Thursday, January 27th, 2022 Politicizing prison memoirs: writing collective resistance in Shlissel´burg Fortress, 1884-1906

Thursday, January 27, 202212:00PM - 2:00PMOnline Event, Online Event


In 1884, the first of 68 prisoners convicted of terrorist offences and membership of the revolutionary organization Narodnaia volia, were transferred to a new maximum security prison at Shlissel´burg Fortress near St Petersburg, the Russian Empire’s most notorious penal institution. The regime of indeterminate sentences in total isolation, complete inactivity and constant surveillance, caused severe mental and physical deterioration among the prisoners, over half of whom died. But the survivors fought back to reform the prison, ultimately overcoming the system of solitary confinement and improving the inmates’ living conditions. In this talk Sarah Young defines these works as a collective memoir, creating a biography of the fortress that identifies the inmates through their places within the prison’s topography. She shows how the texts inscribes forms of resistance that metaphorically – and at times literally – break down the prison walls, to build an exemplary prison community. In doing so they construct a unique genre within carceral writing that became a model for revolutionary activity.

Dr Sarah J. Young is Associate Professor of Russian at University College London, where she teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, culture and thought. A Dostoevsky specialist, her interests in the ethics of narration and the construction of literary space led to her current research project, focusing on Russian prison and exile writing. Her book Writing Resistance: Revolutionary Memoirs of Shlissel’burg Prison, 1884-1906 was published by UCL Press in 2021.


Sarah J. Young
Associate Professor of Russian, University College London

Alison Smith
Professor and Chair of History, University of Toronto

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