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December 1969

The Psychology of Terminal Illness as Portrayed in Solzhenitsyn's: The Cancer Ward

Author Affiliations

Charlottesville, Va

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Va.

Arch Intern Med. 1969;124(6):758-760. doi:10.1001/archinte.1969.00300220110021

Although Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's masterful contemporary Russian novel, The Cancer Ward,1 has justly won wide acclaim for its social and political commentary, as well as for its artistic merits, little detailed attention has been given to the vehicle by which he presents his thesis, that is, patients being treated for and dying of cancer. As a psychiatrist working clinically with terminally ill patients, I was particularly impressed with this side of the novel. Solzhenitsyn's insights and vivid descriptions of the cancer patient are so penetrating that they give the reader an unusual opportunity to view the innermost feelings and psychology of the terminally ill patient. In this presentation I shall review these aspects of the novel, particularly as they pertain to psychotherapeutic work with the physically ill and dying patient.

Setting—Autobiographical Aspects  In the publisher's Foreword we are told that:In February, 1953, just before Stalin's death, he [Solzhenitsyn] was