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Pasternak at the first Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1934.
|Born||Boris Leonidovich Pasternak|
10 February [O.S. 29 January] 1890
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||30 May 1960 (aged 70)|
|Notable works||My Sister, Life, The Second Birth, Doctor Zhivago|
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Literature|
Pasternak at the first Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1934.
|Born||Boris Leonidovich Pasternak|
10 February [O.S. 29 January] 1890
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||30 May 1960 (aged 70)|
|Notable works||My Sister, Life, The Second Birth, Doctor Zhivago|
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Literature|
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (Russian: Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к; IPA: [bɐˈrʲis lʲeɐˈnʲidəvʲɪt͡ɕ pəstʲɪrˈnak]; 10 February [O.S. 29 January] 1890 – 30 May 1960) was a Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russia, Pasternak's anthology My Sister, Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language. Furthermore, Pasternak's translations of stage plays by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and William Shakespeare remain very popular with Russian audiences.
Outside Russia, Pasternak is best known as the author of Doctor Zhivago, a novel which takes place between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Second World War. Given its independent minded stance on the socialist state, Doctor Zhivago was refused publication in the USSR. At the instigation of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Doctor Zhivago was smuggled to Milan and published in 1957. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the following year, an event which both humiliated and enraged the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Pasternak was born in Moscow on 10 February, (Gregorian), 1890 (Julian 29 January) into a wealthy assimilated Russian Jewish family. His father was the Post-Impressionist painter, Leonid Pasternak, professor at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. His mother was Rosa Kaufman, a concert pianist and the daughter of Odessa industrialist Isadore Kaufman.
In a 1959 letter to Jacqueline de Proyart, Pasternak recalled,
I was baptized as a child by my nanny, but because of the restrictions imposed on Jews, particularly in the case of a family which was exempt from them and enjoyed a certain reputation in view of my father's standing as an artist, there was something a little complicated about this, and it was always felt to be half-secret and intimate, a source of rare and exceptional inspiration rather than being calmly taken for granted. I believe that this is at the root of my distinctiveness. Most intensely of all my mind was occupied by Christianity in the years 1910–12, when the main foundations of this distinctiveness – my way of seeing things, the world, life – were taking shape...
Shortly after his birth, Pasternak's parents had joined the Tolstoyan Movement. Novelist Leo Tolstoy was a close family friend, as Pasternak recalled, "my father illustrated his books, went to see him, revered him, and ...the whole house was imbued with his spirit."
In a 1956 essay, Pasternak recalled his father's feverish work creating illustrations for Tolstoy's novel Resurrection. The novel was then serialized in the journal Niva by the publisher Fyodor Marx, based in St Petersburg. The sketches were drawn from observations in such places as courtrooms, prisons and on trains, in a spirit of realism. To ensure that the sketches met the journal deadline, train conductors were enlisted to personally collect the illustrations. Pasternak wrote,
My childish imagination was struck by the sight of a train conductor in his formal railway uniform, standing waiting at the door of the kitchen as if he were standing on a railway platform at the door of a compartment that was just about to leave the station. Joiner's glue was boiling on the stove. The illustrations were hurriedly wiped dry, fixed, glued on pieces of cardboard, rolled up, tied up. The parcels, once ready, were sealed with sealing wax and handed to the conductor.
According to Max Hayward, "In November 1910, when Tolstoy fled from his home and died in the stationmaster's house at Astapovo, Leonid Pasternak was informed by telegram and he went there immediately, taking his son Boris with him, and made a drawing of Tolstoy on his deathbed."
Regular visitors to the Pasternak's home also included Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin, Lev Shestov, Rainer Maria Rilke. Pasternak aspired first to be a musician. Inspired by Scriabin, Pasternak briefly was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1910 he abruptly left for the German University of Marburg, where he studied under Neo-Kantian philosophers Hermann Cohen and Nicolai Hartmann.
Pasternak fell in love with Ida Wissotzkaya, a girl from a notable Moscow family of tea merchants whose company, Wissotzky Tea was the largest tea company in the world. Pasternak had tutored her at the final class of high school. He helped her prepare for finals. They met in Marburg during the summer of 1912 when Boris's father, Leonid Pasternak, painted her. He told of his love and rejection in the poem "Marburg" (1917)., as she turned him down.
Although Professor Cohen encouraged him to remain in Germany and to pursue a Philosophy doctorate, Pasternak decided against it. Ultimately, he returned to Moscow upon the outbreak of World War I. His first poetry anthology was published later that year. In the aftermath, Pasternak proposed marriage to Ida. However, the Wissotzky family was disturbed by Pasternak's poor prospects and persuaded Ida to refuse him.
Another failed love affair in 1917 inspired the poems in his collection My Sister, Life. His early verse cleverly dissimulates his preoccupation with Immanuel Kant's philosophy. Its fabric includes striking alliterations, wild rhythmic combinations, day-to-day vocabulary, and hidden allusions to his favourite poets such as Rilke, Lermontov, Pushkin and German language Romantic poets.
During World War I, Pasternak taught and worked at a chemical factory in Vsevolodovo-Vilve near Perm, which undoubtedly provided him with material for Dr. Zhivago many years later.
'Pasternak remained in Moscow throughout the Civil War (1918–1920), making no attempt to escape abroad or to the White-occupied south, as a number of other Russian writers did at the time. No doubt, like Yuri Zhivago, he was momentarily impressed by the "splendid surgery" of the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, but – again to judge by the evidence of the novel, and despite a personal admiration for Vladimir Lenin, whom he saw at the 9th Congress of Soviets in 1921 – he soon began to harbor profound doubts about the claims and credentials of the regime, not to mention its style of rule. The terrible shortages of food and fuel, and the depredations of the Red Terror, made life very precarious in those years, particularly for the "bourgeois" intelligentsia. In a letter written to Pasternak from abroad in the twenties, Marina Tsvetayeva reminded him of how she had run into him in the street in 1919 as he was on the way to sell some valuable books from his library in order to buy bread. He continued to write original work and to translate, but after about the middle of 1918 it became almost impossible to publish. The only way to make one's work known was to declaim it in the several "literary" cafes which then sprang up, or – anticipating samizdat – to circulate it in manuscript. It was in this way that My Sister, Life first became available to a wider audience.
When it finally was published in 1921, Pasternak's My Sister, Life revolutionised Russian poetry. It made Pasternak the model for younger poets, and decisively changed the poetry of Osip Mandelshtam, Marina Tsvetayeva and others.
Following My Sister, Life, Pasternak produced some hermetic pieces of uneven quality, including his masterpiece, the lyric cycle Rupture (1921). Both Pro-Soviet writers and their White emigre equivalents applauded Pasternak's poetry as pure, unbridled inspiration. In the late 1920s, he also participated in the much celebrated tripartite correspondence with Rilke and Tsvetayeva.
As the 1920s wore on, however, Pasternak increasingly felt that his colourful style was at odds with an increasingly less educated readership. He attempted to make his poetry more comprehensible by reworking his earlier pieces and starting two lengthy poems on the Russian Revolution of 1905. He also turned to prose and wrote several autobiographical stories, notably The Childhood of Luvers and Safe Conduct.
In 1922 Pasternak married Evgeniya Lurye, a student at the Art Institute, and the following year they had a son, Evgenii. In 1932 Pasternak fell in love with Zinaida Neigauz, the wife of the composer Genrikh Neigauz, and two years later he left his first wife and married her.
By 1927, Pasternak's close friends Vladimir Mayakovsky and Nikolai Aseyev were advocating the complete subordination of the Arts to the needs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In a letter to his sister Josephine, Pasternak wrote of his intentions to, "break off relations," with both of them. Although he expressed that it would be deeply painful, Pasternak explained that it could not be prevented. He explained,
They don't in any way measure up to their exalted calling. In fact, they've fallen short of it but – difficult as it is for me to understand – a modern sophist might say that these last years have actually demanded a reduction in conscience and feeling in the name of greater intelligibility. Yet now the very spirit of the times demands great, courageous purity. And these men are ruled by trivial routine. Subjectively, they're sincere and conscientious. But I find it increasingly difficult to take into account the personal aspect of their convictions. I'm not out on my own – people treat me well. But all that only holds good up to a point. It seems to me that I've reached that point.
By 1932, Pasternak had strikingly reshaped his style to make it more understandable to the general public and printed the new collection of poems aptly titled The Second Birth. Although its Caucasian pieces were as brilliant as the earlier efforts, the book alienated the core of Pasternak's refined audience abroad, which was largely composed of anti-communist emigres. He simplified his style and language even further for his next book, Early Trains (1943).
After Joseph Stalin was acclaimed as leader of the CPSU in 1929, Pasternak became further disillusioned with the Party's tightening censorship of literature. Still unwilling to conform, Pasternak remained a close friend of Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam. Mandelstam recited his searing indictment of Stalin, the Stalin Epigram, to Pasternak soon after its composition in late April 1934. After listening, Pasternak told Mandelstam, "I didn't hear this, you didn't recite it to me, because, you know, very strange and terrible things are happening now: they've begun to pick people up. I'm afraid the walls have ears and perhaps even these benches on the boulevard here may be able to listen and tell tales. So let's make out that I heard nothing."
On the night of 14 May 1934, Mandelstam was arrested at his home based on a warrant signed by NKVD boss Genrikh Yagoda. Devastated, Pasternak went immediately to the offices of Izvestia and begged Nikolai Bukharin to intercede on Mandelstam's behalf.
According to Olga Ivinskaya, Pasternak was deeply upset by Mandelstam's arrest. He was concerned for his friend but he also worried that he might be blamed for betraying Mandelstam to the secret police. Ivinskaya writes that Pasternak "raced frantically all over town, telling everybody that he was not to blame and denying responsibility for Mandelstam's disappearance, which for some reason he thought might be laid at his door.
Soon after his meeting with Bukharin, the telephone rang in Pasternak's Moscow apartment. A voice from The Kremlin said, "Comrade Stalin wishes to speak with you." According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak was struck dumb. "He was totally unprepared for such a conversation. But then he heard his voice, the voice of Stalin, coming over the line. The Leader addressed him in a rather bluff uncouth fashion, using the familiar thou form: 'Tell me, what are they saying in your literary circles about the arrest of Mandelstam?'" Flustered, Pasternak denied that there was any discussion or that there were any literary circles left in Soviet Russia. Stalin went on to ask him for his own opinion of Mandelstam. In an "eager fumbling manner" Pasternak explained that himself and Mandelstam each had a completely different philosophy about poetry. Ivinskaya writes that he "went on for quite a time in this vein. Stalin gave him no encouragement whatsoever, not interjecting, or uttering a sound of any kind. At last B[oris] L[eonidovich] came to a halt. Stalin then said, in a mocking tone of voice: "I see, you just aren't able to stick up for a comrade," and put down the receiver.
Years later, Pasternak recalled that he was horrified at how the conversation had ended. He repeatedly telephoned the Kremlin's number, begging to be reconnected to Stalin. Instead, Pasternak was told, "Comrade Stalin is busy." Pasternak became frantic, pacing around his apartment repeating over and over that he must write to Stalin to explain what he had meant and to also say that injustices were being committed in the name of the Leader. Pasternak later did write and send just such a letter.
According to Ivinskaya,
If ever the conversation turned to Mandelstam, [Boris Leonidovich] would always hark back to the same thing: that he was not to blame for his misfortunes, and that if he had not written to Bukharin and in general made a great fuss about his arrest, then perhaps Mandelstam would not even have had the respite, brief as it was, which was granted to him – with the result that the Voronezh Notebooks might never have been written. It was clear, however, that [Boris Leonidovich] himself felt he had not come as well as he should out of his unexpected conversation with the Leader. He had done something not quite right...
According to Pasternak, during the 1937 show trial of General Iona Yakir and Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the Union of Soviet Writers requested all members to add their names to a statement supporting the death penalty for the defendants. They demanded Pasternak's signature as well, but he refused to give it. Vladimir Stavski, the chairman of the Union, was terrified that he himself would be punished for Pasternak's dissent. The leadership of the Union travelled to Peredelkino and severely threatened Pasternak, who refused to sign the statement and returned to his dacha. Upon hearing this, his pregnant second wife, Zinaida Pasternak threw herself on the floor, weeping and accusing her husband of risking the destruction of their family. Pasternak, however, still would not be moved and went to bed. Boris and Zinaida expected to be arrested that evening. They later learned that an NKVD agent was hiding in the bushes outside their window and wrote down every word they said to each other.
Soon after, Pasternak appealed directly to Stalin. He wrote about his family's strong Tolstoyan convictions, which he still held dear. He declared that his own life was at the Leader's disposal. He said, however, that he could not stand as a self-appointed judge of life and death. Pasternak was certain that he would be instantly arrested, but he was not. Stalin is said to have crossed Pasternak's name off an execution list during the Great Purge. According to Pasternak himself, Stalin declared, "Do not touch this cloud dweller" (or, in another version than Ivinskaya's, "Leave that holy fool alone!")
Although Pasternak was never arrested by the Soviet secret police, his close friend Titsian Tabidze fell victim to the Great Purge. In an autobiographical essay published in the 1950s, Pasternak described the execution of Tabidze and the suicides of Marina Tsvetaeva and Paolo Iashvili as the greatest heartbreaks of his entire life.
According to Stalin's biographer, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin was well aware that Mandelstam, Pasternak, and Bulgakov were geniuses, but ordered their writings suppressed. As Bulgakov and Pasternak never attacked him openly, they were never arrested. According to Ivinskaya, however, "I believe that between Stalin and Pasternak there was an incredible, silent duel."
Pasternak was elated by the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. When the Luftwaffe began bombing Moscow, Pasternak immediately began to serve as a fire warden on the roof of the writer's building on Lavrushinski Street. According to Olga Ivinskaya he repeatedly helped to dispose of German bombs which fell on it.
In 1943, Pasternak was finally granted permission to visit the soldiers at the front. He bore up well, considering the hardships of the journey (he had a weak leg from an old injury) and he wanted to go to the most dangerous places. He read his poetry and talked extensively with the active and injured troops.
With the end of the war in 1945 there was a great expectation that the Soviet people would not only see the end of the devastation of Nazism, but also the end of Stalin's Purges. However, sealed trains began carrying large numbers of prisoners to the Soviet Gulags. Some were Nazi collaborators who had fought under General Andrey Vlasov, but most were ordinary Soviet officers and men. Pasternak watched as ex-POWs were directly transferred from Nazi to Soviet concentration camps. White emigres who had returned due to pledges of amnesty were also sent directly to the Gulag, as were Jews from the Anti-Fascist Committee and other organizations. Many thousands of innocent people were incarcerated in connection with the Leningrad Affair and the Doctor's Plot, while whole ethnic groups were deported to Siberia.
Pasternak later said, "If, in a bad dream, we had seen all the horrors in store for us after the war, we should not have been sorry to see Stalin fall, together with Hitler. Then, an end to the war in favour of our allies, civilized countries with democratic traditions, would have meant a hundred times less suffering for our people than that which Stalin again inflicted on it after his victory."
In October 1946, the married Pasternak met Olga Ivinskaya, a single mother employed by Novy Mir. Deeply moved by her resemblance to his first love Ida Vysotskaya, Pasternak gave Ivinskaya several volumes of his poetry and literary translations. Although Pasternak never left his wife Zinaida, this initiated an extramarital relationship that would last for the remainder of Pasternak's life. Ivinskaya later recalled, "He phoned almost every day and, instinctively fearing to meet or talk with him, yet dying of happiness, I would stammer out that I was "busy today." But almost every afternoon, toward the end of working hours, he came in person to the office and often walked with me through the streets, boulevards, and squares all the way home to Potapov Street. 'Shall I make you a present of this square?' he would ask."
She gave him the phone number of her neighbour Olga Volkova who resided below. In the evenings, Pasternak would phone and Volkova would signal by banging on the water pipe which connected their apartments.
When they first met, Pasternak was translating the verse of the Hungarian national poet, Sándor Petőfi. Pasternak gave his lover a book of Petőfi with the inscription, "Petőfi served as a code in May and June 1947, and my close translations of his lyrics are an expression, adapted to the requirements of the text, of my feelings and thoughts for you and about you. In memory of it all, B.P., 13 May 1948."
Pasternak later noted on a photograph of himself "Petőfi is magnificent with his descriptive lyrics and picture of nature, but you are better still. I worked on him a good deal in 1947 and 1948, when I first came to know you. Thank you for your help. I was translating both of you." Therefore, Ivinskaya would later describe the Petőfi translations as, "a first declaration of love."
According to Ivinskaya, Zinaida Pasternak was infuriated by her husband's infidelity. Once, when his younger son Leonid fell seriously ill, Zinaida extracted a promise from her husband, as they stood by the boy's sickbed, that he would end his affair with Olga Ivinskaya. Pasternak asked Luisa Popova, a mutual friend, to tell Ivinskaya about his promise. Instead, Popova told him that he must do it himself. Soon after, Ivinskaya was lying ill in Luisa Popova's apartment, when suddenly Zinaida Pasternak arrived and confronted her.
Ivinskaya later recalled,
But I became so ill through loss of blood that she and Luisa had to get me to the hospital, and I not longer remember exactly what passed between me and this heavily built, strong-minded woman, who kept repeating how she didn't give a damn for our love and that, although she no longer loved [Boris Leonidovich] herself, she would not allow her family to be broken up. After my return from the hospital, Boris came to visit me, as though nothing had happened, and touchingly made his peace with my mother, telling her how much he loved me. By now she was pretty well used to these funny ways of his.
In 1948, Pasternak advised Ivinskaya to resign her job at Novy Mir, which was becoming extremely difficult due to their relationship. In the aftermath, Pasternak began to instruct her in translating poetry. In time, they began to refer to her apartment on Potapov Street as, "Our Shop."
On the evening of 6 October 1949, Ivinskaya was arrested at her apartment by the KGB. Ivinskaya relates in her memoirs that, when the agents burst into her apartment, she was at her typewriter working on translations of the Korean poet Won Tu-Son. Her apartment was ransacked and all items connected with Pasternak were piled up in her presence. Ivinskaya was then taken to the Lubyanka Prison, where she refused to say anything incriminating about Pasternak. At the time, she was pregnant with Pasternak's child and had a miscarriage early in her ten-year sentence in the GULAG.
Upon learning of his mistress' arrest, Pasternak telephoned Liuisa Popova and asked her to come at once to Gogol Boulevard. She found him sitting on a bench near the Palace of Soviets Metro Station. Weeping, Pasternak told her, "Everything is finished now. They've taken her away from me and I'll never see her again. It's like death, even worse."
According to Ivinskaya, "After this, in conversation with people he scarcely knew, he always referred to Stalin as a 'murderer.' Talking with people in the offices of literary periodicals, he often asked: 'When will there be an end to this freedom for lackeys who happily walk over corpses to further their own interests?' He spent a good deal of time with Akhmatova—who in those years was given a very wide berth by most of the people who knew her. He worked intensively on the second part of Doctor Zhivago."
In a 1958 letter to a friend in West Germany, Pasternak wrote, "She was put in jail on my account, as the person considered by the secret police to be closest to me, and they hoped that by means of a gruelling interrogation and threats they could extract enough evidence from her to put me on trial. I owe my life, and the fact that they did not touch me in those years, to her heroism and endurance."
Pasternak's translation of the first part of Faust led him to be attacked in the August 1950 edition of Novy Mir. The critic accused Pasternak of distorting Goethe's "progressive" meanings to support "the reactionary theory of 'pure art'", as well as introducing aesthetic and individualist values. In a subsequent letter to the daughter of Marina Tsvetaeva, Pasternak explained that the attack was motivated by the fact that the supernatural elements of the play, which Novy Mir considered, "irrational," had been translated as Goethe had written them. Pasternak further declared that, despite the attacks on his translation, his contract for the second part had not been revoked.
When Stalin died of a stroke on 5 March 1953, Olga Ivinskaya was still imprisoned in the Gulag, and Pasternak was in Moscow. Across the nation, there were waves of panic, confusion, and public displays of grief. Pasternak wrote, "Men who are not free... always idealize their bondage."
After her release, Pasternak's relationship with Ivinskaya picked up where it had left off. Soon after he confided in her, "For so long we were ruled over by a madman and a murderer, and now by a fool and a pig. The madman had his occasional flights of fancy, he had an intuitive feeling for certain things, despite his wild obscurantism. Now we are ruled over by mediocrities." During this period, Pasternak delighted in reading a clandestine copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm in English. In conversation with Ivinskaya, Pasternak explained that the pig dictator Napoleon, in the novel, "vividly reminded " him of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Although it contains passages written in the 1910s and 1920s, Doctor Zhivago was not completed until 1956. Pasternak submitted the novel to "Новый Мир" (Novy Mir), which refused publication due to its rejection of socialist realism. The author, like his protagonist Yuri Zhivago, showed more concern for the welfare of individual characters than for the "progress" of society. Censors also regarded some passages as anti-Soviet, especially the novel's criticisms of Stalinism, Collectivisation, the Great Purge, and the Gulag.
According to Lazar Fleishman,
In March 1956, the Italian Communist Party dispatched a young journalist, Sergio d'Angelo, to work in the Soviet Union... His membership of the Communist Party and his job as a journalist allowed d'Angelo to plunge immediately into the cultural life of the Soviet capital . Besides his official appointment, he also had a private commission from a Milan publisher – the communist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – to find new works of Soviet literature that would be of interest to the Western reader.
Upon learning of Doctor Zhivago's existence, d'Angelo travelled immediately to Peredelkino and offered to submit Pasternak's novel to Feltrinelli's company for publication. At first Pasternak was stunned. Then he brought the manuscript from his study and told d'Angelo with a laugh, "You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad."
According to Lazar Fleishman, Pasternak was aware that he was taking a huge risk. No Soviet author had attempted to deal with Western publishers since the 1920s, when such behavior led the Soviet State to declare war on Boris Pilnyak and Evgeny Zamyatin. Pasternak, however, believed that Feltrinelli's Communist affiliation would not only guarantee publication, but might even force the Soviet State to publish the novel in Russia.
In a rare moment of agreement, both Olga Ivinskaya and Zinaida Pasternak were horrified by the submission of Doctor Zhivago to a Western publishing house. Pasternak, however, refused to change his mind and informed an emissary from Feltrinelli that he was prepared to undergo any sacrifice in order to see Doctor Zhivago published.
In 1957, Feltrinelli announced that the novel would be published by his company. Despite repeated demands from visiting Soviet emissaries, Feltrinelli refused to cancel or delay publication. According to Ivinskaya, "He did not believe that we would ever publish the manuscript here and felt he had no right to withhold a masterpiece from the world – this would be an even greater crime." The Soviet government forced Pasternak to cable the publisher to withdraw the manuscript, but he sent separate, secret letters advising Feltrinelli to ignore the telegrams.
Helped considerably by the Soviet campaign against the novel, Doctor Zhivago became an instant sensation throughout the non-Communist world upon its release in November 1957. In the State of Israel, however, Pasternak's novel was sharply criticized for its assimilationist views towards the Jewish people. When informed of this, Pasternak responded, "No matter. I am above race..." According to Lazar Fleishman, Pasternak had written the disputed passages prior to Israeli independence. At the time, Pasternak had also been regularly attending Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Therefore, he believed that Soviet Jews converting to Christianity was preferable to assimilating into atheism and Stalinism.
The first English translation of Doctor Zhivago was hastily produced by Max Hayward and Manya Harari in order to coincide with overwhelming public demand. It was released in August 1958, and remained the only edition available for more than fifty years. Between 1958 and 1959, the English language edition spent 26 weeks at the top of The New York Times' bestseller list.
Ivinskaya's daughter Irina circulated typed copies of the novel in Samizdat. Although no Soviet critics had read the banned novel, Doctor Zhivago was pilloried in the State-owned press. Similar attacks led to a humorous Russian saying, "I haven't read Pasternak, but I condemn him".
During the aftermath of the Second World War, Pasternak had composed a series of poems on Gospel themes. According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak had regarded Stalin as a, "giant of the pre-Christian era." Therefore, Pasternak's Christian-themed poems were, "a form of protest."
On 9 September 1958, the Literary Gazette critic Viktor Pertsov retaliated by denouncing, "the decadent religious poetry of Pasternak, which reeks of mothballs from the Symbolist suitcase of 1908–10 manufacture." Furthermore, the author received much hate mail from Communists both at home and abroad. According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak continued to receive such letters for the remainder of his life.
In a letter written to his sister Josephine, however, Pasternak recalled the words of his friend Ekaterina Krashennikova upon reading Doctor Zhivago. She had said, "Don't forget yourself to the point of believing that it was you who wrote this work. It was the Russian people and their sufferings who created it. Thank God for having expressed it through your pen."
According to Yevgeni Borisovich Pasternak, "Rumors that Pasternak was to receive the Nobel Prize started right after the end of World War II. According to the current Nobel Committee head Lars Gillensten, his nomination was discussed every year from 1946 to 1950, then again in 1957 (it was finally awarded in 1958). Pasternak guessed at this from the growing waves of criticism in USSR. Sometimes he had to justify his European fame: 'According to the Union of Soviet Writers, some literature circles of the West see unusual importance in my work, not matching its modesty and low productivity…'"
According to journalist Ivan Tolstoi, the British MI6 and the American CIA lent a hand to ensure that Doctor Zhivago was submitted to the Nobel Committee in the original Russian. According to Tolstoi, this was done so that Pasternak could win the Nobel prize and harm the international credibility of the Soviet Union. He repeats and elaborates upon Feltrinelli's claims that the CIA operatives had photographed a manuscript of the novel and secretly printed a small number of books in the Russian language. More recently, Anna Sergeyeva-Klyatis wrote that the first Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago, which was a pirated version with numerous typographical errors and omissions, was actually initiated by the Central Association of Postwar Émigrées, in response to a growing demand among Russian émigrés.
Meanwhile, Pasternak wrote to Renate Schweitzer and his sister, Lydia Pasternak Slater. In both letters, the author expressed hope that he would be passed over by the Nobel Committee in favour of Alberto Moravia. Pasternak wrote that he was wracked with torments and anxieties at the thought of placing his loved ones in danger.
On 23 October 1958, Boris Pasternak was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize. The citation credited Pasternak's contribution to Russian lyric poetry and for his role in, "continuing the great Russian epic tradition." On 25 October, Pasternak sent a telegram to the Swedish Academy: "Infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, overwhelmed." That same day, the Literary Institute in Moscow demanded that all its students sign a petition denouncing Pasternak and his novel. They were further ordered to join a "spontaneous" demonstration demanding Pasternak's exile from the Soviet Union. On 26 October, the Literary Gazette ran an article by David Zaslavski entitled, Reactionary Propaganda Uproar over a Literary Weed.
According to Solomon Volkov,
The anti-Pasternak campaign was organized in the worst Stalin tradition: denunciations in Pravda and other newspapers; publications of angry letters from, "ordinary Soviet workers," who had not read the book; hastily convened meetings of Pasternak's friends and colleagues, at which fine poets like Vladimir Soloukin, Leonid Martynov, and Boris Slutsky were forced to censure an author they respected. Slutsky, who in his brutal prose-like poems had created an image for himself as a courageous soldier and truth-lover, was so tormented by his anti-Pasternak speech that he later went insane. On October 29, 1958, at the plenum of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League, dedicated to the Komsomol's fortieth anniversary, its head, Vladimir Semichastny, attacked Pasternak before an audience of 14,000 people, including Khrushchev and other Party leaders. Semishastny first called Pasternak, "a mangy sheep," who pleased the enemies of the Soviet Union with, "his slanderous so-called work." Then Semichastny (who became head of the KGB in 1961) added that, "this man went and spat in the face of the people." And he concluded with, "If you compare Pasternak to a pig, a pig would not do what he did," because a pig, "never shits where it eats." Khrushchev applauded demonstratively. News of that speech drove Pasternak to the brink of suicide. It has recently come to light that the real author of Semichastny's insults was Khrushchev, who had called the Komsomol leader the night before and dictated his lines about the mangy sheep and the pig, which Semichastny described as a, "typically Khrushchevian, deliberately crude, unceremoniously scolding."
Furthermore, Pasternak was informed that, if he traveled to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Medal, he would be refused re-entry to the Soviet Union. As a result, Pasternak sent a second telegram to the Nobel Committee: "In view of the meaning given the award by the society in which I live, I must renounce this undeserved distinction which has been conferred on me. Please do not take my voluntary renunciation amiss." The Swedish Academy announced: "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."
According to Yevgenii Pasternak, "I couldn't recognize my father when I saw him that evening. Pale, lifeless face, tired painful eyes, and only speaking about the same thing: 'Now it all doesn’t matter, I declined the Prize.'"
Despite his decision to decline the award, the Soviet Union of Writers continued to demonise Pasternak in the State owned press. Furthermore, he was threatened at the very least with formal exile to the West. In response, Pasternak wrote directly to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev,
I am addressing you personally, the C.C. of the C.P.S.S., and the Soviet Government. From Comrade Semichastny's speech I learn that the government, 'would not put any obstacles in the way of my departure from the U.S.S.R.' For me this is impossible. I am tied to Russia by birth, by my life and work. I cannot conceive of my destiny separate from Russia, or outside it. Whatever my mistakes or failings, I could not imagine that I should find myself at the center of such a political campaign as has been worked up round my name in the West. Once I was aware of this, I informed the Swedish Academy of my voluntary renunciation of the Nobel Prize. Departure beyond the borders of my country would for me be tantamount to death and I therefore request you not to take this extreme measure with me. With my hand on my heart, I can say that I have done something for Soviet literature, and may still be of use to it.
In The Oak and the Calf, Alexander Solzhenitsyn sharply criticized Pasternak, both for declining the Nobel Prize and for sending such a letter to Khrushchev. In her own memoirs, Olga Ivinskaya blames herself for pressuring her lover into making both decisions.
According to Yevgenii Pasternak, "She accused herself bitterly for persuading Pasternak to decline the Prize. After all that had happened, open shadowing, friends turning away, Pasternak's suicidal condition at the time, one can... understand her: the memory of Stalin’s camps was too fresh, [and] she tried to protect him."
On 31 October 1958, the Union of Soviet Writers held a trial behind closed doors. According to the meeting minutes, Pasternak was denounced as an internal White emigre and a Fascist fifth columnist. Afterwards, the attendees announced that Pasternak had been expelled from the Union. They further signed a petition to the Politburo, demanding that Pasternak be stripped of his Soviet citizenship and exiled to, "his Capitalist paradise." According to Yevgenii Pasternak, however, author Konstantin Paustovsky refused to attend the meeting. Yevgeny Yevtushenko did attend, but walked out in disgust.
According to Yevgenii Pasternak, his father would have been exiled had it not been for Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who telephoned Khrushchev and threatened to find a Committee for Pasternak's protection.
It is possible that the 1958 Nobel Prize prevented Pasternak's imprisonment due to the Soviet State's fear of international protests. Yevgenii Pasternak believes, however, that the resulting persecution fatally weakened his father's health.
Meanwhile, Bill Mauldin produced a political cartoon which won the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. The cartoon depicts Pasternak and another GULAG inmate, splitting trees in the snow. The caption reads, "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?"
Pasternak's post-Zhivago poetry probes the universal questions of love, immortality, and reconciliation with God. Boris Pasternak wrote his last complete book, When the Weather Clears, in 1959.
According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak continued to stick to his daily writing schedule even during the controversy over Doctor Zhivago. He also continued translating the writings of Juliusz Słowacki and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. In his work on Calderon, Pasternak received the discrete support of Nikolai Mikhailovich Liubimov, a senior figure in the Party's literary apparatus. Ivinskaya describes Liubimov as, "a shrewd and enlightened person who understood very well that all the mudslinging and commotion over the novel would be forgotten, but that there would always be a Pasternak." In a letter to his sisters in Oxford, England, Pasternak claimed to have finished translating one of Calderon's plays in less than a week.
During the summer of 1959, Pasternak began writing The Blind Beauty, a trilogy of stage plays set before and after Alexander II's abolition of serfdom in Russia. In an interview with Olga Carlisle from The Paris Review, Pasternak enthusiastically described the play's plot and characters. He informed Olga Carlisle that, at the end of The Blind Beauty, he wished to depict "the birth of an enlightened and affluent middle class, open to occidental influences, progressive, intelligent, artistic". However, Pasternak fell ill with terminal lung cancer before he could complete the first play of the trilogy.
Boris Pasternak died of lung cancer in his dacha in Peredelkino on the evening of 30 May 1960. He first summoned his sons, and in their presence said, "Who will suffer most because of my death? Who will suffer most? Only Oliusha will, and I haven't had time to do anything for her. The worst thing is that she will suffer." Pasternak's last words were, "I can't hear very well. And there's a mist in front of my eyes. But it will go away, won't it? Don't forget to open the window tomorrow."
Shortly before his death, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church had given Pasternak the last rites. Later, in the strictest secrecy, a Russian Orthodox funeral liturgy, or Panikhida, was offered in the family's dacha.
Despite only a small notice appearing in the Literary Gazette, handwritten notices carrying the date and time of the funeral were posted throughout the Moscow subway system. As a result, thousands of admirers braved Militia and KGB surveillance to attend Pasternak's funeral in Peredelkino.
Before Pasternak's civil funeral, Olga Ivinskaya had a conversation with Konstantin Paustovsky. According to Ivinskaya,
"He began to say what an authentic event the funeral was—an expression of what people really felt, and so characteristic of the Russia which stoned its prophets and did its poets to death as a matter of longstanding tradition. At such a moment, he continued indignantly, one was bound to recall the funeral of Pushkin and the Tsar's courtiers – their miserable hypocrisy and false pride. 'Just think how rich they are, how many Pasternaks they have—as many as there were Pushkins in the Russia of Tsar Nicholas... Not much has changed. But what can one expect? They are afraid...'"
Then, in the presence of a large number of foreign journalists, the body of Pasternak was removed to the cemetery. According to Ivinskaya,
The graveside service now began. It was hard for me in my state to make out what was going on. Later, I was told that Paustovski had wanted to give the funeral address, but it was in fact Professor Asmus who spoke. Wearing a light colored suit and a bright tie, he was dressed more for some gala occasion than for a funeral. "A writer has died," he began, "who, together with Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, forms part of the glory of Russian literature. Even if we cannot agree with him in everything; we all none the less owe him a debt of gratitude for setting an example of unswerving honesty, for his incorruptible conscience, and for his heroic view of his duty as a writer." Needless to say, he mentioned [Boris Leonidovich]'s, "mistakes and failings," but hastened to add that, "they do not, however, prevent us from recognizing the fact that he was a great poet." "He was a very modest man," Asmus said in conclusion, "and he did not like people to talk about him too much, so with this I shall bring my address to a close."
To the horror of the assembled Party officials, however, someone with, "a young and deeply anguished voice," began reciting Pasternak's banned poem Hamlet.
According to Ivinskaya,
At this point, the persons stage-managing the proceedings decided the ceremony must be brought to an end as quickly as possible, and somebody began to carry the lid toward the coffin. For the last time, I bent down to kiss Boria on the forehead, now completely cold... But now something unusual began to happen in the cemetery. Someone was about to put the lid on the coffin, and another person in gray trousers... said in an agitated voice: "That's enough, we don't need any more speeches! Close the coffin!" But people would not be silenced so easily. Someone in a colored, open-necked shirt who looked like a worker started to speak: "Sleep peacefully, dear Boris Leonidovich! We do not know all your works, but we swear to you at this hour: the day will come when we shall know them all. We do not believe anything bad about your book. And what can we say about all you others, all you brother writers who have brought such disgrace upon yourselves that no words can describe it. Rest in peace, Boris Leonidovich!" The man in gray trousers seized hold of other people who tried to come forward and pushed them back into the crowd: "The meeting is over, there will be no more speeches!" A foreigner expressed his indigation in broken Russian: "You can only say the meeting is over when no more people wish to speak!"
The final speaker at the graveside service said,
God marks the path of the elect with thorns, and Pasternak was picked out and marked by God. He believed in eternity and he will belong to it... We excommunicated Tolstoy, we disowned Dostoevsky, and now we disown Pasternak. Everything that brings us glory we try to banish to the West... But we cannot allow this. We love Pasternak and we revere him as a poet... Glory to Pasternak!
As the spectators cheered, the bells of Peredelkino's Church of the Transfiguration began to toll. Written prayers for the dead were then placed upon Pasternak's forehead and the coffin was closed and buried. Pasternak's gravesite would go on to become a major shrine for members of the Soviet dissident movement.
After Pasternak's death, Olga Ivinskaya was arrested for the second time, with her daughter, Irina Emelyanova. Both were accused of being Pasternak's link with Western publishers and of dealing in hard currency for Doctor Zhivago. All of Pasternak's letters to Ivinskaya, as well as many other manuscripts and documents, were seized by the KGB. The KGB quietly released them, Irina after one year, in 1962, and Olga in 1964. By this time, Ivinskaya had served four years of an eight-year sentence, in retaliation for her role in Doctor Zhivagos publication. In 1978, her memoirs were smuggled abroad and published in Paris. An English translation by Max Hayward was published the same year under the title A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak.
Ivinskaya was rehabilitated only in 1988. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ivinskaya sued for the return of the letters and documents seized by the KGB in 1961. The Russian Supreme Court ultimately ruled against her, stating that, "there was no proof of ownership," and that the, "papers should remain in the state archive". Olga Ivinskaya died of cancer on 8 September 1995. A reporter on NTV compared her role to that of other famous muses for Russian poets: "As Pushkin would not be complete without Anna Kern, and Yesenin would be nothing without Isadora, so Pasternak would not be Pasternak without Olga Ivinskaya, who was his inspiration for Doctor Zhivago.".
In December 1989, Yevgenii Borisovich Pasternak was permitted to travel to Stockholm in order to collect his father's Nobel Medal. At the ceremony, acclaimed cellist and Soviet dissident Mstislav Rostropovich performed a Bach serenade in honor of his deceased countryman.
A 2009 book by Ivan Tolstoi reasserts claims that British and American intelligence officers were involved in ensuring Pasternak's Nobel victory however another Russian researcher disagrees. When Yevgeny Borisovich Pasternak was questioned about this, he responded that his father was completely unaware of the actions of Western intelligence services. Yevgeny further declared that the Nobel Prize caused his father nothing but severe grief and harassment at the hands of the Soviet State.
The Pasternak family papers are stored at the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University. They contain correspondence, drafts of Doctor Zhivago and other writings, photographs, and other material, of Boris Pasternak and other family members.
The first screen adaptation of Doctor Zhivago, adapted by Robert Bolt and directed by David Lean, appeared in 1965. The film, which toured in the roadshow tradition, starred Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin, and Julie Christie. Concentrating on the love triangle aspects of the novel, the film became a worldwide blockbuster, but was unavailable in Russia until Perestroika.
The Russian TV version of 2006, directed by Alexander Proshkin and starring Oleg Menshikov as Zhivago, is considered more faithful to Pasternak's novel than David Lean's 1965 film.
According to Ivinskaya,
In Pasternak the 'all-powerful god of detail' always, it seems, revolted against the idea of turning out verse for its own sake or to convey vague personal moods. If 'eternal' themes were to be dealt with yet again, then only by a poet in the true sense of the word – otherwise he should not have the strength of character to touch them at all. Poetry so tightly packed (till it crunched like ice) or distilled into a solution where 'grains of true prose germinated,' a poetry in which realistic detail cast a genuine spell – only such poetry was acceptable to Pasternak; but not poetry for which indulgence was required, or for which allowances had to be made – that is, the kind of ephemeral poetry which is particularly common in an age of literary conformism. [Boris Leonidovich] could weep over the 'purple-gray circle' which glowed above Blok's tormented muse and he never failed to be moved by the terseness of Pushkin's sprightly lines, but rhymed slogans about the production of tin cans in the so-called 'poetry' of Surkov and his like, as well as the outpourings about love in the work of those young poets who only echo each other and the classics – all this left him cold at best and for the most part made him indignant."
For this reason, Pasternak regularly avoided literary cafes where young poets regularly invited them to read their verse. According to Ivinskaya, "It was this sort of thing that moved him to say: 'Who started the idea that I love poetry? I can't stand poetry.'"
Also according to Ivinskaya, "'The way they could write!' he once exclaimed – by 'they' he meant the Russian classics. And immediately afterward, reading or, rather, glancing through some verse in the Literary Gazette: 'Just look how tremendously well they've learned to rhyme! But there's actually nothing there – it would be better to say it in a news bulletin. What has poetry got to do with this?' By 'they' in this case, he meant the poets writing today."
Reluctant to conform to Socialist Realism, Pasternak turned to translation in order to provide for his family. He soon produced acclaimed translations of Sándor Petőfi, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine, Taras Shevchenko, and Nikoloz Baratashvili. Osip Mandelstam, however, privately warned him, "Your collected works will consist of twelve volumes of translations, and only one of your own work."
In a 1942 letter, Pasternak declared, "I am completely opposed to contemporary ideas about translation. The work of Lozinski, Radlova, Marshak, and Chukovski is alien to me, and seems artificial, soulless, and lacking in depth. I share the nineteenth century view of translation as a literary exercise demanding insight of a higher kind than that provided by a merely philological approach."
According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak believed in not being too literal in his translations, which he felt could confuse the meaning of the text. He instead advocated observing each poem from afar to plumb its true depths.
Pasternak's translations of William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, King Henry IV (Parts I and II), Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear) remain deeply popular with Russian audiences because of their colloquial, modernised dialogues. Paternak's critics, however, accused him of "pasternakizing" Shakespeare. In a 1956 essay, Pasternak wrote, "Translating Shakespeare is a task which takes time and effort. Once it is undertaken, it is best to divide it into sections long enough for the work to not get stale and to complete one section each day. In thus daily progressing through the text, the translator finds himself reliving the circumstances of the author. Day by day, he reproduces his actions and he is drawn into some of his secrets, not in theory, but practically, by experience."
According to Ivinskaya,
Whenever [Boris Leonidovich] was provided with literal versions of things which echoed his own thoughts or feelings, it made all the difference and he worked feverishly, turning them into masterpieces. I remember his translating Paul Verlaine in a burst of enthusiasm like this – Art poétique (Verlaine) was after all an expression of his own beliefs about poetry.
While they were both collaborating on translating Rabindranath Tagore from Bengali into Russian, Pasternak advised Ivinskaya, "1) Bring out the theme of the poem, its subject matter, as clearly as possible; 2) tighten up the fluid, non-European form by rhyming internally, not at the end of the lines; 3) use loose, irregular meters, mostly ternary ones. You may allow yourself to use assonances."
Later, while she was collaborating with him on a translation of Vítězslav Nezval, Pasternak told Ivinskaya,
"Use the literal translation only for the meaning, but do not borrow words as they stand from it: they are absurd and not always comprehensible. Don't translate everything, only what you can manage, and by this means try to make the translation more precise than the original – an absolute necessity in the case of such a confused, slipshod piece of work."
According to Olga Ivinskaya, however, translation was not a genuine vocation for Pasternak. She later recalled,
One day someone brought him a copy of a British newspaper in which there was a double feature under the title, "Pasternak Keeps a Courageous Silence." It said that if Shakespeare had written in Russian he would have written in the same way he was translated by Pasternak... What a pity, the article continued, that Pasternak published nothing but translations, writing his own work for himself and a small circle of intimate friends. "What do they mean by saying that my silence is courageous?" [Boris Leonidovich] commented sadly after reading all this. "I am silent because I am not printed."
Boris Pasternak was also a composer, and had a promising musical career as a musician ahead of him, had he chosen to pursue it. He came from a musical family: his mother was a concert pianist and a student of Anton Rubinstein and Theodor Leschetizky, and Pasternak's early impressions were of hearing piano trios in the home. The family had a dacha – country house – close to one occupied by Alexander Scriabin; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Rainer Maria Rilke and Leo Tolstoy were all visitors to the family home. His father Leonid was a painter who produced one of the most important portraits of Scriabin, and Pasternak wrote many years later of witnessing with great excitement the creation of Scriabin's Symphony No. 3, "The Divine Poem", in 1903.
Pasternak began to compose at the age of 13. The high achievements of his mother discouraged him from becoming a pianist, but – inspired by Scriabin – he entered the Moscow Conservatory, but left abruptly in 1910 at the age of twenty, to study philosophy in Marburg University. Four years later he returned to Moscow, having finally decided on a career in literature, publishing his first book of poems, influenced by Alexander Blok and the Russian Futurists, the same year.
Pasternak's early compositions show the clear influence of Scriabin. His single-movement Piano Sonata of 1909 shows a more mature and individual voice. Nominally in B minor, it moves freely from key to key with frequent changes of key-signature and a chromatic dissonant style that defies easy analysis. Although composed during his time at the Conservatory, the Sonata was composed at Raiki, some 27 miles north-east of Moscow, where Leonid Pasternak had his painting studio and taught his students. (NB. This is not the site of the Pasternak family dacha, now open to the public, in the writers' colony at Peredelkino, which is about 16 miles south-west of the capital.)
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