The archives recently opened at the Swedish Academy revealed the deep concern of the Nobel judges over the consequences that would await Alexander Solzhenitsyn if the dissident Soviet writer received the literature prize in 1970.
The author of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, who revealed the horrors of Stalin’s gulags in his writings and was ultimately exiled by the Soviet Union, was named the Nobel Laureate in that year, praised by the committee for “the ethical force with which it has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”.
But the archives of the Swedish Academy, which are sealed for 50 years after the nomination of each laureate, revealed the fierce debate among the judges over what a victory could mean for Solzhenitsyn.
“There are external circumstances which are recognized by all as extremely difficult to assess: whether a Nobel Prize for Solzhenitsyn will benefit him or hurt him,” academy member Artur Lundkvist wrote in documents. seen by Swedish journalist Kaj Schueler and reported in Svenska Dagbladet. “Canvassing from all sides for his candidacy does not take into account the consequences for him. It is above all a question of demonstrating against the Soviet Union, both in a justified and unjustified manner. However, the Nobel Prize must not become a battleground between different political interests. “
The academy had previously awarded the Nobel Prize to Boris Pasternak in 1958, after the publication of Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak accepted the award, but was then forced to refuse it by the Soviet authorities who had banned his novel. In 1965, the award went to Mikhail Sholokhov, a writer acceptable to the Soviet government.
Henry Olsson, another member of the academy, objected to Lundkvist’s point of view: “Precisely because we awarded the prize to the Stalinist Sholokhov in 1965, impartiality demands that we can also give it to a communist. more critical of the system, like Solzhenitsyn. “
Schueler notes that Olsson’s formulation is ambiguous, but adds that it “suggests that giving the prize to Sholokhov was a way of appeasing the Soviet state that had aggressively persecuted Pasternak.”
Lundkvist had another concern about Solzhenitsyn: was his handwriting really good? By this time, Solzhenitsyn had published A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, describing a day in a Soviet gulag, and his major works The First Circle and Cancer Ward. His magnum opus The Gulag Archipelago, which he wrote in secret in the Soviet Union, was not published until 1973 and led to his deportation the following year.
Lundkvist wrote that he felt the artistic merit of Solzhenitsyn’s books had been “generally overlooked”, arguing that his writing “seemed rather primitive and uninteresting” compared to other 20th century novels. Olsson disagreed, arguing that Solzhenitsyn “possesses a human knowledge, a force of empathy and an intensity in artistic ability which makes such an opinion impossible”.
In 1970, Solzhenitsyn won over other Nobel Prize contenders, Chilean writer Pablo Neruda (who won in 1971) and Australian author Patrick White (who won in 1973). But her path to receiving the award was not easy. Then harassed by the Communist Party and the KGB, the author feared that if he went to Stockholm to accept the Nobel, he would be stripped of his Soviet citizenship and prevented from returning home.
Proposals were put in place to present him with the prize at the Swedish embassy in Moscow, but Solzhenitsyn was furious at the suggestion of a private ceremony, describing the conditions as “an insult to the Nobel Prize himself” and asking if his victory was “something to be ashamed of, something to hide from the people”.
Plans have been made for the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Karl Ragnar Gierow, to present the award to Solzhenitsyn in an apartment in Moscow. But when Gierow was refused a visa, the author got angry again, and in an open letter he published to the press, he asked the Swedish Academy to “keep the Nobel badge for an indefinite period ”, adding:“ If I do not live long enough myself, I leave the task of receiving them to my son.
Solzhenitsyn still wanted to deliver his Nobel lecture, however. Swedish foreign correspondent Stig Fredrikson met the author and smuggled negatives of his conference in Helsinki, events that Fredrikson later described as akin to a spy thriller.
“The conference was published in the Swedish and international press in August 1972”, he writes in an essay for the Nobel site. “It was a very powerful text, which caused a sensation when it was released, and has been cited around the world. It was the first time that Solzhenitsyn mentioned and made known the name of the Gulag archipelago, where, as he put it, “it was my fate to survive, while others – perhaps with a donation bigger and stronger than me – perished “.
After his exile in 1974, Solzhenitsyn received his Nobel medal in Stockholm. He and his family moved to the United States, where they lived for almost 20 years. He died in Moscow in 2008, at the age of 89.