Fyodor Dostoevski spent the years 1850 to 1854 in a prison camp in Siberia, and in “The Peasant Marey” he recalls an episode in the camp that made him remember a still earlier incident from twenty years before. Thus, “The Peasant Marey” is a story-within-a-story, a recollection of two important experiences in the author’s past.
The setting is Easter week in 1850 or 1851, and the prisoners are enjoying a rare holiday. The weather is pleasant, and the inmates are drinking and brawling. Violence and disorder prevail in a brutal atmosphere. A drunken prisoner named Tatar Gazin has been beaten senseless by six of his fellows, and Dostoevski is repelled by the bestiality that confronts him everywhere in the camp. At this point, he meets “a political prisoner called M.” (The real M. was a Pole named Mirecki.) M. is as disgusted as Dostoevski is, and he snarls at Dostoevski in French, “I hate these bandits.” Dostoevski returns to his bunk and lies down, but he is too agitated to sleep. As he lies there, his mind wanders over his past and fixes vividly on “an unnoticed moment in my early childhood when I was only nine years old.”
He remembers a cool autumn day in 1830 on his father’s estate in the country, a lovely day that made him dread returning to Moscow and French lessons. He is wandering through a thicket of bushes, close enough to the fields to hear a peasant plowing nearby. He is suddenly terrified by a mysterious shout...
(The entire section is 566 words.)