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Group Read Archive 2014 > House the Dead by Dostoyevsky - Part I - Feb.5-Feb 15

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message 1: by Silver (new)

Silver For discussing Part I of House of the Dead. Please be aware if you have not finished this reading there may be spoilers here.


message 2: by Silver (new)

Silver It is interesting reading the descriptions offered of prison life because so much of it is still quite relevant to our world today and so much of what Dostoyvesky says rings so true.

“Its philosophy is a little more complicated than people think. It is acknowledged that neither convict prisons, nor the hulks, nor any system of hard labour ever cured a criminal. These forms of chastisement only punish him and reassure society against the offences he might commit. Confinement, regulation, and excessive work have no effect but to develop with these men profound hatred, a thirst for forbidden enjoyment, and frightful recalcitrations. On the other hand I am convinced that the celebrated cellular system gives results which are specious and deceitful. It deprives a criminal of his force, of his energy, enervates his soul by weakening and frightening it, and at last exhibits a dried up mummy as a model of repentance and amendment”

This is a philosophical question which is still discussed and to be considered in our prison systems today. While on the one hand when someone does commit a crime some form of punishment is required and the person needs to be removed from the society to protect the society, but at the same time prison is known to not be much of a determinant, as well it does a poor job at reforming the criminal as many criminals are repeat offenders. In addition in some cases the experience of being in prison can cause one to become a more hardened criminal than they were going in.

The problem of crime can never be completely solved, but I do think there should be a stronger emphasis on rehabilitation opposed to strictly punishment.


message 3: by Silver (new)

Silver It once came into my head that if it were desired to reduce a man to nothing-to punish him atrociously, to crush him in such a manner that the most hardened murderer could tremble before such a punishment, and take fright beforehand-it would be necessary to give his work a character of complete uselessness, even to absurdity.

This struck me as interesting because I do think it is quite reflective of the legend of Sisyphus. The idea of punishment by giving one a repetitive and endless task of which is never truly completed, and serves no true purpose.

Another thing which I considered while reading this book is that there does seem to be this sort of trend to romanticize, or glorify prisoners and or prison life. There are many movies made in this world which do revolve around the idea of making the audience root for the prisoners and stories like Shawshank Redemption come to mind.

And while in one sense Dostoyvesky does give us a bleak picture of what life was like within the prison, so it is not really glamorizing it, by creating a narrator who is a prisoner writing of his experiences, and seeing things through his eyes, though we know many of the prisoners are guilty of some heinous crimes, it does create a feeling of sympathy for the prisoner.


message 4: by Ian (new)

Ian Braddy | 1 comments Hey, just joined this group and am happy to have done so. A lot of things are interesting to me so far. I'm still on Part One, but I'm curious what others think of Aleksandr's relationship with characters like Aley and Sirotkin. He emphasizes their beauty to such a degree that it seems they perform other roles in the prison. He vaguely writes of Sirotkin's giving of sexual favors for monetary gifts (is this a wrong reading of that?) but he really seems to love Aley. It was sad that due to the structure of the book so far (small character pieces strung together), Aleksandr had to write about Aley and move on, leaving him behind. I think this speaks to how the convicts are forced to cohabitate this space. It is a family in a way, but not one chosen by them and they are powerless to escape unsavory characters or stick close to convicts they have deeper affinities with.


message 5: by Dave (last edited Feb 24, 2014 01:24PM) (new)

Dave Manly | 1 comments I read this last year and have very fond memories of it despite what would seem bleak subject material. It's my guess that much is based on Dostoyevsky's own time served but I haven't been able to investigate much into that. It does give a sense of Russians as a people from that time frame (other than the aristocratic/servants view we get from a Tolstoy). Their beliefs, superstitions, short comings. I picked up Chekhov's own prison book afterwards as a point of comparison about Sakhalin and there are many excellent things in there it's not quite as polished a work as House of the Dead.

If I can find my copy I will try to provide some of my insights. My brain is a swiss cheese type memory storer of lamentable performance...


message 6: by Chrissie (last edited Apr 13, 2014 01:24AM) (new)

Chrissie Silver, your messages 1 and 2 are two points that hit home to me too. There is so much talk today of how prisons must in some way rehabilitate criminals, that criminals incarcerated become even more criminal in their behavior. It made me think "Hey, people ought to realize that D spoke of this issue back in the 1860s!" Today we still have found no good solution. Anyhow we are still talking about it! How do you weigh public safety, punishment and rehabilitation?

I also found the discussion of how the worst punishment is forcing people to repeat a meaningless task absolutely correct! Look how they all develop different skills, just to keep busy.

Having money in your pocket so you have the choice of buying something, or just plain having it, was great too. So if it is stolen they just have to earn more. But that is OK too since going after that money is a goal in itself, because it is self-determined and gives choice. What do you buy? Vodka or someone to cook you food or.....

What I like most is that this is about how people think. It doesn't matter if one is a criminal in prison. We all have the same instincts and needs and motivations.

I love the character Petrov (spelling?, I am listening to an audiobook!) He is the one who wants to talk with Alexandr about Napoleon. He is the guy who always seems busy, but has absolutely no occupation. I can just picture him. Don't people's personalities sort of stick even after they are imprisoned? I can picture this guy before, when he was free. Self-important, always rushing form one task to another, busy, busy, busy...... Busy even if he is doing nothing!

I am not quite sure how far I have listened. I will have to pay attention to that! I do like the book. I like that is is about people's personalities and how we work mentally.

You also see how D's view on crime and punishment as depicted in the book of the same name is repeated here. People punish themselves too. All of his books kind of overlap.

It is so clear that this book is strongly autobiographical!

(I joined the group yesterday. It is fun to have someone to talk with about the book.)


message 7: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie I liked the description of the holiday party and theater and how D analyzes the human need for celebrations to break up the humdrum of daily existence. As usual he looks at how people in general react not just convicts and guards and tyrants, but ALL people. You feel their enjoyment and the rules they follow.


message 8: by Franjo (new)

Franjo | 2 comments Russian literature is literature, everything else is a trend.


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