More than 200 sheets of Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s notebooks and manuscripts contain drawings, among them mainly portraits, sketches of Gothic windows and arches, arabesques and calligrams. Dostoevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) did not make his doodles for public view. His graphics do not illustrate the corresponding novels but are pictorial notes that make a link or suggest a line of thought or character development, a form of non-verbal communication, essentially hermeneutic and surely impossible to fully interpret without asking the writer.
Professor Konstantin Barsht, a researcher at the Russian Academy’s Institute for Russian Literature (Pushkin House) in St. Petersburg, has tried to decode Dostoevsky’s drawings, compiling his findings in a book, The drawings and calligraphy of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky drew faces, architectural details, and doodles in the manuscripts as he worked on such novels as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Demons, and The Karamazov Brothers. Barsht argues that the doodles were “relevant to what he was writing”. He’s right, of course. Their existence makes them relevant. The writer’s full, busy notebooks reveal his energetic mind, commitment to hard work and the inner monologue as creative rises and falls. Ideas fizz in non-sequential fashion. A word here. A doodle there. Nothing remains still. Each idea leads to a new one. Each book’s conclusion serves as a beginning for the next.
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