Node II: November 1916

November 1916 explores a relatively quiescent period, which allows Solzhenitsyn to painstakingly survey the full range of left-liberal and revolutionary opposition to the existing regime, the very sects and sectarians who would come to the forefront during the revolutionary year of 1917. Solzhenitsyn draws a particularly insightful portrait of Lenin during his Zurich exile. The future leader of the Soviet state is disheartened about the prospects for revolution in Russia (so much for the alleged “science” of historical inevitability). He is shown in all his conspiratorial glory, manipulating the socialist community abroad and expressing his limitless contempt for peaceful, prosperous, and “bourgeois” Switzerland  (where he laughably suggests that the world wide “socialist” revolution might begin).  Yet only five months later we will see Lenin (in the final chapters of March 1917) plotting with the Germans to return in a sealed train car to a Russia that has been transformed beyond recognition by revolutionary agitation and chaos. The road has been prepared for a seizure of power by the most committed and fanatical of revolutionary sectarians and sects.

November 1916 is arguably the most explicitly Christian of Solzhenitsyn’s novels. Its Christian sensibility and symbolism are especially apparent in a moving and instructive discussion between Sanya Lazhenitsyn and his army chaplain Father Severyan. The half-pacifist Lazhenitsyn (who had initially volunteered for the army because “he felt sorry for Russia”) is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt for having to kill his fellow human beings with seeming impunity. In response, the sympathetically drawn cleric gives voice to a Christian wisdom that affirms that war, especially in defense of state and nation, is “not the vilest form of evil.”  In the book’s final chapter, a second level fictional character named Zina, who had a disastrous affair and a child out of wedlock, and whose self-preoccupation has led to the death of her child, finds herself drawn ineluctably into a church in the city of Tambov. Through the act of confession, she begins to experience unconditional forgiveness, the forgiveness of a God who is Love. In this most “novelistic” of chapters, Solzhenitsyn conveys his deep conviction that the crisis afflicting Russia and the world is in no small part a spiritual crisis, a crisis of men who have forgotten their humanizing dependence upon God and their common need for repentance and spiritual healing.

– by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney, The Solzhenitsyn Reader