“The sun gets warmer and brighter with each day; the air smells of spring and has a stimulating effect on the organism. The coming beautiful days excite the fettered man, too, and in him, too, give rise to certain desires, yearnings, longings. It seems the pining for freedom is still stronger under a bright ray of sunlight than on a grey autumn or winter day.”
These lines from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from a Dead House draw on the Russian author’s experiences in Siberia, where, in 1849 – following his involvement in the politically subversive Petrashevsky Circle, and a harrowing mock execution – he was sentenced to four years’ hard labour.
To avoid attention from government censors following his release, Dostoevsky sketched the emotions of a fictional common-law criminal. Yet within these semi-fictional accounts lies a touching timelessness. One that not only helps us understand the psychological effects on Dostoevsky, during his political imprisonment in Russia, in the 19th century, but that also speaks to our experience of confinement as a global phenomenon in the 21st century.
As the world went into lockdown in spring of last year, I was far removed from the experiences of Dostoevsky’s “unfortunates”. Being housebound in the quiet backwaters of rural India amid a…