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Tsarist and Soviet prisons and their prisoners

August 15, 2011

I encourage everyone to read Sarah J. Young on “the criminal mentality” before and after 1917. She contrasts Vlas Doroshevich’s Sakhalin (1903) to treatments of Sakhalin Island by Chekhov (1893-94) and of Russian criminals by Dostoevskii (1861), while finding surprising continuity between Doroshevich and Shalamov, chronicler of the twentieth-century Gulag. The similarities suggest

a continuity in the make-up of the criminals between the Imperial and Soviet eras (the idea of continuity is generally accepted as far as mechanics of the system are concerned, but there seems to an assumption among both eye witnesses and commentators that the particularly vicious type of criminal with a highly evolved code of honour seen in the Gulag was a specifically Stalinist phenomenon).

Evidently it wasn’t a Stalinist phenomenon, if Doroshevich is to be believed. Were the criminals Dostoevskii met in fact different from those analyzed by Doroshevich, or was Dostoevskii unable to see what Doroshevich saw, or did he see it and choose not to discuss it in the same terms because it wouldn’t have served his artistic and ideological purposes?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2011 2:37 am

    Thanks for the plug! I think this is a subject I shall be returning to, in one form or another…

  2. xixvek permalink*
    August 17, 2011 5:50 pm

    I’ll be glad to read more about it when you do! If it doesn’t end up on your blog, I hope you’ll link to your future work on the subject from there.

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