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Russian writers as social media influencers
Photo credit: thetheatretimes.com
Dostoevsky is online, Tolstoy shared a life hack from country life, and Chekhov posted something funny... Many Russian classic authors have pages in social media, including English-language ones, and they have millions of subscribers. People from all over the world want their news feed to feature posts about new translations of Dostoevsky or a memorable date associated with Leo Tolstoy’s life, not just sales ads and pictures with cute kittens.
“I envy those who can read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in Russian,” says Steve from Washington. Russkiy Mir browsed through Russian classics’ pages in social media and found out who runs them, what countries they get messages from, what books subscribers read and discuss.
Pages of Russian writers are made by publishing houses, museums, communities for studying their work, or by mere enthusiasts. When it comes to Russian classics, Dostoevsky leads in the number of online representations in foreign languages. Fyodor Dostoevsky's Facebook page run by a major London publisher has nearly four million subscribers. This is the coverage similar to that of the pages of popular singers and Hollywood stars.
The profile picture of Dostoevsky's online international representation features the writer’s mosaic portrait from the lobby of the Moscow metro station. Details about the writer are rather sketchy – his place of birth, death, and the best works, including Crime and Punishment, Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov. But even a quick look at the writer's page will show that the subscribers read much more than the novels mentioned above - many of them are familiar with his early novels and even Dostoevsky's publicistic writing.
The page posts updates on new translations of the writer’s works, as well as their adaptations and stage performances. There are also quotes from books and diaries, biographical articles. Nearly every post has dozens or even hundreds of comments. They show that the page has brought together the most diverse readers, including students who study Dostoevsky and retirees who took the time to read the classics.
There are comments and messages from the USA (Americans lead in number), UK, France, Canada, Brazil, Cuba, Australia, Japan, China, from all points on the compass. “My favorite writer”, “Dostoevsky changed my life”, “He helps in difficult times”. Insights and confessions come from different parts of the world.
The pandemic brought even more subscribers to the page and readers to Dostoevsky. “Dostoevsky is fantastic. When the pandemic started, I reread The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot. And the obsession is just beginning,” commented Peter from the UK. “Same here” agreed Joshua from Morocco.
Recently, the page posters decided to make a joke. In one of the posts, they called the main character from Notes of the Underground an ideal person of the pandemic times. He stays all the time at home, managed to quarrel with family and friends. The audience did not appreciate the joke - many of them believe that the pandemic comes and goes, and Dostoevsky is eternal. And the discussion about the novel’s essence broke out under the post.
“It’s a great book, but a little depressing,” says Russell from the United States. “If Dostoevsky was funny, he would not be considered a philosopher,” Alex from Brazil shares a controversial yet interesting thought. "Philosophy is sad by default."
“Have you noticed that melancholy and sadness are intrinsic to all the great masterpieces of literature?” Mikel from Canada supports the point. Mark from the US admits that Notes from the Underground inspired him to look at himself and change.
There are also posts with messages that address the Russian classic writer directly. “Happy birthday, Fyodor. You have good books,” Nazan wrote from some Arab country. Sarah from San Francisco thanked him for teaching her how to write experiences on paper to ease suffering. Many people report that Dostoevsky came to them at the right moment.
One subscriber, Lynn (country unknown), shared how life prompted her to read Crime and Punishment. “It took me 20 years to read this book,” she says. “I read a little, put it off, lost a book, bought a new one, my dog chewed it. When I found a book at a flea market, I told myself to read it to the end, and now I am a big fan of Dostoevsky.”
If we are to paraphrase Bulgakov, true books do not burn, and they are not afraid of dog teeth. And for Steve from France, Dostoevsky's books became an opportunity to return to his historical homeland. He shared that his father left Russia in 1920 at the age of 12. “These books contain the Russian soul, just feel it,” he wrote.
“I read Crime and Punishment, and now I have started The Brothers Karamazov,” writes Veronica from the US. “How to find time for that?” Other subscribers answer - what is the night for? “I first read Crime and Punishment when I was 24 years old, I was addicted, I didn't sleep,” says Michael from New York. “This is the only book I've read without having a break. And then there were other books by Dostoevsky.
"It's a shame that I can't read Tolstoy in Russian"
Leo Tolstoy's Facebook page in English has fewer subscribers, but the audience is also impressive – 2,100,000. And the geography of followers is as wide as Dostoevsky’s one. Posts about translations and film adaptations of Tolstoy’s works have the most comments - subscribers discuss which one is better and which is one worse.
True admirers of the writer share that they have read several translations of War and Peace, which foreigners believe to be a thick book at its finest, and make an extensive analysis comparing those.
Alison from the UK said that as a teenager she had tortured her parents with requests to bring something interesting to read. “Once dad entered the room, he was holding a book with a funny title - War and Peace. He was sure it would make me quiet for a long time. I devoured it,” she recalled.
“I read Anna Karenina at 20 and then reread it at 60. It's amazing how time and experience can change the perception of a book and the actions of the characters,” says Joe from the US.
“I envy those who can read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in Russian. We are at the mercy of translators and look for those who would convey their works in a more vibrant way, and reproduce their original style. And what it is like, we actually do not know," wrote Steve from Washington.
“Anna Karenina has etched indelibly in my mind; I read it in English and French,” said Yones from Canada. ”Now this is my favorite book. It’s a shame I can't read the original in Russian. Maybe one day…"
When the page authors report on new film adaptations of Tolstoy's works or post a rating of the best films based on the Russian classic’s books, Sergei Bondarchuk and Sergei Prokofiev get a lot of kind words in the comments for the War and Peace adaptation and for the opera of the same title, respectively. The most furious debate is run on what actress played Anna Karenina the best. Some support beautiful and graceful actresses, others draw their attention to the novel: "Tolstoy described her differently, read the book."
Elizabeth from California wrote that she enjoyed listening to Tolstoy while walking. “Can somebody recommend me a good audio version of War and Peace?” she asked the subscribers. And June from Texas admitted that hearing the voices of Anna Karenina, Levin, Pierre Bezukhov, and other characters in the audio version made her understand Tolstoy's books in a new way.
Elizabeth, an elderly literature teacher from the United States and a regular visitor of the Leo Tolstoy's page, shared how she explained Leo Nikolayevich's texts to students. Recently, young people asked her to help make sense of one phrase from The Death of Ivan Ilyich: "The past history of Ivan Ilyich’s life was the simplest and most ordinary, yet, the most horrible." “The students could not understand how the ordinary can be horrible. There was a long discussion,” said Elizabeth.
Chekhov is simple and funny
Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov also have English pages on Facebook. More than 900,000 people follow Anton Chekhov's Facebook page. Some comments feature confessions of people who have discovered true Chekhov. Say, they thought he had been a hard playwright, but read his stories and found out that Chekhov was funny and simple.
“I love big novels, but Chekhov's stories are amazing,” writes Mark from the United States. "They're simple tales, about simple people, and simple things that happen to everyone."
Michail Chekhov, a well-known actor and globally respected drama teacher is the writer’s nephew. There are several public pages in Russian, English, and German dedicated to the , creator of so-called "Michael Chekhov Technique. The Michail Chekhov Theater Lab, established four years ago at the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Vienna, has launched Mikhail Chekhov’s page. One of the latest online projects of the theater was a series of tours through the life and work of Mikhail Chekhov.
The pages of Russian writers are online sanctuaries of Russian culture, but they are also not free from obtrusive advertising and political disputes about Russia both in the present and past. Sometimes, discussions reveal characters that seem to leap from the pages of Demons by Dostoevsky. According to them, Russian classics are no less dangerous than "Iskander" and "Topol-M". There are not many of them, but such things happen from time to time. And then readers from different countries drum them from the sacred cultural territory. “I am fed up watching you on TV,” one of the subscribers is indignant. "And you managed to get to the book as well."