Critical Context

Like his major novels of the 1960’s, V kruge pervom (1968; The First Circle, 1968) and Rakovy korpus (1968; Cancer Ward, 1968), Solzhenitsyn’s trilogy The Red Wheel aims for a universalist depiction of society. The settings for his previous works—the vast Soviet prison system and a large hospital—were natural grids for capturing a broad cross section of Soviet society, drawn from every region and every class. Life offered this vast range to Solzhenitsyn (who certainly did not volunteer to live in such settings), and the earlier novels are autobiographical. The events of The Red Wheel predate both Solzhenitsyn’s personal experience and the Soviet system. Re-creating pre-Soviet Russia in the round is an important stage in Solzhenitsyn’s moral and aesthetic reclamation of a country and its language and culture that he perceives as tragically despoiled.

From the parallels to be drawn with Fyodor Dostoevski’s prison memoirs to the polemics with Tolstoy in Oktiabr shestnadtsatogo, Solzhenitsyn’s work has always demanded comparison with that of his great predecessors. In Oktiabr shestnadtsatogo, different classical authors form part of the consciousness of several key characters. The Professoress (Olda Andozerskaya) is a passionate proponent of Dostoevski; she is also an antiheroine, however, whose enthusiasms may be questionable. Sanya, naive but earnest, moves from...

(The entire section is 462 words.)