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December 26 , 2008

The House of the Dead or Prison Life in Siberia


When I met them during those walks of theirs, I took pleasure in observing their sad, deeply-marked countenances, and in guessing their thoughts. The favourite occupation of one of the convicts, during the moments of liberty left to him from his hard labour, was to count the palisades. There were fifteen hundred of them. He had counted them all, and knew them nearly by heart. Every one of them represented to him a day of confinement; but, counting them daily in this manner, he knew exactly the number of days that he had still to pass in the prison. He was sincerely happy when he had finished one side of the hexagon; yet he had to wait for his liberation many long years. But one learns patience in a prison.

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Most significant of the Russian novelist's early stories (1846) offers a straight-faced treatment of a hallucinatory theme. Golyadkin senior is a powerless target of persecution by Golyadkin junior, his double in almost every respect. Familiar Dostoyevskan themes of helplessness, victimization, scandal — beautifully handled in this small…

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