Authors: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian novelist, playwright, and poet

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha, 1962 (novella; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1963)

Rakovy korpus, 1968 (Cancer Ward, 1968)

V kruge pervom, 1968 (The First Circle, 1968)

Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo, 1971 (August 1914, 1972)

Lenin v Tsyurikhe, 1975 (Lenin in Zurich, 1976)

Krasnoe koleso, 1983-1991 (includes Avgust chetyrnadtsatogo, expanded version, 1983 [The Red Wheel, 1989]; Oktiabr’ shestnadtsatogo, 1984 [November 1916, 1999]; Mart semnadtsatogo, 1986-1988; Aprel’ semnadtsatogo, 1991)

Short Fiction:

Dlya pol’zy dela, 1963 (For the Good of the Cause, 1964)

Dva rasskaza: Sluchay na stantsii Krechetovka i Matryonin dvor, 1963 (We Never Make Mistakes, 1963)

Krokhotnye Rasskazy, 1970

Rasskazy, 1990


Olen’i shalashovka, pb. 1968 (The Love Girl and the Innocent, 1969; also known as Respublika truda)

Svecha na vetru, pb. 1968 (Candle in the Wind, 1973)

Dramaticheskaya trilogiya-1945: Pir Pobediteley, pb. 1981 (Victory Celebrations, 1983)

Plenniki, pb. 1981 (Prisoners, 1983)


Znayut istinu tanki, 1981

Tuneyadets, 1981


Etyudy i krokhotnye rasskazy, 1964 (translated in Stories and Prose Poems by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1971)

Prusskie nochi, 1974 (Prussian Nights, 1977)


Les Droits de l’écrivain, 1969

Nobelevskaya lektsiya po literature 1970 goda, 1972 (The Nobel Lecture, 1973)

A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia, 1972

Solzhenitsyn: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1972

Arkhipelag GULag, 1918-1956: Opyt khudozhestvennogo issledovaniya, 1973-1975 (The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, 1974-1978)

Iz-pod glyb, 1974 (From Under the Rubble, 1975)

Pis’mo vozhdyam Sovetskogo Soyuza, 1974 (Letter to Soviet Leaders, 1974)

Bodalsya telyonok s dubom, 1975 (The Oak and the Calf, 1980)

Amerikanskiye rechi, 1975

Warning to the West, 1976

East and West, 1980

The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions About Russia Imperil America, 1980

Kak nam obustroit’ Rossiiu?: Posil’nye soobrazheniia, 1990 (Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals, 1991)

Russkii vopros, 1994 (The Russian Question: At the End of the Twentieth Century, 1994)

Invisible Allies, 1995

Dvesti let vmeste, 1795-1995, 2001


Sochineniya, 1966

Stories and Prose Poems by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1971

Six Etudes by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1971

Mir i nasiliye, 1974

Sobranie sochinenii, 1978-1983 (10 volumes)

Izbrannoe, 1991


Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (sohl-zeh-NEET-sihn) is widely regarded as the most significant Russian writer of the twentieth century. Many critics see in his writings a revival of nineteenth century Russian realist literature. He was born on December 11, 1918, in Kislovodsk, Soviet Union. His father, an artillery officer in the Russian army, died six months before Aleksandr’s birth. His mother worked as a typist and stenographer. As a youth, Solzhenitsyn felt a desire to become a writer but did not receive any encouragement. From 1939 to 1941 he studied mathematics at the University of Rostov. He was drafted into the army in 1941, where he served with distinction. In February, 1945, the Soviet secret police (KGB) intercepted a letter from Solzhenitsyn to a friend. The letter allegedly contained comments critical of Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. Solzhenitsyn was promptly arrested on February 9, and he was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. From 1945 to 1953 he was confined in several prisons and labor camps. Solzhenitsyn’s experiences during those years provided the inspiration for the bulk of his subsequent literary output.{$I[AN]9810000725}{$I[A]Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr}{$I[tim]1918;Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr}

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

(©The Nobel Foundation)

Following his release from prison in 1953 Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to internal exile in Kazakhstan in the Asian portion of the Soviet Union. In 1956 he was declared “rehabilitated” and allowed to settle in Riazan, not far from Moscow. Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1956 and his subsequent de-Stalinization program (1962-1963) created a climate in which Solzhenitsyn was able to experience his first success as a writer. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn’s first novel, appeared in the November 20, 1962, issue of Novy mir. It was an immediate success. Its portrayal of the horrors of a labor camp during Stalin’s tenure in power complemented Khrushchev’s criticism of the former dictator. Two short stories were published by Novy mir in January, 1963. With Khrushchev’s fall from power, individuals less willing to condemn Stalin’s memory publicly came to power and with them, a return to stricter censorship. After 1963, Solzhenitsyn was unable to have any more of his writings approved for publication. He soon became known as one of the Soviet Union’s leading dissidents. His works circulated in the Soviet Union in handwritten or typed samizdat copies; in the West, they appeared in print, although unauthorized.

The publication abroad of The First Circle and Cancer Ward in 1968, his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, and the publication of August 1914 in 1971 all intensified his problems with the state. In 1973 the KGB discovered a manuscript of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn’s exposé of the origins and nature of the Soviet labor camp system. The discovery prompted him to authorize its publication abroad. The immediate popularity of The Gulag Archipelago in the West led to Solzhenitsyn’s arrest on February 12, 1974. The following day, he was stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the Soviet Union.

Solzhenitsyn’s fictional works are both historical and autobiographical. Common themes are the basic injustice of the Soviet system that purports to liberate, while enslaving the Russian people; the heroic struggle of the individual to keep a sense of human dignity while being subjected to the injustice and brutality of the prison or labor camp; and the ironic fact that the police state succeeds in creating a socialist society in the prison or labor camp, while failing to do so in society at large.

Solzhenitsyn’s first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, is set in a Siberian labor camp during January, 1951. It chronicles a single day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukov, sentenced to ten years for having survived a German prisoner-of-war camp. His life consists of a struggle for survival, in which individual cunning and teamwork are the means to that end. For those who felt that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was only a recollection of Solzhenitsyn’s own nightmare, he later wrote the massive documentary The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn used the letters, memoirs, and oral testimony of 227 survivors to demonstrate that the prison camp system was an intrinsic part of the Soviet system dating back to the 1917 Revolution. The brutality and dehumanization of the gulag is not an aberration but an inevitable by-product of Marxism-Leninism.

Using imagery from Dante’s Inferno (c. 1320), Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle depicts the Soviet system as a series of increasingly tight circles of Hell. Marvino Prison, on the outskirts of Moscow, is a model in miniature of the Soviet state. Stalin and his immediate lieutenants, like the “privileged” prisoners in Marvino, occupy the first circle. With one false move, anyone can slip down to the next circle in a spiraling descent into Hell. In Cancer Ward the locale is the cancer ward of a hospital somewhere in a central Asian city. There, a group of people from all walks of life, including both opponents and proponents of the Soviet system, are brought together by a common enemy, cancer. The ever-present threat of death gives to each of them the freedom to discuss frankly otherwise forbidden subjects, such as the individual and the state, ideology, morality, and humaneness. Despite a feeling of gloom and despair in Solzhenitsyn’s novels, a glimmer of hope seems to shine through. It is evident in the indestructible spirit of the individual, like Ivan Denisovich, who refuses to give up hope or to surrender his human dignity and be crushed by the system. It also appears in the person of the Baptist, Alyoshka, in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, who sees Jesus Christ as the lord of all situations, or the Christian woman among the patients in Cancer Ward. Both possess an inner peace that those around them cannot comprehend.

After his expulsion in 1974, Solzhenitsyn went first to West Germany, where he was received by Germany’s leading postwar writer, Heinrich Böll. Solzhenitsyn then resided briefly in Zurich, Switzerland, where he was joined by his second wife, Natalya Svetlova, and their children. After 1976, he made his home in Vermont. To his continued criticism of the Soviet system, Solzhenitsyn added an equally harsh criticism of Western materialism. Some Western intellectuals were disillusioned and disappointed to find that Solzhenitsyn’s struggle for freedom was rooted in his love for Russia and his deep Christian faith, rather than Western liberalism and rugged individualism. He returned to Russia in May, 1994, after twenty years of exile, having assumed the role of a moral authority and reformer. He remained in Russia until his death on August 3, 2008.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. A collection of critical essays representing the spectrum of opinion on Solzhenitsyn’s work.Emerson, Caryl. “The Word of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.” The Georgia Review 49 (Spring, 1995): 64-74. A critical overview of Solzhenitsyn’s achievement; discusses why the Russian literary word has been so inescapably political for most of Russian history–and thus why Solzhenitsyn understands that to be a Russian writer is to be more powerful than a holder of a political post.Ericson, Edward E., Jr. Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1993. An examination of the reputation of Solzhenitsyn in the West that tries to clear up previous misunderstandings. Argues that Solzhenitsyn has never been antidemocratic and that his criticisms of the West have been made in the spirit of love, not animosity.Ericson, Edward E., Jr. Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdman’s, 1980. An analysis of Solzhenitsyn’s work from the point of view of his Christian vision. After a discussion of Solzhenitsyn’s theory of art as enunciated in his Nobel Prize lecture, Ericson provides chapters on the major novels as well as the short stories and prose poems.Feuer, Kathryn, ed. Solzhenitsyn. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. A collection of thirteen essays. The articles illuminate Solzhenitsyn as a writer, which, in turn, inform readers’ understanding of his works, including short fiction. In this connection, Robert Louis Jackson’s “’Matryona’s Home’: The Making of a Russian Icon” offers some keen interpretations of the story.Klimoff, Alexis. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”: A Critical Companion. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1997. A guide for readers encountering Solzhenitsyn’s novel for the first time; provides contextual background and critical appraisal.Kobets, Svitlana. “The Subtext of Christian Asceticism in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” Slavic and East European Journal 42 (Winter, 1998): 661-676. Discusses Christian asceticism in the novella. Notes visual images, linguistic formulas, and conventional symbols in the text that give the book a religious dimension.Lakshin, Vladislav. Solzhenitsyn, Tvardovsky, and “Novyi Mir.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Lakshin presents an insider’s view of the publication history of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, involving Aleksandr Tvardovsky, a poet and the editor of the journal Novyi Mir.Lottridge, Stephen S. “Solzhenitsyn and Leskov.” Russian Literature Triquarterly 6 (1973): 478-489. In this comparative essay, Lottridge examines Solzhenitsyn’s debt to Russia’s greatest storyteller, Nikolai Leskov. He sees the connection in Solzhenitsyn’s creation of “Christian” and righteous characters, especially in “Matryona’s Home” and in the use of skaz technique.Mahoney, Daniel J. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. Focuses on Solzhenitsyn’s political philosophy.Medina, Loreta, ed. Readings on “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001. A compendium of critical essays.Moody, Christopher. Solzhenitsyn. 2d rev. ed. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1976. Moody provides an essentially negative view of Solzhenitsyn’s literary works to 1975 that represents an alternative to the generally favorable reception of his early work.Pearce, Joseph. Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile. London: HarperCollins, 1999. A biography that focuses on the writer’s faith. Features exclusive personal interviews with Solzhenitsyn, previously unpublished poetry, and rare photographs.Ragsdale, Hugh. “The Solzhenitsyn That Nobody Knows.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 71 (Autumn, 1995): 634-641. Discusses the story “Matryona’s Home” as an account of the author’s return from his first exile in the Gulag; shows how the story is also a statement of the code of values of the Slavophile creed and an allegorical history of Russia in fictional form.Scammell, Michael. Solzhenitsyn. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. This exhaustive but lively biography deals with practically all important aspects of Solzhenitsyn’s life. Unfortunately, his works, especially the short fiction, are not discussed at great length.Scammell, Michael, ed. The Solzhenitsyn Files. Chicago: Edition q, 1995. A carefully edited documentation of Solzhenitsyn’s struggles with Soviet literary and political authorities.Thomas, D. M. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Thomas presents a personal portrait of the greatest dissident writer of the Soviet Union, providing insights into Solzhenitsyn’s struggle with Joseph Stalin and his successors and his relationship with the two women who provided strong support for his efforts to expose the evils of the Communist regime. An imaginative, well-documented, and at times combative biography of Solzhenitsyn. It includes discussion of his return to Russia in 1994.Zekulin, Gleb. “Solzhenitsyn’s Four Stories.” Soviet Studies 16, no. 1 (1964): 45-62. In this compact and authoritative essay, Zekulin discusses “Matryona’s House,” “Incident at Krechetovka Station,” “We Never Make Mistakes,” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which Zekulin treats as a short story rather than as a novel.
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