In a momentous week for world politics, let's turn to Dostoevsky

Above all, don't lie to yourself

Friday November 11th, is the birthday of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. Don't worry if you haven't got him anything, he was born in 1821 and died in 1881.

His most famous work is Crime and Punishment, with The Idiot, The Karamazov Brothers and Notes From The Underground also widely acclaimed.

Before he wrote any of those classics, however, there was an episode in his life where, if you read it in a book, or saw it in a film, you'd raise an eyebrow and mutter something along the lines of, 'Yeah, right, that never actually happens'. You may even let slip a perfectly justified 'tsk'.

Our story, our completely true story, begins with Dostoevsky enjoying great critical and commercial success with his first novel, Poor Folk (1845). His next few books and short stories, however, fell on stony ground which, coupled with a long-standing gambling problem, lead to financial hardship which, in turn, lead to an interest in socialism.

He eventually joined the Petrashevsky Circle, which proposed social reform in then-imperial Russia and so came to the disapproving attention of Emperor Nicholas I and his enforcers who, having been rocked by attempted revolts and revolutions over the previous 20 years, had the group arrested and tried en masse. Four months later they were all sentenced to death by firing squad.

On December 23rd, in St Petersburg, they were tied-up, lined up and the guards' rifles were raised... when a cart, yep, a cart rolled up carrying a stay of execution from the tsar.

I know, right?! I mean it must have been an astonishingly dramatic scene, but it if was ever filmed, the fact that reprieve comes courtesy of a cart means you'd almost certainly have the theme tune to Steptoe and Son playing in your head, which would rather undercut the tension.

Anyway, our man subsequently 'only' served four years hard labour in a Siberian prison camp followed by an enforced spell of military service.

On his release, of course, he rebuilt a writing career that had started so promisingly but been derailed so gruesomely – and went on to achieve genuine greatness. An estimated 100,000 mourners attended his funeral.

Let's end, shall we, with some of Dostoevsky's own words, from The Karamazov Brothers, and we'll leave it to you to decide whether or not they are especially appropriate in this momentous week in world politics:

“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” 

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