of the Dead: An Ongoing Dialogue with Fellow Former Political Exiles

Panelist: Chen Zhang (Ohio State University)

  • Title: “Can’t You Cut Pages with a Garden Knife?”: Rogozhin’s Destruction that Derives from His Pursuit of Enlightenment

Call for Papers: Crime and Punishment at 150

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Call for Papers: Crime and Punishment at 150”

University of British Columbia, Vancouver

October 20-22, 2016

The publication of Crime and Punishment in 1866 was a watershed moment in the history of nineteenth-century Russian literature. Dostoevsky’s novel perennially hovers near the top of lists of “Best Books of All Time.” Harold Bloom summed up the work’s enduring mastery and appeal, observing that, “Crime and Punishment remains the best of all murder stories, a century and a third after its publication. We have to read it — though it is harrowing — because, like Shakespeare, it alters our consciousness.” In the twenty first century, media and technology advances have transformed the reading experience and the ways readers relate to texts. Most students in literature classrooms are now digital natives, many reading on e-devices, some even on smart phones. In the age of the “spoiler alert” our reading experience seems to have changed beyond all recognition, yet in some ways the possibilities of new reading communities opened up by social media allow us to replicate the kinds of institutional communities which arose around nineteenth-century Russian periodicals. Rethinking the ways in which we contextualize, teach, and interpret Dostoevsky’s novel will help make it more accessible to a new generation of readers. 

Crime and Punishment at 150” will celebrate the novel’s sesquicentenary by bringing together teachers, scholars, students, translators, artists, and readers to discuss Dostoevsky in the digital age. The conference will include a keynote by Carol Apollonio, a screening of the new film Crime and Punishment (Apocalypse Films, 2015) with post-film discussion with its director, Andrew O’Keefe, and a video conference with a linked Crime and Punishment panel at the University of Bristol, among other events. Confirmed participants include Brian Armstrong, Elena Baraban, Alexander Burry, Deborah Martinsen, Louise McReynolds, Robin Feuer Miller, Megan Swift, and William Mills Todd, III.

We invite abstracts of 300 words on topics related to Crime and Punishment in the classroom or digital humanities/new media approaches to Crime and Punishment.  Possible topics include:

       reading Dostoevsky with students in 2016

       digital humanities-based research on Dostoevsky and/or Crime and Punishment

       digital or new media approaches to the novel in the classroom

       new approaches to teaching an old book

       public engagement initiatives (book club readings, online readings, Twitter projects)

       teaching the novel in different contexts (a survey course, a Dostoevsky course, across disciplines)

       the challenges and successes of teaching the novel in the context of decreasing enrolments and increasing departmental pressures

We also encourage students to submit abstracts and we plan to feature several panels showcasing undergraduate and graduate student research. We welcome 300 word abstracts for papers on Crime and Punishment from undergraduate and graduate students, particularly those that explore new ways of reading the novel through the lens of new media or against the backdrop of contemporary issues and experiences.

Please submit 300 word abstracts with a 1 page cv to by May 15, 2016. 

This event is co-organized by Katherine Bowers and Kate Holland, and supported by the Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies (UBC), Green College (UBC), and the North American Dostoevsky Society.

Gothic Doubling and The Double, Gothically

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by Katherine Bowers

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. “Gothic Doubling and The Double, Gothically” is part of #TheDoubleEvent, and cross-posted from All the Russias, the blog of the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, with their permission.


As the bells begin to toll the midnight hour, Mr. Golyadkin is crossing the Fontanka in a terrible storm. St. Petersburg comes alive: black waters rise up against the embankments and howling winds gust through the streets. This soundscape also includes piercing squeaks from rattling lanterns and a gurgling backdrop from the heavy rain. Even this rain is ominous, “cutting and stinging Mr. Golyadkin in the face like a thousand pins” (138).[1] He is alone; a feeling of “inexplicable uneasiness” (139) comes over him. Trudging through the darkness, Golyadkin experiences a strange new sensation: “melancholy, yet not melancholy, fear, and yet not fear… a feverish trembling [runs] through his veins. The moment [is] unbearably unpleasant!” (140). All of a sudden, in this damp, dark, misty night, Golyadkin comes face to face with his double! A cold shiver runs down his spine, as he stands, senselessly staring after the other. “Have I gone mad or something?” (141) he asks himself, incredulously.

This episode from Chapter 5 of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double features all the conventions of a derivative gothic scene: the stroke of midnight, a persecuted hero, stormy weather, isolation, and a sense of “inexplicable uneasiness.” Yet, even before Golyadkin, Jr. (that is, the double) appears, Golyadkin, Sr. is filled with anxiety, fear, and dread, almost as though the appearance of his double is expected. Throughout the work, Golyadkin Sr. repeatedly asks himself if he is hallucinating or going mad. By the end, though, he seems resigned to the existence of his double. In addition to this episode and the uncanny double, gothic psychologies such as anxiety, uneasiness, and dread permeate the work. While these could simply provide atmosphere, Dostoevsky exploits them to build up a palpable sense of anxiety for his reader, a reflection of his hero’s anxiety. While the narrator’s voice at times provides humor, the text’s gothic quality contributes to a sense of disquiet that lingers even after the book has been shut.

Dostoevsky was well aware of the power of the gothic. Indeed, gothic themes appear so frequently in his works that Vladimir Nabokov dismissed him as merely “a much overrated, sentimental, and Gothic novelist of the time.”[2] Intriguingly, Nabokov also considered The Double, despite its obvious gothic theme, to be “the very best thing [Dostoevsky] ever wrote.”[3] Dostoevsky’s interest in gothic fiction began when his parents read it to him as a child; he recalls that his hair “[standing] on end” and “raving deliriously in his sleep afterwards.”[4] He was familiar with works by British gothic writers including Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, and Charles Maturin, among others.[5] While these novelists are known for their formulaic writing, they produced enduringly popular fiction providing suspense and psychological thrills. The appeal of gothic fiction is its preoccupation with dark alter egos and passions, transgressive thoughts that lurk behind the seemingly rational mind and emerge in ways that expose hidden fears and truths. If the work’s links to the gothic are so readily apparent, the question remains: what do we gain from reading The Doublegothically?


Gothic Doubling

The figure of the double or doppelgänger is a gothic stock character, one that David Punter classifies alongside Frankenstein’s creature, the Wandering Jew, and the Byronic vampire.[6] Each of these types can be read as the manifestation of anxiety over a transgression. Frankenstein’s creature exists because of his creator’s hubris, a man playing God. The Wandering Jew has been cursed with deathless wandering because of his sin against Christ. Vampires are undead, have forfeited their souls, and carry an illicit sexual connotation, particularly the Byronic variety. Punter uses the examples of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) to showcase the double type. In both cases, the double figures—the violent, monstrous Hyde and Dorian’s decaying, aging portrait-self—reveal the horrors apparent when the self is physically divided. Jekyll’s goodness is offset by Hyde’s murderous tendencies just as Dorian’s external beauty contrasts with the internal decay and degeneration represented in his portrait.

The double’s appearance is usually terrifying because it is the manifestation of the social encounter feared most: one in which the authentic self is revealed. Suddenly, faced with your own mirror image, dark secrets are no longer buried, but potentially on display; if you can observe them, so can others. The terror lies in your double revealing your own hidden, true self, perhaps, even worse, a self hidden even to you. Analyzing E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “Der Sandmann” in “Das Unheimliche” (1919), Freud describes the sensation of uncanny, or unheimlich (literally, un-home-ly; a sense of feeling displaced from what’s familiar) as something not foreign, but strangely familiar, creating cognitive dissonance. He specifically uses the example of the doppelgänger in his discussion of the uncanny. Encountering your own double isn’t just a disturbing experience, but generates a peculiar kind of disquiet, one that comes from recognizing yourself but, at the same time, seeing yourself as others see you.


While the double’s appearance in Dostoevsky is horrifying, it isn’t violent, and the only murders that take place are metaphorical. In Wilde and Stevenson, the doubles represent a physical split, creating contradictory, opposing characters linked together. In Dostoevsky, the double plays a different role. At first, Golyadkin Sr. finds his double to be a friendly listener, but perceives that Golyadkin Jr. quickly begins to undermine him. Golyadkin Sr. believes he has righteousness on his side, but is ostracized in society. He observes that his double, on the other hand, is often hypocritical or deceitful, but his ability to perform within society’s expectations endears him to Golyadkin Sr.’s acquaintances. Golyadkin Sr. knows Jr.’s antics are rooted in falsehood, but, at the same time, the petty nastiness of Golyadkin Jr. is a mirror of Golyadkin Sr.’s rude treatment of his servant, Petrushka. Although Golyadkin Sr. considers his relationship with his double to be a dichotomy between authenticity and falseness, the reader realizes that all is falseness, that Golyadkins Jr. and Sr. are the same. Gary Saul Morson asserts that the novel’s humor lies in the fact that Golyadkin concurrently recognizes and refuses to recognize that he is his own double, while the horror of the piece lies in the possibility that “the real me is not mine but his, and I am the one who does not have a me!”[7] Or, rather, that an authentic self may not exist at all, just copies.

Golyadkin’s frequently expressed death wish—for example, “Mr. Golyadkin now not only wished to flee from himself, but also to be completely annihilated” (139)—comes to pass upon encountering the double and, with this, uncertainty about his own genuine existence. Strangely, throughout the text, Golyadkin dies multiple times, always metaphorically and often ironically. He’s described as half-dead, nearly dead, dead, annihilated, murdered, and, in one humorous line, Andrey Filippovich, Golyadkin’s head of office, shoots him a look “that would have destroyed our hero completely, had he not been completely destroyed already” (134). Similarly, the narrator describes Golyadkin after his humiliation at Klara Olsufyevna’s birthday party as though he has died: “Mr. Golyadkin had been murdered – murdered in the full sense of the word” (138). As Malcolm Jones points out, in this moment, Golyadkin “feels the physical abyss of the staircase looming up together with the spiritual abyss of total annihilation.”[8] In this state, he rushes out into the night and encounters his double for the first time.

In Dostoevsky’s text, the double appears after a metaphorical death. This progression is a mirror image of a common nineteenth-century spiritualist belief about doppelgängers, that the double’s appearance is an ill omen that often prefigures death. The reasoning behind this, taken from folklore, is that the spirit world and the living world co-exist, always hidden from each other, but before death, the barrier between them opens. For example, in Prometheus Unbound (1820), Percy Bysshe Shelley describes the priest Zoroaster encountering his own double, an apparition from the shadow world visible only to him. The double is a mirrored reflection of the living individual in the land of the dead; it appears to its other half in life just before death comes. This idea is not limited to literature; intriguingly, after Shelley’s death, his wife, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, wrote in a letter that her husband had described seeing his own double less than a month before he died.[9] In inverting this formula, Dostoevsky creates more confusion around his text’s narrative structure. The double appears, but Golyadkin’s own state—living, dead, dreaming, mad—can only be guessed, leaving the reader in an uneasy state.


In 1848, Catherine Crowe published a two-volume parapsychological study called The Night-Side of Nature: Ghosts and Ghost-Seers, which includes chapters dedicated to diverse spectral phenomena including waking dreams, wraiths, apparitions, and “Doppelgängers, or Doubles,” among others. Crowe’s research documents a number of cases in which individuals encountered doubles, either their own or those of a friend or relative. In some of the cases, the double’s appearance did portend death. In others, apparently taken from doctors’ records, the double’s appearance is the result of illness, either mental or physical. The uncanny appearance of a double is usually upsetting, but some of the stories Crowe recounts strike me as humorous. For example, in one case, a Danish physician became very anxious about being held up on a call and missing a scheduled visit to another patient. However, afterwards, the unvisited patient reported that the physician had paid him a call. According to Crowe, hearing of his own spectral visits “occasioned him such an unpleasant sensation that he requested his patients never to tell him when it happened.”[10] In another instance, more in keeping with the focus of this blog, Crowe alludes to Catherine the Great, who allegedly had a more volatile reaction to her Doppelgänger: upon meeting her double sitting on her throne, she casually ordered her guards to fire upon it![11]

Crowe’s “Doppelgängers, or Doubles” chapter provides a strangely complementary read alongside Dostoevsky’s The Double. Beyond the fact that nearly all the doctors whose records Crowe cites are German (reminding me of Dr. Rutenshpitz), the two works appeared around the same time, although Crowe, living in England, wouldn’t have had any opportunity to read Dostoevsky’s novella before penning her study. Curiously, Golyadkin and Crowe share an experience: both were carted off to the madhouse at the end of their texts; Crowe was admitted to an asylum in 1854 after she was discovered wandering around Edinburgh naked because, she reported, spirits had told her to do so.[12] Crowe, afterwards, said that her madness was a research-based aberration as she had fallen into a state in which she believed “spirits were directing” her writing.[13]

Crowe was an enthusiast of German ghost stories, and many of the case studies described sound as if they are lifted from gothic novels, or echo Golyadkin’s encounter with his double. This resonance underscores Dostoevsky’s debt in his original formulation of The Double to E. T. A. Hoffmann, the German master of the uncanny Romantic tale. The Double’s direct influence from Hoffmann and his indirect influence filtered through Gogol is difficult to untangle. However, from Dostoevsky’s 1861 piece in Timecomparing Edgar Allan Poe and Hoffmann, we learn that Dostoevsky admired Hoffmann’s ability to delve into the secrets of the psyche using a Romantic blend of fantasy and reality.[14] Crowe’s ghost stories seem reminiscent of this type of writing in that they, too, sit at the intersection between the imagined and the real. In another of Crowe’s cases, a man, “in perfect health, one evening, on turning the corner of a street, met his own form, face to face; the figure seemed as real and life-like as himself; and he was so close as to look into its very eyes. He was seized with terror, and it vanished.”[15] The man tells friends about it, tries to laugh it off, but remains shaken. Similarly, confronted with his own double, Golyadkin seeks reassurances from his colleagues that the similarity is uncanny, but no one else notices that anything is wrong. Crowe, writing a scholarly book, asserts throughout her study that she is seeking only the truth in her explorations. Golyadkin, too, champions authenticity, but Dostoevsky, writing his fantastic realist novella, knows he is crafting a fictional world, and problematizes Golyadkin’s quest for truth.


The Double, Gothically

The Double haunted Dostoevsky. It was critically panned upon publication in Notes of the Fatherland in 1846. He came back to it, again and again, eventually publishing a revised version in 1866 (the one commonly read today). But even after this, the novella continued to obsess him. In 1877, he wrote in the Writer’s Diary, “I failed with this novella, but the idea was fairly luminous, and I have never done anything in literature more serious than this idea. But the form I gave to this novella was a complete failure… and if now I were to come back to this idea to develop it again, I should choose a completely different form: but in 1846 I was not able to find that form.”[16]

Dostoevsky’s conclusion that the novella’s form didn’t work leads us back to the gothic. The Double is a novel that starts naturalistically, detailing Golyadkin’s various thoughts as he goes through his day. At midnight, he encounters his double in a gothic scene, and is terrified. Afterwards, the double torments him, but we don’t know if the double is a hallucination, an apparition, or a physical person. Finally, the novella ends with Golyadkin on the way to some kind of asylum. The gothic scene in Chapter 5 is the key threshold scene between the naturalistic opening and the fantastic potential of the conclusion. This gothic scene could be a continuation of the naturalism, a nod to Golyadkin’s increasing paranoia and anxiety. It could be the beginning of the fantastic portion, a midnight transition into a Petersburg in which reality blurs and cannot be trusted. But the gothic scene is entirely subjective: no one thinks the double’s appearance is fantastic except Golyadkin and potentially the reader.

The section in which the double appears links two transitional gothic moments: Golyadkin’s midnight bridge crossing and the final moment, as Golyadkin finds himself enroute to the asylum. Some critics read The Double as a nightmare, and these linked scenes are key to that reading, especially the specific Petersburg environment that contextualizes the initial appearance of the double.[17] Donald Fanger equates the atmosphere of Petersburg as that of a bad dream,[18] tying this particular scene specifically to the city’s layered mythology, a point that becomes particularly relevant in the context of both Dostoevsky’s subtitle of the novella, “A Petersburg Poem,” and its relationship to Pushkin’s earlier work “The Bronze Horseman” (1833). In that poema, the city literally comes to life in another sequence that’s not clearly identified as waking or dreaming, when the Falconet monument to Peter the Great chases hapless clerk Evgeny through the dark, flooding streets of Petersburg, eventually sending him to madness and death. Konstantin Mochulsky even says that Golyadkin himself is “an outgrowth of the putrid Petersburg fog, a phantom living in a phantom city.”[19] Going a step further, Dina Khapaeva argues that the entire text, not just selected episodes, is an expression of nightmare.[20]

But, for a nightmarish text with a gothic core, The Double is remarkably humorous. Golyadkin’s anxious thoughts seem awkward to us, but are endearing as well. The narrator’s often mocking voice amuses, and even though Golyadkin is filled with horror, annihilated, crushed, it seems excessively melodramatic, to the point of laughter. When the narrator states things like, “The man now sitting across from Mr. Golyadkin was Mr. Golyadkin’s horror, he was Mr. Golyadkin’s shame, he was Mr. Golyadkin’s nightmare from the day before; in short, he was Mr. Golyadkin, himself” (146), horror combines with laughter to create a layered text that leaves the reader with still more questions. Malcolm Jones identifies a chorus of voices in the novella, but states that the voice of “reality” is lacking. There are threshold positions, like the gothic scene in Chapter 5, in which “reality and fantasy are delicately poised,” but “it is impossible … to discern where the threshold lies. The text passes over into a permanently confused state and takes the reader with it.”[21]

Jones’s Bakhtinian reading of The Double resonates with the narration found in one of Dostoevsky’s favorite gothic novels, Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). There, the reader can rely on the narrator, but the manuscript itself is not reliable. The narrated story frames a fractured tale taken from a book that is literally disintegrating: “dissolved, obliterated, and mutilated beyond any that had ever before exercised the patience of a reader.”[22] At times, the text from this manuscript breaks off, allowing the voice of a second narrator to enter. The second narrator, coming in abruptly, does not contextualize, but instead plunges the reader into an often disconnected and mysterious tale. The end result of this is a book filled with twists and turns that are not logically mappable, with voices that don’t respond to each other, and with great confusion as to what’s actually happening on the part of the reader, who becomes a refraction of the reader squinting through the damaged manuscript within the novel.

The reader of The Double feels a similar sense of confusion, as s/he struggles with the novella’s great puzzle: whether or not the double is real. Does Golyadkin’s mental distress cause him to hallucinate the double, or is the double perhaps one manifestation of a split personality, a variation of heautoscopy? Or, is the double’s appearance a fantastic element that, in the gothic tradition of Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, and Charles Maturin, has no explanation? Or, is the novella simply Golyadkin’s nightmare? The text offers no definitive answers. It is this intermingling of possible explanations—and the lack of resolution—that gives The Double one facet of its permeating gothic feel. For, in The Double, the reader is as disconnected from the truth of the matter as the hero.

The final scene of The Double sees the hero in a carriage, seated across from Dr. Rutenshpitz… or the doctor’s double… described simply as: “two burning eyes staring at [Golyadkin] in the dark, shining with a sinister, infernal glee” (229). Up to this point, Golyadkin’s monster has been his duplicate, but in this scene, we can’t help but think of Stephen King’s observation that “monsters… may pop up in our own mirrors—at any time.”[23] And this is the value of reading The Double gothically: the irresoluble nature of Dostoevsky’s novella allows the reader to make up his/her own mind about the text’s solution. It may be that this lack of resolution is intended to prompt readers to look at themselves in the mirror and imagine how they would react if they, struggling at midnight through a terrible storm, came across a stranger who looked exactly like them…


[1]                All quotes from The Double are from Fedor Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, Vol. 1 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1972). Hereafter PSS. All translations are my own unless stated otherwise.

[2]                Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse, Vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 191.

[3]                Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature (New York: Mariner Books, 2002), 90.

[4]                Dostoevsky refers specifically to the novels of Ann Radcliffe in this passage. Dostoevskii, PSS, Vol. 5, 46.

[5]                See Robin Feuer Miller, “Dostoevsky and the Tale of Terror,” in W. J. Leatherbarrow, ed., Dostoevskii and Britain (Oxford: Berg, 1995), 139-158.

[6]                David Punter, The Literature of Terror. A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. Vol. 2.The Modern Gothic (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 1996), 21.

[7]                Gary Saul Morson, “Me and My Double: Selfhood, Consciousness, and Empathy in The Double,” in Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, ed., Before they were Titans: Essays on the Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015), 50.

[8]                Malcolm Jones, Dostoyevsky after Bakhtin: Readings in Dostoyevsky’s Fantastic Realism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 44.

[9]                Betty T. Bennett, ed., The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Vol. 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 245.

[10]              Catherine Crowe, The Night-Side of Nature, or, Ghosts and Ghost-seers, Vol. 1 (London: T. C. Newby, 1848), 287.

[11]              Ibid., 280. This story is widespread in popular accounts, but seems largely absent from scholarly ones. In Andrew Lang’s The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897), an eyewitness account is actually reproduced, albeit one acquired second hand long after the alleged episode.

[12]              Dickens recounts the story of her madness in a letter to a friend. The Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 7 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974-93), 285-286. Dickens called her case “hopeless,” but Crowe made a full recovery!

[13]              Cited in Dickens, Vol. 7, 286.

[14]              For a more thorough discussion, see Jacques Catteau, Dostoyevsky and the Process of Literary Creation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 53-62.

[15]              Crowe, 281.

[16]              Quoted in Catteau, 61.

[17]              I have written elsewhere on gothic elements in early realist texts set in St. Petersburg, including several by Dostoevsky. See Katherine Bowers, “The City through a Glass, Darkly: Use of the Gothic in Early Russian Realism,” The Modern Language Review 108.4 (2013): 1199-1215.

[18]              Donald Fanger, Dostoevsky and Romantic Realism: A Study of Dostoevsky in Relation to Balzac, Dickens, and Gogol (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 160-161.

[19]              Quoted in Fanger, 161. From Konstantin Mochulsky, Dostoevsky: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo (Paris, 1947), 42.

[20]              See Dina Khapaeva, Nightmare: From Literary Experiments to Cultural Project (Amsterdam: Brill, 2013), 107-131.

[21]              Jones, 58.

[22]              Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 28.

[23]              Stephen King, Danse Macabre (New York: Berkley Books, 1983), 252.


Golyadkin’s Human “Shriek”

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by Amy Ronner

Amy D. Ronner is Professor of Law at the St. Thomas University School of Law. The following was redacted and revised by Dr. Ronner from her book, Dostoevsky and the Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2015).

The_Scream (1)Golyadkin and Andrei Petrovich Versilov, although conceivably split or doubling, are not the crazed or mad others who are so radically different from the rest of the human species and from their author. Dostoevsky understood that, while the double can be a step that could lead to disaster, it does not always do so. In a letter that Dostoevsky penned to his friend Yekaterina Yunge, an artist and memoirist who had confided that she suffered from chronic “duality,” he emphatically expressed his views: “[Duality is] the most ordinary trait of people, who are not entirely ordinary, however.” Dostoevsky felt that, in his own case, the “ordinary trait” – that of duality – is “a great torment, but at the same time a great delight too.” He told Yunge it was a “powerful consciousness, need for self-evaluation, and the presence in your nature of the need for moral obligation toward yourself and toward humanity.” In essence, doubling can be normative, part and parcel of the creative process, a nexus between internal and external realms, and that sacrosanct conduit between the self and the human race.

It is not surprising that psychiatrist Richard Rosenthal, coming to a similar realization, aligns Golyadkin with postlapsarian humanity: “[…] like Golyadkin, we try to clothe ourselves in an omnipotent other self, a self we could have been or secretly believe we someday still will be, a self who is free of the painful awareness of just those limitations which define our boundaries and make us who we are.”[1]

The “all” and “everybody” in Golyadkin becomes apparent in the novel right before Rutenspitz carts our “hero” off to the asylum: Golyadkin scans the attendees at the party and sees “[a] whole procession of identical Golyadkins . . . bursting loudly in at every door.” The implication here is that everyone is or might be a Golyadkin: Dostoevsky thus compels his readers to see not some peculiar anomaly, but rather, just a parade of everyday selves. The novel urges readers to examine doubly both Golyadkin’s struggles and their own, and to endure that all-too familiar “painful awareness” of their human limitations. Like or not, readers tend to meld with Golyadkin as his fate becomes their own. When Golyadkin met his double, he “wanted to scream, but could not.” At his finale, Golyadkin succeeds at emitting that blood-curdling shriek while being whisked away. His shriek is our shriek as well.

[1] Richard Rosenthal, “Dostoevsky’s Experiment with Projective Mechanisms and the Theft of Identity in The Double,” in Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, ed. Daniel Rancour-Laferriere (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989), 83.

Dr. Julian Connolly’s Article on The Double

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Those reading Dostoevsky’s The Double this week might be interested in the piece that Dr. Julian Connolly published in Dostoevsky Studies 17 (2013). The issue is now available online at (In fact, the first 17 issues of the new series of Dostoevsky Studies are now at!) Dr. Connolly is Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Virginia. His piece is “The Ethical Implications of Narrative Point of View in Dostoevsky’s The Double.” Enjoy!

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