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Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Municipal educational establishment “High school with a profound study

of the English language № 27 ”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Plan. 1

Introduction. 2

Main part. 3

1. Biography. 3

2. Master’s works. 8

3. The Cancer Ward. 9

Conclusion. 11

Literature. 12


"Who else, if not writers,

can censure not only their faulty

rulers but society at large?"

Solzhenitsyn (From Nobel lecture)

"We lived next door but did not understand that she was the upright

person no settlement can do without. Nor can a city. Nor the entire


This excerpt from the famous short story "Matriona's Home" about a

peasant woman who gave shelter to the writer in the 1950s perfectly applies

to the writer himself. A teacher in the broadest sense of the word, a human

rights activist and a righteous man, whose principle has always been to

live without lies.

Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 "for the

ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of

Russian literature." Active member of Russian Academy of Sciences (1997).

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is now 84. "A legend of the 20th century,

martyr and hero," thus the outstanding Russian scholar Dmitry Likhachyov

described Solzhenitsyn once. For us Solzhenitsyn is not simply a great

writer but rather the nation's conscience whose word strikes you not only

by its artistic value but by its message of truth. This truth is all the

more impressing since the writer's word and life are never at varience.

They complement each other. Today we came to realize that the writer's most

outstanding "work" is his own life.

"Longevity was given to me. 80 years is a longevity. At this age you

have new opportunities. You can look back at your life and open something

in it that you could not notice and understand while you were on the run.

For a larger part of our lives we act, and action interferes with our

ability to take a quiet look at things. An old age gives some scope to your

soul, a chance to evaluate your deeds."

Main part.

1. Biography.

One of the leading Russian writers of the 20th century, Alexander

Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, was born in Kislovodsk, on the 11th of December

1918 in a family of Cossack intellectuals and brought up primarily by his

mother. His father had studied philological subjects at Moscow University,

but did not complete his studies, as he enlisted as a volunteer when war

broke out in 1914. He became an artillery officer on the German front,

fought throughout the war and died in the summer of 1918, six months before

his son was born. Alexander was brought up by his mother, who worked as a

shorthand typist, in the town of Rostov-on-Don, where he spent the whole of

his childhood and youth, leaving the grammar school there in 1936. Even as

a child, without any prompting from others, he wanted to be a writer and,

indeed, he turned out a good deal of the usual juvenilia. In the 1930s, he

tried to get his writings published but he could not find anyone willing to

accept his manuscripts. He wanted to acquire a literary education, but in

Rostov such an education that would suit his wishes was not to be obtained.

To move to Moscow was not possible, partly because his mother was alone and

in poor health, and partly because of their modest circumstances.

Solzhenitsyn therefore began to study at the Department of Mathematics

at Rostov University, where it proved that he had considerable aptitude for

mathematics. But although he found it easy to learn this subject, he did

not feel that he wished to devote his whole life to it. Nevertheless, it

was to play a beneficial role in his destiny later on, and on at least two

occasions, it rescued him from death. For he would probably not have

survived the eight years in camps if he had not, as a mathematician, been

transferred to a so-called sharashia, where he spent four years; and later,

during his exile, he was allowed to teach mathematics and physics, which

helped to ease his existence and made it possible for him to write. If he

had had a literary education it is quite likely that he should not have

survived these ordeals but would instead have been subjected to even

greater pressures. Later on, it is true, Alexander Isayevich began to get

some literary education as well; this was from 1939 to 1941, during which

time, along with university studies in physics and mathematics, he also

studied by correspondence at the Institute of History, Philosophy and

Literature in Moscow.

In 1941, a few days before the outbreak of the war, Solzhenitsyn

graduated from the Department of Physics and Mathematics at Rostov

University. At the beginning of the war, owing to weak health, he was

detailed to serve as a driver of horsedrawn vehicles during the winter of

1941-1942. Later, because of his mathematical knowledge, he was transferred

to an artillery school, from which, after a crash course, he passed out in

November 1942. Immediately after this he was put in command of an artillery-

position-finding company, and in this capacity, served, without a break,

right in the front line until he was arrested in February 1945. This

happened in East Prussia, a region which is linked with his destiny in a

remarkable way. As early as 1937, as a first-year student, he chose to

write a descriptive essay on "The Samsonov Disaster" of 1914 in East

Prussia and studied material on this; and in 1945 he himself went to this

area (at the time of writing, autumn 1970, the book August 1914 has just

been completed).

Solzhenitsyn was arrested on the grounds of what the censorship had

found during the years 1944-1945 in his correspondence with a school

friend, mainly because of certain disrespectful remarks about Stalin,

although they referred to him in disguised terms. As a further basis for

the "charge", there were used the drafts of stories and reflections which

had been found in his map case. These, however, were not sufficient for a

"prosecution", and in July 1945 he was "sentenced" in his absence, in

accordance with a procedure then frequently applied, after a resolution by

the OSO (the Special Committee of the NKVD), to eight years in a detention

camp (at that time this was considered a mild sentence).

Solzhenitsyn served the first part of my sentence in several

correctional work camps of mixed types (this kind of camp is described in

the play, The Tenderfoot and the Tramp). In 1946, as a mathematician, he

was transferred to the group of scientific research institutes of the MVD-

MOB (Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of State Security). He spent

the middle period of his sentence in such "SPECIAL PRISONS" (The First

Circle). In 1950 he was sent to the newly established "Special Camps" which

were intended only for political prisoners. In such a camp in the town of

Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), he worked

as a miner, a bricklayer, and a foundryman. There he contracted a tumour,

which was operated on, but the condition was not cured (its character was

not established until later on).

One month after he had served the full term of his eight-year

sentence, there came, without any new judgement and even without a

"resolution from the OSO", an administrative decision to the effect that he

was not to be released but EXILED FOR LIFE to Kok-Terek (southern

Kazakhstan). This measure was not directed specially against him, but was a

very usual procedure at that time. He served this exile from March 1953 (on

March 5th, when Stalin's death was made public, he was allowed for the

first time to go out without an escort) until June 1956. Here his cancer

had developed rapidly, and at the end of 1953, he was very near death. He

was unable to eat; he could not sleep and was severely affected by the

poisons from the tumour. However, he was able to go to a cancer clinic at

Tashkent, where, during 1954, he was cured (The Cancer Ward, Right Hand).

During all the years of exile, Solzhenitsyn taught mathematics and

physics in a primary school and during his hard and lonely existence he

wrote prose in secret (in the camp he could only write down poetry from

memory). He managed, however, to keep what he had written, and to take it

with him to the European part of the country, where, in the same way, he

continued, as far as the outer world was concerned, to occupy himself with

teaching and, in secret, to devote himself to writing, at first in the

Vladimir district (Matryona's Farm) and afterwards in Ryazan.

During all the years until 1961, not only was he convinced that he

should never see a single line of him in print in his lifetime, but, also,

he scarcely dared allow any of his close acquaintances to read anything he

had written because he feared that this would become known. Finally, at the

age of 42, this secret authorship began to wear him down. The most

difficult thing of all to bear was that he could not get his works judged

by people with literary training. In 1961, after the 22nd Congress of the

U.S.S.R. Communist Party and Tvardovsky's speech at this, he decided to

emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Such an emergence seemed, then, to Solzhenitsyn, and not without

reason, to be very risky because it might lead to the loss of his

manuscripts, and to his own destruction. But, on that occasion, things

turned out successfully, and after protracted efforts, A.T. Tvardovsky was

able to print his novel one year later. The printing of his work was,

however, stopped almost immediately and the authorities stopped both his

plays and (in 1964) the novel, The First Circle, which, in 1965, was seized

together with his papers from the past years. During these months it seemed

to him that he had committed an unpardonable mistake by revealing his work

prematurely and that because of this he should not be able to carry it to a

conclusion. After 1966, his work was not published in the Soviet Union for

many years.

The open conflict between communist regime and Solzhenitsyn erupted

with his Letter to the Fourth National Congress of Soviet Writers (May

1967), in which he demanded the abolition of censorship, the rehabilitation

of many writers victimized during the repression, and the restoration of

his archives, confiscated by the KGB in 1965. After the publication abroad

of The First Circle (1968) and The Cancer Ward (1968-69) abroad and winning

the Nobel Prize (1970, "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the

indispensable traditions of Russian literature") the confrontation

increased. Further public statements by Solzhenitsyn (A Lenten Letter to

Pimen, Patriarch of all Russia, Letter to the Soviet Leaders, etc.) as well

as the publication of the first variant of August 1914 (1971) and the first

volume of The Gulag Archipelago (1973), led the Soviet authorities to exile

him to Germany (February 1974).

Having settled first in Switzerland, Solzhenitsyn, his wife Natalia

Dmitrievna, three sons: Ermolai, Ignat and Stepan, in 1976 moved to the

United States. They lived in Cavendish, Vermont. While in the West,

Solzhenitsyn completed The Oak and the Calf (1975) and Three Plays (1981).

In 1982 an enlarged version of August 1914 was published as the first in a

series of novels about the Russian Revolution to be called collectively The

Red Wheel. Excerpts from this work had been published in 1975 as Lenin in

Zurich. There were many public addresses and speeches also: A World Split

Apart, Misconceptions About Russia Are a Threat to America, etc. The

intellectual and moral influence of Solzhenitsyn played an important role

in the fall of communist power in East Europe and Russia.

In 1989 Gulag Archipelago was published as a serial in the literary

magazine Novy Mir. In 1990 Solzhenitsyn was again admitted the Soviet

citizenship. Then he published How to Reconstruct Russia: Reflections and

Tentative Proposals. He came back to Russia in May 1994. Among his new

works was Russian Question at the End of XX Century, Russia in the

Abuss and other publicist writing, short stories. Now the magazine Novy Mir

has began to publish his Sketches on Exile (a sequel of The Oak and the

Calf). There is a new his historical book now: 200 Years Together.

After return he tried to influence the modern Russian politics and met

President Yeltsin (1994) and President Putin (2000).

2. Master’s works.

Literature, however, was not Solzhenitsyn's first profession. He

graduated from Rostov University (and with honors) and in the 50s taught

mathematics, physics and astronomy. Perhaps, this explains the logic always

present in his literary work. The idea of every short story or epic novel

is always crystal clear. The author's stand is never ambiguous. The

celebrated One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which made the writer

famous overnight, is a wild protest against Stalin's concentration camps

and, in a broader sense, against suppression of any personality. But this

protest is expressed in amazing artistic form, where every word is richly


One Day and Matriona's Home have been read by millions of people in

this country, while the large-scale novels In Circle One, Cancer Ward, The

GULAG Archipelago and The Red Wheel are a hard nut to crack and on the

whole have not become national bestsellers. Certainly, many readers were

discouraged by the size of these books; The Red Wheel alone consists of 10

volumes. Besides, after all the revelations of the perestroika period,

after scandals and masses of compromising material daily supplied by the

media, many people simply don't have the energy to go deep into the events

of the past, which were even more frightening that those of the present.

The writer himself has an approximately similar opinion on the issue. As

for the Russian literature of the Soviet period on the whole, he believes

that "After 1917 life and people changed greatly. But literature produced a

very poor reflection of these changes. The truth was suppressed and lies

encouraged. Thus we arrived in the 1990s, knowing next to nothing about

this country. This explains the great number of surprises."

There is still another reason why many people remain strangers to

Solzhenitsyn's work. His major books are not entertaining reading. In fact,

they are political and philosophical essays. The writer believes his

mission is to keep things under constant scrutiny.

3. The Cancer Ward.

I would life to tell you about one of my favorite novels by Alexander

Solzhenitsyn. It is The Cancer Ward.

The story takes place in the men's cancer ward of a hospital in a city

in Soviet Central Asia. The patients in Ward 13 all suffer from cancer, but

differ in age, personality, nationality, and social class (as if such a

thing could be possible in the Soviet "classless" society!). We are first

introduced to Pavel Rusanov, a Communist Party functionary, who enters the

hospital because of a rapidly growing neck tumor.

We soon learn, however, that the book's central character is Oleg

Kostoglotov, a young man who has recently been discharged from a penal camp

and is now "eternally" exiled to this particular province. Only two weeks

earlier, he was admitted to the ward in grave condition from an unspecified

tumor, but he has responded rapidly to radiation therapy. Among the doctors

are Zoya, a medical student; Vera Gangart, a young radiologist; and

Lyudmila Dontsova, the chief of radiation therapy.

Rusanov and Kostoglotov respond to therapy and are eventually

discharged; other patients remain in the ward, get worse, or are sent home

to die. In the end Kostoglotov boards a train to the site of his "eternal"

exile: "The long awaited happy life had come, it had come! But Oleg somehow

did not recognize it."

Solzhenitzyn himself was released from a labor camp in early 1953,

just before Stalin's death, and was exiled to a village in Kazakhstan.

While incarcerated, he had been operated on for a tumor, but was not told

the diagnosis. He subsequently developed a recurrence, received

radiotherapy in Tashkent, and recovered.

In The Cancer Ward Solzhenitzyn transforms these experiences into a

multifaceted tale about Soviet society during the period of hope and

liberalization after Stalin's death. Cancer, of course, is an obvious

metaphor for the totalitarian state. The novel also provides an interesting

look at mid-century Soviet medicine and medical ethics.

The novel also explores the personal qualities and motivation of

physicians, and the issue of intimate relationships between doctors and

patients. Probably the book's strongest points are its insight into human

nature and the believability of its characters.


Solzhenitsyn is disappointed with Russian literature: "On the one

hand, our Russian literature is very high because it has not lost its ethic

standard. On the other hand, partly under the influence of Gogol, with his

merciless attitude toward public vices, Russian literature lost its

creative message. We have Oblomov, Onegin, Pechorin, all the so-called

"useless people", but where are the builders, the creators? Russia was

created as a mighty power stretching east to Siberia, where back in the

18th century we had educational institutions, talented people and culture.

Then under Gogol's influence there appeared a succession of satirists and

ironists. Saltytkov-Shchedrin, for example, with his scathing look at the

negative is simply mustard."

Today Solzhenitsyn continues working, preparing his diaries for

publication, writing letters to the former fellow-inmates and helping

thousands of people. The Solzhenitsyn foundation is based on the royalties

of The GULAG Archipelago, published in 30 countries. It supports thousands

of former political prisoners across Russia.

"Giving is far more important than taking," says the writer's wife,

Natalia. "As for him, he has popular love. He receives wonderful letters

and knows there are many people who are grateful to him. But he works not

for this gratitude. We are happy to be back home. We never feel lonely, nor

do we bear any grudge. We feel as if we had never left the country."


1. Нива Ж. Солженицын. – М., 1992.

2. The New York Times, May 15,1997.

3. The New York Times, March 1, 1998.

4. Encyclopedia Britannica.

5. Профиль, 12 января 1998, №1.


Student: Marina Telegina.

Form: 11”B”

Teacher: Solodkov V.V.

Angarsk, 2002