Author: Riley M. M. Ossorgin
Information about the author:

Doctor of Philological Sciences, Lecturer and Director of the “Russian Program” at Fordham University, New York, USA

For citation:

Ossorgin R. How the Inmates’ Polyphonic Play Performs the “All Creation” Icon. Dostoevsky and World Culture. 2019. № 1(5). Pp. 41-54.

Issue: 2019 №1(5)
Pages: 41-54
UDK: 82+821.161.1+2-526.6
BBK: 83+83.3(2=411.2)+86.2
Keywords: Dostoevsky, Icon, Sobornost’, Liturgy, Theotokos, Play, Nativity, Visual Polyphony.

Abstract: This article interprets the Marian icon “In Thee All Creation Rejoices” as the theological, liturgical, and visual context for the prisoners' play scene in Dostoevsky's Notes from the House of the Dead. Both the “All Creation” icon and the John of Damascus Hymn that it illustrates, feature prominently in St. Basil's liturgy, which, like the prisoners' play, accompanies the Nativity holiday. The author emphasizes the visual orientation of the novel beginning with the narrator’s description of his collected writings as “Scenes from the House of the Dead”. The visual elements of the “All Creation” icon reappear within the chapter called “Predstavlenie”, in which the narrator Gorianchikov describes the “strange picture” of the prison theater, play and audience. The author contends that the play is a literary performance of the icon and its central theme of sobornost’. The prison play house “scene” mimics the visually polyphonic icon by crowding the prison theater with spectators who sit in front, above, behind and around the stage, on which a female lead appears. These spectators both perform and watch the play, becoming co-creators of the spectacle. Whereas the Nativity feast ends in the prisoners’ debauchery and isolation, the day following Nativity by contrast, the day of the play, culminates in the joy of the shared feast of the Theotokos. Her presence, in the form of the “All Creation” icon that lurks beneath the surface of the chapter at the novel’s core, advocates for amnesty over punishment of criminals, as did Dostoevsky.



Anderson 1994 – Anderson R. The Optics of Narration: Visual Composition in Crime and Punishment. Russian Narrative & Visual Art: Varieties of Seeing, ed. by Roger Anderson and Paul Debreczeny. Gainsville, University Press of Florida, 1994. 211 p.

Chirkov 1967 – Chirkov N.M. O stile Dostoevskogo; problematika, idei, obrazy [About Dostoevsky’s Style: Problems, Ideas, Images]. Moskva, Nauka Publ., 1967. 300 p. (In Russ.)

Dostoevsky 2013 – Dostoyevsky F.M. Notes from the House of the Dead. Trans. by Boris Jakim. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013. 344 p.

Elliott 1997 – Elliott S.K. The Aesthetics of Russian Folk Religion and “The Brothers Karamazov”. University of California, Berkeley, 1997. 355 p.

Frank 1983 – Frank J. The Years of Ordeal: 1850-1859. Princeton, N.J., Princeton UP, 1983. 320 p.

Jackson 1995 – Jackson R.L. Dostoevsky and Freedom. New Zealand Slavonic Journal. 1995. Pp. 1-21. [Electronic resource]. – Available at:

Jackson 1966 – Jackson R.L. Dostoevsky’s Quest for Form: A Study of His Philosophy of Art. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1966. 274 p.

Knapp 2012 – Knapp L. Dostoevsky’s Journey through the Torments: Maternal Protest in The Dead House. Su Fëdor Dostoevskij. Visione filosofica e sguardo di scrittore, ed. Stefano Aloe. Napoli, La Scuola di Pitagora Editrice, 2012. Pp. 413-430.

Liddell and Scott 1940 – Liddell H.G., Scott R. A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1940. 2111 p.

Lidov 2016 – Lidov A. Iconicity as Spatial Notion: A New Vision of Icons in Contemporary Art Theory. IKON. Journal of Iconographic Studies. 2016. V. 9. Pp. 75-98.

Lidov 2012 – Lidov A. Creating the Sacred Space: Hierotopy as a New Field of Cultural History. Spazi e percorsi sacri: i santuari, le vie, i corpi. Edited by Laura Carnevale and Chiara Cremonesi. Padova, Libreria Universitaria, 2012. Pp. 61-90. [Electronic resource]. – Available at: www.

Miller 2007 – Miller R.F. Dostoevsky’s Unfinished Journey. New Haven, Yale UP, 2007. 242 p.

Ouspensky 1999 – Ouspensky L., Lossky V. The Meaning of Icons. Trans. G.E.H. Palmer and E. Kadloubovsky. New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999. 222 p.

Shklovskii 1957 – Shklovskii V. Za i protiv: Zametki o Dostoevskom [Pro et contra: notes on Dostoevsky]. Moscow, Sovetskii Pisatel’ Publ., 1957. 257 p. (In Russ.)

Valliere 2012– Valliere P.Conciliarism: A History of Decision-Making in the Church. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012. 289 p. Orthodox Church of America Website. [Electronic resource]. – Available at: