One hundred and eighty five years ago, on November 11, 1861 (October 30, old style), the novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow. One of the most influential writers in world literature, Dostoyevsky created works that have taken on an almost mystical aura. “Dostoyevsky,” wrote Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov, “is not ‘he,’ like Tolstoy or anyone else; Dostoyevsky is ‘me’ – sinful, evil, weak, fallen yet rising up again. This is why he is ‘me,’ the ‘me’ that is every other human being.”
On a frosty morning in late December 1849, twenty-one prisoners were led into St. Petersburg’s Semyonovsky Square. Young, educated and talented, the accused were lined up on a platform, where they kissed a cross and a sword was broken over their heads (indicating the loss of their civil rights). Their sentences were read out. Three of the ringleaders were tied to stakes.
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, 28, was among the condemned standing in the cold, waiting for his friends to be shot. He and his 20 associates were accused of advocating political freedom, socialism and the liberation of serfs in the authoritarian Russian state. “Will we soon be with Christ?” Dostoyevsky reportedly asked one of his comrades, minutes before what he thought would be the end of his life.
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