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Encyclopedia > The House of the Dead (novel)
Penguin Edition of the House of the Dead
Penguin Edition of the House of the Dead

The House of the Dead, Notes from the Dead House or Memoirs from the House of The Dead is a novel published in 1862 by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, which portrays the life of convicts in a Siberian prison camp. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... This article is about the literary concept. ... This article is about 1862 . ... Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Russian: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский, pronounced , sometimes transliterated Dostoyevsky, Dostoievsky, or Dostoevski  ) (November 11 [O.S. October 30] 1821–February 9 [O.S. January 28] 1881) was a Russian novelist and writer of fiction whose works, including Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, have had a profound and lasting effect... This article is about Siberia as a whole. ...

The book is a loosely-knit collection of facts and events connected to life in a Siberian prison, organised by "theme" rather than as a continuous story. Dostoevsky himself spent four years in exile in such a camp following his conviction for involvement in the Petrashevsky circle. This experience allowed him to describe with great authenticity the conditions of prison life and the characters of the convicts. The Petrashevsky Circle was a literary discussion group organized by Mikhail Vasilevich Petrashevsky (1819-1867). ...

In 19271928, Leoš Janáček wrote an operatic version of the novel, with the title From the House of the Dead. It was his last opera. Year 1927 (MCMXXVII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1928 (MCMXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Sunday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... LeoÅ¡ Janáček in 1928 LeoÅ¡ Janáček ( ; July 3, 1854 in Hukvaldy, Moravia, then Austrian empire – August 12, 1928 in Ostrava, then Czechoslovakia) was a Czech composer. ... For other uses, see Opera (disambiguation). ... From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu in Czech), is an opera by Leoš Janáček. ...


Plot summary

The narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov, has been sentenced to deportation to Siberia and ten year's hard labour. Life in prison is particularly hard for Aleksandr Petrovich, since he is a "gentleman" and suffers the malice of the other prisoners, nearly all of whom belong to the peasantry. Gradually Goryanchikov overcomes his revulsion at his situation and his fellow convicts, undergoing a spiritual re-awakening that culminates with his release from the camp. It is a work of great humanity; Dostoyevsky portrays the inmates of the prison with sympathy for their plight, and also expresses admiration for their energy, ingenuity and talent. He concludes that the existence of the prison, with its absurd practices and savage corporal punishments is a tragic fact, both for the prisoners and for Russia itself. A spiritual awakening is a religious experience involving a realization or opening to a sacred dimension of reality. ...

Literary Essay

A look into Dostoyevsky's biggest themes

by jake nolan

The House of the Dead is a semi autobiographical novel that deals with penal servitude and what a prisoner truly is.

Written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the late 1800s, his novel sheds light on the grim life that convicts often endure as well as the inner crisis Dostoyevsky lived through during his historical imprisonment at Omsk. While the novel reflects many of Dostoyevsky’s own experiences, the novel is told through the eye and mind of the fictional character, Aleksandr Petrovich, which spans several years beginning with Aleksandr’s first day in the Gulag to his last. Centering on the tribulation of everyday prison life, The House of the Dead illustrates the necessity of freedom.

The novel's theme resolves around how man strives to create his own freedom in order to survive through strenuous mental, spiritual, and physical ordeals.

The mental ordeals the prisoners suffered are at the highest degree of severity and ruthlessness. It would be safe to say that the mental ordeals suffered by inmates are indeed more scarring in many instances than that suffered physically. These mental ordeals are the effect - as well as the result - of being deprived of the basic necessities needed to maintain life.

The most crucial need is freedom and this cannot be taken lightly for this is what the convicts are deprived most of. Aside from the impact of loosing his freedom, Aleksandr must also cope with the lack of companionship. For example, throughout a great deal of the novel the other inmates view Aleksandr as a nobleman, and in turn they are not able to quickly connect with Aleksandr, leaving him alone in his struggle. "The gentleman is not one of them, and that is that. There is nothing so terrible as to live in a social environment that is alien to one" (307).

While Aleksandr's fellow convicts did not immediately take interest in him, it's important to note that this applied to all convicts. "All these men worked under the threat of the stick, and are consequently idle and depraved: if they had not been depraved before they came to prison, they became so here. They had all been gathered together here against their wills; they are all strangers to one another" (33). Eventually though, a new convict would be accepted and the disturbing effect that ordinary scenes of everyday life and its events which are previously so disturbing decreased and a convict would grow accustomed to his new life. "The savagely inquisitive eyes of the convicts are no longer trained on me so often, or with such manifest insolence. I also seemed to have become familiar to them, a circumstance for which I was very glad" (126).

The importance of being accepted by fellow convicts is significant in every way and through the entirety of Aleksandr's imprisonment he made constant effort at creating friendships in which he looked past a criminals hideous crime allowing him to see just how much he truly had in common which his fellow convicts.

Among the wretched mental conditions convicts are forced to endure was the need for finding one's spiritual self. The degree of spiritual welfare that a convict possesses is a major variable in his conflict to survive. Often, convicts held life sentences in which they would remain in the Gulag for the remainder of their miserable existence. Even to these men who would never experience freedom again and held little thought on the purpose of their existence, rendered spiritual welfare imperative; that is, if one does not want to loose complete sanity.

The spiritual welfare of an individual was undoubtedly the most important tool that an inmate could possibly possess and was often the sole reason for an inmate to continue living. While spiritual welfare was indeed critical, not all convicts agreed with how this tied in with their loss of freedom. Thus, the incorporeal thought of freedom differed from convict to convict due mostly on the account that they all held different philosophies on life. One convict may choose to take on the life as a vagrant through the means of escaping from the prison solely for gaining one's freedom back. On the other hand, one convict may attempt to reach spiritual welfare through accepting his sentence and perhaps turn to religion as a type of outlet.

Aside from the complexity of spiritual welfare stands the physical ordeals that convicts relentlessly suffer. Dostoyevsky vividly captures many of the physical ordeals that conspire inside the prison ranging anywhere from how the prisoners are housed to the infirmary and its treatments. For example, the convicts housing is far from hospitable. Instead, convicts are housed in barracks where they sleep on a plank bed with some thirty other men. "It was a long, low unventilated room, dimly lit by tallow candles, with a heavy suffocating smell" (29).

Even more inhospitable are the conditions that are found in the infirmary. When a convict would arrive at the hospital, he would be issued with a hospital uniform that consisted mostly of a dressing gown in which Dostoyevsky describes with immense imagery. "...thick, brown cloth dressing gowns lined with something that was probably canvas but that might also have been a kind of sticking plaster" (208). In one of Aleksandr's later stays, he is not as quick to put on his issued hospital uniform for he comes to the realization that brown dressing gowns are soiled in all sorts of different contaminated liquids from previous patients and are not washed frequently, if at all. "...it was smelling increasingly strongly of medicines, sticking plaster and, it seemed to me, some kind of pus, which would not have been surprising since it had been worn on the backs of patients from time immemorial. Perhaps the back part of its canvas lining had been washed occasionally; but I could not be certain of this. Just now, at any rate, this lining was saturated in all kinds of unpleasant secretions, lotions, suppurations from broken blisters, and the like" (214).

Aside from the housing and infirmary was the physical labor. While the labor assigned appears demanding and arduous, Aleksandr notes that the convicts do not mind it since it busies them. Aleksandr later comments on his survival against such inconceivable conditions showing how man always manages to adapt. "...yes, man has great endurance! Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him" (29).

The true necessity of freedom is stretched to the max, for Dostoyevsky does not fail to mention it at least once on every page. The prison is merely a backdrop for Dostoyevsky's work; solely used as a stage. One does not have to be in a prison in order to be a prisoner. As the House of the Dead exhibits most: deprivation of one's freedom will strip an individual bare forcing one to create one's own freedom in order to survive through strenuous mental, spiritual, and physical ordeals. In turn, this results with man finding his own internal freedom; one than can not be stripped.

This leads to one of Dostoyevsky's most monumental insights on human nature: one holds the key to unlocking his own fetters, though he often fails to check his back pocket - in turn making him a prisoner chained up by his own self caused by his current mental, spiritual, and physical ordeals.

See also

Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia or its émigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Russia or the Soviet Union. ...

External links

  • Full text of The House of the Dead in the original Russian



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