Q: Why do you draw Raskolnikov as a blond?
A: (Before I get into this, please note: I do not in any way speak Russian! The following explanation came from some very helpful Russian speakers I've met online/ a lot of googling. I know a couple of you here on DA are native speakers, so please feel free to weigh in/ correct me!)
The word Dostoevsky uses to describe Raskolnikov’s hair in the original Russian version of Crime and Punishment is “темно-рус” (“tyemno-rus”). Темно translates to “dark” and рус (русый in its masculine form) means a color in between brown and blond, something like light-brown or dark-blond. This makes things a bit complicated for the translators, since Dostoevsky is basically saying “dark dark-blond” or “dark light-brown.” It seems like the term is a bit subjective even in the original Russian (as most hair colors are in any language); I came up with a whole range of shades when I ran a search for it:
Now here’s where it gets confusing! English translators can’t seem to agree what to do with the phrase “темно-рус”, and there have been many different Crime and Punishment translations over the years. Here’s a sampling for you:
- “He was, by the way, exceptionally handsome, above the average in height, slim, well-built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair.” Constance Garnett (1914)
- "(He was, by the way, a strikingly handsome young man, with fine dark eyes, brown hair, and a slender well-knit figure, taller than the average.)” Jessie Coulson (1953)
- He was, incidentally, a remarkably good-looking young man, above average in height, slender and well built, with beautiful dark eyes and darkish blond hair. Sidney Monas (1968)
- “It may be worth observing that he was remarkably handsome, with beautiful dark eyes and dark, chestnut-coloured hair; he was taller than average, slim and well-built.” David McDuff (1991)
- “Incidentally, he was remarkably good-looking, taller than average, slender and trim, with beautiful dark eyes and dark blond hair.” Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1992)
There you have it, no two English translations the same! There are more English translations than this but Garnett, McDuff and Pevear/ Volokhonsky are the most popular versions out there. (I’m a Pevear/ Volokhonsky fan myself, that’s the version I read.) I’ve even had one person tell me their translation said Rodya was dark red-haired.
So why did I pick blond? Maybe it was because my translation called him “dark-blond”, but if you want the really honest answer, I think I just kind of felt like drawing him that way since I didn’t do fanart of many other blond characters at the time, and it stuck! In retrospect I do think he’s much more of a dark-haired personality, that probably would have worked better for his design.
In the end, there are a lot of different readers picturing Raskolnikov’s hair in a lot of different shades. The original phrasing seems a bit ambiguous anyway, so as far as I’m concerned we’re all right! I think we can all agree that the important thing here is that the translators are in consensus about the “remarkably handsome” part