Archive for the ‘denial of mortality’ Category

Dostoevsky’s Mock Execution

April 24, 2011

The Peter and Paul Fortress,  December 22, 1849.

MlHAIL MlHAILOVICH DOSTOEVSKY,   Nevsky Prospect, opposite Gryazny Street,  in the house of Neslind.

Brother, my precious friend ! all is settled ! I  am sentenced to four years’ hard labour in the  fortress (I believe, of Orenburg) and after that to  serve as a private. To-day, the 22nd of December,  we were taken to the Semionov Drill Ground.  There the sentence of death was read to all of us, we  were told to kiss the Cross, our swords were broken  over our heads, and our last toilet was made (white  shirts). Then three were tied to the pillar for  execution. I was the sixth. Three at a time were  called out ; consequently, I was in the second batch  and no more than a minute was left me to live.  I remembered you, brother, and all yours ; during  the last minute you, you alone, were in my mind,  only then I realised how I love you, dear brother  mine ! I also managed to embrace Plescheyev and  Durov who stood close to me and to say good-bye  to them. Finally the retreat was sounded, and  those tied to the pillar were led back, and it was  announced to us that His Imperial Majesty granted  us our lives. Then followed the present sentences.  Palm alone has been pardoned, and returns with  his old rank to the army.

Dostoevsky in a letter to his brother

Relecting his own experience in the person of the Prince:

…but I think I had better tell you of another man I met last year. There was a very strange feature in this case, strange because of its extremely rare occurrence. This man had once been brought to the scaffold in company with several others, and had had the sentence of death by shooting passed upon him for some political crime. Twenty minutes later he had been reprieved and some other punishment substituted; but the interval between the two sentences, twenty minutes, or at least a quarter of an hour, had been passed in the certainty that within a few minutes he must die. I was very anxious to hear him speak of his impressions during that dreadful time, and I several times inquired of him as to what he thought and felt. He remembered everything with the most accurate and extraordinary distinctness, and declared that he would never forget a single iota of the experience.

“About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear the sentence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten the criminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were taken to the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over their faces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group of soldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth on the list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. A priest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes of time left for him to live.

“He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminable period, an enormous wealth of time; he seemed to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, so that he made several arrangements, dividing up the time into portions–one for saying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple more for thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and another minute for a last look around. He remembered having divided his time like this quite well. While saying good- bye to his friends he recollected asking one of them some very usual everyday question, and being much interested in the answer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon those two minutes which he had allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going to think about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly as possible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minutes he would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? He thought he would decide this question once for all in these last three minutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittered in the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays of light sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from these rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minutes he would become one of them, amalgamated somehow with them.

“The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, ‘What should I do if I were not to die now? What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!’ He said that this thought weighed so upon him and became such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it.”

The Idiot

The last scene of the play is bloody

September 10, 2009

Imagine a number of prisoners on death row, some of whom are killed each day in the sight of the others. The remaining ones see their condition is that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair, await their turn. This is a picture of the human condition…The last scene of the play is bloody, however fine the rest of it. They throw earth over your head, and it is finished forever.


Over 500,000 die every year in the UK.