Beauty Will Save the World
Beauty Will Save the World
By: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Source: Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, translated by Thomas P. Whitney. "Beauty Will Save the World." In The World Treasury of Modern Thought, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
About the Author: Born in 1918, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian author who spent eight years in Russian leader Joseph Stalin's (1878–1953) prison camps. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970. Following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago in 1974, he was charged with treason and exiled from the Soviet Union.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–) spent much of his adult life under arrest, in exile, or in fear. His The Gulag Archipelago, a three-volume series published between 1973 and 1978, exposed the history of the police state in the Soviet Union. Its most remarkable point showed that labor and political prisoner camps came from the theologies of Vladimir Lenin—the Communist founder of the Soviet Union—and not Joseph Stalin. Yet, it was not the publication of The Gulag Archipelago that made Solzhenitsyn a political target in the Soviet Union. Rather, his political chastisement, imprisonments, and eventual exile began in 1945.
In February 1945, the KGB (the Russian-language abbreviation for Secret Security Committee) arrested Solzhenitsyn for criticisms he had made about Stalin. Solzhenitsyn had written these remarks in letters to a school friend between 1944 and 1945, and his arrest came on the frontlines. He had been commanding an artillery-position-finding company in East Prussia for the Soviet Army during World War II. He achieved the rank of captain during the war, and his service earned him two wartime decorations. This arrest sent him to detention camps for eight years. Then, one month after his prison sentence ended, the administration decided that he would be exiled for life to KokTerek (in present-day Kazahkstan). This exile lasted until March 1953. In 1953, Solzhenitsyn was diagnosed with cancer, and he fought this battle until 1954 when the cancer went into remission.
During his exile, Solzhenitsyn turned toward his writing as a way to console and express himself. He wrote in secret and feared showing his works to even his closet friends because of continual government observation of his activities. It wasn't until much later that Solzhenitsyn broke his silence with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich published in 1962. This work portrayed one day of life in a Soviet prison camp. The story erupted as a sensational piece, with numerous translations to follow. By 1964, Solzhenitsyn's writings and plays were censored, and in 1965 his book The First Circle and his papers were seized.
Solzhenitsyn's writings marked the beginning of Soviet prison camp literature, and his political criticism of the Soviet regime sparked the interest of the Western world. His writings spoke of the everyman, captured the reader through their direct language and narration, and the characters explored questions on life, death, and politics. These topics, particularly his political criticism, caused the KGB to censor his writings, seize his manuscripts, and halt his publications. From 1963 to 1966, he only published four short stories, and in 1969 the Writer's Union expelled him. Even though he faced a continual surge of governmental harassment, Solzhenitsyn continued to write. In 1971, he began smuggling his manuscripts into the West, and the story of how he smuggled his Nobel Lecture from Moscow showcased his drive to overcome his oppression.
Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, and his enemies in the Soviet Union used it as more fuel to condemn him. They saw the award as praising a traitor. Thus, Solzhenitsyn decided not to go to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the award for fear that he would not be allowed back into his country. Even though the Soviet Union's government harassed, quarantined, and censored him, he could not fathom severing himself from his homeland. Once Solzhenitsyn decided to not accept the award in Sweden, officials talked of presenting him the prize at the Swedish Embassy in Moscow in April 1972. This plan fell through when the Swedish Ambassador insisted that the award be merely handed to Solzhenitsyn, and that he would not give his Nobel Lecture. Solzhenitsyn took offense to this demand, and he refused to accept the award there. In 1972, Solzhenitsyn met Swedish news correspondent Stig Fredrikson, and during the course of the next year the two would meet in secret locations and pass messages and packages to one another. Solzhenitsyn used Fredrikson to smuggle his writings from Moscow, and he used him to obtain correspondence from his lawyer and publishers in the West. Most importantly, Solzhenitsyn gave Fredrikson a series of negatives that contained his Nobel Lecture. From these negatives, his speech was given to the Swedish Academy and reproduced and published in later works. Its message spoke of political dissent, censorship, and of the human spirit. These are the same themes that Solzhenitsyn used in writings that won him the award in 1970.
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After the 1973 publication of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn faced increased harassment and criticism from the Soviet Union's government. The book provided a detailed account of the Soviet prison and labor camps and did not show the Soviets in a kind light. He was arrested and charged with treason, which resulted in his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974. Soviet officials stripped him of his citizenship and deported him to West Germany. Once banished from his homeland, Solzhenitsyn first moved to Switzerland. In 1976, he came to the United States. While in the United States, in Vermont, he continued to write history and political pieces. He finished the The Gulag Archipelago series and also completed The Red Wheel. The Red Wheel detailed the Russian Army's defeat in East Prussia, and once again the history that Solzhenitsyn told did not glorify Soviet leadership.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the political tide for Solzhenitsyn began to soften. In 1990, new leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev offered to restore his citizenship, and the following year Solzhenitsyn toured Siberia to promote his writings. In 1994, he resettled in Moscow where he continued his political writings condemning Western materialism. His later writings show a reflection of late-twentieth-century Russian culture and a desire for the return of pre-communist Russian culture. These later writings have not gained the same popularity and praise in Western societies as his earlier works, but he continues to gain respect and acclaim in the former Soviet Union. As of 2006, Solzhenitsyn lives with his family in Moscow.
Mahoney, Daniel J. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001.
Pontuso, James F. Assault on Ideology: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Political Thought. Los Angeles: Lexington Books, 2004.
Rowley, David G. "Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Russian Nationalism." Journal of Contemporary History 32, 3 (July 1997): 321-337.
The New York Times. "Featured Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn." 1997. 〈http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/home/solz.html〉 (accessed May 6, 2006).