The Petrashevsky Circle was a Russian literary discussion group of progressive-minded commoner-intellectuals in St. Petersburg organized by Mikhail Petrashevsky, a follower of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier. Among the members were writers, teachers, students, minor government officials, and army officers. While differing in political views, most of them were opponents of the tsarist autocracy and Russian serfdom. Among those connected to the circle were the writers Dostoyevsky and Saltykov-Shchedrin, the poets Pleshcheyev, Apollon Maikov, and Taras Shevchenko.
Like that of the Lyubomudry group founded earlier in the century, the purpose of the circle was to discuss Western philosophy (specifically Hegel) and literature which was officially banned by the Imperial government of Nicholas I.
Nicholas I, terrified by the prospect of revolutions of 1848 spreading to Russia, saw great danger in secret organisations like this. Members of the Circle in 1849 were arrested and imprisoned. A large group of prisoners was sent to Semyonov Place for execution, but at the last minute a courier arrived in great haste, interrupting the proceedings. As part of a pre-planned intentional deception, the Tsar had prepared a letter to general-adjutant Sumarokov, commuting the death sentences to incarceration (see mock execution). Some of the prisoners were sent to Siberia, others to prisons. Dostoyevsky's eight-year sentence was later reduced to four years by Nicholas I.
Members of Assembly, Circles close to Petrashevists
In the history of literature of the 19th century, the Mikhail Petrashevsky occupies a prominent place, because no one has participated in the Russian political process as much as writers and scientists. But the Petrashevsky circle through its individual members (Durova, mostly) was in close contact with many others, which argued in exactly the same spirit against censorship, serfdom, and the corruption of officialdom. With an interest they read and commented on the theories of Étienne Cabet, Charles Fourier, Proudhon.
A certain group of the Circle held its meetings at Irinarkh Vvedenskiy; among its members were young writers and students of G. E. Blagosvetlov, A. P. Milyukov and N. A. Chernyshevsky. A well-known memoirs' author, F. F. Vigel, who knew of these meetings and the way they were linked to those held at Petrashevsky's, reported on the Vvedensky group. The lack of precise data in his report, not to mention the help of Rostovtsev, Vvedensky's friend, saved the latter and his friends.
Some members escaped execution, among them V. A. Èngel, later an active participant in Herzen's Polar Star, a famous theorist of Slavophilism Nikolai Danilevsky, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin and poet Apollon Maykov who often visited Petrashevsky's Friday meetings.
Valerian Maikov and Belinsky, two well-known writers, associated with the Petrashevsky Circle, died actually before it was broken. Valerian Maykov was very close to Petrashevsky and took a large part in the compilation of Kirillov's work, "Dictionary of Foreign Words", one of the prosess' corpus delicti.
Vissarion Belinsky, the author of Letter to Gogol, would have been classified as the most dangerous criminal, since many of the Petrashevsky Circle members' only fault had been participation in spreading this letter's text around. Among such was the poet Aleksey Pleshcheyev who, according to the verdict, "for distributing letters Belinsky, was deprived of all rights of the state and sent to hard labor in factories for 4 years." One of the reasons for Golovinski, Dostoyevsky and Palm's convictions was actually the 'failure to report' on those who took part in publishing the Belinsky's letter.
Members of the Petrashevsky circle exiled to Siberia and the Kazakh steppe influenced the nascent Kazakh intelligentsia, imparting to them a Western and progressive worldview. One of the most notable interlocutors of Dostoyevsky during his time of exile was the Kazakh scholar and military officer Chokan Valikhanov.
List of Petrashevists
- Mikhail Petrashevsky, titular councilor, 27 years old
- Dmitry Akhsharumov, Ph.D. St. Petersburg State University, 26 years old
- Vasily Golovinski, titular councilor, 20 years old
- Nikolai Petrovich Grigoriev, Lieutenant Guards Horse-Grenadier Regiment
- Hippolyte Deboo, serving in the Asian Department, 25 years old
- Konstantin Deboo, serving in the Asian Department, 38 years old
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a retired engineer lieutenant, writer, 27 years old
- Sergei Durov, a retired collegiate assessor, writer, 33 years old
- Alexander Evropeus, a retired collegiate secretary, 2? years old
- Basil Kamen, the son of honorary citizen, 19 years old
- Nikolay Kashkin, serving in the Asian Department, 20 years old
- Fedor Lvov, captain of the Life Guards regiment of Chasseurs, 25 years old
- Nikolay Mombelli, the lieutenant of the Life Guards regiment of Moscow, 27 years old
- Alexander Palm, lieutenant of the Life Guards regiment of Chasseurs, 27 years old
- Aleksey Pleshcheyev, non-serviceman, writer, 23 years old
- Nikolay Speshnyov, lord of the Kursk province, 28 years old
- Konstantin Timkovsky, titular councilor, 35 years old
- Felix Toll, master chief engineering school, 26 years old
- Pavel Filippov, a student at St. Petersburg University, 24 years old
- Alexander Khanykov, a student at St. Petersburg University, 24 years old
- Raphael Chernosvitov, a retired lieutenant colonel (former superintendent), 39 years old
- Peter Shaposhnikov, a tradesman, 28 years old
- Ivan Yastrzhembsky, Assistant Inspector in the Institute of Technology, 34 years old
- Alexander Balasoglo, a poet, a retired naval officer, 36 years old
In total, about forty Petrashevists were arrested, including 21 intended to be sentenced to death, with one gone mad in the process of investigation and having the sentence deferred.