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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1918-

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(Full name Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn) Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, journalist, essayist, critic, and nonfiction writer.

Best known for his Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha (1962; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) and Arkhipelag Gulag, 1918-1956: Op' bit khudozhestvennopo issledovaniia (1973-75; The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation), Solzhenitsyn confronts in his short fiction and longer works the oppressive actions of the former Soviet Union, while in his later essays he regards the political and moral problems of the West as well. Rejecting the precepts of Socialist Realism, he writes from a Christian perspective, depicting the suffering of innocent people in a world where good and evil vie for the human soul; in this he is thematically linked to such nineteenth-century Russian writers as Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. Although Soviet authorities frequently banned his writings, Solzhenitsyn received the 1970 Nobel Prize for what the Nobel committee termed "the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

Biographical Information

Born in 1918 in Kislovodsk, Russia, Solzhenitsyn never knew his father, who died in a hunting accident before he was born. His mother, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, was denied sufficient employment by the Soviet government, forcing the family into poverty from 1924 to 1936. Solzhenitsyn harbored literary ambitions early in life, resolving before he was eighteen to write a major novel about the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918. After earning degrees in philology, mathematics, and physics, Solzhenitsyn began teaching in 1941. In 1945, while serving as the commander of a Soviet Army artillery battery, counterintelligence agents discovered personal letters in which Solzhenitsyn had criticized Communist leader Josef Stalin. Found guilty of conspiring against the state, he was confined to numerous institutions over the course of a decade, including a labor camp at Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan, and Marfino Prison—a sharashka, or government run prison and research institute. While in Moscow's Lubyanka prison, Solzhenitsyn began reading works by such authors as Yevgeny Zamyatin, a notable Soviet prose writer of the 1920s, and American novelist John Dos Passos, whose expressionist style later influenced Solzhenitsyn's own writing. During his imprisonment in Ekibastuz, Solzhenitsyn was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and underwent surgery. Due to bureaucratic incompetence, however, he did not receive radiation and hormone treatments until he was near death, but miraculously recovered from the disease. In 1953 he was released from prison and exiled to Kok-Terek in Central Asia. There he taught mathematics and physics in a secondary school and began writing prose poems, short stories, plays, and notes for a novel.

Freed from exile in 1965, Solzhenitsyn returned to central Russia. He then submitted several of his stories to the Russian periodical Novy Mir, which had published One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962. Appearing during a period of openness fostered by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the work proved a considerable success. However, with the decline of Khrushchev and the rise of less tolerant regimes, Solzhenitsyn fell from official favor. When he was granted the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony because the Soviet government would not guarantee his reentry into Russia. The French publication of The Gulag Archipelago led to his arrest, and in 1974 he was expelled from his homeland and eventually settled in the United States. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, however, has since afforded Solzhenitsyn the opportunity to return to Russia.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Set in Stalinist Russia, One Day in the Life of Ivan...

(The entire section contains 81293 words.)

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn World Literature Analysis


Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I(sayevich) (Vol. 1)