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Multi-Mediated Dostoevsky

Transposing Novels into Opera, Film, and Drama


Publication Year: 2011

Since their publication, the works of Dostoevsky have provided rich fodder for adaptations to opera, film, and drama. While Dostoevsky gave his blessing to the idea of adapting his work to other forms, he believed that "each art form corresponds to a series of poetic thoughts, so that one idea cannot be expressed in another non-corresponding form."

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I owe a great debt to the many people who have provided support during my years of work on this project. Andrew Wachtel first encouraged me to study the relations between literature and music, as well as the other arts. He, Gary Saul Morson, and Clare Cavanagh provided essential intellectual guidance in the early stages of this project, and helped me make my...

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Introduction: Dostoevsky and Transposition

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pp. 3-15

In December 1871, Princess Varvara Dmitrevna Obolenskaya asked Fyodor Dostoevsky for permission to turn Crime and Punishment into a play. The following, oft- quoted excerpt from a letter he wrote in response offers instructive suggestions, and an intriguing glimpse of a nineteenth- century writer ruminating on the task of reworking literature ...

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1. Transposition as Criticism

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pp. 16-36

The notion of multimedia transposition as aform of literary criticism is hardly surprising. After all, as Wilde reminds us, artists have always played as major a role as critics in providing insights into each other’s art. Novels such as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Thomas Mann’s Faustus, which indicate source texts in their very titles, function not only as rewritings of The Odyssey and Faust, respectively, but also as...

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2. The Artist as Gambler: Prokofiev and Dostoevsky

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pp. 37-69

In the case of Prokofiev's The Gambler, the double transposition characteristic of the works I am analyzing in this study revolves around the struggle for artistic self- assertion, as both the novelist and the composer use gambling as a metaphor for personal and aesthetic revolt against convention. The present chapter will explore the intersection of source text, music, biography, and cultural milieu in Prokofiev’s operatic ...

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3. Voices of the Folk: Janáček’s From the House of the Dead

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pp. 70-106

Prokofiev's The Gambler represents a youthful rebellious beginning to a long and difficult career as an opera composer. Leoš Janácˇek’s From the House of the Dead (Z mrtvého domu, 1928), on the other hand, serves as the culmination of what Richard Taruskin calls “a revived and rejuvenated creative vitality without precedent or counterpart in the work of any other composer” (2005: 424).1 Nevertheless, Janácˇek’s ...

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4. Secularizing Dostoevsky’s “Positively Good Man”: Kurosawa’s The Idiot

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pp. 107-138

The transposition of a Dostoevsky text marked the beginning of Prokofiev’s operatic career, and the culmination of Janácˇek’s lifelong involvement with Russian culture. Like these artists, Kurosawa produced just one transposition of a work by Dostoevsky: his 1951 film of The Idiot (Hakuchi).1 His interest in the novelist, however, was considerably more sustained. With the exception of Robert Bresson, no major fimmaker ...

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5. Restaging Two Sources: Wajda’s The Devils

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pp. 139-173

In all of the works I have discussed to this point, the artists transposing Dostoevsky, consciously or not, focus on material that he had previously reworked. The writer’s overt recasting of preexisting texts—biographical and cultural—into fictional form gives his novels a tangible sense of instability, a momentum that encourages further transformation. By reactivating these transpositional openings, Prokofiev, Janácˇek, and ...

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pp. 174-176

I concluded my brief discussion of Vladimir Bortko’s serial production of The Idiot in chapter 1 by recognizing the difficulty of showing that a transposition lacks critical insight into its source text. In the remainder of the book, I have attempted to describe the types of commentary that such works can accomplish. The four transpositions I have examined develop and implicitly critique some of Dostoevsky’s most ambiguous ...

Appendix A: Musical Examples from Prokofiev, The Gambler

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pp. 177-188

Appendix B: Musical Examples from Janáček, From the House of the Dead

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pp. 189-198


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pp. 198-223

Works Cited

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pp. 225-236


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pp. 237-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165014
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810127159
Print-ISBN-10: 0810127156

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: New
Volume Title: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Gary Saul Morson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 768346812
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Multi-Mediated Dostoevsky

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Prokofiev, Sergey, 1891-1953. Igrok.
  • Janáček, Leoš, 1854-1928. Z mrtvého domu.
  • Hakuchi (Motion picture).
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Film and video adaptations.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Adaptations.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, -- 1821-1881 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Wajda, Andrzej, 1926- Biesy.
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