Fydor Doestoevsky is one of the greatest novelists of all time. He describes an experience when he was 27 as a turning point in his life. Doestoevsky came from the privileged class of 19th century Russia, but was committed to the liberation of the oppressed working class, the serfs. He joined a revolutionary liberation group, and as a result was arrested in April 1849. Placed in a maximum security prison, conditions were terrible. Doestoevsky slept on a hard straw bed in a small, damp room without much light. For eight months Doestoevsky and his fellow prisoners were questioned and kept in jail.
In October, the prisoners were removed from their cells and led to waiting carriages. They were not sure of their fate, but assumed the sentence would be light. When the carriages stopped, the prisoners were led onto a square and lined up on a gallows. The men were sentenced to be shot; they were given a cross to kiss, the chance to confess to a priest, and then were dressed in peasant shirts and hoods for the execution. The first three men in line were led to some stakes and tied; the soldiers took aim, and held their positions. Then from nowhere a drum roll was heard and a messenger from the Tsar rode in on a horse, with a pardon for Doestoevsky and his fellow prisoners. They were taken back to prison, with the intention they be sent to prison in Siberia.
In a letter to his brother Mikhail, Doestoevsky describes his new outlook towards life. “When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul – then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness.”
In a novel he later wrote, The Idiot, Doestoevsky describes an execution scene similar to the one he experienced. he describes the thoughts of the 27 year old victim as he awaited death, certainly his reflections on his own near execution. “What if I didn’t have to die!…I would turn every minute into an age, nothing would be wasted, every minute would be accounted for…(Part I, chapter 5)