Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14

The Peter-and-Paul Fortress

“The whole city,” wrote Senator K. N. Lebedev in his diary, “is preoccupied with the detention of some young people (Petrashevsky, Golovinsky, Dostoevsky, Palm, Lamansky, Grigoryev, Mikhailov, and many others), who, it is said, reach the number of 60, and this number will no doubt increase with the uncovering of links with Moscow and other cities.” 1 Senator Lebedev, who was well connected and personally acquainted with some of the young men under arrest, spoke to I. P. Liprandi, a seasoned official in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, “about our child-conspirators,” and received one reply: “The affair, in his opinion, is exceedingly important, and should terminate with capital punishment.” 2

At the notorious headquarters of the Third Section, close to the Summer Gardens, Dostoevsky found a good deal of bustle and stir: “light-blue gentlemen kept on arriving uninterruptedly with various victims.”3 The prisoners clustered around the official checking the identity of those brought in and could see, marked on the documents he was consulting, the name of the secret agent—P. D. Antonelli. Someone whispered in Dostoevsky's ear, using a peasant idiom, “Here, grandmother, is your St. George's Day.” 4 April 23 was the spring St. George's Day in the Russian calendar of saints, but this folk expression was peculiarly appropriate in a deeper sense. It has been traced back to the decree of Boris Godunov in 1597 that abolished the right of peasants to change masters on the fall St. George's Day.5 This was the effective beginning in Russian history of the total enslavement of the peasantry; and the idiom enshrines in folk speech the woebegone reaction of the Russian people to their loss of any liberty. The arrested Petrashevtsy were now indeed in “a fine fix” for having wished to make permanent the emancipation once enjoyed by the Russian peasant only on St. George's Day in the fall.

Dostoevsky's consternation was only heightened when he saw his younger brother, Andrey, brought in among other prisoners.6 All spent the first day,

1 Quoted in P S. Schegolev, ed., Petrashevtsy, 3 vols. (Moscow–Leningrad, 1926–1928), 1: 127.

2 Ibid.

3DVS, 1: 193.

4 Ibid.

5 I. Pawlowski, Russisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1974), 2: 1766.

6 A. M. Dostoevsky, Vospominaniya (Leningrad, 1930), 192–193.

-163-

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