This Day In Literary History
On February 10th, 1890, the legendary Russian writer Boris Pasternak was born in Moscow, Russia. He was born into a wealthy Russian-Jewish family. His father, Leonid Pasternak, was a famous artist; his mother, Rosa Kaufman, was a concert pianist. The Pasternaks were a liberal, intellectual family.
Boris Pasternak originally aspired to become a composer. He entered the Moscow Conservatory, but left abruptly in 1910, traveling to Germany and enrolling at the University of Marburg, where he studied philosophy.
After graduating, instead of a career in philosophy, he decided to become a writer. He returned to Moscow in 1914. Later that year, his first book, a poetry collection, was published.
During World War I, Pasternak taught school and worked at a chemical factory in Vsevolodovo-Vilve near Perm. He spent the summer of 1917 living in the steppe country near Seratov, where he fell in love for the first time.
Filled with a new passion, he began writing what would become his seminal poetry collection, My Sister Life. Its innovative style would revolutionize Russian poetry, influencing the works of young poets such as Osip Mandelstam and Marina Tsvetayeva.
After the Russian Revolution in October of 1917, Pasternak decided to remain in Russia, fascinated with the new ideas and possibilities that the Revolution brought to life. He was filled with hope for the future He continued to write. My Sister Life was published in 1921.
Later that year, he published Rupture, another seminal and influential poetry collection. He soon found that his innovative, modernist style of poetry was at odds with the Communist Party's doctrine of Socialist Realism.
Pasternak changed his style to make it more acceptable to the Soviet public. His next poetry collection, The Second Birth, was published in 1932. Though the poems proved to be just as brilliant as his earlier works, his new style alienated his refined readers abroad.
Throughout the decade, he would become disenchanted with Soviet communism and the totalitarian rule of Stalin. Ironically, during the purges, Stalin himself supposedly crossed Pasternak's name off an arrest list, telling his secret police, "Don't touch this cloud dweller."
A few years before the start of World War II, Boris Pasternak and his wife settled in Peredelkino, a village several miles away from Moscow that served as a writers' colony.
In 1943, he published a collection of patriotic verse titled Early Trains, which prompted his fellow writer Vladimir Nabokov to describe him as a "weeping Bolshevik" and "Emily Dickinson in trousers."
After the war ended, Pasternak resumed work on a novel that he had started writing some 30 years earlier. The 600-page epic semi-autobiographical novel would prove to be an all-time classic work of literature that made its author world famous.
Dr. Zhivago, completed in 1956, reflected Pasternak's disenchantment with Soviet communism and the totalitarian rule of Stalin. It takes place during three major events in Russian history: World War I, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Russian Civil War of 1917-23.
The sensitive Dr. Yuri Zhivago is a physician, poet, and idealist - a borderline mystic who finds himself living in a senseless world that is both modern and barbaric.
Dr. Zhivago embarks on a dreamlike, surreal journey through Russia. World War I is raging, and he treats wounded men at the front. He soon meets a woman, Larissa "Lara" Guishar, who becomes his great love.
Lara is engaged to Pavel "Pasha" Antipov, an idealistic young student, but she has an affair with Viktor Komarovsky, a powerful lawyer who both attracts and repels her.
The first time Zhivago meets Lara, it's a brief encounter where he assists his mentor in treating Lara's mother, who attempted suicide after learning of her affair with Komarovsky. He sees Lara again at a Christmas party where she attempts to shoot Komarovsky.
When Zhivago is later reunited with Lara at the front, where she is serving as a nurse, they fall in love while working together at a makeshift field hospital. They don't consummate their love until after the war, when they meet again in the town of Yuriatin.
Meanwhile, Lara's fiance Pasha is presumed killed in action, but he's actually a prisoner of war. He escapes from the Nazis and joins the Bolsheviks, becoming a ferocious Red Army general known for his executions of prisoners.
Pasha is nicknamed Strelnikov, which means "the shooter." He's really not a Bolshevik, he just likes to shoot prisoners and hopes that the war will end soon so he can return home to Lara.
After falling from grace and losing his position in the Red Army, Pasha returns home and hopes to find Lara waiting for him. By this time, however, she has taken off with Komarovsky. Pasha has a long talk with Dr. Zhivago, then commits suicide. The loss of Lara causes Zhivago's life to go downhill as well.
Zhivago has two children with another woman, but is haunted by his memories of Lara. He tries to write, but fails to complete any of his writing projects. He becomes absent-minded, erratic, and physically ill. Lara finally returns to Russia - on the day of Zhivago's funeral.
Dr. Zhivago raised the ire of Soviet authorities with its negative depictions of Soviet communism and the Red Army. As a result, it could not be published in the Soviet Union. So, Pasternak had a friend smuggle the manuscript out of the country. It was first published in Italy in 1957.
The novel became an overnight sensation and was quickly translated into various languages and published throughout the non-communist world. From 1958 to 1959, the American edition of Dr. Zhivago spent 26 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Soviet literary critics, who never read his novel, called for Pasternak to be expelled from the Soviet Union, demanding that the authorities "kick the pig out of our kitchen-garden."
A Russian edition of Dr. Zhivago was published secretly in 1958 and circulated underground. The costs of printing and distribution were paid for in part by the United States CIA.
That same year, despite pressure from Soviet authorities, the Nobel committee awarded Pasternak a Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel. He thanked them, but refused to accept the award, for fear of losing his Soviet citizenship and being exiled. Over 30 years later, Pasternak's son Yevgeny accepted the award for his father.
In 1965, a feature film adaptation of Dr. Zhivago was released. The big-budget Hollywood epic starred Omar Sharif in the title role and Julie Christie as Lara.
Featuring an all-star supporting cast and masterfully directed by David Lean, the film became a huge hit with critics and audiences, despite the fact that Robert Bolt's screenplay condensed and sanitized the novel.
The movie grossed more than ten times its huge budget of $11,000,000, or about $85,000,000 in today's money. The score, composed by Maurice Jarre, remains one of the most popular and best selling film soundtracks, with Lara's Theme being the best loved piece.
Today, Dr. Zhivago is rightfully considered an all-time classic film. Unfortunately, Boris Pasternak never lived to see it. He died of lung cancer in 1960 at the age of 70.
In 2006, another adaptation of Dr. Zhivago premiered on Russian TV. It is considered more faithful to Pasternak's novel than the Hollywood movie.
Quote Of The Day
"Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle, cracked ice crunching in pails, the night that numbs the leaf, the duel of two nightingales, the sweet pea that has run wild, Creation’s tears in shoulder blades." - Boris Pasternak
Today's video features a short documentary on Boris Pasternak. Click on the words "Watch this video on YouTube." Enjoy!