The Realization of Solov'ev's Philosophical Treatise the Meaning of Love in Pasternak's Zhivago Poem "Winter Night"

By Sendelbach, Adonica | Papers on Language & Literature, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Realization of Solov'ev's Philosophical Treatise the Meaning of Love in Pasternak's Zhivago Poem "Winter Night"


Sendelbach, Adonica, Papers on Language & Literature


A connection with philosopher Vladimir Solov'ev's Smysl liubvi (The Meaning of Love) emerges early in Boris Pasternak's Doktor Zhivago (Doctor Zhivago) in a passage describing the intellectual pursuits of young Yurii, Tonia, and Misha: "The three of them had soaked themselves in The Meaning of Love and The Kreutzer Sonata and had a mania for preaching chastity" (40). (1) The connection between Solov'ev's and Pasternak's works, however, does not rest on merely a single reference to one of them within the other. On the contrary, research such as Jerome Spencer's "'Soaked in The Meaning of Love and The Kreutzer Sonata'" has already shown that Yurii and Lara's relationship resembles Solov'ev's ideal love. While scholarship provides substantial evidence of Solov'ev's philosophical influence on Pasternak's self-proclaimed masterpiece, the topic has not yet been exhausted as Doctor Zhivago is rich with further examples of Solov'evian thought. Although the prose of the novel as well as its poetic collection, "written" by the protagonist, are briefly discussed, the poem "Zimniaia noch'" ("Winter Night") studied in detail here provides a most compelling example of Pasternak's ability to manifest Solov'ev's philosophy in an artistic creation.

The Meaning of Love reveals Solov'ev's philosophical views on ideal love, artistic creation, and the artist's place within the universe. Solov'ev, both a philosopher and a poet, asserts that in general the vice of egoism can be conquered by love. Through egoism an individual is separated from other individuals as well as from the universe (Meaning 40; Sobranie 15). The individual fails to perceive the significance of others, for he or she differentiates himself or herself from others disproportionately so that the individual is everything and others are merely nothing (Meaning 43; Sobranie 17). In contrast, love results in the recognition in another person of the "absolute central significance" the individual earlier felt only in himself or herself. In other words, the one in love perceives the beloved to be just as important and valuable as oneself. Egoism is sacrificed in love as one transfers one's "interest in life" to another (Meaning 51). (2)

In sacrificing egoism, the individual, according to Solov'ev, is saved. That is, the individual does not lose his or her individuality along with losing egoism but preserves it. Solov'ev asserts that "The meaning of human love, speaking generally, is the justification and salvation of individuality through the sacrifice of egoism" (Meaning 42). (3) Two people in love preserve each other's individuality when they value, as Solov'ev terms it, the interests of the other as they do their own.

Furthermore, Solov'ev notes that the beloved, the "other" who abolishes the individual's egoism, correlates with that individual. According to the philosopher, we should find that

possessing all that essential content which we also possess, it [the other] must possess it in another means or mode, in another form. In this way every manifestation of our being, every vital act would encounter in this other a corresponding, but not identical, manifestation [...].

A balance or parallel appears between two individuals in love, so that they may not be exactly alike but nonetheless are equal to each other. Solov'ev uses other terms to describe this balance--"a complete and continual exchange, a complete and continual affirmation of oneself in the other, with perfect reciprocity and communion"--that emphasize the reciprocal nature of love (Meaning 46). (4)

Solov'ev asserts that although various types of love result in an individual's sacrifice of egoism, sexual love, which he defines as that between a man and a woman, brings about the most complete sacrifice of egoism because of its greater reciprocity. As a result, sexual love can also be considered the ideal form of love--or ideal love--that is both physical and spiritual. …

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