In 1866, the journal ‘Russkii vestnik’ (Russian Messenger) published Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ for the first time. The University Library is taking part in a transatlantic series of events coordinated by Dr Katherine Bowers (University of British Columbia) and Dr Kate Holland (Toronto) to mark the anniversary of the novel’s publication.
Strictly speaking, two exhibitions open today and not one – a large virtual exhibition of 22 objects and a smaller physical exhibition in the Library’s entrance hall, with two cases displaying a total of 9 of these same pieces. Over the course of the year, captions for the exhibitions have been written by Dr Bowers’ undergraduate students in collaboration with us both, and with input from Kristina McGuirk and Barnabas Kirk, research associates at UBC and Toronto.
The students had enrolled in Dr Bowers’ Dostoevsky in Translation course, which is open to all arts and sciences students. The task of writing an exhibition caption thousands of miles away from the physical object itself, often faced with an unfamiliar script, and trying to produce a succinct text which placed the object in the two contexts of the novel and the UL, was quite a challenge, but they rose to it with great enthusiasm. The ability to share photos of the objects via the web and to discuss queries via e-mail made the transatlantic curation relatively straightforward.
The exhibits celebrate Dostoevsky and his novel and also capitalise on strengths in the Library’s collections. The Victorian penny dreadfuls housed in the tower, for example, provided two striking examples of wild Russian tales, the Maps Department gave us a huge folded railway map of the country (an enormous 1.8 metres wide) and a charming atlas of the Russian Empire (excerpt left), and the Catherine Cooke collection furnished us with postcards including a lighthearted photo montage of two criminals being apprehended. In total, the 22 exhibits explore ‘Crime and Punishment’ in development, Russian original, translation, and scholarship, the novel’s influence in Russia and the UK (and UK influence on Dostoevsky), and the locations of the novel, St Petersburg and Siberia, and their role in the novelist’s own life. The exhibitions end with an image of Lazarus being raised by the dead – a story which appears in the epilogue of ‘Crime and Punishment’ as Raskol’nikov, the novel’s main character, progresses on his journey towards emotional and spiritual salvation.
More about the wider “‘Crime and Punishment’ at 150” project can be found on its dedicated UBC page.