The Fall 2021 exhibition is now open in the Main Library Gallery. From Revolutionary Outcast to a Man of God: Dostoevsky at 200 was curated by Anna Barker, an adjunct assistant professor in the Asian and Slavic Languages and Literature department at the University of Iowa. Her selections and research, coupled with bold exhibit design by University of Iowa Libraries creative coordinator Kalmia Strong, make the life and acclaimed works of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky both tangible and approachable.
A storied literary giant, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881) authored many undisputed classic novels and was writing at the same time as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Samuel Clemens, and others. The exhibition examines his inspirations and influence in the world of literature, but it also shares the odyssey of his personal life. In his earlier years he was a daydreaming youth, an aspiring translator, and a champion of freedom and progress. His involvement in the radical Petrashevsky Circle landed him in a Siberian hard labor camp, a difficult circumstance which was the catalyst for many more years of personal struggle and commercial success. Among other things, the exhibition briefly chronicles his marriages, affair, family relationships, gambling addiction, European travels, and his spiritual journey alongside publication of his major works. In his later years he was recognized for his wisdom and literary achievements; at the time, he was hailed as the conscience of the nation. His works are still popular worldwide, and he continues to be celebrated in Russia.
In this Q&A with the curator, Anna Barker explains her interest in creating an exhibition for the University of Iowa Libraries’ Main Library Gallery in collaboration with the Libraries’ exhibit production team.
What inspired you to curate an exhibition about Fyodor Dostoevsky and his work?
Anna: “I love Dostoevsky. Deeply, profoundly, and crushingly. It was not a love at first sight. In my teens and twenties, I was infatuated with Pushkin and Lermontov and Turgenev and Tolstoy and Dumas and Stendhal and Hugo and Goethe. Dostoevsky came later, in my thirties, when the heart learned grief and the mind became weary of doubt. If I could sum up Dostoevsky in one statement, it would be through the words of one of my favorite Dostoevsky characters, Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov: ‘The world is a good place. We may be bad, but the world is a good place. We are bad and good, both bad and good…’
My students find Dostoevsky’s novels eerily relatable precisely because Dostoevsky, with uncanny and unflinching insight, managed to depict the totality of humanity, never shying away from the horror concealed in the human soul, but always keeping faith in the light.”
What do you hope visitors will gain by visiting the exhibit?
Anna: “I hope those who visit the exhibit will gain a greater appreciation of not only the works of Dostoevsky, but of his art in the context of both Russian culture and Western civilization. Other familiar names in the exhibit relate in some way to Dostoevsky, such as Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, George Orwell, and even Jesse Eisenberg!”
Which items on display are your favorites?
Anna: “All of the novels with illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg – they are fabulous! He really understood the totality of Dostoevsky’s vision. The Russian travel books from Special Collections & Archives add a historical and geographical dimension to the exhibition. I love the Tula samovar and Russian Imperial Porcelain in the front display case because they provide a cozy invitation into the gallery. There are also some invaluable juxtapositions that help unfold the essence of the novels: the Eichenberg illustration from Demons paired with my family’s icon of Saint George and the Dragon, and a reproduction image of The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1520-22), a work by Hans Holbein the Younger, paired with the Eichenberg illustration from The Idiot which depicts a section of this painting. The exhibit also has a soundtrack which provides visitors with another dimension for appreciating the exhibit. It helps add to the experience of Russian culture.”
For those new to Dostoevsky, which novel would you recommend reading first?
Anna: “If readers are interested in the totality of Dostoevsky’s artistic and philosophical vision, all of the novels on display in the exhibit – from Poor Folk to The Brothers Karamazov. But that’s a lot of reading! If readers are interested in the final five novels in the exhibit (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, The Adolescent, The Brothers Karamazov), please start with Notes from Underground. It serves as the foundation for those novels. Reading Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons would be fabulous before reading Dostoevsky. It inspired many of Dostoevsky’s ideological musings.”
Which Dostoevsky-related events are you most looking forward to this fall?
Anna: “The screenings of Dostoevsky film adaptations at FilmScene, and The Grand Inquisitor play by Riverside Theatre being performed in the Main Library Gallery!”
The exhibition contains a large number of books and other materials from the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives as well as some items from the Rita Benton Music Library, the Main Library’s circulating collection, and the curator’s own collection.
From Revolutionary Outcast to a Man of God: Dostoevsky at 200 will be on display in the Main Library Gallery through December 17, 2021. Learn more about the exhibition here.
Main Library Gallery Open Hours:
Monday: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Tuesday: 9:00am – 8:00pm
Wednesday: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Thursday: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Friday: 9:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday: 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Sunday: 1:00pm – 5:00pm
NOTE: The easiest way to access the Main Library Gallery is via the north entrance of the Main Library.
Guests from the general public and the University community are welcome to stop by the Gallery any time during open hours. No appointments are needed. Classes may occasionally be visiting the gallery during open hours.
Check the Main Library Gallery event calendar to see upcoming exhibit-related events. More will be added as details are confirmed.