Plays and Screenplays > 1945 (A Dramatic Trilogy)

1945  (A Dramatic Trilogy)

  • Victory Celebrations, a comedy in 4 acts (1951)
  • Prisoners, a tragedy in 12 scenes (1952) 
  • The Love-Girl and the Innocent, a drama in 4 acts (1954)

The first of three plays that make up Solzhenitsyn's 1945 trilogy is Victory Celebrations, a drama in verse (subtitled "Comedy") which grew from a chapter of The Trail. It seems probable that Victory Celebrations attained independent status because the plot departs from the highly autobiographical format of The Trail. The play is a bitterly satirical work that revolves around the unexpected appearance of Lieutenant Gridnev, a representative of Soviet military counterintelligence ("SMERSH"), at a feast prepared by a group of Soviet army officers in celebration of their victorious advance through Eastern Prussia in early 1945. The SMERSH man poisons the festivities by voicing suspicions about a beautiful girl who has been invited to the party (and who has resisted his amorous advances), as well as by grilling the officer Gleb Nerzhin about his "social provenance." Solzhenitsyn's clear goal is to show the tension between the visceral dislike that Gridnev generates and the sinister power over everyone that he nevertheless wields. The tension is resolved when the Germans launch a sudden counterattack and Gridnev makes an ignominious exit.

The second part of the dramatic trilogy, Prisoners (subtitled "Tragedy"), was composed in camp in 1952 and memorized in total before it could be written down a year later. It is set in a Soviet prison in mid-1945 and is based on Solzhenitsyn's experience of being thrown together with an incredibly diverse group of individuals as his incarceration commenced. The work communicates some of the intellectual tumult that Solzhenitsyn must have experienced then, and the mixture of poetry and prose seems an appropriate stylistic echo of the jumble of ideologies being voiced in the text. The dramatis personae include Soviet soldiers and officers liberated from German POW camps and promptly rearrested as alleged security risks, men who had fought with the Wehrmacht- directed Russian Liberation Army, Russian émigrés snatched from the streets of Western Europe, Christian believers, and a few diehard Communists. The arguments among these men are presented as a cacophonous mélange of clashing opinions. Prisoners also diverges in a particularly significant way from the strongly autobiographical tendency of Solzhenitsyn's other early works by lacking a protagonist who can be closely identified with the author. The most prominent character in the play is not the familiar Nerzhin but a former colonel in the tsarist army named Georgi Vorotyntsev, who had been fighting against the Soviet Union on the German side. The crucial point here is that Vorotyntsev is the main fictional protagonist of The Red Wheel epic, and Prisoners thus becomes, in a fascinating way, both the earliest inkling of the way Solzhenitsyn visualized The Red Wheel, his vast project-to-be, and an epilogue of sorts to a still unwritten cycle. (In the play, Vorotyntsev is sentenced to be hanged but refuses a chance to escape the gallows by committing suicide, arguing that the moral responsibility for his death must fall on his executioners, not on him.)

Solzhenitsyn got his first taste of forced labor soon after his sentence was pronounced in mid-1945, spending almost a year in camps of the "mixed" type, designated in this way for holding men as well as women and political prisoners together with common criminals. In the second volume of The Gulag Archipelago, the writer relates some of the difficulties and moral quandaries that bewildered and humiliated him during this period. Much of this experience has been condensed into the third play of his trilogy, The Love-Girl and the Innocent (subtitled "Drama in Four Acts"), written in 1954. It is the story of a recently arrested frontline officer, Gleb Nerzhin, who is unexpectedly placed in a position of authority and tries to undo some of the flagrantly corrupt, unfair, and unsafe practices that characterize the camp's operation. Nerzhin's attempts at reform are shown to be hopelessly naïve, and by challenging numerous vested interests in the camp hierarchy, he soon generates enough hostility to be demoted and marked for transportation to a far more lethal labor-camp. He is saved from this fate by the intervention of a girl with whom he has fallen violently in love, but she is able to help only by a self-sacrificing act: She agrees—without Nerzhin's knowledge—to join the "harem" of the well-connected camp doctor.

 from The Soul and Barbed Wire, by Edward E. Ericson, Jr.  and Alexis Klimoff

Available Formats

1945: Victory Celebrations, Prisoners and The Love-Girl and The Innocent
This trilogy is available in one volume from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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