The House of the Dead

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Genre: Realism, Semi-Autobiographical Fiction, Classic Literature
Setting: Siberia, Russian Federation, 1850s
Pages: 368

The House of the Dead or Notes from the House of the Dead is a semi-autobigraphical work by Fyodor Dostoyevsky about life in prison in Siberian Russia. Dostoyevsky tells his story through the eyes of the convict Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov, a Russian nobleman who is sentenced to penal labor in Siberia for murdering his wife. The author’s trademarks of deep philosophical musings and his speculations on the psychology of human beings are deeply rooted in this novel and lay the groundwork for future authors, philosophers, and psychologists (the formal study of this last discipline only developed some 20 years after this novel was published!)

The Good: Dostoyevsky was in a situation nearly identical to his narrator’s: a nobleman serving a sentence of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. However, our narrator Aleksandr Petrovich was sentenced for murdering his wife, while Dostoyevsky was imprisoned for political crimes. The authenticity of the novel is its greatest asset as it makes all the different stories and accounts within the narrative all the more gripping. I find Dostoyevsky second to none when it comes to inserting meaningful psychological and philosophical musings within a fictional framework (keeping in mind, of course, that this particular story is very much nonfiction). There is something refreshing and quite rare about an author speaking their own truth in a way that bares their soul. While The House of the Dead isn’t as polished as his later works, it is easy to see how he became an inspiration to so many future authors and philosophers.

One glistening gem in this novel that I found very endearing, was the chapter describing the convicts’ theatrical production during the holidays. I’ve always been a fan of theatre and I have a great affinity for Russian theatre and ballet in particular. Dostoyevsky describes the amateur production in extensive detail, and I admit I was thrilled. In those moments of performance and spectating, the prisoners’ joy was my own.

The Bad: As I mentioned before, the novel is a bit unpolished. The House of the Dead was originally pieced together from a series of different notes and letters Dostoyevsky had wrote about his time in prison, and as such theme drives the narrative rather than a specific storyline. There are an exceeding number of repetitious moments or thoughts. The narrator also offers a few contradictory points of view on certain subjects, but this I attribute to the emotional nature of documenting such an experience, and the varying states of mind the author must have inhabited as he wrote the novel.

*A Special Note on the Text*: This story was written quite a long time ago. Knowledge on various topics has evolved since then, including our attitudes and opinions on these topics. It is important not to reject the worth of an entire novel over a few problematic elements. In order to understand this novel, the reader most endeavor to understand the time and place it was written and strive to their fullest extent to place themselves in the position of the narrator. Most obvious and frequent among the outdated ideas is Dostoyevsky’s apparent subscription to Physiognomy. Although it is never named or explicitly described in the novel, it is obvious that he judges people’s characters largely and immediately based on their physical appearance. Approach this novel with empathy and patience and you will not be disappointed.

New York City

About a month ago I went to New York City to meet up with some friends who were visiting from Northern Ireland. I have complicated feelings about NYC. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming and full of all the things I dislike about human nature. Paradoxically, and perhaps necessarily, it is also full of all the things I love about people. As a lover of art though I can never stay away for too long before something calls me back.

Here are some pictures from my weekend:

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A large portion of the first day was spent in Central Park catching up with friends. I mean hours. The day was cold, but the sky was clear in the morning so the park was quite populated. There is something so nice about being in a place surrounded by strangers who don’t know each but who are each sharing the simple joy of being out in nature on one of the first warm days of the year. We talked long enough for the bright morning to turn into a misty late afternoon.

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Day two was spent almost entirely in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I don’t know if I could live in New York, but I think I could live in the Met.

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As the last photograph shows, I am not above a shameless mirror selfie even if that mirror is couched in a French Rococo drawing room.

To Market To Market

As promised, I went out to snap a few photos today. In the morning I went to central market in my hometown of Lancaster, PA. I love visiting the market because it’s a cogent reminder of the combination of vibrant diversity and hominess that make Lancaster such a wonderful community.

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farmers market

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After milling around among the vendors I ventured up to the balcony area where I was able to capture a few shots of the market from a higher vantage point. For people watching looking down on a farmers market from a birds eye view is second to none.

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After enjoying a hot tea and a massive freshly baked cinnamon bun, I decided to see how my camera and lens could tackle some outdoor architecture shots. The best part was a surprise performance from a one-man-band. He was enormously talented and definitely earned all the tips he received from me and my fellow audience members. I was definitely pleased with the shots I got, especially because today was my first time using this new camera and lens.

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Thanks for checking out my first photo blogpost! Please leave a comment if you have any feedback or advice!