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Notes From the Dead House: An Exercise in Spatial Reading, or Three Crowd Scenes

Liberal Arts in Russia. 2014. Vol. 3. No. 5. Pp. 354-368.
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Apollonio C.
Duke University
500 North Duke St., 27701 Durham, NC, USA


The article offers an analysis of the workings of Dostoevsky’s paradoxical poetics of space in three scenes of Notes from the Dead House. In spite of the fact that freedom in its direct meaning is accessible only outside the walls of the prison, and that in our social world it is accessible only to a few, inside the prison freedom can be acquired by everyone, and can be found within every individual. The bathhouse scene, as is often noted by critics, offers a picture of hell. However, the bathhouse, like the church where the prisoners celebrate Easter, is located in the town, not inside the prison. Parallels are analyzed between these two scenes and the theater scene, which serves as the culmination of Part I. The theatrical performance takes place in the barracks where the prisoners live. The curtain is described in terms that suggest an iconostasis; details of the performance suggest a church service. After the theater, the inhabitants of the fortress experience a deep feeling of calm and blessedness, which they do not experience in any other space: “Everyone was somehow unusually satisfied, even as though happy, and they fell asleep not as at all other times, but almost with a calm spirit”. In this way, Notes from the Dead House gives a new vision of freedom at the very center of the prison. The article cites work by Bakhtin, Emerson, Jackson and others.


  • • Feodor Dostoevsky
  • • Notes from the Dead House
  • • chronotope
  • • theatrical performance
  • • iconostasis
  • • church service
  • • prison freedom


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