> Skip to content
  • Published: 15 April 2016
  • ISBN: 9780307949875
  • Imprint: Knopf US
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $36.99

Notes from a Dead House




Sentenced to death for advocating socialism in 1849, Dostoevsky served a commuted sentence of four years of hard labor. The account he wrote afterward (sometimes translated as The House of the Dead) is filled with vivid details of brutal punishments, shocking conditions, and the psychological effects of the loss of freedom and hope, but also of the feuds and betrayals, the moments of comedy, and the acts of kindness he observed. As a nobleman and a political prisoner, Dostoevsky was despised by most of his fellow convicts, and his first-person narrator--a nobleman who has killed his wife--experiences a similar struggle to adapt. He also undergoes a transformation over the course of his ordeal, as he discovers that even among the most debased criminals there are strong and beautiful souls. Notes from a Dead House reveals the prison as a tragedy both for the inmates and for Russia. It endures as a monumental meditation on freedom.

In 1849, Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years at hard labor in a Siberian prison camp for participating in a socialist discussion group. The novel he wrote after his release, based on notes he smuggled out, not only brought him fame, but also founded the tradition of Russian prison writing. Notes from a Dead House (sometimes translated as The House of the Dead) depicts brutal punishments, feuds, betrayals, and the psychological effects of confinement, but it also reveals the moments of comedy and acts of kindness that Dostoevsky witnessed among his fellow prisoners. 
       To get past government censors, Dostoevsky made his narrator a common-law criminal rather than a political prisoner, but the perspective is unmistakably his own. His incarceration was a transformative experience that nourished all his later works, particularly Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky’s narrator discovers that even among the most debased criminals there are strong and beautiful souls. His story is, finally, a profound meditation on freedom: “The prisoner himself knows that he is a prisoner; but no brands, no fetters will make him forget that he is a human being.” 

  • Published: 15 April 2016
  • ISBN: 9780307949875
  • Imprint: Knopf US
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $36.99

About the author

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow on 11th November 1821. He had six siblings and his mother died in 1837 and his father in 1839. He graduated from the St Petersburg Academy of Military Engineering in 1846 but decided to change careers and become a writer. His first book, Poor Folk, did very well but on 23rd April 1849 he was arrested for subversion and sentenced to death. After a mock-execution his sentence was commuted to hard labour in Siberia where he developed epilepsy.He was released in 1854. His 1860 book, The House of the Dead was based on these experiences. In 1857 he married Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva. After his release he adopted more conservative and traditional values and rejected his previous socialist position. In the following years he spent a lot of time abroad, struggled with an addiction to gambling and fell deeply in debt. His wife died in 1864 and he married Anna Grigoryeva Snitkina. In the following years he published his most enduring and successful books, including Crime and Punishment (1865). He died on 9th February 1881

Also by Fyodor Dostoevsky

See all

Praise for Notes from a Dead House

  • "Excellent.... Dostoevsky's constant preoccupation is the meaning of human freedom and the prisoners' preservation of their dignity." --Harper's Magazine
  • "A priceless addition to the literature of the penal experience.... A master of psychological portraiture.... A testament to the power of the human will, the way it can marshal patience and imagination and hope against the most nightmarish assaults on human dignity." --The New Criterion
  • "One of the most harrowingly universal books Dostoevsky ever wrote.... It's cause for no small celebration that the extraordinary series of translations by Pevear and Volokhonsky has now seized on Notes from The House of the Dead." --The Buffalo News
  • "The appearance of any new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is always an event in a literary season.... [A] powerful new translation." --Open Letters Monthly
  • "One of literature's definitive prison memoirs.... A classic made current and a welcome addition to the library of Russian literature in translation." --Kirkus Reviews
  • "Dostoevsky unflinchingly describes the dehumanization of prison, such as the way fetters were not even lifted from the dying, but also conveys how the flame of humanity survives even under such conditions, allowing cleverness and compassion to endure. This new translation is eminently readable." --Publishers Weekly