Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (11 December 1918 - )
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 - )
Edward E. Ericson Jr.
See also the Solzhenitsyn entry in DLB 302: Russian Prose Writers After World War II.
BOOKS: Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1963); authorized, unexpurgated edition published in Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha. Matrenin dvor (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1973)-includes “Matrenin dvor”; translated by Ralph Parker as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (New York: Dutton, 1963), and by Ronald Hingley and Max Hayward as One Day in the Lite of Ivan Denisovich (New York: Bantam, 1963); authorized edition translated by H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991);
Izbrannoe (Chicago: Russian Language Specialties, 1965);
Rakovyi korpus [part 1] (Milan: Mondadori, 1968); complete edition, Frankfurt: Posev, 1968; Paris: YMCA-Press, 1968); translated by Rebecca Frank as The Cancer Ward (New York: Dial, 1968);
V kruge pervom (New York: Harper & Row, 1968)–87-chapter version; 96-chapter enlarged version in volumes 1 and 2 of Sobranie sochinenii, 20 volumes (Vermont & Paris: YMCA-Press, 1978-1991); translated by Thomas P. Whitney as The First Circle (New York: Harper & Row, 1968);
August chetyrnadtsatogo, Uzel I (Paris: YMCA, 1971)-early version, superseded by 1983 edition in Sobranie sochinenii, volumes 11 and 12; early version translated by Michael Glenny as August 1914 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972); expanded version translated by Willetts as August 1914 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989); represents part 1 of the multivolume cycle Krasnoe Koleso: Povestvovanie v otmerennykh srokakh, in Sobranie sochinenii, comprising volumes 11-20 in which the parts are named “uzel” (knot); volumes 11-12,
(1983) include Uzel I, August chertyrnadtsatogo; volumes 13-14 (1984) include Uzel II, Oktiabr’ shestnadtsatogo; volumes 15-18 (1986-1988) include Uzel III, Mart semnadtsatogo; and volumes 19-20 (1991) include Uzel IV, Aprel’ semnadtsatogo; translated by Willetts as August 1914 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989);
Nobel Lecture / Nobelevskaia lektsiia, English version translated by F. D. Reeve (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972)–bilingual edition;
Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956: Opyt khudozhestvennego issledovaniia, 3 volumes (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1973-1975); translated by Whitney (volumes 1 and 2) and Willetts (volume 3) as The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper & Row, 1974-1978);
Pis’mo vozhdiam Sovetskogo Soiuza (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1974); translated by Hilary Sternberg as Letter to the Soviet Leaders (New York: Index on Censorship in association with Harper & Row, 1974);
Solzhenitsyn: A Pictorial Autobiography (New York: Noonday, 1974);
Prusskie nochi (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1974); translated by Robert Conquest as Prussian Nights (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977)–bilingual edition;
Lenin v Tsiurikhe: Glavy (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1975); translated by Willetts as Lenin in Zurich (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976);
Bodalsia telënok s dubom: Ocherki literaturnoi zhizni (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1975); translated by Willetts as The Oak and the Calf: Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); enlarged edition of Bodalsia telënok s dubom, (Moscow: Soglasie, 1996)–includes Nevidimki;
A World Split Apart / Raskolotyi mir, translated by Irina Alberti (New York: Harper & Row, 1978)-bilingual edition;
Sobranie sochinenii, 20 volumes (Vermont & Paris: YMCA-Press, 1978-1991);
Rasskazy (Moscow: Sovremennik, 1989);
Kak nam obustroit’ Rossiiu? Posil’nye soobrazheniia (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1990); translated by Alexis Klimoff as Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991);
“Russkii vopros” k kontsu XX veka (Moscow: Golos, 1995); translated by Yermolai Aleksandrovich Solzhenitsyn as “The Russian Question” at the End of the Twentieth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995)–includes “Address to the International Academy of Philosophy”;
Po minute v den’ (Moscow: Argumenty i fakty, 1995);
Publitsistika, 3 volumes (Iaroslavl’: Verkhniaia Volga, 1995-1997);
Na izlomakh: Malaia proza (Iaroslavl’: Verkhniaia Volga, 1998);
Rossiia v obvale (Moscow: Russkii put’, 1998);
Proterevshi glaza (Moscow: Nash dom–L’Age d’Homme, 1999)–includes Dorozhen’ka and Liubi revoliutsii;
Na kraiakh (Moscow: Vagrius, 2000);
Dvesti let vmeste, 1795-1995, 2 volumes (Moscow: Russkii put’, 2001,2002);
Armeiskie rasskazy (Moscow: Russkii put’, 2001);
Lenin, Tsiurikh – Petrograd: Glavy iz knigi “Krasnoe Koleso” (Ekaterinburg: U-FAKTORIIA, 2001);
Stolypin i Tsar’ (Ekaterinburg: U-FAKTORIIA, 2001);
Nakonets-to revoliutsiia: Glavy iz knigi Krasnoe koleso, 2 volumes (Ekaterinburg: U-FAKTORIIA, 2001);
Dorozhen’ka (Moscow: Vagrius, 2004);
Na vozvrate dykhaniia: Izbrannaia publitsistika (Moscow: Vagrius, 2004).
Editions and Collections: Arkhipelag GULag, 3 volumes (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1989);
Rakovyi korpus (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1990);
V kruge pervom (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1990);
Krasnoe Koleso. Povestvovanie v otmerennykh srokakh, 10 volumes (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1993);
Izbrannoe (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1993);
Sobranie sochinenii v deviati tomakh, 9 volumes (Moscow: Terra, 1999-2000);
Na kraiakh (Moscow: Vagrius, 2000);
Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha; Matrenin dvor; Sluchai na stantsii Krechetovka (Moscow: Progress-Pleiada, 2000).
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 30 volumes projected (Moscow: Vremia, 2006- ).
Editions in English: We Never Make Mistakes: Two Short Novels, translated by Paul W. Blackstock (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1963)– translation of Matrenin dvor and Sluchai na stantsii Krechetovka;
Cancer Ward, translated by Nicholas Bethell and David Burg (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969);
Stories and Prose Poems, translated by Michael Glenny (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971);
The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions about Russia Imperil America, translated by Michael Nicholson and Alexis Klimoff (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); translation of “Chem grozit Amerike plokhoe ponimanie Rossii”; second edition (1981) includes polemical exchange;
Invisible Allies, translation of Nevidimki by Klimoff and Nicholson (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995);
November 1916, translated by H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999)–translation of Oktiabr’ shestnatsatogo;
The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005, edited by Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2006).
OTHER: Iz-pod glyb: Sbornik statei, edited by Solzhenitsyn (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1974); translated by A. M. Brock and others, edited by Michael Scammell, as From Under the Rubble (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975);
Russkii slovar’ iazykovogo rasshireniia, compiled by Solzhenitsyn (Moscow: Nauka, 1990).
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS-UNCOLLECTED: Literaturnaia kollektsiia, the series title of essays on Russian writers and literary works, all published in Novyi mir [NM]:
“Golyi god Borisa Pil’niaka,” NM, 1 (1997): 195-203;
“Smert’ Vazir-Mukhtara Iuriia Tynianova,” NM, 4 (1997): 191-199;
“peterburg Andreia Belogo,” NM, 7(1997): 191-196;
“Iz Evgeniia Zamiatina,” NM, 10 (1997): 186-201;
“Priemy epopei,” NM, 1 (1998): 172-190;
“Chetyre sovremennykh poeta,” NM, 4 (1998): 184-195;
“Ivan Shmelev i ego Solntse mertvykh,” KM, 7 (1998): 184-193;
“Okunaias’ v Chekhova,” NM, 10 (1998): 161-182;
“Feliks Svetov-Otverzi mi dveri,” KM, 1 (1999): 166-173;
“Panteleimon Romanovrasskazy sovetskikh let,” NM, 7 (1999): 197-204;
“Aleksandr Malyshkin,” NM, 10 (1999): 180-192;
“Iosif Brodskiiizbrannye stikhi,” NM, 12 (1999): 180-193;
“Evgenii Nosov,” NM, 7 (2000): 195-199;
“Dvoen’e Iuriia Nagibina,” NM, 4 (2003): 164-171;
“David Samoilov,” NM, 6 (2003): 171-178;
“Dilogiia Vasiliia Grossmana,” NM, 8 (2003): 154-169;
“Leonid Leonov-vor,” NM, 10 (2003): 165-171;
“Vasilii Belov,” NM, 12 (2003): 154-169;
Ugodilo zernyshko promezh dvukh zhernovov: Ocherki izgnaniia. Serial publication of memoirs on life in the West, all in Kovyi mir [NM]:
chapter 1, NM, 9 (1998): 47-125;
chapters 2-3, NM, 11 (1998): 93-153;
chapters 4-5, NM, 2 (1999): 67-140;
chapters 6-8, NM, 9 (2000): 112-183;
chapters 9-10, NM, 12 (2000): 97-156;
chapters 11-12, NM, 4 (2001): 80-141;
chapters 14-16, NM, 11 (2003): 31-97;
“Georgii Vladimov-General i ego armiia,” KM, 2 (2004): 144-151;
“Leonid Borodin- Taritsa smuty,” KM, 6 (2004): 149-158;
“Aleksei Konstantinovich Tolstoi-dramaticheskaia trilogiia i drugoe,” NM, 9 (2004): 137-144;
“Nagrady Mikhailu Bulgakovu pri zhizni i posmertno,” NM, 12 (2004): 122-127.
The life and literary career of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are nothing short of extraordinary. He is a veteran of frontline duty during World War II and a survivor of eleven years of Soviet prisons, forced-labor camps, and internal exile. Solzhenitsyn also endured a near-fatal bout with cancer before achieving world fame in 1963. That year his short novel Odin den’Ivana Deni-sovicha (translated as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1963) was published in the journal Novyi mir (The New World). Other works soon followed, including V kruge pervom (1968; translated as The First Circle, 1968) and Rakovyi korpus (1968; translated as Cancer Ward, 1968), both of which could be published only in the West because of the increasingly hostile attitude of the Soviet regime toward Solzhenitsyn, a defiantly independent writer. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, raising the ire of the regime still further; a 1971 plot by the Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti (KGB, State Security Committee) to assassinate Solzhenitsyn was discovered after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the mid 1970s he was on the verge of achieving even greater renown with the publication, again in the West, of Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956: Opyt knu-dozhestvennogo issledovaniia (1973-1975; translated as The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, 1974-1978), a massive indictment of the Soviet penal system. The regime retaliated by arresting Solzhenitsyn, charging him with treason, and expelling him from the U.S.S.R. in 1974. He spent the next two decades in the West. At first he made many high-profile public appearances, but he mostly worked on Krasnoe Koleso (1993), a ten-volume cycle, written partially in the tradition of the historical novel, which traces the descent of Russia into the revolutionary chaos of 1917. He returned to post-Communist Russia in 1994 and has continued to speak out on important public issues while adding to his corpus of writings, which includes fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. Many of Solzhenitsyn’s literary works are autobiographical. They provide the most authoritative information available about the first thirty years of his life.
As a writer and a public figure, Solzhenitsyn has evoked strong reactions–although the ideological sympathies of the commentators have often shaped the opinions expressed. Accordingly, responses have ranged from crude abuse to uncritical adulation; rarely have they risen above a perfunctory or tendentious analysis of the nonpolitical core of Solzhenitsyn’s message. Beyond the predictable political commentary, however, lies a more fundamental philosophical issue that has caused discerning critics to agree or disagree with the author. Solzhenitsyn is a committed adherent of the Russian literary tradition that took shape in the nineteenth century, and as such he rejects the idea of a discontinuity between literary art and the world of moral values. Therefore, he is unapologetic about presenting many issues in what might be called an ethically absolute manner and with the urgency and power characteristic of his talent. This stance is at odds with the tendency toward moral relativism that permeates modern thought and is incompatible with the belief of postmodernist critics, who dismiss all absolutist convictions in principle.
Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn was born on 11 December 1918 in Kislovodsk, a resort town in the Caucasus. Both parents came from peasant families but received excellent educations. His father, Isaakii Seme-novich Solzhenitsyn, served with distinction as an artillery officer in World War I, but died as a result of a hunting accident six months before Solzhenitsyn was born. His mother, Taissia Zakharovna (Shcherbak) Solzhenitsyna, the daughter of a prosperous Ukrainian farmer, was forced by circumstances to seek employment in Rostov-on-Don, at first leaving her baby son in the care of her family members. At age six he was reunited with his mother in Rostov, where, destitute, the two lived for the next twelve years in a rickety shack without plumbing. The boy often spent summer vacation at the home of his mother’s sister-in-law, Irina Shcherbak, a feisty and deeply religious woman with literary interests who influenced young Solzhenitsyn’s love for the Russian classics and his appreciation of Russian Orthodoxy.
Solzennitsyn’s literary ambitions manifested themselves early; he was composing short stories already at age nine. In Dorozhen’ka (The Road), a long autobiographical poem written during the period between 1947 and 1952 (published in 1999 in Proterevshi glaza), he relates several episodes from his youth, noting his inability to draw conclusions from the ominous scenes he witnessed because the well-orchestrated and all-pervasive Soviet propaganda had succeeded in winning him over. In 1936, after graduating from secondary school, Solzhenitsyn undertook his first serious attempt to write on what he considered the greatest event in modern history, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the events that preceded it. (Only when he was in his seventies did he leave off working on this mammoth literary project, by then named Krasnoe Koleso.)
Although Solzhenitsyn wished to pursue literary studies, this option was not available at Rostov University, where he had enrolled in 1936 in order to stay close to his ailing mother, with the result that he majored in mathematics and physics. He was, nevertheless, able to combine this course of study with a correspondence course on literature offered by the prestigious Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History (MIFLI). At this time, too, Solzhenitsyn began courting a fellow student, Natal’ia Alekseevna Reshetovskaia; they married in 1940. The future writer graduated with distinction in 1941 and resolved to apply for admission to advanced study at MIFLI.
Solzhenitsyn’s plan to move to Moscow and study at MIFLI died with the 22 June 1941 Nazi onslaught on the Soviet Union. He was soon drafted, and his first posting was to a horse-drawn transport unit, where his inability to handle horses was a source of great frustration. These early wartime experiences are described in an autobiographically based but unfinished short novel, Liubi revoliutsiiu (Love the Revolution), written mostly in 1948 and published in 1999 in Proterevshi glaza. He was able to arrange a transfer to artillery school on the strength of his mathematical training, and by 1943 he was commanding a frontline battery. As is made clear in Dorozhen’ka, Solzhenitsyn’s war experiences posed many moral challenges to his Marxist convictions. One chapter of Dorozhen’ka, published separately as Prusskie nochi (1974; translated as Prussian Nights, 1977), describes the wild rampage that characterized the Soviet advance through German territory in early 1945 and emphasizes the protagonist’s anguished remorse at his participation in the rape and pillage of a land left defenseless by its collapsed army. Nevertheless, his overall faith in Marxist dogma appears to have survived more or less intact throughout the war.
Solzhenitsyn’s military career ended disastrously. He and a childhood friend who was also serving in the military began to exchange correspondence that included disparaging comments on Joseph Stalin’s leadership and the draft of a platform for a reform-minded and “purely Leninist” political party. Their letters were intercepted by military censors, and the two men were arrested in 1945. For “malicious slander” and setting up a “hostile organization,” Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in a forced-labor camp, to be followed by “perpetual exile” to a remote area of the U.S.S.R. He was entering the world of the gulag, a term that originates from GULag, the acronym for the Soviet prison-camp system (Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei, or Chief Administration of Corrective-Labor Camps).
Because of his degree in mathematics, in mid 1946 Solzhenitsyn was plucked out of the regular camp system and transferred to a prison research institute, or sharashka, where inmates received relatively privileged treatment–such as more reasonable working conditions, enough food, and access to books. The novel V kruge pervom, is based on Solzhenitsyn’s three years at a sharashka outside Moscow named Marfino, which was then engaged in developing a telephone encryption device. While at Marfino, Solzhenitsyn–just as did Gleb Nerzhin, the protagonist who represents him in the book–had the opportunity to engage in profound self-examination. His faith in Marxism, to some degree already mitigated by his wartime and prison experiences, now collapsed completely, and he began constructing a new worldview to replace it. Nerzhin’s intellectual odyssey constitutes the major theme of the novel and reflects, in condensed form, the real-life moral and philosophical quest of the author.
Solzhenitsyn had begun working on V kruge per-vom in the mid 1950s, bringing the novel to completion in 1962. But after the success of publishing Odin den’Ivana Denisovicha in 1963, he pruned the ninety-six-chapter V kruge pervom, down to eighty-seven chapters, readjusting the plotline and “softening” various parts of the book in the hope that it, like Odin den’Ivana Denisovicha, might be permitted to appear in the Soviet Union. The Moscow journal Novyi mir accepted the novel in its shortened, eighty-seven-chapter version in 1964, but Soviet publication proved impossible. The full ninety-six-chapter Russian version, including late emendations, was published only in 1978 in Solzhenitsyn’s Sobranie sochinenii (1978-1991; Collected Works); a few chapters have now appeared in English in The Solzhenitsyn Reader (2006).
In the spring of 1950 Solzhenitsyn was expelled from Marfino and cast back into the prison-camp system. Two years earlier, Stalin had decreed that political prisoners (deemed much more dangerous than thieves and murderers) be segregated in so-called special camps with a particularly harsh regime, and Solzhenitsyn was accordingly transported to Ekibastuz, a huge new prison camp for “politicals” located in central Kazakhstan, where he served out his term in 1953. His experience is distilled in Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha (titled “Shch-854” in manuscript form), although Solzhenitsyn chose to distance this narrative from any direct autobiographical reference. In this work, Solzhenitsyn aspires, instead, to depict camp life in the way it was commonly experienced by the majority of prisoners. To this end, he took as his central character a peasant, Ivan Deniso-vich Shukhov, who had briefly fallen into German hands during the war, had managed to escape, and was charged with being a German spy upon reaching Russian lines.
Autobiographical information on Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in the Ekibastuz camp is given in Arkhipelag GUIag, 1918-1956 (1989), including a portrayal of the spirit of defiance that began to take hold of the political prisoners in the special camps. This spirit gathered strength rapidly, leading first to the systematic assassination of camp informers, culminating in early 1952 in a general strike, which at first was met with concessions on the part of the authorities but soon was crushed with repressive measures. (This episode, together with a much more serious mid 1954 uprising that occurred in the nearby Kengir camp, is reflected in Solzhenitsyn’s screenplay Zjiaiut istinu tanki [1981, published in Sobranie sochinenii; Tanks Know the Truth].) Although he had participated in the 1952 strike, Solzhenitsyn escaped retribution because at the time when the authorities were reestablishing control, he underwent an emergency operation for what apparently was abdominal cancer. According to Solzhenitsyn, he lay in a postoperative haze in the recovery room of the hospital, and one of the doctors, Boris Nikolaevich Kornfel’d, sat on his bed and spoke fervently of his recent conversion to Christianity. The doctor was murdered by unknown assailants that same night, probably on suspicion that he had been an informer, and his ardent words at Solzhenitsyn’s bedside–the last words he said in his life–weighed upon the writer “as an inheritance.” Solzhenitsyn states that this extraordinary sequence of events precipitated his conscious return to a belief in God, formally marked by a poem written in 1952, in which the writer rededicates himself to the faith in which he was brought up.
Solzhenitsyn was released from the Ekibastuz camp in early 1953. But he was now compelled to begin his “perpetual” exile in Kok-Terek, a small settlement in southern Kazakhstan, where he supported himself by teaching mathematics and physics in a local secondary school. In every free moment he wrote down the works that he had accumulated in his head during the preceding years. In late 1953 Solzhenitsyn became seriously ill–the abdominal swelling that had necessitated the earlier operation had returned–and he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was permitted to travel to Tashkent, and there he underwent massive radiation treatment, which succeeded in shrinking the tumor. Once again Solzhenitsyn transmuted his personal experience into art in a novel-length povest’ (tale) titled Rakovyi korpus.
In February 1956 Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev delivered an address to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in which he denounced Stalin’s excesses. This speech marked the beginning of the “thaw,” a cultural liberalization that proved to be short-lived and lacking in clear guidelines. Nevertheless, it was a major departure from the stifling rigidity of the Stalinist era, and profound political changes followed almost immediately. In April 1956 Solzhenitsyn’s sentence of “perpetual exile” was annulled, and he soon moved to European Russia. He resumed teaching, and writing in secret, now in the village of Mil’tsevo, east of Moscow. In early 1957 he was officially “rehabilitated,” which meant that the 1945 charges against him were formally erased from his record. This change of status was followed by his remarriage to Reshetovskaia, whom he had divorced during his imprisonment, and a move to Riazan’, a provincial city south of the capital, where he continued to teach school.
In 1958-1960 Solzhenitsyn wrote seventeen miniatures. Titled “Krokhotki” (literally, “tinies”) and first published in the émigré journal Grani (Facets) in 1964, these prose poems range in length from a dozen lines to a page and a half and display exquisite attention to rhythmic structure. They also reveal his pensive, even gentle side. Typically, they move from a single episode or observation to a broad philosophical insight. Among the values embraced by these miniatures are joy in the beauty of nature, recognition of the life force at all levels, respect for simple peasant life, and an attachment to the old Russian towns and domed churches that dot the rural landscape.
Matrenin dvor, written in 1959 (published in 1963 in Novyi mir; translated as Matryona’s Home, 1963) is Solzhenitsyn’s best-known short story; some commentators consider it his most accomplished literary production. Like the author, the narrator returns to European Russia after forced residence in Central Asia, yearns to lose himself in the Russian heartland, and settles in a village similar to Mil’tsevo. But he discovers that most of the villagers are greedy, quarrelsome, and petty. The one exception is Matryona, a poor widow whose life of suffering has not embittered her. She remains a noble character to her tragic end.
Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign peaked with the Twenty-Second Congress of the CPSU in October 1961. The denunciations of Stalinism that were sounded there emboldened Solzhenitsyn to risk submitting some of his writing for publication. The manuscript for Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha made its way through intermediaries to Aleksandr Trifonovich Tvar-dovsky, editor in chief of Novyi mir, who immediately recognized that he had a literary masterpiece in his hands. Solzhenitsyn, meanwhile, suffered serious misgivings about the possible consequences of coming out of hiding as a writer.
Tvardovskys strategy for seeking permission to publish the work was to pass it on to Khrushchev, a personal acquaintance with peasant roots like his own, and to suggest that the premier could use the book in his de-Stalinization campaign. While the book can indeed be seen as anti-Stalinist, it is actually a protest against any dehumanization wherever perpetrated. Khrushchev had copies of the manuscript made for each member of the politburo with the request that they declare at the next meeting whether they were in favor of, or opposed to, publication. Those in favor he counted as political supporters, and those in opposition he viewed as foes. Thus, the first public use of a Solzhenitsyn work was as a political tool. Odin den’Ivana Denisovicha was published in November 1962 in a huge overrun of Novyi mir and soon reprinted in great numbers. Reader response to it was enormously positive, and published translations followed promptly. Solzhenitsyn immediately passed from anonymity to global fame.
By authorizing the publication of Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha, Khrushchev had set the terms for its initial reception, and establishment Soviet publications slavishly followed the leader’s instrumental approach. In contrast, Tvardovskys introduction emphasized the literary quality of the work, pointing to the moral force of its truthful account of human nature. The profuse Western responses to the book were enthusiastic, in most cases focusing on literary aspects in the manner of Tvardovsky. (A decade later the tables turned, however, and politicizing interpretations in the manner of Khrushchev became frequent in Western critical commentary on Solzhenitsyn–to the detriment of a proper understanding of the Russian writer.)
While Khrushchev had intended the publication to signal that the Stalinist terror was a thing of the past, he and his entourage were not prepared for, nor were they pleased by, the explosive reaction to Odin den’Ivana Denisovicha. In the West, Solzhenitsyn was hailed as a champion of freedom who revealed hitherto-unknown truths about Soviet atrocities. The response inside the U.S.S.R. was even more significant. Few Soviets had been spared the disappearance of a family member into the gulag, but only with the publication of this story was official silence about camp life challenged by a forthright account. Letters flooded in to Solzhenitsyn, and many of them described personal experience of the camps. He followed up this correspondence by interviewing hundreds of former zeks (inmates). At one point he had set aside as overly ambitious the idea of writing a history of the gulag system, but now he was receiving detailed material of the sort that he needed for this project. These eyewitness accounts returned him to his task, and many of them made their way into Arkhipelag GUIag, 1918-1956.
The period of lessened restraint in the press did not last long. Two months after Novyi mir published Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha, it featured “Matrenin dvor” and another short story, “Sluchai na stantsii Krechetovka” (Novyi mir, no. 1 ; translated as “Incident at Krechetovka Station” in We Never Make Mistakes, 1963). Later in 1962, Novyi mir ran a longer but less successful story, Dlia pol’zy dela (translated as For the Good of the Cause, 1964). The only other works by Solzhenitsyn published in the Soviet Union before his expulsion were a 1965 essay on language and the story “Zakhar-Kalita” (Zakhar the Pouch; published in Novyi mir, ).
Khrushchev fell prey to a coup and was removed from office in October 1964; a hardening of the party line followed. By 1965 Solzhenitsyn was experiencing direct harassment. The KGB raided the apartments of two of his friends and took possession of a large trove of his notes and unpublished manuscripts. Soon the authorities were adding selective references from the confiscated material to their ongoing effort to discredit Solzhenitsyn. He responded by resorting to samizdat– that is, distributing privately typed copies of a given work through an informal network of fellow dissenters. His increasingly combative public statements were now usually published in the West and broadcast back to the Soviet Union via Radio Liberty.
In an all-out effort to get Rakovyi korpus published at home, Solzhenitsyn met with the prose section of the Moscow writers’ organization in late 1966. These writers showered the novel and the novelist with praise; Solzhenitsyn expressed his gratitude and his willingness to consider making many recommended revisions. No movement toward publication ensued, however, and in May 1967 he wrote an open letter to the upcoming Fourth Congress of the Soviet Writers’ Union in which he chastised the union for its servility before the regime–especially its cringing assent to the persecution of hundreds of writers–and its similarly silent acquiescence to the draconian censorship. It was his first major act of public defiance, but the congress was not permitted to discuss the issues he had raised despite the urg-ings of several influential writers to take up the matter. In the wake of this episode, Solzhenitsyn began to keep a record of his conflict with the regime, his chronicle eventually coalescing into a work that appeared abroad in 1975 as Bodalsia telënok s dubom: Ocherki literaturnoi zhizni (translated as The Oak and the Calf: Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union, 1980).
In 1968 Solzhenitsyn completed Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 and arranged for a copy of it to reach the West for safekeeping. Also in that year, V kruge pervom and Rakovyi korpus were published in the West, both in Russian and in translation, although Solzhenitsyn had authorized publication only of V kruge pervom. The novels received a warm welcome from Western reviewers. World opinion was running strongly in his favor, and his public-relations successes gave him a relative sense of invulnerability from any initiatives against him by the Soviet regime.
In 1969 Solzhenitsyn returned to Krasnoe Koleso, the work that he had always intended to be his magnum opus. The first installment, August chetyrnadtsatogo, was published in Paris in 1971 and the next year in English as August 1914.(A greatly enlarged Russian edition appeared in 1983, but not until 1989 did a translation of this canonical version come out in English.) Despite the severe distractions that interrupted his work on this cycle in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Solzhenitsyn never wavered from his commitment to it. One such distraction occurred on 12 November 1969: the Riazan’ local branch of the Writers’ Union expelled Solzhenitsyn from this professional association for “antisocial behavior.”
In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature,” to quote the official citation. He was the fourth Russian to be so honored; his three predecessors were Ivan Alekseevich Bunin (1933), Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1958), and Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sho-lokhov (1965). The first two awards had been met with bitter criticism by the Soviet regime, which viewed these choices as deliberately hostile political acts. (Bunin was a vociferous émigré critic of the Bolsheviks, and Pasternak had questioned the official bromides concerning the Russian Revolution in his Doctor Zhivago .) In contrast, Soviet authorities expressed satisfaction when the honor was bestowed on Sholokhov, a writer with rock-solid Communist credentials. In the context of such a manifestly politicized approach to literature, to predict that the Soviet reaction to Solzhenitsyn’s 1970 Nobel Prize would be violently negative was not difficult. A heavy-handed press campaign was indeed launched immediately, with articles in the major Soviet newspapers bearing titles such as “Nedostoinaia igra” (An Unseemly Game) and “Nobelevskaia premiia i Kholodnaia voina” (The Nobel Prize and the Cold War). In the West, meanwhile, the reaction was a mixture of satisfaction and awe. As one admiring commentator said in reference to the appearance of so much excellent writing in the short period of time since the 1962 publication of Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha, literary critics are “accustomed to great works more deliberately spaced.” Solzhenitsyn’s name appeared in the headlines of newspapers around the world, and sympathetic attention from the West unquestionably bolstered his position amid the Soviet regime’s hostility. But he was faced with the likely prospect that if he traveled to Sweden, he would not be allowed to return home. The Swedish government, wishing to avoid the wrath of the Soviet Union, turned down the writer’s request to allow the award to be bestowed at Sweden’s Moscow embassy, and it was only four years later, when Solzhenitsyn was living abroad, that he received the Nobel insignia in person. In 1972 the Nobel Foundation released the text of the lecture, which is normally delivered at the time of the formal presentation of the award. Solzhenitsyn presents his own account of the events surrounding his receipt of the Nobel award in “Nobeliana,” a forty-five-page chapter in his autobiographical Bodalsia telënok s dubom. He also makes clear the importance he attaches to his Nobel address and the painstaking care that went into composing it, especially as he labored to bring together the themes of art and society.
The Nobel address, published in a bilingual edition in 1972 as Nobel Lecture / Nobelevskaia lektsiia, is Solzhenitsyn’s most sustained statement on the meaning and function of literature. It opens with a contrast between two kinds of writers–a comparison that vividly reveals Solzhenitsyn’s spiritual orientation: one writer “imagines himself the creator of an independent spiritual world,” while the other “acknowledges a higher power above him and joyfully works as a common apprentice under God’s heaven.” The artist of the second kind will not allow literature to be strictly self-referential but will seek to relate literature to life. In a world riven by irreconcilably conflicting worldviews, Solzhenitsyn hopes that beauty can move and persuade when goodness and truth no longer suffice and that through aesthetic instrumentation, beauty might even cultivate goodness and truth, in that sense “saving the world.” Because literature is capable of transmitting “condensed and irrefutable human experience” from generation to generation and from nation to nation, Solzhenitsyn thinks of world literature as “the one great heart that beats for the cares and misfortunes of our world.”
The years 1970-1972 mark the period of the most intense conflict between Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet authorities. He became allied with nuclear physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, and despite significant differences of perspective between them, they came to be seen as the two leading dissenters in the land. While Western support provided crucial cover for both men, official harassment of each turned physically threatening in 1971; in Solzhenitsyn’s case, KGB agents even made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him. (This episode is recounted in detail by a former KGB operative and included in an appendix to “Nevidimki” [collected in Bodalsia telënok s dubom, 1996].)
In 1972 Solzhenitsyn’s religious commitments came into clear public view. To Patriarch Pimen of the Russian Orthodox Church he wrote an open letter (first published in 1972 in the Paris newspaper Russkaia mysl’ [Russian Thought]), in which he challenged the collaboration of the Church with the atheistic regime. In addition, a prayer he wrote in 1962 appeared in 1972 in Time, as well as in other Western magazines; it begins, “How easy to live with You, O Lord, / How easy to believe in You.” Furthermore, the first version of August chetyrnadtsatogo, Solzhenitsyn’s emphatically Russian and most explicitly Christian piece of fiction, was published in English translation. Its mixed reception marked the first significant decline of Solzhenitsyn’s standing in the West, and the author himself dated “the schism among my readers” and “the steady loss of supporters,” both at home and abroad, with the appearance of this book.
Meanwhile, Solzhenitsyn and his wife had been drifting apart for several years. The radical alteration in his outlook since their marriage in 1940 and his increasingly complicated life in open confrontation with the regime did not suit her. He began a relationship with Natal’ia Dmitrievna Svetlova, a Moscow mathematician; Solzhenitsyn’s wife made a failed attempt at suicide. Though initially turned down by the authorities, a divorce petition finally was granted in early 1973. The Soviet press agency Novosti offered to help Reshetov-skaia write a memoir about her former husband. Published in 1975, V spore so vremenem (translated as Sanya: My Husband Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1975) was a collaborative effort designed to damage Solzhenitsyn’s reputation. In this context it is worth noting that the writer did not try to exculpate himself for the breakup of his marriage; both parties were responsible. But in his second wife, whom he married in 1973, he found a woman with a capacity for work and an intensity of spirit equal to his own.
An ominous development in the campaign against Solzhenitsyn came in mid 1973 with the arrest of Elizaveta Denisovna Voronianskaia, who was prominent among his “invisible allies”: she typed many of his manuscripts. Against his express order to destroy all copies of the manuscript for Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 in her possession, she had kept one copy–in the event that all the other copies should be destroyed. After five days of nonstop interrogation, she broke and revealed where her copy was hidden. Soon after this incident, she died, either by suicide or, as Solzhenitsyn suspects, by murder. With a copy of this work in the possession of the KGB, Solzhenitsyn’s hand was forced, and he gave the signal to publish the work in the West. The first volume in Russian appeared in Paris by the end of 1973, and translations of all parts of the work followed shortly thereafter. Solzhenitsyn’s name again made front-page headlines.
Few books rival Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 for its impact on the consciousness of its contemporary readers. To begin with, Solzhenitsyn introduced the word gulag, which became a universally recognized linguistic emblem of the horrors of twentieth-century totalitarianism. Against official efforts to deny the existence of the gulag universe, this nonfiction work aims to reveal its reality and its horrendous impact on Soviet history. Combining factual information with interpretive commentary, Solzhenitsyn built an overwhelming “case” against a state that had liquidated millions of its own citizens and against the ideology that drove it to do so. (Estimates of the number of victims vary widely; for the book, Solzhenitsyn borrowed an émigré demographer’s figure of sixty-six million.) While Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 might invite analysis in political terms, Solzhenitsyn emphatically warns against that approach: “Let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now.” He proceeds to explicate the moral vision that governs all of his writing, including this work. In a passage of central importance, he writes of “the line dividing good and evil” and states that this division passes not between good and bad classes of people, as Marxists and other ideologues prefer, but “through the heart of every human being.”
At the time of its publication Solzhenitsyn predicted that Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 was destined to affect the course of history. He relished responses such as an editorial statement from the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine:“The time may come when we date the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet system from the appearance of GULag.” Although much of the basic information about Soviet prison camps had already appeared in scholarly studies and various memoirs, this work broke through a shell of skepticism and imprinted upon Western consciousness the enormity of the atrocities perpetrated by the Soviet regime. It delivered a blow from which the regime never fully recovered, and accounts of the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union regularly mention Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 and Odin den’Ivana Denisovicha as contributing factors.
The publication of Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 was the immediate cause of Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion to the West. On 12 February 1974 he was arrested in his apartment by a sizable cadre of KGB operatives, officially charged with treason, and a day later put on a plane bound for West Germany. The Western press carried daily installments of the drama of his exile. Upon his departure Solzhenitsyn left behind for the public a brief statement, “Zhit’ ne po lzhi” (Live Not by Lies, 1974). In his lexicon “the lie” is a synonym for ideology.
Accolades were heaped upon Solzhenitsyn when he arrived in the West, and they ran to superlatives. In The Times (London), for example, he was called “the man who is for the moment the most famous person in the western world.” This adulatory mood did not last. Attitudes began to shift with the appearance of Pis’mo vozhdiam Sovetskogo Soiuza (1974; translated as Letter to the Soviet Leaders, 1974). Solzhenitsyn had sent the letter privately to the Kremlin on 5 September 1973; receiving no reply, he had released it to the public shortly before his arrest. Western readers thus had two new publications to consider–the massive Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 and the brief letter.
In the letter, Solzhenitsyn, turning practical in the modest hope that his advice could be taken to heart, recommends that Soviet leaders retain their power but abandon Marxist ideology. This suggestion is offered in the spirit of compromise as the first stage of a post-Soviet scenario. Without the prop of ideology, Solzhenitsyn suggests, totalitarianism will give way to authoritarianism, an intermediate arrangement during which leaders can attend to domestic reforms. The explicitly political suggestions of the letter are moderate and gradualist in nature. Nevertheless, this letter shocked many Western readers. William Safire, writing on 18 February 1974 in The New York Times, announced himself “the first on my block to feel misgivings” about the newcomer, and he correctly predicted that the hero worship of the moment would soon dissipate. Many commentators simply overlooked issues of genre (pamphlet) and audience (Soviet leaders). As a result, at the very time when Solzhenitsyn was being lauded for Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956, he was rebuked for Pis’mo vozhdiam Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moreover, in an incongruous twist, reaction to the modest pamphlet outweighed the reception for Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 in determining subsequent Western attitudes toward the author of both. Human-rights activist Jeri Laber, who earlier had written appreciatively about Solzhenitsyn’s fiction, now asserted that “he is not the ‘liberal’ we would like him to be.” That Solzhenitsyn was not a liberal was a judgment that many commentators came to repeat with only slight variations in wording. Laber added, “Reactionary, authoritarian, chauvinistic–hardly adjectives that sit comfortably with the typical image of a freedom-fighter and Nobel Prize winner.” Other commentators offered their own list of adjectives: theocratic, fundamentalist, messianic, monarchist, medieval, Utopian, fanatical. The emerging negative consensus provided the context for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s decision to recommend against welcoming Solzhenitsyn to the White House for a visit.
In 1974 Solzhenitsyn also published a collection of articles edited by himself titled Iz-pod glyb (translated as From Under the Rubble, 1975). The eleven essays by seven contributors, including three essays by Solzhenitsyn, set forth a vision of spiritual renewal for Russia. Their cumulative purpose was to point the way out of the misfortunes that had befallen their homeland.
Soon after his forced exile, Solzhenitsyn settled in Zurich, Switzerland, where his wife and family–which by now included sons Yermolai, Ignat, and Stephan– were allowed to join him. (Natal’ia Dmitrievna’s mother and son by a previous marriage also were part of the household.) Two years later, in 1976, Solzhenitsyn purchased a chalet on fifty wooded hillside acres outside the village of Cavendish, Vermont, and there the family lived for the next eighteen years. He had a chain-link fence put up around the property to keep out hunters and snowmobilers; Natal’ia Dmitrievna later semiplayfully added journalists to the list. (This fence evoked typically exaggerated press speculation about Solzhenitsyn’s alleged need for prison-like enclosures.)
Invitations for interviews and public appearances flooded in, and Solzhenitsyn at first consented to many of them. On these occasions he satisfied his hosts’ curiosity to know what he thought about the West, which brought him considerable attention but a decidedly mixed reception. Among Solzhenitsyn’s views that were perceived as contentious were his unremitting enmity toward Marxist ideology, his belief that United States foreign policy of detente toward the Soviet Union was based on illusion, and his judgment that moral laxity and shaky political courage characterized Western political behavior. Generally lost in the largely defensive reactions of Western auditors were the nuances in his arguments and his expressions of broad appreciation of Western ways. His uncompromising tone also impaired the persuasiveness of his message; in particular, it obscured the fundamental moderation that has characterized his political views. Feeling rebuffed, he soon retired from the field of public pronouncements.
Bodalsia telënok s dubom, Solzhenitsyn’s personal account of his running battle with the Soviet authorities, was published in 1975. The title comes from a Russian proverb about a silly calf that tries in vain to butt down a great oak tree. The title is not only self-deprecating but also implicitly tongue-in-cheek, in that Solzhenitsyn did not consider his odds of success as hopeless as the proverb suggests. Sections of Bodalsia telënok s dubom were written intermittently from 1967 onward, and the book ends with a rousing section on his 1974 arrest and forced departure from the U.S.S.R. The work also includes a large appendix of invaluable documentary materials. Taken together, these reminiscences are the essential source of information about his activities during the years 1961-1974. In his battles with officialdom, Solzhenitsyn justifiably revels in his impressive successes, yet is unsparing about his missteps and humiliating failures. For instance, he gives an unsparing account of the “state of witless shock” that had left him confused and unsteady when KGB officers arrived at his door to take him away. Yet, he regains control of himself soon enough, and the prevailing tone during this crisis is one of defiance toward the authorities.
In 1975 Solzhenitsyn published Lenin v Tsiurikhe (translated as Lenin in Zurich, 1976). In this volume he collocates the series of chapters on Lenin, eleven chapters in all, from three “knots,” or installments, of Krasnoe Koleso, two of which were then still years from completion. The rationale clearly was that the material on Lenin would be useful to the conversation about the nature of the Soviet system that he was trying to foster and that this work should not wait for a publication that was then still off in the indefinite future. (In the completed historical cycle, these chapters each appear in their rightful contexts.)
In 1977 Solzhenitsyn announced the establishment of the Russian Memoir Library, conceived as a depository of unpublished materials that would keep alive the truth of modern Russian history in the face of ongoing Soviet efforts to distort or erase factual evidence. Many Russian émigrés sent in their memoirs, letters, and photographs. Solzhenitsyn eventually funded the publication of more than a dozen book-length manuscripts considered to be of the greatest interest.
On 8 June 1978 he presented the commencement address at Harvard University. Press coverage was enormous, and the speech was destined to become the best known of his many public addresses in the West. Apart from a brief preface of congratulations to the graduates and a characterization of himself as a friend of the West, the speech is primarily a critique of the current moral condition of the West. Solzhenitsyn’s sternest words are directed at the press and the intelligentsia–the former for its hasty and superficial judgments, the latter for its loss of will power and decline of courage. After a cataloguing of the problems of the West, the peroration of the address reveals Solzhenitsyn’s religious cast of mind–he proposes remedies to the problems in explicitly spiritual terms. Specifically, he urges the West to move beyond the “autonomous irreligious humanistic consciousness” that it has embraced since the Age of Enlightenment and to reach “a new level of life” in which both physical and spiritual aspects of human existence can be cultivated equally.
The denunciation of secular humanism at Harvard, a citadel of enlightened thought, did not curry favor with an audience that had gathered for the purpose of celebration. A clamor of responses to Solzhenitsyn’s address ensued, most of them sharply negative. Few of the reviewers acknowledged that his criticisms of Western weakness were offered in friendship to help the West strengthen its resolve, and scant attention was paid to the climactic concluding paragraphs of the speech. This event marks a defining moment in the Western elite’s rejection of Solzhenitsyn.
In 1978 the text of the commencement speech in English was published in a bilingual edition titled A World Split Apart; the speech in original Russian is called Raskolotyi mir. In 1979 a series of early reviews together with six later and longer reflections appeared as Solzhenitsyn at Harvard. The latter are less defensive, more appreciative, and considerably more nuanced than the reviews that had been produced immediately after the event. This thoughtfulness of the later essays suggests clearly that the press had been hasty and superficial in its reaction to the speech, but the damage this publication did to Solzhenitsyn’s reputation was not destined to dissipate, and critical attitudes ranging all the way to sharp antipathy have predominated in Western journalistic comments on the writer since that time.
During the 1980s Solzhenitsyn permitted himself relatively few interruptions from his work on Krasnoe Koleso. In 1980 he wrote a long essay titled “Chem grozit Amerike plokhoe ponimanie Rossii” (translated as “Misconceptions about Russia Are a Threat to America,” 1980) for the journal Foreign Affairs. In 1981 the essay came out in book form as The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions About Russia Imperil America. This highly critical foray into the field of scholarship on Russia in the American academy did not help his reputation among sovietologists. In 1983 Solzhenitsyn received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (an award instituted to fill a gap in the recognition bestowed by the Nobel Committee), and he traveled to London to give an acceptance speech that summarizes his understanding of the distinctive nature of the twentieth century as a whole. It is also the clearest statement of his religious beliefs.
In the second half of the 1980s the Soviet Union underwent momentous changes as Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev rose to power, with the new policy of glas-nost paving the way for renewed attention to Solzhenitsyn. In 1988 one Moscow periodical urged that the treason charges against him be dropped and his citizenship restored. Other Soviet publications explored the possibility of publishing his works. Novyi mir arranged with him to publish selections from Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 in1989, with V kruge pervom and Rakovyi kor-pus to follow, and literary gatherings were scheduled to celebrate his seventieth birthday in 1988. But the authorities interfered with all of these plans, and permission to publish any part of Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 was denied.
Yet, the foundations of the Soviet edifice were already weak, and Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956, though not legally published in the Soviet Union, already had played a part in the process of undermining them. In late 1989 Soviet hegemony over large parts of eastern and central Europe came to an end, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November most visibly symbolizing the demise. In the wake of these events, the U.S.S.R. itself disintegrated into its constituent parts, and on Christmas Day of 1991 the red flag over the Kremlin was lowered for the last time. For the breakup of the Soviet Union, historians will long debate the roles of Gorbachev’s liberalizing reforms and Western pressures for change. But clearly a strong, perhaps governing, factor is that the Soviet Union suffered from a loss of faith, even among its leaders, in the ideology that had justified its vast social experiment. Solzhenitsyn had made exactly this point long before, in Pis’mo vozh-diam Sovetskogo Soiuza. As for the role of Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956in bringing down the Soviet Union, American diplomat George Kennan’s 1974 remarks about the work sounded now like fulfilled prophecy: “It is too large for the craw of the Soviet propaganda machine. It will stick there, with increasing discomfort, until it has done its work.”
Foreseeing as few did that the collapse of the Soviet Union was imminent, Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay titled “Kak nam obustroit’ Rossiiu?” (literally translated as “How Can We Put Russia in Good Order?”). It appeared in September of 1990 in two Moscow-based periodicals and was published in book form as Kak nam obustroit’ Rossiiu? Posil’nye soobrazheniia (1990; translated as Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals, 1991). With the Soviet system crumbling, Solzhenitsyn offered advice about how to avoid being crushed beneath the rubble. The essay must be seen as a sequel to the 1973 Pis’mo vozhdiam Sovetskogo Soiuza in its sketch of a pragmatic political program, but the audience addressed now was not the leaders but rather, as with “Zhit’ ne po lzhi,” the citizenry at large. Throughout, the tone of the essay is solicitous and earnest, as befits the moderate positions it espouses. The range of responses to the essay fell along predictable lines, predetermined by the commentators’ political views and their attitudes toward the author–though with the balance this time tipping toward respectfulness, somewhat more so in Russia than in the West.
The fall from power of the Soviet leaders cleared the way for Solzhenitsyn to send to press those parts of Bodalsia telénok s dubom that he had initially held back to protect the identities of various individuals. These missing parts bore the title Nevidimki and appeared in late 1991 in two issues of Novyi mir and thereafter in translation as Invisible Allies (1995). A 1996 edition of Bodalsia telénok s dubom incorporates Nevidimki as a “fifth supplement.”
Nevidimki comprises fourteen sketches, each focused on an individual or a group who had been part of the secret network of helpers involved in all phases of Solzhenitsyn’s work. Most of the helpers were women. One of them became the author’s second wife; the highly discreet narration of the love story between Solzhenitsyn and Natal’ia Dmitrievna is among the most memorable sections of the book. Notable among the other characters sketched are his old gulag friends Arnold Susi and Georgii Tenno, who helped provide Solzhenitsyn with a safe haven in their native Estonia for writing Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956. Solzhenitsyn describes the extraordinary intensity of his work at this “Hiding Place” during the winters of 1965-1966 and 1966-1967, a period that he views as “the highest point in my feelings of victory and of isolation from the world.”
At the time Nevidimki was published, the U.S.S.R. verged on collapse, and Solzhenitsyn’s prerequisites for returning to his homeland were being met. His major works were being published in 1990-1991; the charge of treason was dropped (1991); and his citizenship was restored. Yet, Solzhenitsyn delayed his return to Russia, and impatience with him grew. One reason for the delay was that he had no interest in pursuing political office. More important, however, were literary plans connected to Krasnoe Koleso. Not only did what he considered the chief work of his life have to be finished before he became ineluctably caught up in the public life of the nation, but so did various projects linked to it. As a result of these delays, the widespread perception in both the West and the East about the timing of Solzhenitsyn’s eventual move to Russia is that he missed his magic moment and waited too long.
In 1993, with Krasnoe Koleso completed, Solzhenitsyn gave speeches and interviews of farewell to the West. All but one of these interviews were delivered in Europe rather than in the United States, his home for eighteen years; in his view the American elite had shown little interest in listening to him. His travels in Europe that year included a visit to France, the country where his impact on intellectual life was felt most strongly; in the Vendée region he spoke to an audience of thirty thousand. He had an hour-and-a-half-long audience with Pope John Paul II. His most important address on this trip was delivered to the International Academy of Philosophy, a Roman Catholic institution in Liechtenstein. This speech reiterates several of the themes presented in his 1978 address at Harvard, though conveyed in a softened, measured tone.
Two months before departing from the West, Solzhenitsyn wrote his last work in exile, “Russkii vopros” k kontsu XX veka (published in Novyi mir, 1994; published in book form, 1995; translated as “The Russian Question” at the End of the Twentieth Century, 1995). The book presents a quick historical sketch to explain how Russia arrived at what Solzhenitsyn terms “the Great Russian Catastrophe of the 1990s.” His view is that the nation had been so wounded that the Russian question now was, “Shall our people be or not be?” If Russia is to survive as a people, he concludes, “We must build a moral Russia, or none at all–it would not then matter anyhow.”
Solzhenitsyn returned home to Russia in May 1994. He reentered through the “back door” of the country, flying not to Moscow but across the Pacific Ocean to Russia’s east coast. In a dramatic gesture he landed first in Magadan, the capital of the Kolyma region, where the harshest prison camps had been located–thus, the symbolic capital of the gulag empire. The next stop was Vladivostok, the main Pacific port city in Russia. There he received a hero’s welcome from four thousand citizens, who had been standing in the rain for hours waiting to hear him speak. He then launched a fifty-five-day train trip westward across Russia, accompanied by a crew from the British Broadcasting Company, who filmed the whistle-stop tour. He filled his notebook with statements by the people, promising to deliver their words to the leaders once he reached Moscow. In contrast to the warmth expressed toward him by most ordinary citizens, his ensuing reception by the Moscow intelligentsia tended toward the negative, in this sense mirroring the viewpoint of Western intellectuals. After several additional trips around the country, Solzhenitsyn and his wife settled in the outskirts of Moscow.
During his first year back on Russian soil, Solzhenitsyn maintained a relatively high profile. In October 1994 he addressed the Duma, scolding the leaders for sham reforms and an absence of authentic democracy and receiving in return a more than tepid welcome. He met privately with President Boris Yeltsin and began appearing in a fortnightly television program on issues he considered crucial. Within a year of his return home, Solzhenitsyn lost the limelight of public attention but not until he had made nearly a hundred public appearances. In October 1995 his TV program was dropped, allegedly for low ratings rather than because of sharp criticisms of the authorities. (The texts of Solzhenitsyn’s talks on television have been collected in Po minute v den’ [1995; A Minute a Day].) Whereas earlier the intellectual elite at home and abroad had commonly considered Solzhenitsyn misguided, after his homecoming they increasingly viewed him as irrelevant.
A certain decline in health, starting with a 1997 hospitalization for heart trouble, constrained Solzhenitsyn’s public activities. In May 1997 he was elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences. In October 1997 he established an annual literary prize to honor contemporaries who were contributing to the preservation and development of the Russian literary tradition. The prize came from the worldwide royalties for Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956; the same source funds a large program of assistance to thousands of needy survivors of the gulag. In 1998 Solzhenitsyn’s eightieth birthday was publicly celebrated in several events. President Yeltsin awarded Solzhenitsyn the Order of St. Andrew, the highest honor in Russia, but the octogenarian dramatically declined on grounds that there was little to celebrate in contemporary Russia.
That Solzhenitsyn continued to write abundantly is noteworthy, given his public activities and the inevitable burdens of old age, including serious back trouble. Returning to the genre of the short story, he experimented with a format he has called dvuchastnyi rasskaz (a binary tale). This term refers to narrative structures divided into two distinct parts that are only tenuously connected in terms of plot; instead, they are linked on the level of theme or thematic contrast.
He also wrote sustained works of nonfiction. Rossiia v obvale (1998; Russia in Collapse) is filled with alarm, bordering on despair, at the frightening decline in those spheres of life, such as education and medical care, without which civilized existence becomes impossible. Between 1997 and 2004 Solzhenitsyn published twenty-two essays of literary commentary on Russian authors in the journal Novyi mir under the series title Literaturnaia kollektsiia (Literary Collection). The principal focus is on twentieth-century writers.
Solzhenitsyn then turned his attention to the long-standing troubled relationship between Russians and Jews and produced Dvesti let vmeste, 1795-1995 (2001, 2002; Two Hundred Years Together, 1795-1995). As Solzhenitsyn writes in his foreword, the emotion that guided him throughout was “the desire to identify all points of shared understanding and to find every possible path to a future free of past acrimony.” Solzhenitsyn had for several decades immersed himself in the prehistory of the Russian Revolution, and his unparalleled knowledge of the interplay of social, political, and ideological forces during this period allows him to show persuasively how the Jewish theme fits into the general context. Apart from the intrinsic value of the material presented in the book, this work also holds interest as the product of an author who has been accused of anti-Semitic tendencies–a manifestly unfair charge in a debate that seems to have no end.
Solzhenitsyn also began the serial publication Ugodilo zernyshko promezh dvukh zhernovov: Ocherki izgnaniia (The Little Grain Managed to Land between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile), which came out in seven installments in 1998-2003. This work consists of his reminiscences of persons and experiences encountered during his two decades in the West and has the same verve and immediacy as Bodalsia telënok s dubom and Nevidimki. Within this volume he also provides rich commentary on his own work and on a variety of current affairs, often presented with humor and startling candor.
Despite countless disruptions and distractions throughout his life, Solzhenitsyn managed eventually to fulfill to his satisfaction the chosen “main task” of his life: a fundamental reexamination of the Russian Revolution, a lifelong project. The cycle of works in question bears the collective title Krasnoe Koleso and consists of ten volumes published from 1983 to 1991 as part of his twenty-volume Sobranie sochinenii. Yet, even the massive assemblage of Krasnoe Koleso represents only part of the vast original conception. As Solzhenitsyn explains in a note appended to the last volume of the series, he had earlier envisaged writing twenty knots, each one dealing with a specific historical period between 1914 and 1922, further supplemented by five epilogues that were to follow the story up to 1945. Contingencies of time forced Solzhenitsyn to cut short this ambitious plan after completing four uzly, or knots: Uzel 1. August chetyrnadtsatogo (1983; Knot 1. August 1914); Uzel 2. Oktiabr’ shestnadtsatogo (1984; Knot 2. October 1916); Uzel 3. Mart semnadtsatogo (1986-1988; Knot 3. March 1917); and Uzel 4. Aprel’ semnadtsatogo (1991; Knot 4. April 1917). The last volume also has a separately paginated section with a 135-page outline of the original plan, based on twenty knots.
The cycle bears the subtitle Povestvovanie v otmeren-nykh srokakh, or A Narrative in Discrete Periods of Time. His wording points to the basic method employed in structuring the series. The strategy consists of concentrating on brief and sharply demarcated segments of historical time rather than on presenting the full sequence of historical events. The text allocated to each temporal segment is referred to as a knot, or uzel, a term derived from the mathematical concept of “nodal point” and used to refer to historical moments when many forces intersect in ways that display their potential for significant consequences.
Krasnoe Koleso, like Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956 before it, eludes ready classification in terms of genre. While the sections involving fictional characters fit the pattern of an historical novel, much of the text cannot be accommodated within the novelistic tradition. Several sections concern historical figures only. These sections, since they have no fictive intent whatever, might appropriately be called dramatized history. Yet, even this mode proves incapable of absorbing the immense amount of material that Solzhenitsyn wishes to present, and he repeatedly digresses into densely written third-person excursuses on historical and political circumstances that he considers crucial to an understanding of the state of affairs. Because he set himself the goal of tracing the ill-starred convolutions that had shaped twentieth-century Russian history, the focus of his narrative is ultimately on the greater tragedy that engulfed the nation, not on individual fates.
In stylistic terms, Krasnoe Koleso exhibits the characteristic features developed in Solzhenitsyn’s earlier work as well as many new literary devices. A prominent example of the former is the polyphonic technique, present also in his long fiction, whereby individual characters are given the opportunity to carry the narrative point of view in the section of the text in which they are the principal actors. Among the stylistic innovations, the most significant is the manner in which Solzhenitsyn intersperses his prose with diverse materials that are visually set off from the main text-documents in boldface, historical retrospectives in eight-point font, collages of excerpts from the press of the time set in a variety of styles and sizes, “screen sequences” arranged in columns of brief phrases intended to mimic actual cinematic effects, and Russian proverbs printed entirely in capital letters. His frequent recourse to proverbs, in this as in his other works, demonstrates a fondness for pithy verbal constructions that convey wry wisdom. Some chapters of Krasnoe Koleso conclude with freestanding proverbs, which provide a succinct commentary on the preceding text and, representing an authoritative “folk judgment,” serve a function not unlike that of the chorus in Greek tragedy.
Central to the cycle Krasnoe Koleso is the question of whether one loves Russia. On one side are those whose sense of organic connection to the land and people causes them to take an active role in helping and defending their increasingly enfeebled homeland. On the other side are individuals obsessed by ideology-induced hatred or blinded by self-interest, who willingly or unwittingly contribute to the Russian catastrophe. The further the cycle progresses, the less resistance is offered to the surging forces of chaos and demolition, which Solzhenitsyn links to the title image of a wheel rolling or rotating in a frightening or threatening way. In the end, the life of the Russian people is violently disrupted by a revolution fomented in the name of those very people, and Lenin, who–more than anyone else–hates Russia, comes to power. The revolution, like a wheel broken loose from a careening carriage, unleashes in its furious energy the totalitarian horrors that become the hallmark of twentieth-century life.
Despite its tragic coloration, Krasnoe Koleso is in an important sense a great monument to hope. Solzhenitsyn has acknowledged that a long time will be needed for scholars to focus on a cycle that is at least four times the length of Leo Tolstoy’s Voina i mir (War and Peace, 1868-1869). He has devoted the prime of his life to this cycle. In 2001 three separate selections of chapters from the cycle were published: Stolypin i Tsar’ (Stolypin and the Tsar), which includes chapters from August chetyrnatsatogo; Lenin, Tsiurikh – Petrograd (Lenin in Zurich and Petrograd), which features chapters from all four knots; and Nakonets-to revoliutsiia (The Revolution at Last), which is a two-volume compendium of chapters from Mart semnadtsatogo. In each case Solzhenitsyn presents only chapters that bear on historical figures and events. In this way he underlines the primacy of his educational and restorative mission: to reassert and disseminate the long-suppressed truth about the events leading up to 1917.
Solzhenitsyn has frequently been described as a grim, Jeremiah-like figure, but he has always thought of himself as an optimist. Beyond the personality trait of optimism lies hope as a habit of his being; his writings, both literary and nonliterary, almost always conclude on a note of hope. Along with faith and love, hope is one of the classic Christian virtues, and Solzhenitsyn’s hope is an integral aspect of his religious worldview, in which humanity stands poised on the intersection between time and eternity.
Throughout a long life packed with high drama, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has remained vitally engaged with the central issues of his era. Like his great nineteenth-century predecessors Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, he has focused predominantly on Russia, addressing concerns and raising questions that resonate far beyond any national boundary. Fiercely independent and possessed of legendary determination and perseverance, he has been in conflict either with the powers that be or with conventional wisdom, frequently with both at once. The political dimension of his worldview, while not to be neglected, has unduly preoccupied the majority of commentators. The political controversies will fade with the passage of time. What will abide is Solzhenitsyn’s sheer literary power. This quality gained the attention of the world, and it will ultimately determine the degree to which he attains the status of an enduring classic author.
Donald M. Fiene, Alexander Solzhenitsyn: An International Bibliography of Writings by and about Him, 1962-1973 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1973);
Solzhenitsyn Studies: A Quarterly Review, 1-2 (1980-1981)-no more published;
Michael Nicholson, “Solzhenitsyn in 1981: A Bibliographic Reorientation,” in Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, edited by John B. Dunlop, Richard S. Haugh, and Nicholson (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1985), pp. 351-412;
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Biobibliograficheskii ukazatel’, august 1988-1990, compiled by N. G. Levitskaia (Moscow: Sovetskii fond kul’tury, 1991).
David Burg and George Feifer, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography (New York: Stein & Day, 1972);
Leopold Labedz, ed., Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973);
Solzhenitsyn: A Pictorial Autobiography (New York: Noon-day, 1974);
Natal’ia Reshetovskaia [with Novosti/KGB editing], V spore so vremenem (Moscow: Agentsvo pechati Novosti, 1975); translated by Elena Ivanoff as Sanya: My Husband Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975);
Michael Scammell, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography (New York: Norton, 1984);
A. V. Korotkov, S. A. Melchin, and A. S. Stepanov, Kremlevskii samosud: Sekretnye dokumenty Politburo o pisatele A. Solzhenitsyne (Moscow: Rodina, 1994)– English version edited by Michael Scammell, The Solzhenitsyn Files (Chicago: Edition q, 1995);
D. M. Thomas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998);
Vladimir Glotser and Elena Chukovskaia, eds., Slovo probivaet sebe dorogu: Sbornik statei i dokumentov ob A. I. Solzhenitsyne, 1962-1974 (Moscow: Russkii put’, 1998);
Joseph Pearce, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2001).
Francis Barker, Solzhenitsyn: Politics and Form (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1977);
Ronald Berman, ed., Solzhenitsyn at Harvard: The Address, Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1980);
Harold Bloom, ed., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Modern Critical Views (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001);
Edward J. Brown, “Solzhenitsyn and the Epic of the Camps,” in his Russian Literature Since the Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 251-291;
John B. Dunlop, Richard Haugh, and Alexis Klimoff, eds., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, second edition (New York & London: Collier-Macmillan, 1975);
Dunlop, Haugh, and Michael Nicholson, eds., Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1985);
Edward E. Ericson Jr., Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1993);
Ericson, Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1980);
Kathryn Feuer, ed., Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976);
George F. Kennan, “Between Earth and Hell,” New York Review of Books, 21 March 1974, pp. 3-7;
Klimoff, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Critical Companion (Evanston, III.: Northwestern University, 1997);
Andrei Kodjak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Boston: Twayne, 1978);
Lev Kopelev, Ease My Sorrows: A Memoir, translated by Antonina W. Bouis (New York: Random House, 1983);
Jeri Laber, “The Real Solzhenitsyn,” Commentary (May 1974): 32-35;
Laber, “The Selling of Solzhenitsyn,” Columbia Journalism Review, 13 (May/June 1974): 4-7;
Michael Lydon, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn,” in his Real Writing: Word Models of the Modern World (New York: Patrick Press, 2001), pp. 183-251;
Daniel J. Mahoney, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001);
Mahoney, “Solzhenitsyn on Russia’s ‘Jewish Question,’” Society (November/December 2002): 104-109; continued in “Solzhenitsyn, Russia, and the Jews,” Society (July/August 2004): 72-74;
Rufus W. Mathewson Jr., “Solzhenitsyn,” in his The Positive Hero in Russian Literature, second edition (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), pp. 279-340;
Mary McCarthy, “The Tolstoy Connection,” Saturday Review (16 September 1972): 79-96;
Modern Fiction Studies, 23 (Spring 1977)–special Solzhenitsyn issue;
Christopher Moody, Solzhenitsyn, expanded edition (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1976);
Georges Nivat, Soljénitsyne (Paris: Seuil, 1980);
Nivat and Michel Aucouturier, eds., Soljénitsyne (Paris: L’Herne, 1971);
Dimitri Panin, The Notebooks of Sologdin, translated by John Moore (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovano-vich, 1976);
James F. Pontuso, Solzhenitsyn’s Political Thought (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1990);
Robert Porter, Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (London: Bristol Classical Texts, 1997);
David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” New Yorker (14 February 1994): 64-83;
Abraham Rothberg, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Major Novels (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971);
William Safire, “Solzhenitsyn without Tears,” New York Times, 18 February 1974, p. 25;
Harrison Salisbury, “Why the Kremlin Fears Solzhenitsyn,” Atlantic (April 1974): 41-46;
Mariia Shneerson, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Ocherki tvorchestva (Frankfurt am Main: Posev, 1984);
Dora Shturman, Gorodu i miru: o publitsistike A. I. Solzhenitsyna (Paris & New York: Tret’ia volna, 1988);
P. E. Spivakovskii, Fenomen A. I. Solzhenitsyna: Novyi vzgliad (Moscow: RAN, 1998);
N. A. Struve and V.A. Moskvin, eds., Mezhdu dvumia iubileiami, 1998-2003: Pisateli, kritiki, literaturovedy o tvorchestve A. I. Solzhenitsyna. Al’manakh (Moscow: Russkii put’, 2005);
Leona Toker, “The Gulag Archipelago” and “The Gulag Fiction of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,” in her Return from, the Archipelago: Narrative of Gulag Survivors (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), pp.101-121 and 188-209;
Dariusz Tolczyk, “A Sliver in the Throat of Power,” in his See No Evil: Literary Cover-Ups and Discoveries of the Soviet Camp Experience (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 253-310;
Transactions of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A., 29 (1998)-issue dedicated in part to Solzhenitsyn;
A. V. Urmanov, Tvorchestvo Aleksandra Solzhenitsyna: Uchebnoe posobie (Moscow: Flinta/Nauka, 2003);
Urmanov, ed., “Krasnoe Koleso” A. I. Solzhenitsyna: Khu-dozhestvennyi mir. Poetika. Kul’turnyi kontekst (Blagoveshchensk: BGPU, 2005);
Urmanov, ed., “Matrenin dvor” A. I. Solzhenitsyna: Khu-dozhestvennyi mir. Poetika. Kul’turnyi kontekst (Blagoveshchensk: BGPU, 1999);
Urmanov, ed., “Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha” A. I. Solzhenitsyna: Khudozhestvennyi mir. Poetika. Kul’turnyi kontekst (Blagoveshchensk: BGPU, 2003);
Zuezda (June 1994)–special Solzhenitsyn issue.