The House of the Dead (novel)

The House of the Dead (Russian: Записки из Мёртвого дома, Zapiski iz Myortvovo doma) is a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1860–2[1] in the journal Vremya[2] by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, which portrays the life of convicts in a Siberian prison camp. The novel has also been published under the titles Memoirs from the House of The Dead, Notes from the Dead House (or Notes from a Dead House), and Notes from the House of the Dead. The book is a loosely-knit collection of facts, events and philosophical discussion organised by "theme" rather than as a continuous story. Dostoevsky himself spent four years in exile in such a camp following his conviction for involvement in the Petrashevsky Circle. This experience allowed him to describe with great authenticity the conditions of prison life and the characters of the convicts.

The House of the Dead
The House of the Dead, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1911 Edition.
AuthorFyodor Dostoevsky
Original titleЗаписки из Мёртвого дома (Zapiski iz Myortvovo doma)
GenreSemi autobiographical novel, philosophical novel
Publication date
1860–1862; separate edition 1862


After his mock execution on 22 December 1849, Dostoevsky's life was spared in exchange for four years of imprisonment in one of Siberia’s katorga labor camps. Though he often was met with hostility from the other prisoners due to his noble status of dvoryanin, his views on life changed. After his time in the camps Dostoevsky returned to write The House of the Dead. The novel incorporates several of the horrifying experiences he witnessed while in prison. He recalls the guards’ brutality and relish performing unspeakably cruel acts, the crimes that the convicted criminals committed, and the fact that blended amid these great brutes were good and decent individuals.[3] However, he is also astonished at the convicts’ abilities to commit murders without the slightest change in conscience. It was a stark contrast with his own heightened sensitivity. During this time in prison he began experiencing the epileptic seizures that would plague him for the rest of his life. House of the Dead led Dostoevsky to include the theme of murder in his later works, a theme not found in any of his works preceding House of the Dead.[4]

Plot summary

The narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov, has been sentenced to penalty deportation to Siberia and ten years of hard labour for murdering his wife. Life in prison is particularly hard for Aleksandr Petrovich, since he is a "gentleman" and suffers the malice of the other prisoners, nearly all of whom belong to the peasantry. Gradually Goryanchikov overcomes his revulsion at his situation and his fellow convicts, undergoing a spiritual re-awakening that culminates with his release from the camp. It is a work of great humanity; Dostoevsky portrays the inmates of the prison with sympathy for their plight, and also expresses admiration for their energy, ingenuity and talent. He concludes that the existence of the prison, with its absurd practices and savage corporal punishments is a tragic fact, both for the prisoners and for Russia.


Many of the characters in the novel were very similar to the real-life people that Dostoevsky met while in prison. While many of the characters do mirror real-life people, he has also made some of the characters appear more interesting than their real-life counterparts.


The House of the Dead was Dostoevsky’s only work that Leo Tolstoy revered.[5]



  • Fedor Dostoyeffsky (1862). Buried Alive: or, Ten Years Penal Servitude in Siberia. Translated by von Thilo, Marie. London: Longman's, Green, and Co. (published 1881).
  • Fedor Dostoïeffsky (1862). The House of the Dead; or, Prison Life in Siberia. Everyman's Library. London: J.M. Dent & Sons (published 1911).
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (1862). The House of the Dead; A Novel in Two Parts. Translated by Garnett, Constance. New York: The Macmillan Company (published 1915).
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (1862). Memoirs from the House of the Dead. Translated by Coulson, Jessie. Oxford University Press, Oxford World's Classics (published 1983). ISBN 9780199540518.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (1862). The House of the Dead. Translated by McDuff, David. Penguin Classics (published 1985). ISBN 9780140444568.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (1862). Notes from a Dead House. Translated by Pevear, Richard; Volokhonsky, Larissa. Vintage Books (published 2016). ISBN 978-0-307-94987-5.


In 1927–1928, Leoš Janáček wrote an operatic version of the novel, with the title From the House of the Dead. It was his last opera.

In 1932, the novel was adapted to a film, directed by Vasili Fyodorov and starring Nikolay Khmelyov.

See also


  1. The first part was published in 1860 and the second one in 1862. The novel's first complete appearance was in book form in 1862.
  2. Joseph Frank, Introduction to The House of the Dead and Poor Folk, Barnes and Noble, 2004
  3. "Fyodor Dostoevsky." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 23 Oct.2011
  4. Dostoyevsky, Fedor. Memoirs From the House of the Dead. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956. Print.
  5. Rayfield, Donald (29 Sep 2016). "The House of the Dead by Daniel Beer review – was Siberia hell on earth?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
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