The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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What is the historical significance of Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead?

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Dostoevsky's novel, The House of the Dead, is based upon the author's personal experiences in a military prison in Siberia; he incorporated a series in the novel based on occurrences that took place while Dostoevsky was imprisoned.

Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1821. He had a varied education. His family was religious, and Dostoevsky would remain so for his entire life. His mother died when he was 15. He father was later murdered while young Dostoevsky was away at school.

When Dostoevsky was in his late twenties, he joined a politically subversive group known as the Petrashevsky circle; the members, including Dostoevsky, were arrested and imprisoned in Siberia. The first several months were especially difficult not just because of prison conditions, but because the men were treated almost as if they were in solitary confinement. For months, no books were available to them, and therefore, they had no diversions with which to pass their time. Ultimately, books were allowed, generally of a religious nature, and Dostoevsky read these.

At one point, the prisoners were transported to the gallows. It seemed that they would be blindfolded and shot. However, very soon a pardon was delivered, and the men were removed to prison once again; some sources report that the entire event was a "joke." It was an experience Dostoevsky would never put behind him: he had believed he had only moments to live.

Dostoevsky himself spent four years in prison, and another four in the Siberian army. Because of his experience, he was able to adopt a credible, authentic voice when writing The House of the Dead, having lived in such a place himself.

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