Friday, 5 June 2015

Dostoevksy's calligraphist prince

In Dostoevsky's The Idiot, prince Myshkin having declared to general Ivan Yepanchin that he has no one in Russia, no special talents and no employment says that he nevertheless reads a great many Russian books. "Then, of course, you can read and write quite correctly?" inquires the general.

"Oh dear, yes!" 
"Capital! And your handwriting?"
"Ah, there I am REALLY talented! I may say I am a real calligraphist. Let me write you something, just to show," said the prince, with some excitement. 
"With pleasure! In fact, it is very necessary. I like your readiness; in fact, I must say - I-I-like you very well, altogether," said the general. 
"What delightful writing materials you have here, such a lot of pencils and things, and what beautiful paper! (...) 
"...Gania, give the prince some paper. Here are pens and paper; now then, take this table. ..."  (...)
"Oh!" cried the general, catching sight of the prince's specimen of calligraphy, which the latter had now handed him for inspection. "Why, this is simply beautiful; look at that, Gania, there's real talent there!" (...) 

"...Now that is an ordinary English hand. It can hardly be improved, it is so refined and exquisite - almost perfection. This is an example of another kind, a mixture of styles. The copy was given me by a French commercial traveller. It is founded on the English, but the downstrokes are a little blacker, and more marked. Notice that the oval has some slight modification - it is more rounded. This writing allows for flourishes; now a flourish is a dangerous thing! Its use requires such taste, but, if successful, what distinction it gives to the whole! It results in an incomparable type - one to fall in love with!" 

"Dear me! How you have gone into all the refinements and details of the question! Why, my dear fellow, you are not a calligraphist, you are an artist!..."

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, first published 1869.

 Screenshots from The Idiot Russin TV Series (2003), dir Vladimir Bortko; Evgeny Mironov (prince Myshkin). Oleg Basilashvili (general Ivan Yepanchin).

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