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Dostoevsky at the scaffold. How a famous writer managed to be a revolutionary and escaped the death penalty
Dostoevsky at the scaffold. How a famous writer managed to be a revolutionary and escaped the death penalty

The famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky did not like nihilists and revolutionaries. When he came up with the idea of ​​the novel "Demons", he said: But in his younger years, the future classic was almost a revolutionary himself, eventually ending his underground activities minutes before the possible execution. If it were not for the mercy of the emperor, we would never have read "Crime and Punishment", "Idiot" and "The Brothers Karamazov" …

Young writer

Even while studying at the Main Engineering School in St. Petersburg, Dostoevsky became interested in literature. Admission to this institution was the decision of his father, as it should have been in the old days - a high-quality military engineering education provided graduates with career growth and good maintenance in the service of engineers or sapper officers.

The main engineering school was located in the Mikhailovsky Castle

Only now reading Pushkin, Gogol, Balzac and Shakespeare for the young Fyodor was dearer than the parental desire for his career. With his friend Ivan Shidlovsky, Dostoevsky discussed his favorite writers, and at night, in his free time, he tried to make literary experiments himself. Even his classmates, he did not refuse to write essays for them on given topics on Russian literature.

After leaving the walls of the school, writing swallowed Dostoevsky completely. He retired from military service and took up translations. The publication of his debut novel "Poor People" brought him fame, and with it wide contacts in literary salons and circles of the capital. It was there through the critic Alexei Plescheev that the young writer met Mikhail Petrashevsky.

Member of the Petrashevsky circle

Mikhail Butashevich-Petrashevsky

Petrashevsky cannot be called an implacable underground revolutionary. Ironically, Emperor Alexander I was considered his godson, although in fact Count Miloradovich was present at the christening - Petrashevsky's father served as a doctor for many royal dignitaries and therefore was close to palace circles. Young Petrashevsky also went to serve the government, getting a job as a translator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Meanwhile, illegal literature was smuggled into Russia. Petrashevsky gathered at home a whole library of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Feuerbach, Owen and other socialists, utopians and materialists. People who share seditious opposition beliefs began to catch up with him.

Young Dostoevsky

The young thinker became an opponent of the autocracy and decided to bypass the censorship by preparing for publication, together with like-minded people, the Pocket Dictionary of Foreign Words. Under the guise of an ordinary reference book, it contained articles on the concepts of anarchy, despotism, constitution, democracy, and so on … In fact, this was the propaganda of socialist ideas.

To find supporters, Petrashevsky organized "Friday" in his apartment. At these weekly meetings, guests were able to dine, discuss politics, and read books. No one called each other "Petrashevists", of course. This name was invented later, when in 1849 the circle was covered by the police thanks to denunciations. Among the persons listed in the denunciations who attended Petrashevsky's "Fridays", Dostoevsky was also named.

Arrest of Petrashevts

Sentenced to death

- Dostoevsky said then.

It was in the spirit of the times to criticize the government, read forbidden literature and look sympathetically at socialism. That was what it meant to be a revolutionary. Dostoevsky was not judged even for this - he, in general, did not become Petrashevsky's associate, but only read together with everyone what could not be read and discussed what could not be discussed. And I haven't reported yet. So they condemned - criminal writings.

Nicholas I

At that time, a wave of revolutions swept across Europe, or, as it was called, the "Spring of Nations": the people rebelled in France and in the German lands, in Sicily and in Hungary. The Russian Emperor Nicholas I was afraid that conspiracies were being spun in his capital with the aim of revolution. Therefore, the military-judicial general commission passed the most severe sentence to the secret circle - all the defendants, 21 people, were sentenced to death.

However, the emperor himself decided to do "fairer". The verdict was changed to different terms of hard labor and exile, but the unfortunate defendants had to find out about this at the last moment …

Staged execution of the Petrashevites

Early in the morning on December 22, 1849, on the Semyonovsky parade ground, all Petrashevites were brought to execution. Three of them, including Petrashevsky, were dressed in shrouds, soldiers with loaded rifles stood in front of them, and “suddenly” a courier rode up and announced a pardon. As they say, one of the Petrashevites even went crazy, unable to withstand the stress of the moment.

Repentance awaited Dostoevsky after that. Like Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment, he will go to hard labor in Siberia. Returning from exile and great novels will turn him into a classic of Russian literature. And from then on, he will be critical of the revolutionary movement, seeing in it "devilry" and nihilism.

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