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Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960), born in Moscow, was the son of talented artists: his father a painter and illustrator of Tolstoy's works, his mother a well-known concert pianist. Pasternak's education began in a German Gymnasium in Moscow and was continued at the University of Moscow. Under the influence of the composer Scriabin, Pasternak took up the study of musical composition for six years from 1904 to 1910. By 1912 he had renounced music as his calling in life and went to the University of Marburg, Germany, to study philosophy. After four months there and a trip to Italy, he returned to Russia and decided to dedicate himself to literature.
Pasternak's first books of verse went unnoticed. With Sestra moya zhizn (My Sister Life), 1922, and Temy i variatsii(Themes and Variations), 1923, the latter marked by an extreme, though sober style, Pasternak first gained a place as a leading poet among his Russian contemporaries. In 1924 he published Vysokaya bolezn (Sublime Malady), which portrayed the 1905 revolt as he saw it, and Detstvo Lyuvers (The Childhood of Luvers), a lyrical and psychological depiction of a young girl on the threshold of womanhood. A collection of four short stories was published the following year under the title Vozdushnye puti (Aerial Ways). In 1927 Pasternak again returned to the revolution of 1905 as a subject for two long works:Leytenant Shmidt, a poem expressing threnodic sorrow for the fate of Lieutenant Schmidt, the leader of the mutiny at Sevastopol, and Devyatsot pyaty god (The Year 1905), a powerful but diffuse poem which concentrates on the events related to the revolution of 1905. Pasternak's reticent autobiography, Okhrannaya gramota (Safe Conduct), appeared in 1931, and was followed the next year by a collection of lyrics, Vtoroye rozhdenie (Second Birth), 1932. In 1935 he published translations of some Georgian poets and subsequently translated the major dramas of Shakespeare, several of the works of Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, and Ben Jonson, and poems by Petöfi, Verlaine, Swinburne, Shelley, and others. Na rannikh poyezdakh (In Early Trains), a collection of poems written since 1936, was published in 1943 and enlarged and reissued in 1945 as Zemnye prostory (Wide Spaces of the Earth). In 1957 Doktor Zhivago, Pasternak's only novel - except for the earlier "novel in verse", Spektorsky (1926) - first appeared in an Italian translation and has been acclaimed by some critics as a successful attempt at combining lyrical-descriptive and epic-dramatic styles. An autobiographical sketch,Biografichesky ocherk (An Essay in Autobiography), was published in 1959, first in Italian, and subsequently in English. Pasternak lived in Peredelkino, near Moscow, until his death in 1960.
From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.
The Story of Getting Doctor Zhivago Published
Doctor Zhivago is set during the Russian Revolution and World War I, and it tells the story of Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and poet, and his love for a woman named Lara. Pasternak worked on his novel for decades, and finished it in 1956. He submitted the book for publication, but although Pasternak was a famous writer by then, his manuscript was rejected —the publishers explained that Doctor Zhivago was not in line with the spirit of the revolution, too concerned with individualism. An Italian journalist visited Pasternak at his country house and convinced the novelist to let him smuggle a copy of Doctor Zhivago out of the country to the leftist Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Pasternak is said to have declared as he handed over the manuscript: "You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad!" He was not executed, but when the upcoming publication was announced in Italy, Soviet authorities were furious, and forced Pasternak to send Feltrinelli telegrams insisting that he halt publication of the novel. One of them said: "I have come to the profound conviction that what I wrote cannot be regarded as a finished work," and in another Pasternak called his novel "in need of serious improvement." But Feltrinelli was not fooled, and continued with publication. Soon enough, Feltrinelli received a private, scribbled note from Pasternak begging him to continue. Pasternak wrote: "I wrote the novel to be published and read. That remains my only wish."
Feltrinelli published Doctor Zhivago, and helped get it published all over the world. The Soviet Union's attempts to stop its publication only made it more interesting to readers. When it was first published in Italy in November of 1957, the first printing of 6,000 copies sold out within the first day. Doctor Zhivago was published in the United States Se[tember 5, 1958, and even though it wasn't published until early September, it was the best-selling book of 1958. It quickly became a bestseller in 24 languages.Pasternak was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1958, and when he first head of the award, he sent a telegram to the Swedish Academy that said: "Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed." Two days later, Soviet authorities forced him to write again, this time to say he would refuse the prize. Pasternak died two years later, in 1960, and Doctor Zhivago was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988.
Doctor Zhivago begins: "On they went, singing 'Rest Eternal,' and whenever they stopped, their feet, the horses, and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing. Passers-by made way for the procession, counted the wreaths, and crossed themselves. Some joined in out of curiosity and asked: 'Who is being buried?'—'Zhivago,' they were told.—'Oh, I see. That's what it is.'—'It isn't him. It's his wife.'—'Well, it comes to the same thing. May her soul rest in peace. It's a fine funeral.'"
Source: Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor, September 5, 2011
Doctor Zhivago: Part I