In the light of the tremendous response (more than any post that I can remember) to my reminder of the contrary view of Solzhenitsyn (see previous post), I thought I might print extracts from some of the more interesting mails I received. It might illuminate in a small way how opinion is moving on this subject. Other views are published in the Comments section underneath that post.
Electra Clifton Smith, from Long Island and now Leith, wrote: “I am not familiar with Auberon Waugh, only Evelyn. My feelings about the piece (fair or not?): It told me a great deal more about Solzhenitsyn than the flowery Mr Waugh. Solzhenitsyn, was just trying to say to man, ‘There is serious SHIT going on on this planet. STOP SMILING and FAFFING ABOUT!!! Start DOING SOMETHING!!!’ I find I say the same thing to people all the time. They look at me with the bland eyes of sheep chewing some remnant of cud at the back of their toothless gobs. Or I turn on the telly and see everybody shopping or these fat matrons cooking up a storm with some celebrity chef—planning a dinner party—as if everything is just hunky dory and they can hang around stuffing their fat gobs and SOMEHOW, the PLANET is not on FIRE!! I guess they won't know it, until it comes to their neighbourhood and cooks them up!!!!! (Sometimes I just beg for an asteroid.)”
A well-known anti-Putin journalist wrote: “Entertaining nonsense.”
My brother wrote: “Auberon Waugh uses ‘each other’ (which ought to be reserved for an interaction between two people) instead of ‘one another’ (interactions amongst more than two), which is the same distinction as between ‘between’ and ‘amongst’ (themselves).”
An old friend, and man of the world, wrote: “I think Waugh is quite right. Solzhenitsyn was not the only guy stuck in a Gulag. Though he can be forgiven for his own lugubriousness, he should not inflict it on others. We love the innocent laughter of children happily oblivious to the horrors of the adult world. But being victimised doesn't make you morally superior. Certainly in the UK in my experience, most of those bullied that I knew of were improved by a bit of bog-washing, even if it is true that in cases where no physical brutality was applied perhaps no benefit was gained.”
Another friend, who had long taken a serious interest in Russia, wrote: “I tried to re-read Solzhenitsyn a year ago, having lapped him up in my 20s. I started with The First Circle and got to page 40. Then I tried The Red Wheel and gave up at a similar point. I was able to read Ivan D. with pleasure. And I enjoy (is that the right word?) dipping into the Gulag Archipelago. Auberon Waugh was correct about Solzhenitsyn's return, but his Great Russian chauvinism was out of favour back then (although Vladimir Putin might enjoy it now) and his writing powers had certainly withered away in New England. Perhaps the Gulag Archipelago, which was a collaborative effort, is his monument. Shalamov read Ivan D and commented: ‘That camp would have seemed like paradise to me...’ Kolyma Tales is still readable.”
The Director of Poetry Ireland wrote: “Hilarious! Your message came in the other day, and almost immediately I got a call from an old friend, Paddy Dillon, who has just relocated to Saragossa in Spain, and who happens to be a nephew of Bron (as Auberon used to be known). Coincidences like that are always happening in this office! Anyhow he was amused.”
And finally, readers might be interested to check out a relevant blog entry from a friend in the Scottish borders who runs a sort of unofficial, informal Russian cultural centre, in Moffatt.