This interview with Dmitri Gorbuntsov, the editor of a new edition of Dostoevsky, more complete and accurate than any previous (according to him), reminded me of a question that’s been plaguing me for some years, ever since I saw a previous more-accurate-than-ever edition of Dostoevsky (or it may have been a volume of this one). But first let me quote an interesting passage, Gorbuntsov’s response to a question about differences from an earlier edition:

The Academy’s complete edition of the works of Dostoevsky, of which Soviet literary criticism was so proud, left something to be desired in terms of completeness. It contains many kon”yunkturnye [politically motivated] emendations that conflict with shades of meaning of the author’s orthography and punctuation. It’s only fair to say that they started correcting Dostoyevsky even before Soviet times, [in fact] right after his death. During his life that was almost impossible to do. When Dostoyevsky discovered interference with his text, he handed out tongue-lashings that the proofreaders and make-up men who dealt with him remembered for the rest of their lives. If in defending some correction or other they mentioned grammar, Dostoyevsky took sharp exception—every author (he’d say) has his own style and grammar, and other people’s rules have nothing to do with him.

For Dostoyevsky, according to Vladimir Zakharov, punctuation was intonational and intuitive. His punctuation marks are signs of the author’s intonation, the author’s rhythm. Reading Dostoyevsky’s texts in accordance with his punctuation marks, the professor is convinced, is no different from reading a composer’s score in accordance with the notes. Unlike many of his colleagues, Dostoyevsky fully utilized the artistic possibilities of italics, capital letters, accent marks. His italics are expressive, creating a distinctive esthetic tuning fork in accordance with which the reader must interpret his works. But his capital letters are rationalistic, bringing out hierarchical relations in the text. It can not infrequently be observed that in the course of a single sentence Dostoyevsky writes the same word now with a capital letter, now with a small one. For example, the word Bog [‘God’] meaning the Most High, in the Christian sense, he always writes with a capital letter, but in a pagan or heretical sense with a small one. The abolition of the spelling of God with a capital letter in Soviet editions led to a loss of the meaning Dostoyevsky had attached to it. Therefore, according to the scientific editor of the edition, the editorial collective did everything to ensure that readers received the genuine Dostoyevsky, “cleansed” of later layers of emendations, kon”yunkturnye [social?], grammatical, and political, and with the author’s orthography fully restored.

I thoroughly approve, and am surprised such an approach has not been taken earlier.
(If anyone can explain to me the sense of конъюнктурный in this passage, I will be most grateful; my dictionaries give only the senses ‘short-term, cyclical’ and ‘opportunistic, time-serving, mercenary-minded, advantage-seeking,’ but it seems to have some specialized meaning here that I’m not getting.) [In the comments, Tatyana has explained that it refers generally to socio-political conditions and specifically to the necessity to follow the Party line and check with those who enforced it.]
Now, about that question. The preface to the volume I saw in the old Victor Kamkin bookstore in Manhattan (if I recall correctly, it was an edition of Crime and Punishment) discussed the history of Russian punctuation in the late nineteenth century, explaining that the change (deplorable, in my view) from an intuitive system of the kind Dostoyevsky used to the rule-based system familiar to all modern readers was due to a single person, whose name I remember as being monosyllabic and of German origin: Korff? Gets? Shtumpf? Anyway, I have been unable to google up anything relevant, and I appeal to the knowledge and research skills of my readers. I have more than once tried to discuss the subject, and I would dearly love to be able to name the man responsible for the change (and read more about it).
Update. The answer turns out to be Grot.


  1. John Emerson says

    Good thing those guys didn’t get ahold of Laurence Sterne.

  2. M Williams says

    Just going by my old Oxford and the context, I would tend to read конъюнктурный as [Contemporary + Old-style Soviet “political correctness”]. Giving something such as:
    It contains many {modernizing-sovietizing changes} that conflict with shades of meaning of the author’s orthography and punctuation.

  3. Alex Smaliy says

    Somehow I have a feeling that конъюнктурный in this case is a calque from the English conjecture, in the sense that the previous editors presumed to be able to second-guess how Dostoyevsky’s text would have looked were he to have written it at the time of republication, somewhat like those “plain text” editions of Shakespeare.
    Either way, it sounds like a pretty darn high-falootin’ word.

  4. Somehow I have a feeling that конъюнктурный in this case is a calque from the English conjecture
    But there’s a perfectly good word конъектурный that means ‘conjectural.’ It did occur to me that конъюнктурный might be a typo/mistake for that word, but that didn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense in the second occurrence, though it fits the first.

  5. It means “to use according to political wind of today”. As you know, literature in Russia has been and, on much lesser scale, continues to be a highly explosive political matter; so editing in Stalin times, f.ex., was an act of bravery (or servility). Party’s position towards Dostoevsky, as any other famous writer, was rather capritiously mobile, and in order not to lose your job (or, in some cases, your freedom), it was advisable for editors to confirm their interpretations with “knowledgeable comrads from above”.
    In other words – конъюнктурa is ” fluctuation along with Party line”.
    I hope that makes sense to you.

  6. It does, and thank you!

  7. Except — then what’s the distinction between конъюнктурный and политический in the last sentence?

  8. I searched the on-line dictionaries for a sec, and this is what I came up with:
    1. Стечение обстоятельств, сложившаяся обстановка, создавшееся положение в какой-л. области общественной жизни, способные повлиять на исход, итог чего-л.
    2. Совокупность признаков, характеризующих состояние экономики в определенный период.
    So it refers not only to politics but more general, “any area of social life”, and even sometimes economics. May be that’s the use they meant in case of quoted sentence.

  9. OK, I’ll put “social” in. Thanks.

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