– Introduction –
Fortress, Dostoevsky found himself being led to the stake and enduring a mock execution by firing squad before learning that his sentence was being commuted to hard labour in Siberia.
Four years of living in close confines with hardened criminals from the peasant class were followed by a further six serving as an army private and then officer in remote Semipalatinsk in what today would be Kazakhstan. But perhaps the hardest punishment of all for Dostoevsky to bear was his ten-year exile from the world of writing and publishing. And it was a world which had changed utterly by the time he was allowed to return to European Russia in 1859. Alexander II, the new Tsar on the throne, had been goaded by the catastrophe of the Crimean War into launching a programme of unprecedented reform, including the abolition of serfdom and the relaxation of censorship. But this would not satisfy the rational-minded new generation of the St Petersburg intelligentsia. Having jettisoned the comparatively gentle Utopian Socialismimbued-with-Christianity of the 1840s as their guiding idea, in favour of Ludwig Feuerbach’s atheist humanism and the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, they wanted radical action. Dostoevsky, who had also changed during his years as a convict, and was now orientated towards a politically conservative, Christian ideal, was horrified. The publication of his novella Notes from Underground in 1864 marks the beginning of a new phase in his career as a xiii
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