Fyodor Dostoevsky Author Context
At about four o’clock one morning in April, 1849, the twenty-seven-year-old Fyodor Dostoevski was awakened in his room and arrested by the czar’s secret police. One of thirty-four members of the Petrashevsky circle to be arrested that night, Dostoevski was convicted of holding atheistic and antigovernment socialistic beliefs. After eight harrowing months in confinement, during which time many of his comrades died or went insane, he was led out to be publicly executed in late December. Waiting twenty minutes to be shot, Dostoevski was saved from death by a reprieve from the czar, granted much earlier but delayed for dramatic effect. This mock execution became the defining moment in Dostoevski’s life, and the motif of the condemned person awaiting death reappears often in his works.
Instead of being executed, Dostoevski served eight years in penal servitude in Siberia, where for four years he worked in isolation, constantly shackled. His political and religious views changed dramatically at this time to embrace a form of mystical Christianity and conservative nationalism. Zapiski iz myortvogo doma (1861-1862; Buried Alive: Or, Ten Years of Penal Servitude in Siberia, 1881; better known as The House of the Dead, 1915) is based on this experience. In The House of the Dead, Dostoevski explores what effects isolation and punishment have on human identity, implying that the penal colony is a religious microcosm of humanity.
Upon his release, Dostoevski was assigned as a soldier in Mongolia. In 1859, he was permitted to return to Russia and St. Petersburg. There he resumed his writing, first begun before his imprisonment. In 1861, Dostoevski began to exhibit behavior that was to plague him most of the rest of his life: A compulsive gambler (The Gambler is semiautobiographical), his debts frequently forced him to flee creditors. Also,...
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