Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)

Solzhenitsyn attended the University of Rostov-na-Donu, graduating in mathematics, and took correspondence courses in literature at Moscow State University. He fought in World War II, achieving the rank of captain of artillery. In 1945, however, he was arrested for writing a letter in which he criticized Joseph Stalin, and he spent eight years in prisons and labor camps and three more years in enforced exile. Rehabilitated in 1956, he was allowed to settle in Ryazan, in central Russia, where he taught and began to write fiction. When the first parts of Arkhipelag GULag (THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO) were published in Paris in December 1973, Solzhenitsyn was attacked in the Soviet press and arrested; he was charged with treason two months later. He was exiled from the Soviet Union in February 1974. In the late 1980s Solzhenitsyn's work received renewed attention in the Soviet Union, and in 1989 the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir published the first officially approved excerpts from The GULag Archipelago. Other works were also published, and Solzhenitsyn's Soviet citizenship was officially restored in 1990. In 1994 he moved back to Russia.

(From: "Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (Isayevich)." Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, Merriam-Webster, 1995).


Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, a small town in the Caucasus mountains that was about to be engulfed in the Russian Civil War. Both parents were of peasant stock, but their ties to the traditional way of life had been loosened by extensive schooling. The future writer's father, Isaaki Solzhenitsyn, had left the family farm to pursue an education and was enrolled at Moscow University at the outbreak of World War I. Despite pacifist leanings inspired by the teachings of Tolstoy, he dropped out of college to enlist in the military, serving with distinction as an artillery officer. The writer's mother (née Taissia Shcherbak), the daughter of a prosperous Ukrainian farmer, had graduated from an exclusive girls' school and was studying at an agricultural academy in Moscow when she met Isaaki Solzhenitsyn. The pair were married in 1917, but Solzhenitsyn's father did not live to see his firstborn: he died as a result of a hunting accident several months before Aleksandr's birth.

After the untimely death of her husband and the expropriation of her father's land and possessions by the Bolsheviks, Taissia Solzhenitsyn had no choice but to seek employment, a task made difficult by the new regime's policy of deliberate discrimination against relatives of former landowners and officers. The meager earnings brought in by sporadic work as typist and stenographer in Rostov-on-Don were barely enough to sustain mother and son, and Solzhenitsyn's childhood was a time of severe and continuous deprivation. Yet despite these hardships, and despite the lack of sympathy for the Soviet regime among the family's closest circle of friends, we have the writer's recollection that he soon began to be swayed by the ideological fervor of the time. Soviet education was winning him over, and by the late 1930's Solzhenitsyn had become a committed disciple of Marx and Lenin.

The same years also marked the beginning of persistent literary experimentation in both prose and verse. Solzhenitsyn dismissed these early writings as "the usual adolescent nonsense," but with one significant exception: during his last year in high school and first year at university, Solzhenitsyn had undertaken extensive research into the Russian army's ill-conceived invasion of Eastern Prussia in August of 1914, his ultimate purpose being to incorporate an account of the ensuing Russian defeat into a large epic devoted to the Russian Revolution. We can easily recognize Solzhenitsyn's Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo (August 1914, 1971; complete text, 1983) and its sequels in this early design, even though in the intervening decades the author's views of the Revolution itself were to undergo a radical transformation.

Solzhenitsyn entered Rostov University in 1937, specializing in mathematics and physics despite his growing interest in literature. His choice was in large part determined by concern for his ailing mother, who had developed tuberculosis and was by now too ill to move from Rostov or to be left behind if he were to enroll in an institution where literature was taught at a level more sophisticated than that available in Rostov. (In later years Solzhenitsyn came to regard this decision as providential, since it was precisely his diploma in mathematics that would bring about his removal from labor camp · at a time when his physical survival was at risk · to the relative security of a closed prison institute.)

In any event, Solzhenitsyn was outstandingly successful in his university career, an excellent academic record being matched by his enthusiastic involvement in activities such as the editorship of a student newspaper. He also managed to undertake a systematic study of literature through a correspondence course offered by the prestigious Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History (MIFLI). His manifold activities did not prevent him from striking out in other directions as well. He met and courted Natalia Reshetovskaia, a fellow student at the university who, just like himself, was studying science but in addition had extensive interests in music. They were married in 1940.

Solzhenitsyn graduated with distinction in the spring of 1941, but instead of looking for a position in science or mathematics, he resolved to take up the full-time study of literature in Moscow. As he arrived in the capital in June of that year, the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union made shambles of all his plans. Solzhenitsyn immediately tried to enlist, but to his great chagrin was disqualified on medical grounds. Four months later, however, he was called up for service in a horse-drawn transport unit. Frustrated by the unfamiliar task of dealing with horses, Solzhenitsyn wrote incessant appeals to be transferred to the front. At last his luck changed and he was admitted to a wartime training course for artillery officers. His skill in mathematics determined the rest: Solzhenitsyn came to specialize in sound ranging, a technique whereby the location of an enemy battery is determined by means of dispersed microphones.

Commissioned in 1942, Solzhenitsyn soon received command of his own battery, and from mid 1943 until 1945 was involved in major action at the front. In military terms his record was excellent: his unit won top ranking for discipline and battle effectiveness, while he himself was twice decorated for personal heroism and promoted to captain. He was brought low by a lack of political caution. For some months he had carried on a correspondence with a fellow officer in another unit, a good friend from Rostov who, like Solzhenitsyn, had developed serious reservations about Stalin and his policies. Assuming that personal mail would be subjected to merely superficial censorship, the two friends had exchanged views on this subject in only slightly veiled fashion.

They were quite mistaken. Solzhenitsyn was arrested at the front in February 1945, brought to Moscow for interrogation, and sentenced to eight years in corrective labor camps for "anti-Soviet agitation" and "malicious slander." The most important phase of his education was about to begin.

Solzhenitsyn served the first part of his sentence in labor camps in the outskirts of Moscow and inside the city itself. In volume 2 of Arkhipelag GULag (The Gulag Archipelago, 1973-1975), the writer gives an unsparing account of himself during this period, when naiveté and a complete lack of psychological preparation led him to humiliating compromises with his conscience. He was also reaching the point of physical collapse and almost certainly would not have survived had he not attracted the regime's attention with his background in mathematics. It was common practice at the time to put prisoners with specialized training to work in prison research institutes (referred to as sharashkas), and in mid 1947 Solzhenitsyn was pulled out of camp and assigned to Marfino, an institute that was charged with designing and producing a telephone scrambler. Apart from a marked improvement of living conditions · there was no exhausting physical labor and the diet was more substantial · the three years he spent there were for Solzhenitsyn a time of great intellectual growth. His Marxist faith had already been shaken to its roots by his earlier labor camp experiences; and at the Marfino sharashka he was able to test and realign his evolving views in the process of endless philosophical debates with several friends. In the novel V kruge pervom (The First Circle, 1968; full version, 1978), Solzhenitsyn's ideological and spiritual odyssey is ascribed to Gleb Nerzhin, a fictional character whose fate has many points in common with Solzhenitsyn's own experience in Marfino.

In 1950, on account of a conflict with the authorities, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the prison institute and transported to a newly organized camp for political prisoners in Ekibastuz, part of an immense forced-labor empire sprawled over the plains of Soviet Central Asia. The three years at this camp were eventually to provide Solzhenitsyn with rich material for his future work. By turns a common laborer, a bricklayer, and a foundryman, Solzhenitsyn also witnessed a major protest strike by the prisoners and came into contact with numerous individuals who had long histories of incarceration in various Soviet prisons and camps. The implacable routine of the camp system and its effect on a representative cross-section of the inmate population is depicted in Solzhenitsyn's Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1962), while many of the accounts he heard from his new acquaintances were later incorporated into The Gulag Archipelago.

In 1952 Solzhenitsyn underwent surgery in the camp hospital for the removal of a large cancerous swelling. The procedure was deemed a success at the time, and Solzhenitsyn later related that at a certain point during his convalescence he felt the need to rededicate himself to the Christian faith of his childhood. That same year brought him the depressing news that his wife, who had earlier filed divorce papers for the semblance of dissociating herself from an "enemy of the people," had now finalized the divorce proceeding and was living with another man.

Solzhenitsyn was released from camp in March 1953, shortly after his eight-year sentence had expired. But instead of being granted full freedom, former political prisoners were routinely confined "in perpetuity"' to places of internal exile determined by the authorities. In Solzhenitsyn's case this was Kok-Terek, a tiny hamlet on the southern border of Kazakhstan, where the writer eventually received a job as a teacher of mathematics and physics at the local school. All his spare time was now taken up by a feverish haste to record on paper the prodigious amount of verse he had composed in the preceding years. Camp regulations had strictly forbidden inmates from keeping any notes, but Solzhenitsyn had hit upon a method of preserving his thoughts: he cast them in poetic form and committed them to memory, using an elaborate ritual to review the growing text at regular intervals. The major product of this activity was the narrative poem "Dorozhenka" (The way), which allegedly contained over 10,000 lines of verse. Solzhenitsyn later expressed reservations about the poetic quality of this text, and for this reason allowed only small sections to be published, but "Dorozhenka" served him as a repository of his thoughts and feelings during the time of his imprisonment. The title itself is clearly a metaphor for the intellectual and spiritual odyssey of the autobiographical protagonist, set against the kaleidoscopic background of events that he had witnessed. The poem, prefigured in a fundamental manner much of Solzhenitsyn,s later work, reflecting both his extraordinary drive to record past experience, and his constant attempt to draw meaning from the raw data of life by subjecting it to the discipline of literary form.

Other works composed and memorized in camp, but recorded in full written form only in Kok-Terek, are Prusskie nochi (Prussian Nights, 1974), Pir pobeditelei (Victory Celebrations, 1981) and Plenniki (Prisoners, 1981). The first two were in fact originally part of "Dorozhenka," but then evolved into independent works. All three are based on the author's experiences in early 1945, at first as an officer in the victoriously advancing Soviet army and then as a prisoner of Soviet counterintelligence.

Some months after settling in Kok-Terek, Solzhenitsyn's ambitious literary plans suddenly appeared to turn moot. He had developed acute abdominal pains that were diagnosed as cancer and probably stemmed from a metastasis of the cancerous growth excised in camp. By late 1953 he was desperately ill and was given only a few weeks to live. Racked by pain and filled with despair that his writings would now be lost, Solzhenitsyn buried them in his garden and undertook an arduous journey to a cancer clinic in Tashkent; his stay there later found reflection in the novel Rakovyi korpus (Cancer Ward, 1968).

Massive radiation treatment succeeded in shrinking Solzhenitsyn's tumor substantially, and in 1954 he was able to resume his duties as a teacher in Kok-Terek, while continuing to dedicate all his spare time to writing. His next work was another play on the labor-camp theme, ironically entitled Respublika truda (Republic of labor, 1981). (The version of this text published under the title Olen' i shalashovka [The Love-Girl and the Innocent, 1969] was prepared in 1962 in the hope of a Soviet theatrical performance; it represents an abridged and "softened" variant in which Solzhenitsyn also changed the names of many characters.) And in 1955 he began work on what was to become the masterly novel The First Circle.

The liberalization that followed Stalin's demise in 1953 had direct consequences for Solzhenitsyn. His sentence of "perpetual exile" was annulled in 1956, and Solzhenitsyn was permitted to return to the European part of Russia. He first took up residence in Miltsevo, a small village about a hundred miles east of Moscow, where he resumed teaching school and using all his spare time to write. The first draft of The First Circle was completed here, and Miltsevo became the setting of his famous short story entitled "Matrenin dvor" ("Matryona's Home," 1963).

In the following year the criminal charges that had originally led to Solzhenitsyn's arrest in 1945 were reviewed by one of Nikita Khrushchev's "rehabilitation tribunals" and declared invalid; Solzhenitsyn was issued an official certificate clearing his record. In 1957 he also reinstated his marriage to Natalia Reshetovskaia, moving with her to Ryazan, a provincial town southeast of Moscow, where he soon settled into his by now familiar routine of teaching physics and writing in secret.

The next three years were representative of the astonishing productivity that marked Solzhenitsyn's entire career as a writer. He undertook a fundamental revision of The First Circle, laid the groundwork for the project that would eventually grow into The Gulag Archipelago, completed a cycle of contemplative prose sketches, composed a screenplay about a camp uprising (Znaiut istinu tanki [Tanks Know the Truth], 1981), tried his hand at a play deliberately set outside any specific historical context (Svecha na vetru [A Candle in the Wind, 1969]), and wrote three prose works of great significance: the narrative that later acquired the title One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and two short stories of more conventional length, "Matryona's Home" and "Pravaia kist" ("The Right Hand," 1968). All of these works, it must be noted, were written "for the drawer," that is, without the hope of having them appear in print during the author's lifetime.

One Day was the text that was destined to change all that. Following the Twenty-Second Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in October 1961, at which Stalinism had been ringingly denounced, Solzhenitsyn decided to risk submitting his manuscript to Novyi mir, the Soviet Union's most respected literary monthly. In Bodalsia telenok s dubom (The Oak and the Calf, 1975), Solzhenitsyn's account of his uneven struggle with the regime, the writer relates with great verve how clever planning by intermediaries got the text directly into the hands of Aleksandr Tvardovsky, the chief editor, who expressed enthusiasm but had to undertake extraordinary further maneuvers to see the story into print.

The appearance of One Day in the November 1962 issue of Novyi mir was immediately recognized as an event of great significance. While the West treated it primarily as a political bombshell, the official Soviet interpretation sought to present the story as an excoriation of the abuses of the Stalinist past, now safely and irrevocably gone. For the many millions of ordinary citizens who had come face-to-face with the reality of the camps, however, the impact of the text was of a different order entirely. One Day was the first "legitimate" publication to address the camp theme honestly · this after decades of official evasions or outright denials concerning the very existence of the labor camp system. In such a context the story represented a powerful reaffirmation of objective reality, a public acknowledgement that the suffering inflicted · but long denied recognition · had indeed taken place. It was perceived as a restoration of the past and a redemption of lost time, for this reason evoking an emotional response of great intensity. At the same time those who preferred to erase this terrible period of Soviet history from their memory were also profoundly disturbed by One Day.

As a result of this publication Solzhenitsyn was inundated with letters. The majority of correspondents expressed fervent approval and gratitude; many described their own camp experiences or offered to do so. A few years earlier Solzhenitsyn had begun sketching out plans for a historical survey of the Soviet penal system, but had abandoned the project as too ambitious. But now fate itself seemed to be summoning him to this task, and in the course of 1963 and 1964 he met privately with many of his correspondents in order to record their accounts in as much detail as possible. Most of this data was eventually incorporated into The Gulag Archipelago.

Meanwhile, the wave of liberalization in the Soviet Union that had made the publication of One Day possible was already beginning to recede, with immediate consequences for Solzhenitsyn. Increasingly hostile criticism was levelled at his prose works published in Novyi mir in the months following the appearance of One Day (especially "Matryona's Home"), and his nomination for the Lenin Prize in 1964 was sabotaged at the last moment by floating the shameless allegation that Solzhenitsyn had been a Nazi collaborator during the war. The atmosphere deteriorated further after the late-1964 coup that removed Khrushchev from power. Under the circumstances, Solzhenitsyn's attempts to get a revised and toned-down version of The First Circle published in Novyi mir were doomed to failure, and the writer decided to have a microfilm of the manuscript spirited abroad in 1964.

Things took another sharp turn for the worse in 1965 when KGB raids on the apartments of two friends resulted in the confiscation of a large volume of Solzhenitsyn's notes, files, and manuscripts of unpublished works. Apart from The First Circle, the latter included early plays like Victory Celebrations, where the unmistakable expressions of hostility toward the regime could easily serve as grounds for arrest. In fact the authorities soon began making selective use of the confiscated material in an effort to discredit the writer. This development, and Solzhenitsyn's inability to get his major new work, Cancer Ward (written during 1963-1966), into print, seems to have precipitated the writer's resolve to reach his readers in ways defined by himself. In the Soviet Union of the 1960's this meant releasing a copy of the manuscript into the so-called samizdat network, an informal system whereby texts that had not received (or could not receive) official sanction for publication were manually retyped in several copies and distributed chain-letter fashion among like-minded individuals.

In general Solzhenitsyn became increasingly bold in his actions and outspoken in his expression of antipathy for the authorities; the image of him as the tough infighter and master strategist in the struggle with the Soviet regime dates primarily from the post-1965 period. In sharp contrast to his previous tendency to withdraw from the public eye, Solzhenitsyn now made a point of being noticed, firing off eloquent protests, agreeing to give public readings from his works, and even granting interviews to foreign correspondents. His most conspicuous act of defiance at the time was the 1967 open letter to the Soviet Writers' Union in which he bitterly rebuked the organization for its craven acceptance of everything the regime had dished out over the years, from the heavy-handed censorship of literary works to the physical persecution of hundreds of writers. The letter was individually sent to some 250 delegates attending the Fourth Congress of Soviet Writers, but discussion of the topics it raised was blocked by the union's leadership.

Apart from such highly visible activities Solzhenitsyn was moving with even greater resolve behind the scenes. In conditions of utmost secrecy he undertook the gargantuan task of weaving together the data contained in the testimonies he had collected from hundreds of former inmates of Soviet camps and prisons into an 1800-page-long historical overview of the entire system entitled The Gulag Archipelago. In 1968 he microfilmed the completed study and had the film smuggled abroad for safekeeping. And a year earlier he had given a signal to proceed with the publication of The First Circle in the West. Meanwhile, Cancer Ward had crossed the border of its own accord (such was the typical result of samizdat distribution) and in 1968 Solzhenitsyn had the satisfaction of seeing the virtually simultaneous appearance of these two major works in the leading Western countries. The critical reception was overwhelmingly positive, and from now on Solzhenitsyn's formidable international reputation could not but inhibit the Soviet regime from undertaking any extreme actions against him.

But the writer had no intention of resting on the laurels of these victories. With his customary energy he next turned to the vastly ambitious project that he described as the "principal task" of his life. This was the multipart historical epic centered on the Russian Revolution, collectively known as Krasnoe koleso (The Red Wheel), in which August 1914 represented the first installment or "knot" (uzel). Working with intense concentration in 1969 and 1970, Solzhenitsyn completed the version of this volume that appeared in Paris in 1971. (A substantially expanded edition was published in two volumes in 1983.)

In the meantime there had been new developments in the ongoing duel between the writer and the authorities. In late 1969 Solzhenitsyn was summarily expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers for "antisocial behavior" and views judged to be "radically in conflict with the aims and purposes" of the organization. In the Soviet context this action could be a damaging blow, since it formally closed access to "legitimate" publication and rendered the writer technically unemployed (a punishable offense under Soviet law). In this particular instance, however, Soviet journals were already closed to Solzhenitsyn, and the regime must have been painfully surprised by the outpouring of protest from Western writers and literary associations that followed the expulsion. Moreover, the action of the Writers' Union apparently played a role in Solzhenitsyn's decision in 1970 to retain a Swiss lawyer in order to look after his interests abroad, which was by Soviet standards an unprecedented arrangement.

In October 1970 the Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to Solzhenitsyn "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature." In the eight short years since the appearance of One Day, Solzhenitsyn had risen to the pinnacle of international fame and had without question become the world's most celebrated living author.

The writer accepted the prize gratefully and expressed the intention of attending the award ceremonies, but a furious campaign launched against him in the Soviet press forced a change of plans, since it seemed likely that he would be barred from returning to his homeland. A further shadow was cast on the event by the refusal of the Swedish government to allow an alternative award ceremony to take place in their embassy building in Moscow, evidently for fear of offending Soviet sensibilities. (No mutually satisfactory procedure could be worked out at the time, and the Nobel insignia were presented to Solzhenitsyn four years later, when the writer was already living in the West.)

At the very time of the Nobel Prize announcement and its aftermath, Solzhenitsyn was in the midst of a painful crisis in his relationship with Natalia Reshetovskaia. He and Reshetovskaia had been steadily drifting apart during the preceding several years, but now matters had come to a head when Solzhenitsyn revealed his relationship with another woman, one that he had no intention of terminating. The distraught Reshetovskaia made an attempt to commit suicide. Her life was saved, but Solzhenitsyn now resolved to press for a divorce, and despite Reshetovskaia's opposition and her appeal to a Soviet court, the break was finalized in early 1973. Shortly thereafter Solzhenitsyn married Natalia Svetlova, a mathematician by training, who in due course became his irreplaceable assistant and confidante, the trusted editor of his works, and the mother of his three sons.

Although the press campaign against Solzhenitsyn occasioned by the Nobel Prize soon began to abate, there were signs that the regime was preparing more serious moves. In August 1971 the summer cottage Solzhenitsyn had been using as a retreat was ransacked by a group of KGB operatives during his absence, and a friend who happened to stumble onto the scene was savagely beaten and threatened. Meanwhile, another group of agents was dispatched to Solzhenitsyn's birthplace in the hope of uncovering damaging information about his background. And with the same goal in mind, the Soviet press agency Novosti approached Reshetovskaia, offering to publish her reminiscences of Solzhenitsyn. She agreed, and the Russian version of her heavily doctored text appeared in 1975.

But by far the most ominous development was the mid-1973 arrest of Elizaveta Voronianskaia, a Leningrad woman who had helped Solzhenitsyn in the typing of his manuscripts. After days of relentless interrogation by the KGB, Voronianskaia had revealed the hiding place of a manuscript copy of The Gulag Archipelago; soon thereafter she was either murdered or committed suicide. Solzhenitsyn reacted to this tragic news with the only response he considered appropriate: The Gulag Archipelago now needed to be published without delay and in its entirety. The corresponding instructions were sent to Solzhenitsyn's Swiss lawyer, and the first volume of the Russian edition appeared in Paris at the very end of 1973, making front-page news around the world.

The impact of The Gulag Archipelago in the West can be compared only to the seismic shock produced by One Day upon Soviet readers. The facts laid out in Solzhenitsyn's history of Soviet prisons and camps were in themselves not really new, since both specialist studies and numerous memoirs by former inmates had been available in the West for many years. Yet despite this, and despite the deStalinization campaign waged by Khrushchev a decade earlier, Western public opinion had to a large degree retained a visceral distrust of information of this sort. It was therefore a measure of Solzhenitsyn's skill as a writer that by the force of his narrative he was able to break this pattern of automatic skepticism, and to convince millions of readers of the stark reality of his portrayal. In this sense The Gulag Archipelago will undoubtedly remain the most shattering blow ever delivered to the image of the Soviet Union.

Predictably enough, the Soviet regime reacted to the appearance of The Gulag Archipelago with torrents of vituperation. Journalists vied with milkmaids and lathe operators (who had of course not laid eyes on the work in question) in denouncing the author in essays and outraged letters to the editor. Solzhenitsyn was called a psychotic renegade choking with hatred for the country of his birth, a corrupt offspring of embittered class enemies, a despicable Judas dancing to the tune of Western warmongers and Red-baiters, a Nazi sympathizer, a slimy reptile, and so on. There were also threatening phone calls to his Moscow apartment and leering notes in the mail.

Unpleasant as this orchestrated eruption of hatred must have been, Solzhenitsyn was inclined to believe that the storm would blow over, just as the earlier press campaign against him had not led to any further action. This time he was wrong. On 12 February 1974 a large party of KGB agents showed up at his door with an order for his arrest. Solzhenitsyn was taken to Lefortovo prison, subjected to all the humiliating procedures for incoming prisoners, charged with treason, stripped of his Soviet citizenship, and on the next day expelled to West Germany on a plane specially reserved for this purpose. In The Oak and the Calf the writer gives an extraordinarily vivid account of these two days and of the inner tumult to which they gave rise.

Solzhenitsyn first set up residence in Zurich (where his wife and family joined him after being allowed to leave the USSR), but soon began to look for a place more suited to his need for privacy, and in mid 1976 he relocated to the United States, settling in Cavendish, a village in a sparsely populated area of southern Vermont.

During his initial years in the West, Solzhenitsyn travelled widely, consenting to a number of appearances and interviews. Some of these became major public events, as for example his television discussion with several short-tempered French intellectuals (April 1975), his blunt remarks in Washington and New York about the illusions of détente (June and July 1975), his speeches to the British on television and radio (February 1976), and his celebrated commencement address at Harvard University (June 1978).

While the interest generated by each of these occasions was considerable · in some cases it was enormous · Solzhenitsyn's public pronouncements did not meet with unanimous approval in the West. Rather, there rose an ever-increasing chorus of dissent, much of it based on genuine disagreement with Solzhenitsyn's message. The writer's belief in the irredeemably evil and hence "unreformable" nature of communism collided with deeply ingrained Marxist sympathies, while his sharp rebuke of the West for what he considered its loss of moral fortitude was deemed shrill and offensive by some. It was charged that the writer's public statements lacked the nuance and complexity that distinguished his literary work. Solzhenitsyn was also assailed by angry critics for his alleged hostility to democracy and to the principle of free speech, for supposedly harboring theocratic and monarchist sympathies, and for willfully ignoring the defects of prerevolutionary Russia while exaggerating those of the contemporary West. Solzhenitsyn's many essays and interviews are a large subject in themselves; suffice it to say here that most of the charges listed above could be substantiated only by wrenching the writer's words out of context. The fact remains, nevertheless, that Solzhenitsyn's hitherto unassailable public image in the West sustained damage from these attacks and innuendos. And this, in turn, seems to have contributed to his increasing tendency to abstain from commenting on public issues. Turning his prodigious energies inward, Solzhenitsyn began to concentrate on his own work: in 1978 he launched his authorized collected works, and he immersed himself in the historical cycle initiated by August 1914.

Solzhenitsyn nevertheless got involved in one other major project. In 1977 he announced the formation of the Russian Memoir Library, an entity visualized both as a repository for unpublished materials bearing on twentieth-century Russia and as a research facility. He appealed to Russian emigrés to submit manuscripts, letters, and photographs in their possession, urged them to write their own reminiscences, and promised to publish the most interesting of the materials received. By 1988, eight volumes of the memoir series had appeared in print. Solzhenitsyn also sponsored a series of scholarly studies on modern Russian history, and several important titles had been published by the late 1980's. The aim of this undertaking was of course consistent with Solzhenitsyn's entire oeuvre and expressed his overwhelming desire to preserve and rescue from oblivion the true contours of Russian twentieth-century history.

The late 1980's brought promising developments. As the winds of glasnost (openness) began sweeping away taboos in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union, the long-forbidden name of Solzhenitsyn started to crop up in Soviet publications in various positive contexts. In mid 1988 a Moscow periodical called for an annullment of the 1974 charges against Solzhenitsyn and the restoration of his citizenship; the response from readers indicated strong support for the proposal. Meanwhile, Novyi mir, the journal on the pages of which Solzhenitsyn had begun his public career as a writer, had succeeded in working out an agreement with him whereby selections from The Gulag Archipelago were to appear in early 1989, with the novels The First Circle and Cancer Ward to follow at a later point. The process of returning Solzhenitsyn to readers in the Soviet Union was due to begin even earlier, with several literary meetings scheduled to coincide with the writer's seventieth birthday on 11 December 1988 and a promised publication of his Nobel Lecture.

But these plans were disrupted at the last moment by the direct intervention of the Politburo. Some of the literary gatherings honoring Solzhenitsyn were cancelled outright, those allowed to proceed were denied press or media coverage. More important, the publication of Gulag in Novyi mir was officially pronounced to be out of the question. In what was a startling acknowledgement of the power of Solzhenitsyn's writings, the party's chief ideologist declared that to publish such works in the USSR would be "to undermine the foundations on which our present [Soviet] life rests" (The New York Times, 30 November 1988).

Absolute as this ban seemed to be, it was breached within only a few months. By mid summer of 1989, Solzhenitsyn's essay entitled "Zhit' ne po Izhi" ("Live Not By Lies," written in 1972-1973 and first published by the London Daily Express on 18 February 1974 and then in Russian in Paris the next year) had appeared in a number of Soviet periodicals, the classic short story "Matryona's Home" had been republished in the mass-circulation journal Ogonyok (June 1989), an Estonian-language monthly had printed a chapter from The Gulag Archipelago, Novyi mir had published the "Nobel Lecture" (July 1989) and was once again announcing plans to serialize substantial portions of The Gulag Archipelago on its pages, two large publishing houses were speaking of bringing out editions of selected works, and the leadership of the Writers' Union was said to have voted unanimously for allowing the full text of Gulag to be published in the Soviet Union. And thus, despite restrictions and prohibitions the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn began to return to the country for which they were always intended.


For more detail on his works, read the original article here: 

Klimoff, Alexis. "Aleksandr I(sayevich) Solzhenitsyn." European WritersThe Twentieth Century, edited by George Stade, vol. 13, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990


  • Further Reading
    • "Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo,chitaiut na rodine, (Paris, 1973). A collection of Soviet samizdat reactions to the early edition of August 1914.
    • Barker, Francis, Solzhenitsyn: Politics and Form, (New York, 1977).
    • Berman, Ronald, ed., Solzhenitsyn at Harvard: The Address Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections, (Washington, 1980).
    • Carpovich, Vera, Solzhenitsyn's Peculiar Vocabulary: Russian-English Glossary, (New York, 1976).
    • Dunlop, John B., et al., eds., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, enl. ed. (New York, 1975).
    • Dunlop, John B., et al., eds., Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, Stanford (1985).
    • Feuer, Kathryn, ed., Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. (1976).
    • Gul', Roman Borisovich, Solzhenitsyn: Stat'i, (New York, 1976).
    • Hegge, Per Emil, Mellommann i Moskva, (Oslo, 1971).
    • Kopelev, Lev, Ease My Sorrows, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, (New York, 1983).
    • Labedz, Leopold, ed. Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record, 2d ed., (Harmondsworth, 1973).
    • Lakshin, Vladimir, Solzhenitsyn, Tvardovsky, and "Novy Mir," translated by Michael Glenny, (Cambridge, Mass., 1980).
    • Markstein, Elisabeth, and Felix Philipp Ingold, eds., Uber Solschenizyn: Aufsatze, Berichte, Materialen, (Neuwied and Darmstadt, 1973).
    • Medvedev, Zhores, Ten Years After Ivan Denisovich, translated by Hilary Sternberg, (New York, 1974).
    • Moody, Christopher, Solzhenitsyn, Enl. ed., (New York, 1976).
    • Nivat, Georges and Michel Aucouturier, eds., Soljeánitsyne, (Paris, 1971).
    • Nivat, Georges, Soljeánitsyne, (Paris, 1980). This French-language study is the best general introduction to Solzhenitsyn written to date. A Russian translation exists: Solzhenitsyn, translated by Simon Markish, (London, 1984).
    • Nowikowa, Irene, ed., Seminarbeitrage zum Werk Aleksandr Solzenicyns, (Hamburg, 1972).
    • Ozerov, N., "Po povodu 'Pis'ma' Solzhenitsyna," Russkaia mysl' (Paris, June 13, 1974).
    • Panin, Dimitri, The Notebooks of Sologdin, translated by John Moore, (New York, 1976).
    • Reshetovskaia, N., V spore so vremenem, (Moscow, 1975), translated into English by Elena Ivanoff as Sanya: My Life with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, (Indianapolis, 1975). This memoir by Solzhenitsyn's first wife, and the equally, but somewhat differently, doctored English version, were coauthored [that is, rewritten] by the Soviet press agency, Novosti.
    • Scammell, Michael, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, (New York, 1984).
    • Solzhenitsyn: A Pictorial Autobiography, (New York, 1974).
    • Vinokur, T. G., "O iazyke i stile povesti A. I. Solzhenitsyna 'Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha'," Voprosy kul'tury rechi, (Moscow, 1965) no. 6, 16-32.