FIRST IMPRESSIONS (continued)by@dostoyevsky


by Fyodor DostoyevskyApril 30th, 2023
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Hardly had M. —cki—the Pole to whom I had been speaking—gone out when Gazin, completely drunk, threw himself all in a heap into the kitchen. To see a convict drunk in the middle of the day, when every one was about to be sent out to work—given the well-known severity of the Major, who at any moment might come to the barracks, the watchfulness of the under officer who never left the prison, the presence of the old soldiers and the sentinels—all this quite upset the ideas I had formed of our prison; and a long time passed before I was able to understand and explain to myself the effects, which in the first instance were enigmatic indeed.
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The House of the Dead; or, Prison Life in Siberia by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. FIRST IMPRESSIONS (continued)


Hardly had M. —cki—the Pole to whom I had been speaking—gone out when Gazin, completely drunk, threw himself all in a heap into the kitchen.

To see a convict drunk in the middle of the day, when every one was about to be sent out to work—given the well-known severity of the Major, who at any moment might come to the barracks, the watchfulness of the under officer who never left the prison, the presence of the old soldiers and the sentinels—all this quite upset the ideas I had formed of our prison; and a long time passed before I was able to understand and explain to myself the effects, which in the first instance were enigmatic indeed.

I have already said that all the convicts had a private occupation, and that this occupation was for them a natural and imperious one. They are passionately fond of money, and think more of it than of anything else—almost as much as of liberty. The convict is half-consoled if he can ring a few kopecks in his pocket. On the contrary, he is sad, restless, and despondent if he has no money. He is ready then to commit no matter what crime in order to get some. Nevertheless, in spite of the importance it possesses for the convicts, money does not remain long in their pockets. It is difficult to keep it.[Pg 44] Sometimes it is confiscated, sometimes stolen. When the Major, in a sudden perquisition, discovered a small sum amassed with great trouble, he confiscated it. It may be that he laid it out in improving the food of the prisoners, for all the money taken from them went into his hands. But generally speaking it was stolen. A means of preserving it was, however, discovered. An old man from Starodoub, one of the "old believers," took upon himself to conceal the convicts' savings.

I cannot resist my desire to say some words about this man, although it takes me away from my story. He was about sixty years old, thin, and getting very gray. He excited my curiosity the first time I saw him, for he was not like any of the others; his look was so tranquil and mild, and I always saw with pleasure his clear and limpid eyes, surrounded by a number of little wrinkles. I often talked with him, and rarely have I met with so kind, so benevolent a being. He had been consigned to hard labour for a serious crime. A certain number of the "old believers" at Starodoub had been converted to the orthodox religion. The Government had done everything to encourage them, and, at the same time, to convert the other dissenters. The old man and some other fanatics had resolved to "defend the faith." When the orthodox church was being constructed in their town they set fire to the building. This offence had brought upon its author the sentence of deportation. This well-to-do shopkeeper—he was in trade—had left a wife and family whom he loved, and had gone off courageously into exile, believing in his blindness that he was "suffering for the faith."

When one had lived some time by the side of this kind old man, one could not help asking the question, how could he have rebelled? I spoke to him several times about his faith. He gave up none of his convictions, but in his answers I never noticed the slightest hatred; and yet he had destroyed a church, and was far from denying it. In his view, the offence he had[Pg 45] committed and his martyrdom were things to be proud of.

There were other "old believers" among the convicts—Siberians for the most part—men of well-developed intelligence, and as cunning as all peasants. Dialecticians in their way, they followed blindly their law, and delighted in discussing it. But they had great faults; they were haughty, proud, and very intolerant. The old man in no way resembled them. With full more belief in religious exposition than others of the same faith, he avoided all controversy. As he was of a gay and expansive disposition he often laughed—not with the coarse cynical laugh of the other convicts, but with a laugh of clearness and simplicity, in which there was something of the child, and which harmonised perfectly with his gray head. I may perhaps be in error, but it seems to me that a man may be known by his laugh alone. If the laugh of a man you are acquainted with inspires you with sympathy, be assured that he is an honest man.

The old man had acquired the respect of all the prisoners without exception; but he was not proud of it. The convicts called him grandfather, and he took no offence. I then understood what an influence he must have exercised on his co-religionists.

In spite of the firmness with which he supported his prison life, one felt that he was tormented by a profound, incurable melancholy. I slept in the same barrack with him. One night, towards three o'clock in the morning, I woke up; I heard a slow, stifling sob. The old man was sitting upon the stove—the same place where the convict who had wished to kill the Major was in the habit of praying—and was reading from his manuscript prayer-book. As he wept I heard him repeating: "Lord, do not forsake me. Master, strengthen me. My poor little children, my dear little children, we shall never see one another again." I cannot say how much this moved me.

We used to give our money then to this old man.[Pg 46] Heaven knows how the idea got abroad in our barrack that he could not be robbed. It was well known that he hid somewhere the savings deposited with him, but no one had been able to discover his secret. He revealed it to us; to the Poles, and myself. One of the stakes of the palisade bore a branch which apparently belonged to it, but it could be taken away, and then replaced in the stake. When the branch was removed a hole could be seen. This was the hiding-place in question.

I now resume the thread of my narrative. Why does not the convict save up his money? Not only is it difficult for him to keep it, but the prison life, moreover, is so sad that the convict by his very nature thirsts for freedom of action. By his position in society he is so irregular a being that the idea of swallowing up his capital in orgies, of intoxicating himself with revelry, seems to him quite natural if only he can procure himself one moment's forgetfulness. It was strange to see certain individuals bent over their labour only with the object of spending in one day all their gains, even to the last kopeck. Then they would go to work again until a new debauch, looked forward to months beforehand. Certain convicts were fond of new clothes, more or less singular in style, such as fancy trousers and waistcoats; but it was above all for the coloured shirts that the convicts had a pronounced taste; also for belts with metal clasps.

On holidays the dandies of the prison put on their Sunday best. They were worth seeing as they strutted about their part of the barracks. The pleasure of feeling themselves well dressed amounted with them to childishness; indeed, in many things convicts are only children. Their fine clothes disappeared very soon, often the evening of the very day on which they had been bought. Their owners pledged them or sold them again for a trifle.

The feasts were generally held at fixed times. They coincided with religious festivals, or with the name's day of the drunken convict. On getting up in the[Pg 47] morning he would place a wax taper before the holy image, then he said his prayer, dressed, and ordered his dinner. He had bought beforehand meat, fish, and little patties; then he gorged like an ox, almost always alone. It was very rare to see a convict invite another convict to share his repast. At dinner the vodka was produced. The convict would suck it up like the sole of a boot, and then walk through the barracks swaggering and tottering. It was his desire to show all his companions that he was drunk, that he was carrying on, and thus obtain their particular esteem.

The Russian people feel always a certain sympathy for a drunken man; among us it amounted really to esteem. In the convict prison intoxication was a sort of aristocratic distinction.

As soon as he felt himself in spirits the convict ordered a musician. We had among us a little fellow—a deserter from the army—very ugly, but who was the happy possessor of a violin on which he could play. As he had no trade he was always ready to follow the festive convict from barrack to barrack grinding him out dance tunes with all his strength. His countenance often expressed the fatigue and disgust which his music—always the same—caused him; but when the prisoner called out to him, "Go on playing, are you not paid for it?" he attacked his violin more violently than ever. These drunkards felt sure that they would be taken care of, and in case of the Major arriving would be concealed from his watchful eyes. This service we rendered in the most disinterested spirit. On their side the under officer, and the old soldiers who remained in the prison to keep order, were perfectly reassured. The drunkard would cause no disturbance. At the least scare of revolt or riot he would have been quieted and then bound. Accordingly the inferior officers closed their eyes; they knew that if vodka was forbidden all would go wrong. How was this vodka procured?

It was bought in the convict prison itself from the drink-sellers, as they were called, who followed this trade[Pg 48]—a very lucrative one—although the tipplers were not very numerous, for revelry was expensive, especially when it is considered how hardly money was earned. The drink business was begun, continued, and ended in rather an original manner. The prisoner who knew no trade, would not work, and who, nevertheless, desired to get speedily rich, made up his mind, when he possessed a little money, to buy and sell vodka. The enterprise was risky, it required great daring, for the speculator hazarded his skin as well as liquor. But the drink-seller hesitated before no obstacles. At the outset he brought the vodka himself to the prison and got rid of it on the most advantageous terms. He repeated this operation a second and a third time. If he had not been discovered by the officials, he now possessed a sum which enabled him to extend his business. He became a capitalist with agents and assistants, he risked much less and gained much more. Then his assistants incurred risk in place of him.

Prisons are always abundantly inhabited by ruined men without the habit of work, but endowed with skill and daring; their only capital is their back. They often decide to put it into circulation, and propose to the drink-seller to introduce vodka into the barracks. There is always in the town a soldier, a shopkeeper, or some loose woman who, for a stipulated sum—rather a small one—buys vodka with the drink-seller's money, hides it in a place known to the convict-smuggler, near the workshop where he is employed. The person who supplies the vodka, tastes the precious liquid almost always as he is carrying it to the hiding-place, and replaces relentlessly what he has drunk by pure water. The purchaser may take it or leave it, but he cannot give himself airs. He thinks himself very lucky that his money has not been stolen from him, and that he has received some kind of vodka in exchange. The man who is to take it into the prison—to whom the drink-seller has indicated the hiding-place—goes to the supplier with bullock's intestines which after being washed, have been filled with water,[Pg 49] and which thus preserves their softness and suppleness. When the intestines have been filled with vodka, the smuggler rolls them round his body. Now, all the cunning, the adroitness of this daring convict is shown. The man's honour is at stake. It is necessary for him to take in the escort and the man on guard; and he will take them in. If the carrier is artful, the soldier of the escort—sometimes a recruit—does not notice anything particular; for the prisoner has studied him thoroughly, besides which he has artfully combined the hour and the place of meeting. If the convict—a bricklayer for example—climbs up on the wall that he is building, the escort will certainly not climb up after him to watch his movements. Who then, will see what he is about? On getting near the prison, he gets ready a piece of fifteen or twenty kopecks, and waits at the gate for the corporal on guard.

The corporal examines, feels, and searches each convict on his return to the barracks, and then opens the gate to him. The carrier of the vodka hopes that he will be ashamed to examine him too much in detail; but if the corporal is a cunning fellow, that is just what he will do; and in that case he finds the contraband vodka. The convict has now only one chance of salvation. He slips into the hand of the under officer the piece of money he holds in readiness, and often, thanks to this manœuvre, the vodka arrives safely in the hands of the drink-seller. But sometimes the trick does not succeed, and it is then that the sole capital of the smuggler enters really into circulation. A report is made to the Major, who sentences the unhappy culprit to a thorough flogging. As for the vodka, it is confiscated. The smuggler undergoes his punishment without betraying the speculator, not because such a denunciation would disgrace him, but because it would bring him nothing. He would be flogged all the same, the only consolation he could have would be that the drink-seller would share his punishment; but as he needs him, he does not denounce him, although having allowed himself to be surprised, he will receive no payment from him.

[Pg 50]

Denunciation, however, flourishes in the convict prison. Far from hating spies or keeping apart from them, the prisoners often make friends of them. If any one had taken it into his head to prove to the convicts all the baseness of mutual denunciation, no one in the prison would have understood. The former nobleman of whom I have already spoken, that cowardly and violent creature with whom I had already broken off all relations immediately after my arrival in the fortress, was the friend of Fedka, the Major's body-servant. He used to tell him everything that took place in the convict prison, and this was naturally carried back to the servant's master. Every one knew it, but no one had the idea of showing any ill-will against the man, or of reproaching him with his conduct. When the vodka arrived without accident at the prison, the speculator paid the smuggler and made up his accounts. His merchandise had already cost him sufficiently dear; and that the profit might be greater, he diluted it by adding fifty per cent. of pure water. He was ready, and had only to wait for customers.

The first holiday, perhaps even on a week-day, a convict would turn up. He had been working like a negro for many months in order to save up, kopeck by kopeck, a small sum which he was resolved to spend all at once. These days of rejoicing had been looked forward to long beforehand. He had dreamt of them during the endless winter nights, during his hardest labour, and the perspective had supported him under his severest trials. The dawn of this day so impatiently awaited, has just appeared. He has some money in his pocket. It has been neither stolen from him nor confiscated. He is free to spend it. Accordingly he takes his savings to the drink-seller, who, to begin with, gives vodka which is almost pure—it has been only twice baptized—but gradually, as the bottle gets more and more empty, he fills it up with water. Accordingly the convict pays for his vodka five or six times as much as he would in a tavern.

[Pg 51]

It may be imagined how many glasses, and, above all, what sums of money are required before the convict is drunk. However, as he has lost the habit of drinking, the little alcohol which remains in the liquid intoxicates him rapidly enough; he goes on drinking until there is nothing left; he pledges or sells all his new clothes—for the drink-seller is at the same time a pawnbroker. As his personal garments are not very numerous he next pledges the clothes supplied to him by the Government. When the drink has made away with his last shirt, his last rag, he lies down and wakes up the next morning with a bad headache. In vain he begs the drink-seller to give him credit for a drop of vodka in order to remove his depression; he experiences a direct refusal. That very day he sets to work again. For several months together, he will weary himself out while looking forward to such a debauch as the one which has now disappeared in the past. Little by little he regains courage while waiting for such another day, still far off, but which ultimately will arrive. As for the drink-seller, if he has gained a large sum—some dozen of roubles—he procures some more vodka, but this time he does not baptize it, because he intends it for himself. Enough of trade! it is time for him to amuse himself. Accordingly he eats, drinks, pays for a little music—his means allow him to grease the palm of the inferior officers in the convict prison. This festival lasts sometimes for several days. When his stock of vodka is exhausted, he goes and drinks with the other drink-sellers who are waiting for him; he then drinks up his last kopeck.

However careful the convicts may be in watching over their companions in debauchery, it sometimes happens that the Major or the officer on guard notices what is going on. The drunkard is then dragged to the orderly-room, his money is confiscated if he has any left, and he is flogged. The convict shakes himself like a beaten dog, returns to barracks, and, after a few days, resumes his trade as drink-seller.

[Pg 52]

It sometimes happens that among the convicts there are admirers of the fair sex. For a sufficiently large sum of money they succeed, accompanied by a soldier whom they have corrupted, in getting secretly out of the fortress into a suburb instead of going to work. There in an apparently quiet house a banquet is held at which large sums of money are spent. The convicts' money is not to be despised, accordingly the soldiers will sometimes arrange these temporary escapes beforehand, sure as they are of being generously recompensed. Generally speaking these soldiers are themselves candidates for the convict prison. The escapades are scarcely ever discovered. I must add that they are very rare, for they are very expensive, and the admirers of the fair sex are obliged to have recourse to other less costly means.

At the beginning of my stay, a young convict with very regular features excited my curiosity; his name was Sirotkin, he was in many respects an enigmatic being. His face had struck me, he was not more than twenty-three years of age, and he belonged to the special section; that is to say, he was condemned to hard labour in perpetuity. He accordingly was to be looked upon as one of the most dangerous of military criminals. Mild and tranquil, he spoke little and rarely laughed; his blue eyes, his clear complexion, his fair hair gave him a soft expression, which even his shaven crown did not destroy. Although he had no trade, he managed to get himself money from time to time. He was remarkably lazy, and always dressed like a sloven; but if any one was generous enough to present him with a red shirt, he was beside himself with joy at having a new garment, and he exhibited it everywhere. Sirotkin neither drank nor played, and he scarcely ever quarrelled with the other convicts. He walked about with his hands in his pockets peacefully, and with a pensive air. What he was thinking of I cannot say. When any one called to him, to ask him a question, he replied with deference, precisely, without chattering like the others. He had in his eyes the[Pg 53] expression of a child of ten; when he had money he bought nothing of what the others looked upon as indispensable. His vest might be torn, he did not get it mended, any more than he bought himself new boots. What particularly pleased him were the little white rolls and gingerbread, which he would eat with the satisfaction of a child of seven. When he was not at work he wandered about the barracks; when every one else was occupied, he remained with his arms by his sides; if any one joked with him, or laughed at him—which happened often enough—he turned on his heel without speaking and went elsewhere. If the pleasantry was too strong he blushed. I often asked myself for what crime he could have been condemned to hard labour. One day when I was ill, and lying in the hospital, Sirotkin was also there, stretched out on a bedstead not far from me. I entered into conversation with him; he became animated, and told me freely how he had been taken for a soldier, how his mother had followed him in tears, and what treatment he had endured in military service. He added that he had never been able to accustom himself to this life; every one was severe and angry with him about nothing, his officers were always against him.

"But why did they send you here?—and into the special section above all! Ah, Sirotkin!"

"Yes, Alexander Petrovitch, although I was only one year with the battalion, I was sent here for killing my captain, Gregory Petrovitch."

"I heard about that, but I did not believe it; how was it that you killed him?"

"All that was told you was true; my life was insupportable."

"But the other recruits supported it well enough. It is very hard at the beginning, but men get accustomed to it and end by becoming excellent soldiers. Your mother must have pampered you and spoiled you. I am sure that she fed you with gingerbread and with sweet milk until you were eighteen."

"My mother, it is true, was very fond of me. When[Pg 54] I left her she took to her bed and remained there. How painful to me everything in my military life was; after that all went wrong. I was perpetually being punished, and why? I obeyed every one, I was exact, careful. I did not drink, I borrowed from no one—it's all up with a man when he begins to borrow—and yet every one around me was harsh and cruel. I sometimes hid myself in a corner and did nothing but sob. One day, or rather one night, I was on guard. It was autumn: there was a strong wind, and it was so dark that you could not see a speck, and I was sad, so sad! I took the bayonet from the end of my musket and placed it by my side. Then I put the barrel to my breast and with my big toe—I had taken my boot off—pressed the trigger. It missed fire. I looked at my musket and loaded it with a charge of fresh powder. Then I broke off the corner of my flint, and once more I placed the muzzle against my breast. Again there was a misfire. What was I to do? I said to myself. I put my boot on, I fastened my bayonet to the barrel, and walked up and down with my musket on my shoulder. Let them do what they like, I said to myself; but I will not be a soldier any longer. Half-an-hour afterwards the captain arrived, making his rounds. He came straight upon me. 'Is that the way you carry yourself when you are on guard?' I seized my musket, and stuck the bayonet into his body. Then I had to walk forty-six versts. That is how I came to be in the special section."

He was telling no falsehood, yet I did not understand how they could have sent him there; such crimes deserve a much less severe punishment. Sirotkin was the only one of the convicts who was really handsome. As for his companions of the special section—to the number of fifteen—they were frightful to behold with their hideous, disgusting physiognomies. Gray heads were plentiful among them. I shall speak of these men further on. Sirotkin was often on good terms with Gazin, the drink-seller, of whom I have already spoken at the beginning of this chapter.

[Pg 55]

This Gazin was a terrible being; the impression that he produced on every one was confusing or appalling. It seemed to me that a more ferocious, a more monstrous creature could not exist. Yet I have seen at Tobolsk, Kameneff, the brigand, celebrated for his crimes. Later, I saw Sokoloff, the escaped convict, formerly a deserter, who was a ferocious creature; but neither of them inspired me with so much disgust as Gazin. I often fancied that I had before my eyes an enormous, gigantic spider of the size of a man. He was a Tartar, and there was no convict so strong as he was. It was less by his great height and his herculean construction, than by his enormous and deformed head, that he inspired terror. The strangest reports were current about him. Some said that he had been a soldier, others that he had escaped from Nertchinsk, and that he had been exiled several times to Siberia, but had always succeeded in getting away. Landing at last in our convict prison, he belonged there to the special section. It appeared that he had taken a pleasure in killing little children when he had attracted them to some deserted place; then he frightened them, tortured them, and after having fully enjoyed the terror and the convulsions of the poor little things, he killed them resolutely and with delight. These horrors had perhaps been imagined by reason of the painful impression that the monster produced upon us; but they seemed probable, and harmonised with his physiognomy. Nevertheless, when Gazin was not drunk, he conducted himself well enough.

He was always quiet, never quarrelled, avoided all disputes as if from contempt for his companions, just as though he had entertained a high opinion of himself. He spoke very little, all his movements were measured, calm, resolute. His look was not without intelligence, but its expression was cruel and derisive like his smile. Of all the convicts who sold vodka, he was the richest. Twice a year he got completely drunk, and it was then that all his brutal ferocity exhibited itself. Little by little he got excited, and began to tease the prisoners[Pg 56] with venomous satire prepared long beforehand. Finally when he was quite drunk, he had attacks of furious rage, and, seizing a knife, would rush upon his companions. The convicts who knew his herculean vigour, avoided him and protected themselves against him, for he would throw himself on the first person he met. A means of disarming him had been discovered. Some dozen prisoners would rush suddenly upon Gazin, and give him violent blows in the pit of the stomach, in the belly, and generally beneath the region of the heart, until he lost consciousness. Any one else would have died under such treatment, but Gazin soon got well. When he had been well beaten they would wrap him up in his pelisse, and throw him upon his plank bedstead, leaving him to digest his drink. The next day he woke up almost well, and went to his work silent and sombre. Every time that Gazin got drunk, all the prisoners knew how his day would finish. He knew also, but he drank all the same. Several years passed in this way. Then it was noticed that Gazin had lost his energy, and that he was beginning to get weak. He did nothing but groan, complaining of all kinds of illnesses. His visits to the hospital became more and more frequent. "He is giving in," said the prisoners.

At one time Gazin had gone into the kitchen followed by the little fellow who scraped the violin, and whom the convicts in their festivities used to hire to play to them. He stopped in the middle of the hall silently examining his companions one after another. No one breathed a word. When he saw me with my companions, he looked at us in his malicious, jeering style, and smiled horribly with the air of a man who was satisfied with a good joke that he had just thought of. He approached our table, tottering.

"Might I ask," he said, "where you get the money which allows you to drink tea?"

I exchanged a look with my neighbour. I understood that the best thing for us was to be silent, and not[Pg 57] to answer. The least contradiction would have put Gazin in a passion.

"You must have money," he continued, "you must have a good deal of money to drink tea; but, tell me, are you sent to hard labour to drink tea? I say, did you come here for that purpose? Please answer, I should like to know."

Seeing that we were resolved on silence, and that we had determined not to pay any attention to him, he ran towards us, livid and trembling with rage. At two steps' distance, he saw a heavy box, which served to hold the bread given for the dinner and supper of the convicts. Its contents were sufficient for the meal of half the prisoners. At this moment it was empty. He seized it with both hands and brandished it above our heads. Although murder, or attempted, was an inexhaustible source of trouble for the convicts—examinations, counter-examinations, and inquiries without end would be the natural consequence—and though quarrels were generally cut short, when they did not lead to such serious results, yet every one remained silent and waited.

Not one word in our favour, not one cry against Gazin. The hatred of all the prisoners for all who were of gentle birth was so great that every one of them was evidently pleased to see that we were in danger. But a fortunate incident terminated this scene, which must have become tragic. Gazin was about to let fly the enormous box, which he was turning and twisting above his head, when a convict ran in from the barracks, and cried out:

"Gazin, they have stolen your vodka!"

The horrible brigand let fall the box with a frightful oath, and ran out of the kitchen.

"Well, God has saved them," said the prisoners among themselves, repeating the words several times.

I never knew whether his vodka had been stolen, or whether it was only a stratagem invented to save us.

That same evening, before the closing of the barracks,[Pg 58] when it was already dark, I walked to the side of the palisade. A heavy feeling of sadness weighed upon my soul. During all the time that I passed in the convict prison I never felt myself so miserable as on that evening, though the first day is always the hardest, whether at hard labour or in the prison. One thought in particular had left me no respite since my deportation—a question insoluble then and insoluble now. I reflected on the inequality of the punishments inflicted for the same crimes. Often, indeed, one crime cannot be compared even approximately to another. Two murderers kill a man under circumstances which in each case are minutely examined and weighed. They each receive the same punishment; and yet by what an abyss are their two actions separated! One has committed a murder for a trifle—for an onion. He has killed on the high-road a peasant who was passing, and found on him an onion, and nothing else.

"Well, I was sent to hard labour for a peasant who had nothing but an onion!"

"Fool that you are! an onion is worth a kopeck. If you had killed a hundred peasants you would have had a hundred kopecks, or one rouble." The above is a prison joke.

Another criminal has killed a debauchee who was oppressing or dishonouring his wife, his sister, or his daughter.

A third, a vagabond, half dead with hunger, pursued by a whole band of police, was defending his liberty, his life. He is to be regarded as on an equality with the brigand who assassinates children for his amusement, for the pleasure of feeling their warm blood flow over his hands, of seeing them shudder in a last bird-like palpitation beneath the knife which tears their flesh!

They will all alike be sent to hard labour; though the sentence will perhaps not be for the same number of years. But the variations in the punishment are not very numerous, whereas different kinds of crimes may be[Pg 59] reckoned by thousands. As many characters, so many crimes.

Let us admit that it is impossible to get rid of this first inequality in punishment, that the problem is insoluble, and that in connection with penal matters it is the squaring of the circle. Let all that be admitted; but even if this inequality cannot be avoided, there is another thing to be thought of—the consequences of the punishment. Here is a man who is wasting away like a candle; there is another one, on the contrary, who had no idea before going into exile that there could be such a gay, such an idle life, where he would find a circle of such agreeable friends. Individuals of this latter class are to be found in the convict prison.

Now take a man of heart, of cultivated mind, and of delicate conscience. What he feels kills him more certainly than the material punishment. The judgment which he himself pronounces on his crime is more pitiless than that of the most severe tribunal, the most Draconian law. He lives by the side of another convict, who has not once reflected on the murder he is expiating, during the whole time of his sojourn in the convict prison. He, perhaps, even considers himself innocent. Are there not, also, poor devils who commit crimes in order to be sent to hard labour, and thus to escape the liberty which is much more painful than confinement? A man's life is miserable, he has never, perhaps, been able to satisfy his hunger. He is worked to death in order to enrich his master. In the convict prison his work will be less severe, less crushing. He will eat as much as he wants, better than he could ever have hoped to eat, had he remained free. On holidays he will have meat, and fine people will give him alms, and his evening's work will bring him in some money. And the society one meets with in the convict prison, is that to be counted for nothing? The convicts are clever, wide-awake people, who are up to everything. The new arrival can scarcely conceal the admiration he feels for his companions in labour. He has seen nothing like it[Pg 60] before, and he will consider himself in the best company possible.

Is it possible that men so differently situated can feel in an equal degree the punishment inflicted? But why think about questions that are insoluble? The drum beats, let us go back to barracks.

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