Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Bibliography    Autobiography

solzhenitsyn.jpg (13605 bytes)Russian author and historian, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. Solzhenitsyn produced in the 1960s and 1970s a number of major novels based on his own experience of Soviet prison and hospital life under the communist dictator Joseph Stalin. Later he saw that his primary mission is to rewrite the Russian history of the revolutionary period in the multivolumed work The Red Wheel (1983-1991).

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk in the northern Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian seas. His father, a tsarist artillery officer, was killed in an hunting accident six months before Aleksandr's birth.

To support herself and her son, Solzhenitsyn's mother worked as a typist. Solzhenitsy did well at school. He studied mathematics and physics at Rostov University, graduating in 1941. In 1939-41 he took correspondence cources in literature at Moscow State University. He married Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaia in 1940, they divorced in 1950, remarried in 1957, and divorced in 1972. They had three sons. In 1973 Solzhenitsyn married Dmitrievna Svetlova.

In WW II he achieved the rank of captain of artillery and was twice decorated. From 1945 to 1953 he was imprisoned for writing a letter in which he criticized Joseph Stalin. Solzhenitsyn served in the camps and prisons near Moskow, and camp in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan (1945-53).

"The Kolyma was the greatest and most famous island, the pole of ferocity of that amazing country of Gulag, which, though scattered in an archipelago geographically, was, in the psychological sense, fused into a continent - an almost invisible, almost imperceptible country inhabited by the Zek people." (from The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, 1974)

During his imprisonment he was sent to Marfino, a specialized prison that employed mathematicians and scientist in reserach. He was then transferred to forced-labour camp in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, where he developed stomach cancer. Solzhenitsyn was exiled to South Kazakhstan village of Kok-Terek (1953-56), where he worked as mathematics and physics teacher, and wrote in secret. He developed a cancer, but was successfully treated in Tashkent (1954-55). Later these experiences were basis for the novels First Circle, and Cancer Ward. After rehabilitation Solzhenitsyn settled in Riazan as teacher (1957).

Solzhenitsyn published his first book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in 1962 in the leading Soviet literary journal Novyi Mir. It marked the beginning of Soviet prison-camp literature. Solzhenitsyn used third-person direct speech, examining the Soviet life through the eyes of a simple Everyman. Written in direct style, it described the horrors of just one day in a labour camp. The book gained fame both in the USSR and the West, and was compared with Fedor Dostoyevsky's novel House of the Dead.Novyi Mir rejected Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward (1968), in which Kostoglotov, the central character, was a semi-authorial figure. The characters confront questions of life and death, truth and falsehood - emphasized by the discussion of Lev Tolstoi's What Do Men Live For? in the ward. Stalinism is paralleled with the tragedy of those in the hospital suffering from cancer: an informer has cancer of the tongue. The Fist Circle (1968) was set during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and drew a picture of a class of intellectuals, research scientists, caught up in the system of prisons and camps. They are forced to work for the secret police, and debate endlessly about politics and the principles of morality.

The period of official favour lasted few years and Solzhenitsyn was denied to publish his manuscripts. Between the years 1963 and 1966 Solzhenitsyn managed to publish four stories. KGB confiscated the novel V KRUGE PERVON and other writings in 1965 and Solzhenitsyn circulated an open letter to Fourt Congress of the Writers' Union. Unpublished works were smuggled in the West from 1971 and secured Solzhenitsyn's international fame as one of the most prominent opponents of government policies.

Rejecting the ideology of his youth, Solzhenitsyn came to believe that the struggle between good and evil cannot be resolved among parties, classes or doctrines, but is waged within the individual human heart. This Tolstoian view and serch for Christian morality was considered radical in the ideological atmosphere of the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. Solzhenitsyn assumed the role of an observer as the great 19th-century Russian writers who prided themselves on their truthful depiction of the society. He became a chronicler, witness whose own experences are part of the way to approach truth and judge. Thus he could shift from a "neutral" third-person narrative to a direct transcription of the unuttered thoughts of his protagonists, use kaleidoscopic sequences of events and numerous personal testimonies, and extrapolate from individual case histories.

As with Boris Pasternak, the Soviet government denounced Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Prize as a politically hostile act. The first volume of The Gulag Archipelago appeared in 1973. The detailed account of the network of prison and labor camps in Stalin's Russia angered the Soviet authorities and Solzhenitsy was arrested and charged with treason. In 1974 the author was exiled from the Soviet Union. He lived first in Switzerland and moved then in 1976 to the United States, where he continued to write series called The Red Wheel, an epic history of the events, that led to the Russian Revolution. The first volume of The Gulag Archipelago appeared in 1973.

"Exile from his great theme, Stalinism and the Gulag, had exposed his major weakness. Whatever its origins - and I suspect it was born early in his life - an overpowering repression would not allow him to penetrate below the conscious level of his mind. In his earlier works thisdid not matter, for he was able to externalize his unconscious: the savage, Inferno-esque vision of Gulag is, in a sense, a projection of his own repressed violence - on a gargantuan scale, because of the intensity of the repression. Lacking a strong fictive sense, he could never have invented and Inferno, as Dante did; he didn't need to, because this Russian Inferno existed. He hacked the salamander out of the ice. No one else in world literature, ever, could have done it." (D.M. Thomas in Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1998)

After collapse of the Soviet Union Solzhenitsyn returned from Vermont to his home land in 1994. He made a sensational whistle-stop tour through Siberia, and settled then in Moskow. Solzhenitsyn was also received by President Yeltsin and in 1994 he gave an address to Russian Duma. He has continued to write, becoming a highly popular figure, criticizing western materialism and Russian bureacracy and secularization. On the other hand he has accused not to condemn Russian chauvinism. His works have not lately gained such reputation as earlier.

Since his return Solzhenitsyn has published sevaral works. Essay Rebuilding Russia (1990) was widely published, and in 1991 his treason charges were formally dropped. In 1997 was established the Solzhenitsyn Prize for Russian writing. His latest book ROSSIYA V OBVALE (Russia Collapsing), published by Viktor Moskvin, appeared in 1998 and attaced on Russia's business circles and government. The first printing is 5 000 copies.

"A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones." (from The First Circle, 1968)



I was born at Kislovodsk on 11th December, 1918. My father had studied philological subjects at Moscow University, but did not complete his studies, as he enlisted as a volunteer when war broke out in 1914. He became an artillery officer on the German front, fought throughout the war and died in the summer of 1918, six months before I was born. I was brought up by my mother, who worked as a shorthand-typist, in the town of Rostov on the Don, where I spent the whole of my childhood and youth, leaving the grammar school there in 1936. Even as a child, without any prompting from others, I wanted to be a writer and, indeed, I turned out a good deal of the usual juvenilia. In the 1930s, I tried to get my writings published but I could not find anyone willing to accept my manuscripts. I wanted to acquire a literary education, but in Rostov such an education that would suit my wishes was not to be obtained. To move to Moscow was not possible, partly because my mother was alone and in poor health, and partly because of our modest circumstances. I therefore began to study at the Department of Mathematics at Rostov University, where it proved that I had considerable aptitude for mathematics. But although I found it easy to learn this subject, I did not feel that I wished to devote my whole life to it. Nevertheless, it was to play a beneficial role in my destiny later on, and on at least two occasions, it rescued me from death. For I would probably not have survived the eight years in camps if I had not, as a mathematician, been transferred to a so-called sharashia, where I spent four years; and later, during my exile, I was allowed to teach mathematics and physics, which helped to ease my existence and made it possible for me to write. If I had had a literary education it is quite likely that I should not have survived these ordeals but would instead have been subjected to even greater pressures. Later on, it is true, I began to get some literary education as well; this was from 1939 to 1941, during which time, along with university studies in physics and mathematics, I also studied by correspondence at the Institute of History, Philosophy and Literature in Moscow.

In 1941, a few days before the outbreak of the war, I graduated from the Department of Physics and Mathematics at Rostov University. At the beginning of the war, owing to weak health, I was detailed to serve as a driver of horsedrawn vehicles during the winter of 1941-1942. Later, because of my mathematical knowledge, I was transferred to an artillery school, from which, after a crash course, I passed out in November 1942. Immediately after this I was put in command of an artillery-position-finding company, and in this capacity, served, without a break, right in the front line until I was arrested in February 1945. This happened in East Prussia, a region which is linked with my destiny in a remarkable way. As early as 1937, as a first-year student, I chose to write a descriptive essay on "The Samsonov Disaster" of 1914 in East Prussia and studied material on this; and in 1945 I myself went to this area (at the time of writing, autumn 1970, the book August 1914 has just been completed).

I was arrested on the grounds of what the censorship had found during the years 1944-45 in my correspondence with a school friend, mainly because of certain disrespectful remarks about Stalin, although we referred to him in disguised terms. As a further basis for the "charge", there were used the drafts of stories and reflections which had been found in my map case. These, however, were not sufficient for a "prosecution", and in July 1945 I was "sentenced" in my absence, in accordance with a procedure then frequently applied, after a resolution by the OSO (the Special Committee of the NKVD), to eight years in a detention camp (at that time this was considered a mild sentence).

I served the first part of my sentence in several correctional work camps of mixed types (this kind of camp is described in the play, The Tenderfoot and the Tramp). In 1946, as a mathematician, I was transferred to the group of scientific research institutes of the MVD-MOB (Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of State Security). I spent the middle period of my sentence in such "SPECIAL PRISONS" (The First Circle). In 1950 I was sent to the newly established "Special Camps" which were intended only for political prisoners. In such a camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), I worked as a miner, a bricklayer, and a foundryman. There I contracted a tumour which was operated on, but the condition was not cured (its character was not established until later on).

One month after I had served the full term of my eight-year sentence, there came, without any new judgement and even without a "resolution from the OSO", an administrative decision to the effect that I was not to be released but EXILED FOR LIFE to Kok-Terek (southern Kazakhstan). This measure was not directed specially against me, but was a very usual procedure at that time. I served this exile from March 1953 (on March 5th, when Stalin's death was made public, I was allowed for the first time to go out without an escort) until June 1956. Here my cancer had developed rapidly, and at the end of 1953, I was very near death. I was unable to eat, I could not sleep and was severely affected by the poisons from the tumour. However, I was able to go to a cancer clinic at Tashkent, where, during 1954, I was cured (The Cancer Ward, Right Hand). During all the years of exile, I taught mathematics and physics in a primary school and during my hard and lonely existence I wrote prose in secret (in the camp I could only write down poetry from memory). I managed, however, to keep what I had written, and to take it with me to the European part of the country, where, in the same way, I continued, as far as the outer world was concerned, to occupy myself with teaching and, in secret, to devote myself to writing, at first in the Vladimir district (Matryona's Farm) and afterwards in Ryazan.

During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known. Finally, at the age of 42, this secret authorship began to wear me down. The most difficult thing of all to bear was that I could not get my works judged by people with literary training. In 1961, after the 22nd Congress of the U.S.S.R. Communist Party and Tvardovsky's speech at this, I decided to emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Such an emergence seemed, then, to me, and not without reason, to be very risky because it might lead to the loss of my manuscripts, and to my own destruction. But, on that occasion, things turned out successfully, and after protracted efforts, A.T. Tvardovsky was able to print my novel one year later. The printing of my work was, however, stopped almost immediately and the authorities stopped both my plays and (in 1964) the novel, The First Circle, which, in 1965, was seized together with my papers from the past years. During these months it seemed to me that I had committed an unpardonable mistake by revealing my work prematurely and that because of this I should not be able to carry it to a conclusion.

It is almost always impossible to evaluate at the time events which you have already experienced, and to understand their meaning with the guidance of their effects. All the more unpredictable and surprising to us will be the course of future events.

From Nobel Lectures,Literature 1968-1980.

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