John Wain’s open letter to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, October 1973, BBC Radio 3

In 1973 the Russian writer and Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn published perhaps his most famous work, The Gulag Archipelago, exposing the conditions in Soviet labour camps. It was a subject intensely personal to Solzhenitsyn, who himself spent many years in a Gulag and in internal exile, reviled and persecuted by the Soviet state.

In October of the same year, John Wain wrote and broadcast (on BBC Radio Three) an open letter to Solzhenitsyn, the transcript of which I have reproduced here as a pdf. It was one of a series of four radio talks he gave in 1973; the BBC called the programmes ‘Personal View’. Immediately before this talk was broadcast, the actor Paul Schofield read Solzhenitsyn’s address, given in absentia, to the Nobel Prize committee who had awarded him the prize for Literature in 1970.

First page of the original typescript produced by the BBC from the broadcast talk.

Solzhenitsyn was stripped of his Soviet citizenship the next year, 1974, and spent many years in the USA. He was reconciled with his homeland shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union and returned to Russia, where he died in 2008.

The text of the broadcast – a transcript of John Wain’s actual words rather than a written copy of the talk – is a historic document, and shows some of his most strongly-held beliefs about individual freedom, the role of a writer in exposing injustice, and the power of literature to change the world, in however small a way.

Read full text of the transcript here