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...
(The entire section is 439 words.)