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0111201541-Dostoevski.jpg Fyodor Dostoevski (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

As a fledgling writer, Dostoevski was drawn to humanitarian idealism. Opposing the absolutist rule of Czar Nicholas I, he attended meetings of a revolutionary group called the Petrashevsky Circle, but more out of curiosity than from true revolutionary zeal. In 1849 he and others were arrested at a meeting; he was imprisoned for eight months, tried, and sent to Siberia. But before this sentence was announced, Dostoevski was among the members of the Petrashevsky who were tied to posts and told they were about to be executed until a pardon arrived from the czar at the last moment. This experience had a traumatic affect on Dostoevski, aggravating the epilepsy with which he was already afflicted.

In December, 1949, Dostoevski was sent to a prison in Siberia. After spending four years there, he spent another four years in the Russian army in the Far East. From these experiences later came one of his most impressive works, Memoirs from the House of the Dead (1861). Ironically, the experiences also brought about his conversion to conservatism and gave him respect for Russia’s authoritarian system. This change was effected by Dostoevski’s admiration for the simple Russian peasants he met in prison, their stoic suffering despite injustice, and their deep religious faith in God and the czar.

Dostoevski returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 with a new philosophical and political outlook. Two years later he began to express his conservative...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 439 words.)

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(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Inherent in Dostoevski’s literary canon is the primacy of the freedom of the individual. He argued in The Double and other works that the problems of society were caused by the absence of freedom; humankind had been “overcome” by the impact of human institutions—the church, the state, and economic structures—and by the assumed beliefs in God and in economic and social values. Dostoevski advanced a radical philosophy in which he condemned encumbrances to freedom. He maintained that the so-called “laws of nature” did not exist; sustaining a belief in these laws would inevitably result in the restriction of freedom. It was only through unbridled and anarchical freedom that the individual would be totally free and thus recognize his or her own identity. This condition would preclude all forms of ethics except for a hedonistic ethics based on the interests of the self. Dostoevski recognized the anarchical ramifications of his argument and attempted unsuccessfully to address them in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. If truth does not exist, there is no basis for ethical principles.