15 April 2011

Dostoyevsky's Dog

9.6 km 59.16 min 10,064 steps  - suddenly very cool, almost cold, hardly any wind, nice to run.

Convicts en route to Siberia, 1860s.
The obelisk marks border between Europe and Asia.

The great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a member of an anti-tsarist liberal discussion group in 1840s. The group was exposed, its members arrested and Dostoyevsky was sentenced to death. He was already standing in front of the firing squad when clemency came. He was sent to Siberia to do hard labour and stayed there until 1854.

There, in prison, one creature helped him survive and keep sanity – the prison dog, similar to the one in the painting here.

Mock execution in 1849
Below is an excerpt from the novel The House of the Dead (Amazon link), an autobiographical account of the writer's experience, where he writes about the dog. But there is a mystery there. Why did the translator, Constance Garnett, call the dog Bull in English? In Russian he is called Sharik (little ball) which is a common, practically generic name for a dog, usually of unknown breed. It's like Rover or Fido, or Meg, if it were a Welsh farm dog. Was there a point in time, around a hundred years ago when Bull was a common name for a dog?

The quote:

'When I returned in the evening to the convict prison, having finished my afternoon's work, fatigued and harassed, a deep sadness took possession of me. "How many thousands of days have I to pass like this one?" Always the same thought. I walked about alone and meditated as night fell, when, suddenly, near the palisade behind the barracks, I saw my friend, Bull, who ran towards me.

'Bull was the dog of the prison; for the prison has its dog as companies of infantry, batteries of artillery, and squadrons of cavalry have theirs. He had been there for a long time, belonged to no one, looked upon every one as his master, and lived on the remains from the kitchen. He was a good-sized black dog, spotted with white, not very old, with intelligent eyes, and a bushy tail. No one caressed him or paid the least attention to him. As soon as I arrived I made friends with him by giving him a piece of bread. When I patted him on the back he remained motionless, looked at me with a pleased expression, and gently wagged his tail.

'That evening, not having seen me the whole day, me, the first person who in so many years had thought of caressing him he ran towards me, leaping and barking. It had such an effect on me that I could not help embracing him. I placed his head against my body. He placed his paws on my shoulders and looked me in the face.

"Here is a friend sent to me by destiny," I said to myself, and during the first weeks, so full of pain, every time that I came back from work I hastened, before doing anything else, to go to the back of the barracks with Bull, who leaped with joy before me. I took his head in my hands and kissed it. At the same time a troubled, bitter feeling pressed my heart. I well remember thinking and taking pleasure in the thought that this was my one, my only friend in the world my faithful dog, Bull.

Russian text and attributions below the cut.

Когда вечером, по окончании послеобеденной работы, я воротился в острог, усталый и измученный, страшная тоска опять одолела меня. “Сколько тысяч еще таких дней впереди, – думал я, – всё таких же, всё одних и тех же!” Молча, уже в сумерки, скитался я один за казармами, вдоль забора, и вдруг увидал нашего Шарика, бегущего прямо ко мне. Шарик был наша острожная собака, так, как бывают ротные, батарейные и эскадронные собаки. Она жила в остроге с незапамятных времен, никому не принадлежала, всех считала хозяевами и кормилась выбросками из кухни. Это была довольно большая собака, черная с белыми пятнами, дворняжка, не очень старая, с умными глазами и с пушистым хвостом. Никто-то никогда не ласкал ее, никто-то не обращал на нее никакого внимания. Еще с первого же дня я погладил ее и из рук дал ей хлеба. Когда я ее гладил, она стояла смирно, ласково смотрела на меня и в знак удовольствия тихо махала хвостом. Теперь, долго меня не видя, – меня, первого, который в несколько лет вздумал ее приласкать, – она бегала и отыскивала меня между всеми и, отыскав за казармами, с визгом пустилась мне навстречу. Уж и не знаю, что со мной сталось, но я бросился целовать ее, я обнял ее голову; она вскочила мне передними лапами на плеча и начала лизать мне лицо. “Так вот друг, которого мне посылает судьба!” – подумал я, и каждый раз, когда потом, в это первое тяжелое и угрюмое время, я возвращался с работы, то прежде всего, не входя еще никуда, я спешил за казармы, со скачущим передо мной и визжащим от радости Шариком, обхватывал его голову и целовал, целовал ее, и какое-то сладкое, а вместе с тем и мучительно горькое чувство щемило мне сердце. И помню, мне даже приятно было думать, как будто хвалясь перед собой своей же мукой, что вот на всем свете только и осталось теперь для меня одно существо, меня любящее, ко мне привязанное, мой друг, мой единственный друг – моя верная собака Шарик.

First picture: Farewell Europe! by w:Aleksander Sochaczewski (1843-1923).
Second drawing: B. Pokrovsky's drawing. 'Semionov-platz Mock Execition Ritual'. 

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