Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I(sayevich) (Vol. 18)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I(sayevich) 1918–

A Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, dramatist, and critic, Solzhenitsyn now resides in the United States. His first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was the first exposé of Stalin's labor camps (in which Solzhenitsyn spent eight years) allowed published by the Soviet Central Committee. However, his persistent activities as a dissident and outspoken critic of literary censorship led to his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1969 and the censorship of his subsequent publications in Russia. Rejecting the precepts of socialist realism, Solzhenitsyn writes from an unmistakably Christian point of view, depicting the suffering of the innocent in a world where good and evil vie for the human soul. In this he is thematically linked to the great Russian writers of the nineteenth century. His writing, distinguished by its austere, simple style, is presented with compassion and moral concern. Solzhenitsyn continues to write in exile of the oppression in his own land, as well as to speak of his concern for the political and moral problems of the West. He received the Nobel Prize in 1970. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 69-72.)

Andrej Kodjak

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Solzhenitsyn's short stories and novels … are closely linked with one another philosophically. There is, however, a significant difference between the three novels and the short stories. At least two of the novels deal directly with prison life, and the third, The Cancer Ward, alludes to it through the figure of Oleg Kostoglotov; in his short stories Solzhenitsyn does not concern himself with this feature of society. There he seems rather to be attempting to break out of the context of forced confinement in order to project his ideas and philosophy in a more familiar setting. And yet even Solzhenitsyn's short stories do not omit the experience of the zek altogether. "Matryonin Dvor" (Matryona's House) and "Pravaya Kist" (The Right Hand), both highly autobiographical, contain veiled references to the convict's world…. In Solzhenitsyn's short stories, prison life is thus no longer a major topic in itself, but an experience which engenders in his characters a more profound view of the world. (p. 104)

As one of Solzhenitsyn's most important literary achievements is his highly developed narrative style, his efforts as a playwright necessitated an enormous adjustment in craftsmanship. The reader who can fully appreciate Solzhenitsyn's language in the original finds his dynamic narrative, his precise and often unusual lexicon, exceptionally persuasive. But in drama the narrator is absent, the entire text consists of the direct speech of characters whose language cannot deviate very substantially from the standard of a given social milieu. If Solzhenitsyn's plays fail, they do so partly because of an inherent feature of the genre itself—the absence of the narrator.

Solzhenitsyn's didacticism also helps account for his lack of success in playwriting. His intensely moralistic tone is much more acceptable in narrative prose than on the stage. As his characters usually advocate opposing philosophies, an omniscient narrator who analyzes their thoughts and feelings without constantly placing them in direct confrontations can develop the personages more convincingly. On the stage, however, Solzhenitsyn's characters develop their philosophies through continual ideological clashes that fail to develop into plausible dialogues, for their very intensity lends an artificial quality to them. (p. 123)

Immediately upon the publication of Solzhenitsyn's first book, his readers and critics recognized two vital characteristics of his art—his language, and his straightforward depiction of the inhumanity of Stalin's labor camps. Solzhenitsyn's Russian readers appreciated the innovative form and content of his fiction from his initial appearance on the literary scene. His style—which contrasts sharply with the bleak, stereotyped language of...

(The entire section is 5,338 words.)