Boris Pasternak

Pasternak, Boris Leonidovich

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (păs´tərnăk´, Rus. bərēs´ lyā´ənyē´dəvĬch pəstyĬrnäk´), 1890–1960, Russian poet and translator. Pasternak became an international symbol of the incorruptible moral courage of an artist in conflict with his political environment.

Early Life and Works

The son of the celebrated painter Leonid Pasternak and the concert pianist Rosa Kaufman, both of Jewish descent, Pasternak was greatly influenced by the composer Scriabin and by Leo Tolstoy, both family friends. He turned from music to philosophy, which he studied in Germany (1912–14). Pasternak published his first book of poems, The Twin in the Clouds, in 1914. Over the Barriers (1916) and My Sister, Life (1917, pub. 1922) established his reputation as a major poet. His poetic style, lyrical, sensual, and passionate, is imbued with fresh imagery and brilliant metaphor. His early work fused elements from futurist and symbolist techniques with his own dynamic innovations.

Under Communist Rule

Pasternak at first embraced the promise of the Revolution of 1917, but he came to abhor the ensuing Bolshevik restrictions on artistic freedom. He wrote two long narrative poems, Spektorsky (1926) and The Year 1905 (1927). His collection of five short stories includes "The Childhood of Lovers" (1924), a complex and perceptive portrayal of a young girl. The brief autobiographical work Safe Conduct (1931) and the collection of poetry Second Birth (1932) were his last original works for many years. During the purges of the 1930s, Pasternak came under severe critical attack and, unable to publish his own poetry, devoted himself to making superb translations of classic works by Goethe, Shakespeare, and others. His survival of the purges is attributed to his translations of Georgian poets admired by Stalin. In his silence Pasternak became the hero of Russian intellectuals. His very rare public appearances were greeted with wild rejoicing.

During World War II he published two new collections, On Early Trains (1942) and The Terrestrial Expanse (1945), simpler in style, which brought him fresh censure. After Stalin's death Pasternak began work on the novel Doctor Zhivago (Eng. tr. 1958; Rus. text pub. in the United States, 1959), his masterpiece in the great tradition of the Russian epic. The life of the physician and poet Yuri Zhivago, like Pasternak's own, is closely identified with the exalted and tragic upheavals of 20th-century Russia. Expressing the celebration of life characteristic of its author, the novel offended Soviet authorities by its insights into Communist society and its strain of Christian idealism.

Denied publication in the USSR, it was first published in Italy in 1957 despite serious efforts to repress it. The novel soon became the object of unrestrained international acclaim. Pasternak was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, which he joyfully accepted. However, government pressure, including the threat of continued persecution of his intimate friend and collaborator, Olga Ivinskaya, led him to retract his acceptance, and he pleaded to be allowed to remain in his beloved motherland. Expelled from the Soviet Writers Union, Pasternak lived in virtual exile in an artists' community near Moscow.


See his Collected Prose Works (tr. 1945); Selected Writings (tr. 1958), which includes the autobiographical Safe Conduct (1931); I Remember: Sketch for an Autobiography (tr. 1959); translations of his poetry by E. Kayden (1959) and G. Reavey (1959); his Letters to Georgian Friends (tr. 1965); studies by R. Conquest (1962), M. F. and P. Rowland (1967), and J. W. Dyck (1972).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Boris Pasternak: Selected full-text books and articles

The Adolescence of Zhenya Luvers By Boris Pasternak Philosophical Library, 1961
An Essay in Autobiography By Boris Pasternak; Edward Crankshaw Collins and Harvill Press, 1959
In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960 By Boris Pasternak; Henry Kamen Oxford University Press, 1962
Slavic Excursions: Essays on Russian and Polish Literature By Donald Davie Carcanet, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Poems of Dr. Zhivago" and Chap. 8 "Parallels to Pasternak"
Bitter Harvest: The Intellectual Revolt behind the Iron Curtain By François Bondy; Edmund Stillman Praeger, 1959
Librarian’s tip: "Beast in an Enclosure" by Boris Pasternak begins on p. 254
Twentieth-Century Russian Literature By Harry T. Moore; Albert Parry Southern Illinois University Press, 1974
Librarian’s tip: "The Battle against Pasternak" begins on p. 124
Khrushchev's Russia By Edward Crankshaw Penguin Books, 1959
Librarian’s tip: "Dr. Zhivago and the Novy Mir Letter" begins on p. 149
Writers and Philosophers: A Sourcebook of Philosophical Influences on Literature By Edmund J. Thomas; Eugene G. Miller Greenwood Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Boris Pasternak begins on p. 151
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.