1995: Kimura Shujish 1559: Anne du Bourg

1849: Not Fyodor Dostoyevsky

December 22nd, 2007 Sonechka

“Brother, I am not dejected or crestfallen. Life, life is everywhere, life is in us ourselves, not outside. Near me will be people, and to be a person among persons and stay him forever, to not be cast down or despondent no matter what the misfortunes are – therein lies life, therein lies its purpose. I realized that. This idea entered my flesh and blood. Yes! It’s true! The head that created and got accustomed to the higher demands of the spirit, that head is cut off from my shoulders. What’s left are the memories and images created and not reified by me. They will ulcerate me, indeed! What I have left is my heart and the same flesh and blood, which can love, suffer, pity, and remember, and this is life, after all …” (quote — in Russian; the translation is mine)

The square — now named Pionerskaya Ploschad’ — where Dostoyevsky faced a mock execution. Image used with permission.

This slightly rambling epistle is authored by a titan of the world literature, a schizophrenic, a gambler, a true believer, a sufferer, a humanitarian, an epileptic, a Russian, a philosopher, a St. Petersburger, the Writer. Let us forgive him a certain incongruity of thought, since that letter was his first salute to a newly acquired chance to live.

On this date in 1849, Dostoevsky, along with some 20 other condemned, was brought out to St. Petersburg’s Semyonovsky platz. They were meant to be shot for affiliation with the Petrashevsky circle, a group of idealistic young intellectuals, apologists of Fourier and fervent advocates of socialism. Just like the generation of aristocrats (alas, some of them will be featured on this macabre blog) before them and generations of intelligentsia (whose destiny is equally unenviable) after them, Petrashevtsy gathered at Petersburg’s flats, read articles and concerned themselves with the fate of the permanently-rising-from-the-knees Motherland.

The formal charges brought upon Dostoevsky were quite bizarre: he listened to a story that criticized the army; had in his possession an illegal printing press; read an open letter to the circle from Belinsky to Gogol which excoriated the church and government; and participated in a regicide plot. The latter accusation Fyodor Mikhailovich vehemently denied, for indeed he was not a bloodthirsty revolutionary, but a proponent of the peaceful Christ’s teaching (this affliction with Christian philosophy was incidentally somewhat of a mauvais ton among the predominantly atheistic circle).

It always seemed to me that Dostoevsky’s participation in the Petrashevky circle was a tribute to the epoch’s fad. It was the imperfections of human nature, not the peculiarities of a hypothetical social structure, that concerned him greatly. The world’s wrongdoings result from something rotten in a man’s soul, and once those internal blemishes are erased, the external harmony emerges. “Beauty will save the world”, a cliché instilled in every Russian by a literature teacher in 10th grade, a phrase attributed to Christ-like kniaz’ Myshkin, and one of Dostoevsky’s most important statements: inner beauty is vital, the rest is a consequence.

The military court condemned Dostoevsky to death. The general-auditor amended this decision and recommended a lighter punishment: “… deprive of all fortune and send to hard labor in fortresses for eight years”. The final resolution of Nicholas I reduced the sentence to four years, “and then [relegate] to [the rank of] private … declare clemency only at the moment when everything is ready for execution”.

Here is a slightly brushed up account of how the ugly farce actually transpired:

“Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute could be a century of happiness …” continued Dostoevsky his letter. In three days, he received a prisoner’s dress, a fur coat, and valenki. He was put in shackles and dispatched to Siberia …

Novels and Short Stories by Dostoyevsky

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,History,Intellectuals,Last Minute Reprieve,Mass Executions,Mock Executions,Not Executed,Other Voices,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Treason

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16 Responses to “1849: Not Fyodor Dostoyevsky”

  1. 1
    The Writers' Block Says:

    Writers from across the blogosphere – Writers’ Block carnival…

    Welcome to the January 5, 2008 edition of writers from across the blogosphere. Enjoy!


    M. Cruz presents Developing Unique Characters – Its The Little Things That Count! posted at NOIRLECROI.COM.

    Steve Osborne presents Proofreading Tip…

  2. 2
    DamionKutaeff Says:

    Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
    and wish to assit as far as possible.

  3. 3
    ExecutedToday.com » 1793: Madame du Barry, who hated to go Says:

    [...] who knew whereof he spoke would write in The Idiot, After all this honour and glory, after having been almost a Queen, she [...]

  4. 4
    Wisdom of The Day « sora-kun.weblog() Says:

    [...] 1849: Not Fyodor Dostoyevsky – ExecutedToday.com [...]

  5. 5
    ExecutedToday.com » 1814: Four of five deserters, in Buffalo Says:

    [...] Dostoyevsky didn’t get to the point where the mock executioners actually [...]

  6. 6
    ExecutedToday.com » 1928: William Edward Hickman, Randian superhero? Says:

    [...] thirsting for the redemptive chalice of heaven … as a criminals go, that’s more Dostoyevsky than [...]

  7. 7
    Gregory Lioner Says:

    Under this link is story what contain some intresting historical facts behind Dostoevsky’s “Idiot” :


  8. 8
    ExecutedToday.com » 1880: Ippolit Mlodetsky, Melikov’s would-be assassin Says:

    [...] was witnessed by novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the very square where Dostoyevsky himself had faced mock-execution for revolutionary activity 30 years [...]

  9. 9
    Death Penalty blogging : Lawyers, Guns & Money Says:

    [...] penalty, Executed Today. Every day, the anniversary of a historical execution (or occasionally near execution) is noted and detailed. (Their post on Willingham predated The New Yorker piece by 18 months). [...]

  10. 10
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s First Annual Report: One Year of Dying Languorously Says:

    [...] December 22, 1849: Not Fyodor Dostoyevsky [...]

  11. 11
    ExecutedToday.com » 1957: Jacques Fesch: playboy, cop killer, saint? Says:

    [...] Catholic lawyer, Paul Baudet, undertook the Dostoyevskyan mission of saving client’s life and soul alike. The disinterested kid called him [...]

  12. 12
    ExecutedToday.com » 1861: Not William Scott, the Sleeping Sentinel Says:

    [...] a terrifyingly dramatic flourish. Scott was left to contemplate his last hours on the earth, and, Dostoyevsky-like, marched out to the stake ostensibly to face the firing squad. Only then did he and his [...]

  13. 13
    ExecutedToday.com » 1921: Jake Martin and Putnam Ponsell Says:

    [...] and Ponsell didn’t save their lives. But maybe a Dostoyevsky might have hoped that they saved their [...]

  14. 14
    ExecutedToday.com » 1880: Prevost, predatory Parisian policeman Says:

    [...] this … pawnbroker has been murdered by some one of a higher class in society,” Dostoyevsky had mused in Crime and Punishment in 1866, “how are we to explain this demoralisation of the [...]

  15. 15
    BreakThru Radio Says:

    [...] horrible fortune, he wrote beautiful passages about beauty overcoming cruelty, such as this one, found in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov."Brother, I am not dejected or crestfallen. Life, life is everywhere, life [...]

  16. 16
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