A Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Man

There is an English expression without an equivalent in my language.  (It isn’t every day that one hears a Russian obscurantist admitting such a thing, and, for once, I beg the incredulous reader to rein in his disbelief.)  The expression is a labor of love, a combination of words in itself precise and profound enough to describe just about any miracle of creation, yet unpretentious enough to be used in ordinary speech to laud a work such as this.  Almost mechanically, as a person might say “darn” upon dropping a pencil, the phrase springs to the lips the moment one unwraps the bundle containing Leon Steinmetz’s love child.

The package is something of a metaphor.  What it literally contains is a limited edition of a new translation of Gogol’s novella The Portrait, alongside an album of 21 drawings by Steinmetz illustrating the work.  Of the printer’s art, it need only be said that it is a triumph of taste over genre, where the thoughtfulness of design and the austerity of typography, not ponderous quantities of gilt and leather, carry the day.  As for the draftsman’s skill, I can only offer my own disinterested impression—namely, that I cannot think of an historical instance when the spirit of an author, or of a work, was more preternaturally conveyed by an illustrator’s pen than it is here.  Somebody mentioned Doré and...

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