Biography of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
author and historian, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1970. In his work Solzhenitsyn continued the realistic tradition of Dostoevsky
and Tolstoy and complemented it later with his views of the flaws of both
East and West. He produced in the 1960s and 1970s a number of major novels
based on his own experiences of Soviet prisons and hospital life. 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).
|"He had drawn many a thousand
of these rations in prisons and camps, and though he'd never had an opportunity
to weight them on scales, and although, being a man of timid nature, he
knew no way of standing up for his rights, he, like every other prisoner,
had discovered long ago that honest weight was never to be found in the
bread-cutting. There was short weight in every ration. The only point was
how short. So every day you took a look to soothe your soul - today, maybe,
they haven't snitched any." (from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,
|Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn descended from an intellectual Cossack family. He 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.|
support herself and her son, Solzhenitsyn's mother worked as a typist. Solzhenitsy
did well at school, but because the family was extremely poor, he had to
give up his plans to study literature in Moscow. Instead he enrolled in
Rostov University, where he studied mathematics and physics, graduating
in 1941. In 1939-41 he took correspondence courses in literature at Moscow
State University. He married Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaia in 1940, they
divorced in 1950, remarried in 1957, and divorced in 1972. In 1973 Solzhenitsyn
married Natalia Svetlova; they had three sons, Yermolai, Stephan, and Ignat.
Dmitri was the son from Svetlova's first marriage to Prof. Andrei Tiurin.
In WW II Solzhenitsyn 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 - "the man with the mustache." Solzhenitsyn served in the camps and prisons near Moskow, and in a camp in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan (1945-53). Solzhenitsyn's double degree in mathematics and physics saved him mostly from hard physical labour during these years, although in 1950 he was taken to a new kind of camp, for political prisoners only, where he worked as a manual laborer.
"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)
his imprisonment he was sent to Marfino, a specialized prison that employed
mathematicians and scientist in research. 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 became basis for the novels First Circle
and Cancer Ward. After rehabilitation Solzhenitsyn settled in Riazan as
At the age of 42, Solzhenitsy had written a great deal secretly, but published nothing. After Nikita Khrushchev had publicly condemned the "cult of personality" - an attack on Stalin's heritage - the political censorship loosened its tight grip. Solzhenitsyn's first book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, appeared next year 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.
'"When they announced on the radio that some new machine had been invented, I heard Matryona grumbling out in the kitchen, "New ones all the time, nothing but new ones. People don't want to work with the old ones any more, where are we going to store them all?"' (from 'Matryona's Home', 1963)
Mir published also the stories 'Matryona's Home' and 'Incident at Krechetovka'
Station but rejected Cancer Ward (1968), in which Kostoglotov, the protagonist,
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 title of the book refered to the least painful circle of
Hell in Dante's Inferno. However, if the prisoners do not produce satisfactory
work, they will found themselves in the lower circles of the labor camps.
The period of official favour lasted only a few years. Between the years 1963 and 1966 Solzhenitsyn managed to publish only four stories and finally all his manuscripts were censored. Khrushchev himself was forced into retirement in 1964. KGB confiscated the novel V KRUGE PERVON and other writings in 1965 and Solzhenitsyn circulated an open letter to Fourth Congress of the Writers' Union. He was expelled from the Writers' Union in 1969, but his unpublished manuscripts were smuggled in the West from 1971. These works 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 search 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 experiences 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. "Where can I read about us? Will that be only in a hundred years?" says a woman in Cancer Ward.
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. (Gulag stands for "Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps.") For the work Solzhenitsyn collected excerpts from documents, oral testimonies, eyewitness reports, and other material, which all was inflammable. The detailed account of the network of prison and labor camps - scattered like islands in a sea - in Stalin's Russia angered the Soviet authorities and Solzhenitsyn 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. August 1914 (1971), constructed in fragmented style, focused on the defeat of the Russian Second Army in East Prussia. Solzhenitsyn used in it documents, proverbs, songs, newspapers, and imitation film scripts, although intentionally experimental, avant-garde literature has not found from him much sympathy. With these technical devices Solzhenityn manages to create a broad social picture of this crucial moment of history.
"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 this did 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)
collapse of the Soviet Union Solzhenitsyn returned from Vermont to his home
land in 1994. The new regime, led by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, had offered to
restore his citizenship already in 1990, and next year his treason charges
were formally dropped. Solzhenitsyn made a sensational whistle-stop tour
through Siberia, becoming a highly popular figure. Solzhenitsyn was also
received by President Yeltsin and in 1994 he gave an address to Russian
Solzhenitsyn settled in Moscow, where he has continued to criticize western materialism and Russian bureaucracy and secularization. Western democratic system is means for Solzhenitsyn "spiritual exhaustion" in which "mediocrity triumphs under the guise of democratic restraints." "We have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. The complex and deadly crush of life has produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting personalities than those generated by standardized Western well-being." (from a speech given in Harvard in 1978) Sozhenitsyn's old Russian ideals were already explicit in the character of Matryona in 'Matryona's House' from the 1960s, in which the narrator meets a saintly woman, whose life has been full of disappointments but who helps others. "We had lived side by side her and had never understood that she was the righteous one without whom,. as the proverb says, no village can stand."
Solzhenitsyn's message is clear - the only salvation is to abandon materialist world view and return to the virtues of Holy Russia - but is has not led to concrete consequences. On the other hand he has been accused not to condemn Russian chauvinism.
The Solzhenitsyn Prize for Russian writing was established in 1997. Since his return Solzhenitsyn has published several works, but in the West his views have not gained the former interest. However, the essay Rebuilding Russia (1990) was widely read and arose much debate. Solzhenitsyn's later books include ROSSIYA V OBVALE (1998, Russia Collapsing), an attack on Russia's business circles and government, published by Viktor Moskvin. The first printing was 5 000 copies. He has also written two volumes on Russian-Jewish relations. In January 2003 Solzhenitsyn was hospitalized with high blood pressure.