Boris Leonidovich Pasternak
The son of a painter and a pianist, Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was born
in Moscow to a family of Sephardic heritage and grew up near a Russian
Orthodox seminary. His family's circle included writers, notably
and Rilke, and musicians, notably Scriabin. After studying drawing,
music, law, and philosophy, Pasternak began to write
poetry. His first
significant book, My Sister Life, tells of a frustrated love in the
summer between the February and
October Revolutions of 1917; the
arrangement of the poems has complicated narrative and cyclical structures
reminiscent of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical cycles in their complexity.
From the 1930's until his death, he had a difficult relationship with the
literary establishment: his poetry was too individual for
Socialist Realism, yet he was able in some works, such as The Year
1905 and Spectorovsky, to combine the personal and the social.
Georgian poetry and published translations of it. Translating
provided him and his families income during times when he was not able to
publish. (He was married twice and had several affairs; he supported his
two sons, his two stepsons, and the children of his mistress, Olga
Ivinskaya, from her previous marriages.) He loved
Russia and chose to
live there even after his family had settled in Berlin, but he missed the
European culture in which he also felt at home. Unable to publish in the
USSR, not only because of his emphasis on the personal but also because of
his increasingly religious concerns, he arranged to have his overtly
Christian poetry published in a Berlin-based &eacte;migré journal
and to have his much rejected
novel Dr. Zhivago published in Italy.
The acclaim that followed its publication and translation outside the USSR
seems to spurred the Nobel Committee to award him the 1958 prize for
literature. Fearing he would not be allowed to return from Stockholm to
Peredelkino, his home in Russia, he declined the award. He was expelled
from the Writers' Union and lived in poverty. His fame seems to have kept
him from prison. He continued to write poetry, and some scholars consider
his last collection, When the Weather Clears, his highest artistic
achievement. This final work and The Poems of Yuri Zhivago have
religious imagery and themes; in particular, both verse collections show
suffering as both inevitable and chosen.
Although his family did not observe
Jewish rituals, Pasternak was aware of
Jewish culture and religious practice, but he felt they excluded people
who were not Jewish. He claims that when he was three, a nurse took him
to be baptized. His sister Josephine could not corroborate this
statement, and biographers doubt he was received into the
church that early in his life. They think it more likely that he
converted as an adult, possibly in the late 1930's or in the 1940's. He
received an Orthodox burial three days after his death.
Karen Rae Keck
- On-line resources:
- Biographies, Letters, and Memoirs:
- Christopher J. Barnes. Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography. (1989-1998). 2 vols. Cambridge, UK
and New York: CUP. A solid scholarly biography.
- Ronald Hingley. Pasternak: A Biography. (1983). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. A solid
biography with scholarly underpinning.
- Olga Ivinskaya. A Captive of Time. Max Hayward, trans. (1978). Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Pasternak's mistress from 1946 until his death, Ivinskaya talks of their life together and provides some thoughts on the
inspirations of his later poems.
- Boris Pasternak. The Correspondence between Boris Pasternak and Olga Freidenberg, 1910-1954. Elliot
Mossman, ed. Elliot Mossman and Margaret Wettlin, trans. (1982). New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
- Boris Pasternak . I Remember: a Sketch for an Autobiography. David Magarshack, trans.
(1959). New York: Pantheon. Originally written as a preface to an edition of his collected poems, the work is
sometimes called An Autobiographical Essay or An Essay in Autobiography.
- Boris Pasternak. Letters to Georgian Friends. David Magarshack, trans. (1968). New York:
Harcourt, Brace, and World.
- Boris Pasternak. Safe Conduct: An Early Autobiography and Other Works. Alec Brown and Lydia
Pasternak-Slater, trans. (1958). New York: New Directions. Pasternak focuses on his artistic development, not
on the details of his chronology.
- Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Letters: Summer 1926. Margaret Wettlin,
Walter Arndt, and Jamey Gambrell, trans. (1983). New York: New York Review Books, 2001.
- Ernst Zaltsberg. Boris Pasternak: Composer and Poet. (1997). Clavier 36/May-June:
24-7. A brief look at Pasternak's pre-poetic career and the music imagery in his poetry with a reproduction of a score
for a prelude.
New York: Praeger.
- Books in translation:
- Boris Pasternak. Collected Short Prose. Christopher J. Barnes, ed. (1977).
- Boris Pasternak. Doctor Zhivago. Max Hayward and Manya Harari, trans. (1958). New York:
- Boris Pasternak. In the Interlude: Poems 1945-1960. Henry Kamen, trans. (1962). London
and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Boris Pasternak. The Last Summer. George Reavey, trans. (2000). London and Chester Springs,
PA: Peter Owen.
- Boris Pasternak. My Sister---Life. Mark Rudman and Bohdan Boychuk, trans. (1992). Evanston,
IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001.
- Boris Pasternak, . My Sister Life and Other Poems. Olga Andreyev Carlisle, ed. (1976). New
York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. Carlisle's introduction is in English, and the selected poems are in Russian and in
- Boris Pasternak. Poems. Eugene M. Kayden, trans. (1959). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
- Boris Pasternak. The Poems of Boris Pasternak. Lydia Pasternak Slater, trans. (1983). London
and Boston: Unwin Paperbacks, 1984.
- Boris Pasternak. The Poems of Dr. Zhivago. Donald Davie, trans. (1965). Manchester, UK:
Manchester University Press.
- Boris Pasternak. Second Nature: Forty-Six Poems. Andrei Navrozov, trans. (2003). London
and Chester Springs, PA: Peter Owen.
- Boris Pasternak. Zhenia's Childhood and Other Stories. (1982). London and New York: Allison
- J. W. Dyck. Boris Pasternak. (1972). New York: Twayne Publishers. An easy to read
- Lazar Fleishman. Boris Pasternak: The Poet and His Politics. (1990). Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
- Lazar Fleishman, ed. Poetry and Revolution: Boris Pasternak's My Sister Life. (1999).
Berkeley: Berkeley Slavic Specialties. Articles in English and in Russian.
- Henry Gifford. Pasternak: A Critical Study. (1977). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press..
- Olga R. Hughes. The Poetic World of Boris Pasternak. (1974). Princeton: Princeton
- Angela Livingstone. Boris Pasternak: Dr. Zhivago. (1989). Cambridge, UK, and New York: CUP.
- Angela Livingstone, ed. Boris Pasternak on Art and Creativity. (1985). Cambridge, UK, and New
- Czeslaw Milosz. On Pasternak Soberly, (1970). Books Abroad. 44/Spring: 200-9.
- Jean-Luc Moreau. The Passion According to Zhivago, Constance Wagner, trans. (1970).
Books Abroad. 44/Spring: 237-42.
- Katherine Tiernan O'Connor. Boris Pasternak's My Sister---Life: the Illusion of Narrative.
(1988). Ann Arbor: Ardis Publishers.
- Larissa Rudova. Understanding Boris Pasternak. (1997). Columbia, SC: University of South
- Peredelkino ---Moscow Taxi The site
of Pasternak's dacha (now a museum) and of his grave.
- Grave ---Find-a-Grave
Return to St Pachomius Library.