In recent weeks I have written about various subjects including social media and my recently released satirical black comedy, Necropolis. This week’s blog post sees the latest instalment of the Controversial Authors series.
(August 28th 1749 – March 22nd 1832)
Notable works: The Sorrows of Young Werther, Faust, Westlöstlicher Diwan, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman. His prolific and versatile writing, included works of prose, poetry, scientific studies and literary criticism. The iconic cultural figure was a modern thinker, who was a pioneer in fields as diverse as linguistics, evolution and the theory of optics.
The Sorrows of Young Werther, published in 1774, brought the young writer instant fame, and made him one of the world’s first international literary figures. The book was viewed by some as somewhat controversial due to its rebellious tone and the suicide of its hero, the nature of which brought accusations that it made suicide appear frivolous.
In an era when the private nature of sexuality was stringently enforced, it was the erotic occurrences in a number of Goethe’s works, particularly Faust, the Roman Elegies, and the Venetian Epigrams that were to lead to him being viewed as a controversial literary figure. Parts of the Venetian Epigrams were withheld from publication due what was perceived as their scandalous sexual content.
(December 11th 1918 – August 3rd 2008)
Notable works: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago
Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist and historian, whose accolades included winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. His novella, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, appeared on the Independent newspaper’s poll of the top hundred books, and is widely considered one of the most powerful indictments of the USSR’s gulag system ever written.
After serving in World War II, where he was decorated for his courage, Solzhenitsyn was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter and sent to the Gulag for eight years. Though the author remained an ardent critic of Soviet totalitarianism and a polarising figure in his home country, he found himself back in favour during the post-Stalin political thaw. In 1973 the first of his three-volume account about life in the gulags, The Gulag Archipelago, was published in the West. This caused such outrage in the Soviet Union that the author was denounced as a traitor, stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the country.
On his return to his homeland after the fall of Communism, the elderly Solzhenitsyn continued to court controversy. His magnum opus, Two Hundred Years Together, resulted in him being labelled by some as an anti-Semite, due to the book’s depiction of the role of the Jews in Soviet era Russia.
Click here to read Part 5