Municipal educational establishment “High school with a profound study
of the English language № 27 ”
Main part. 3
1. Biography. 3
2. Master’s works. 8
3. The Cancer Ward. 9
"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."
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
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
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.
Teacher: Solodkov V.V.