Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solzhenitsyn's First Wife Dead, Age 84

WASHINGTON -- Natalya Reshetovskaya, the first wife of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the dissident Russian writer whose chronicles of Soviet oppression brought him the Nobel Prize for literature, died May 28 in Moscow. She was 84. The cause of death was not reported.

Reshetovskaya was a chemist, an accomplished pianist and a memoirist, but her life was largely defined by her relationship with Solzhenitsyn.

They met in 1938, when they were students at Rostov University and were married two years later. In the following decades, they divorced, remarried and divorced again. Their relationship was marked by bitterness, recrimination and infidelity, and by forgiveness, reconciliation and love. In its turbulence, it mirrored the times through which they lived.

Reshetovskaya was born in Novocherkassk in southern Russia. Her father fought in World War I and then against the Communists in the Revolution. In 1919, he fled into exile. His daughter was raised by her mother and three aunts in Rostov-on-Don. When she and Solzhenitsyn met, the bloody purges of Josef Stalin were reaching a crescendo. A year into their marriage, they were separated by World War II, in which he served as an artillery captain. In 1945, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for making a mocking remark about Stalin in a letter to a friend.

At first he was held in Moscow's Lubyanka prison. Reshetovskaya would go every day to the nearby Neskuchny Sad in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of him. In later years, when he was exiled in Central Asia, she was permitted to write to him once a month but could receive letters from him only twice a year.

In the early 1950s, Reshetovskaya joined the staff of an agricultural research facility in Ryazan. With Solzhenitsyn's encouragement, she obtained a divorce and became engaged to Vsevolod Somov.

In 1956, almost on the eve of her marriage, Solzhenitsyn returned from exile. He gave her some of his poems, one of which said: At midnight, hiding my lips in a glass / I whisper incomprehensibly to others, / My love, we have waited a long time!

In a memoir, Reshetovskaya said she replied: "I was created to love you alone, but fate decreed otherwise."

She married Somov, but soon left him and remarried Solzhenitsyn. For some years, they lived together quietly. In 1962, everything changed.

Solzhenitsyn burst onto the world literary scene with the publication of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch,'' his novella about prison life.

At first he enjoyed the patronage of Nikita Khrushchev. But as his disillusion with the Soviet system grew, he became a fearless critic. His work was published to great acclaim in the West, but it was banned in the Soviet Union. At the same time, he had a number of love affairs.

In 1970, the year he won the Nobel Prize, Solzhenitsyn learned that Natalya Svetlova, one of his volunteer typists, had become pregnant with their child. She and Solzhenitsyn divorced a second time.

In 1973, Solzhenitsyn married Svetlova. In 1974, with the publication in the west of "The Gulag Archipelago,'' his masterful description of the Soviet camp system, he was forced into exile.

Reshetovskaya reportedly was recruited by the KGB to try to dissuade Solzhenitsyn from allowing the book to appear. Later, she published several volumes of memoirs that were highly critical of him. In "Sanya -- My Husband Alexander Solzhenitsyn,'' she went so far as to deny the existence of the system he had described in "The Gulag Archipelago.''

She always denied she had ever betrayed him.

Her books were published by Novosti Press, and her editor there was Konstantin Semyonov. He became her third husband.

In 1994, Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia. He supported Reshetovskaya financially and contributed to the cost of her funeral, but the two never again had a personal relationship.

At her death, Reshetovskaya lived alone in a tiny Moscow apartment, surrounded by pictures and memorabilia of the love of her life.