Author: Konstantin KEDROV
The departing century is probably the most tragic and hard-going in the entire Russian history. It has surpassed in cruelty all the previous epochs. Yet Russian literature has not only retained its traditional humanism but surpassed the previous century in its wealth of talent.
1899 saw the publication of Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, predicting all that would have happened to us. Prison, love, exile - that is the love triangle of the 20th century. Nekhludov and Katyusha, Doctor Zhivago and Lara. Snow-clad Russia, Siberia dotted all over with prison camps.
The 19th century left us Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead, and the 20th century produced Shalamov's Kolyma Stories. Dostoyevsky believed that "beauty would save the world", and Shalamov said: "I'd spit in the face of beauty." The constancy of the Russian types has been fully corroborated: idle dreamers, fanatics, martyrs of ideas. And yet Ivan Denisovich outstrips any of these types, Muzhik Marey by Dostoyevsky as an example. It was Solzhenitsin after all who had penetrated the essence of a common man better than any other writer (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich).
However Nekhludov's discovery, made after his visit to a prison, is still true. He used to think that on the one side of the prison bars were criminals while all those outside were honest people. His visit to the prison convinced him that it was the other way round. He discovered mostly honest people behind bars whereas real criminals, bandits and thieves, were at large outside.
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