Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Uglich Bell

I'm in Denmark at the moment, enjoying the lavish hospitality of some old friends whom I cannot easily repay, but meanwhile here is an excerpt from some (highly recommended) in-transit reading. The novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is en route to prison in Siberia. The party makes a stop in the town of Tobolsk:
[O]ne of the first sights to greet their eyes was the town's most ancient and notorious exile, the famous Uglich bell, located just of the road along which they were proceeding. Its story was known to all: At the discovery of the death of Crown Prince Dimitry, suspected of having been murdered by his guardian, Boris Godunov, the bell had rung to summon the inhabitants of Uglich to avenge the boy's death. The new tsar, Boris, later ordered the offending bell to be publicly flogged and mutilated, and it was exiled to Siberia in perpetuity with the injunction that it never ring again. But the people of Tobolsk had long since housed the Uglich bell in a small belfry, and its deep-voiced sonority called them to prayer. There it stood along the roadside, a constant reminder to later exiles of the despotic, capricious, and all-encompassing authority of the Russian tsars, as well as of the ultimate futility of many of their sternest
Joseph Frank, Dostoesvsky: A Writer in His Time

Frank also recounts how Dostoevsky later fell into the hands of a prison sadist who ordered all his charges to sleep on their left side because, as he said, that was the way Jesus Christ slept.

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