Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The House of the Dead"

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Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow on Nov. 11, 1825. As

his father was a former military surgeon, Dostoyevsky grew up in the noble class. He

entered the military engineering school at St. Petersburg at age 16. Shortly after

graduating, he resigned his commission and devoted all his time to writing. However,

he soon became caught up in the movement for political and social reform during the

reign of Tsar Nicholas I. He began to participate in weekly discussions about the ideas

of French utopian Socialists. This Petrashevsky Circle was arrested in April 1849.

After a long investigation, Dostoyevsky, along with 20 other members of the Circle,

were condemned to be shot. Literally moments before his execution was to occur, his

sentence was commuted to four years hard labor in Omsk, Siberia. He accepted his

punishment and began to regard many of the simple convicts as extraordinary people.

During his sentence, he became devoted to Orthodox Christianity.

The House of the Dead was initially published in Russia, 1860. Upon initial

examination of the work, it appears to be a stream of consciousness account of

Dostoyevsky's four years in a Siberian prison camp. But, upon further review, it seems

to be more an account of Dostoyevsky's personality and attitudes through these years.

In his first year in prison, Dostoyevsky "found myself hating these fellow-sufferers of

mine." (305) His first day in prison, several convicts approached him, a member of the

noble class and no doubt very wealthy in the convicts' eyes, and asked him for money

four times each; and each refusal seemed to bring more convicts. He quickly grew to

spite these people, for they thought him to be an idiot, unable to remember that the

very same convict had approached him for money not fifteen minutes earlier. (67-8)...