Saturday Oct 23, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Boris Pasternak
On this Day:
In 1958, the Soviet novelist Boris Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (10 February [O.S. 29 January] 1890 – 30 May 1960) was a Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator. Composed in 1917, Pasternak’s first book of poems, My Sister, Life, was published in Berlin in 1922 and soon became an important collection in the Russian language. Pasternak’s translations of stage plays by Goethe, Schiller, Calderón de la Barca and Shakespeare remain very popular with Russian audiences.
Pasternak is the author of Doctor Zhivago (1957), a novel that takes place between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Second World War. Doctor Zhivago was rejected for publication in the USSR, but the manuscript was smuggled to Italy for publication. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, an event that enraged the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which forced him to decline the prize, though in 1989 his descendants were able to accept it in his name. Doctor Zhivago has been part of the main Russian school curriculum since 2003.
Although it contains passages written in the 1910s and 1920s, Doctor Zhivago was not completed until 1956. Pasternak submitted the novel to Novy Mir, which refused publication due to its rejection of socialist realism. The author, like his protagonist Yuri Zhivago, showed more concern for the welfare of individual characters than for the “progress” of society. Censors also regarded some passages as anti-Soviet, especially the novel’s criticisms of Stalinism, Collectivisation, the Great Purge, and the Gulag.
Pasternak’s fortunes were soon to change, however. In March 1956, the Italian Communist Party sent a journalist, Sergio D’Angelo, to work in the Soviet Union, and his status as a journalist as well as his membership in the Italian Communist Party allowed him to have access to various aspects of the cultural life in Moscow at the time. A Milan publisher, the communist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, had also given him a commission to find new works of Soviet literature that would be appealing to Western audiences, and upon learning of Doctor Zhivago’s existence, D’Angelo travelled immediately to Peredelkino and offered to submit Pasternak’s novel to Feltrinelli’s company for publication. At first Pasternak was stunned. Then he brought the manuscript from his study and told D’Angelo with a laugh, “You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad.”
According to Lazar Fleishman, Pasternak was aware that he was taking a huge risk. No Soviet author had attempted to deal with Western publishers since the 1920s, when such behavior led the Soviet State to declare war on Boris Pilnyak and Evgeny Zamyatin. Pasternak, however, believed that Feltrinelli’s Communist affiliation would not only guarantee publication, but might even force the Soviet State to publish the novel in Russia.
In a rare moment of agreement, both Olga Ivinskaya and Zinaida Pasternak were horrified by the submission of Doctor Zhivago to a Western publishing house. Pasternak, however, refused to change his mind and informed an emissary from Feltrinelli that he was prepared to undergo any sacrifice in order to see Doctor Zhivago published.
In 1957, Feltrinelli announced that the novel would be published by his company. Despite repeated demands from visiting Soviet emissaries, Feltrinelli refused to cancel or delay publication. According to Ivinskaya, “He did not believe that we would ever publish the manuscript here and felt he had no right to withhold a masterpiece from the world – this would be an even greater crime.” The Soviet government forced Pasternak to cable the publisher to withdraw the manuscript, but he sent separate, secret letters advising Feltrinelli to ignore the telegrams.
Helped considerably by the Soviet campaign against the novel (as well as by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s secret purchase of hundreds of copies of the book as it came off the presses around the world – see “Nobel Prize” section below), Doctor Zhivago became an instant sensation throughout the non-Communist world upon its release in November 1957. In the State of Israel, however, Pasternak’s novel was sharply criticized for its assimilationist views towards the Jewish people. When informed of this, Pasternak responded, “No matter. I am above race…” According to Lazar Fleishman, Pasternak had written the disputed passages prior to Israeli independence. At the time, Pasternak had also been regularly attending Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Therefore, he believed that Soviet Jews converting to Christianity was preferable to assimilating into atheism and Stalinism.
The first English translation of Doctor Zhivago was hastily produced by Max Hayward and Manya Harari in order to coincide with overwhelming public demand. It was released in August 1958, and remained the only edition available for more than fifty years. Between 1958 and 1959, the English language edition spent 26 weeks at the top of The New York Times’ bestseller list.
Ivinskaya’s daughter Irina circulated typed copies of the novel in Samizdat. Although no Soviet critics had read the banned novel, Doctor Zhivago was pilloried in the State-owned press. Similar attacks led to a humorous Russian saying, “I haven’t read Pasternak, but I condemn him”.
During the aftermath of the Second World War, Pasternak had composed a series of poems on Gospel themes. According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak had regarded Stalin as a, “giant of the pre-Christian era.” Therefore, Pasternak’s decision to write Christian poetry was, “a form of protest.”
On 9 September 1958, the Literary Gazette critic Viktor Pertsov retaliated by denouncing, “the decadent religious poetry of Pasternak, which reeks of mothballs from the Symbolist suitcase of 1908–10 manufacture.” Furthermore, the author received much hate mail from Communists both at home and abroad. According to Ivinskaya, Pasternak continued to receive such letters for the remainder of his life.
In a letter written to his sister Josephine, however, Pasternak recalled the words of his friend Ekaterina Krashennikova upon reading Doctor Zhivago. She had said, “Don’t forget yourself to the point of believing that it was you who wrote this work. It was the Russian people and their sufferings who created it. Thank God for having expressed it through your pen.”
According to Yevgeni Borisovich Pasternak, “Rumors that Pasternak was to receive the Nobel Prize started right after the end of World War II. According to the former Nobel Committee head Lars Gyllensten, his nomination was discussed every year from 1946 to 1950, then again in 1957 (it was finally awarded in 1958). Pasternak guessed at this from the growing waves of criticism in USSR. Sometimes he had to justify his European fame: ‘According to the Union of Soviet Writers, some literature circles of the West see unusual importance in my work, not matching its modesty and low productivity…'”
Meanwhile, Pasternak wrote to Renate Schweitzer and his sister, Lydia Pasternak Slater. In both letters, the author expressed hope that he would be passed over by the Nobel Committee in favour of Alberto Moravia. Pasternak wrote that he was wracked with torments and anxieties at the thought of placing his loved ones in danger.
On 23 October 1958, Boris Pasternak was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize. The citation credited Pasternak’s contribution to Russian lyric poetry and for his role in “continuing the great Russian epic tradition.” On 25 October, Pasternak sent a telegram to the Swedish Academy: “Infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, overwhelmed.” That same day, the Literary Institute in Moscow demanded that all its students sign a petition denouncing Pasternak and his novel. They were further ordered to join a “spontaneous” demonstration demanding Pasternak’s exile from the Soviet Union. On 26 October, the Literary Gazette ran an article by David Zaslavski entitled, Reactionary Propaganda Uproar over a Literary Weed.
According to Solomon Volkov:
The anti-Pasternak campaign was organized in the worst Stalin tradition: denunciations in Pravda and other newspapers; publications of angry letters from, “ordinary Soviet workers,” who had not read the book; hastily convened meetings of Pasternak’s friends and colleagues, at which fine poets like Vladimir Soloukin, Leonid Martynov, and Boris Slutsky were forced to censure an author they respected. Slutsky, who in his brutal prose-like poems had created an image for himself as a courageous soldier and truth-lover, was so tormented by his anti-Pasternak speech that he later went insane. On October 29, 1958, at the plenum of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League, dedicated to the Komsomol’s fortieth anniversary, its head, Vladimir Semichastny, attacked Pasternak before an audience of 14,000 people, including Khrushchev and other Party leaders. Semishastny first called Pasternak, “a mangy sheep,” who pleased the enemies of the Soviet Union with, “his slanderous so-called work.” Then Semichastny (who became head of the KGB in 1961) added that, “this man went and spat in the face of the people.” And he concluded with, “If you compare Pasternak to a pig, a pig would not do what he did,” because a pig, “never shits where it eats.” Khrushchev applauded demonstratively. News of that speech drove Pasternak to the brink of suicide. It has recently come to light that the real author of Semichastny’s insults was Khrushchev, who had called the Komsomol leader the night before and dictated his lines about the mangy sheep and the pig, which Semichastny described as a, “typically Khrushchevian, deliberately crude, unceremoniously scolding.”
Furthermore, Pasternak was informed that, if he traveled to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Medal, he would be refused re-entry to the Soviet Union. As a result, Pasternak sent a second telegram to the Nobel Committee: “In view of the meaning given the award by the society in which I live, I must renounce this undeserved distinction which has been conferred on me. Please do not take my voluntary renunciation amiss.” The Swedish Academy announced: “This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place.” According to Yevgenii Pasternak, “I couldn’t recognize my father when I saw him that evening. Pale, lifeless face, tired painful eyes, and only speaking about the same thing: ‘Now it all doesn’t matter, I declined the Prize.'”
Despite his decision to decline the award, the Soviet Union of Writers continued to demonise Pasternak in the State-owned press. Furthermore, he was threatened at the very least with formal exile to the West. In response, Pasternak wrote directly to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev,
I am addressing you personally, the C.C. of the C.P.S.S., and the Soviet Government. From Comrade Semichastny’s speech I learn that the government, ‘would not put any obstacles in the way of my departure from the U.S.S.R.’ For me this is impossible. I am tied to Russia by birth, by my life and work. I cannot conceive of my destiny separate from Russia, or outside it. Whatever my mistakes or failings, I could not imagine that I should find myself at the center of such a political campaign as has been worked up round my name in the West. Once I was aware of this, I informed the Swedish Academy of my voluntary renunciation of the Nobel Prize. Departure beyond the borders of my country would for me be tantamount to death and I therefore request you not to take this extreme measure with me. With my hand on my heart, I can say that I have done something for Soviet literature, and may still be of use to it.
In The Oak and the Calf, Alexander Solzhenitsyn sharply criticized Pasternak, both for declining the Nobel Prize and for sending such a letter to Khrushchev. In her own memoirs, Olga Ivinskaya blames herself for pressuring her lover into making both decisions.
According to Yevgenii Pasternak, “She accused herself bitterly for persuading Pasternak to decline the Prize. After all that had happened, open shadowing, friends turning away, Pasternak’s suicidal condition at the time, one can… understand her: the memory of Stalin’s camps was too fresh, [and] she tried to protect him.”
On 31 October 1958, the Union of Soviet Writers held a trial behind closed doors. According to the meeting minutes, Pasternak was denounced as an internal emigré and a Fascist fifth columnist. Afterwards, the attendees announced that Pasternak had been expelled from the Union. They further signed a petition to the Politburo, demanding that Pasternak be stripped of his Soviet citizenship and exiled to, “his Capitalist paradise.” According to Yevgenii Pasternak, however, author Konstantin Paustovsky refused to attend the meeting. Yevgeny Yevtushenko did attend, but walked out in disgust.
According to Yevgenii Pasternak, his father would have been exiled had it not been for Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who telephoned Khrushchev and threatened to organize a Committee for Pasternak’s protection.
It is possible that the 1958 Nobel Prize prevented Pasternak’s imprisonment due to the Soviet State’s fear of international protests. Yevgenii Pasternak believes, however, that the resulting persecution fatally weakened his father’s health.
Meanwhile, Bill Mauldin produced a cartoon about Pasternak that won the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. The cartoon depicts Pasternak as a GULAG inmate splitting trees in the snow, saying to another inmate: “I won the Nobel Prize for Literature. What was your crime?” (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What is the name of Russia’s most famous pop star of all time?
Second, a Song:
Maurice-Alexis Jarre (French: 13 September 1924 – 28 March 2009) was a French composer and conductor. Although he composed several concert works, Jarre is best known for his film scores, particularly for his collaborations with film director David Lean. Jarre composed the scores to all of Lean’s films from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr. Zhivago on. Notable scores for other directors include The Train (1964), Mohammad, Messenger of God (1976), Lion of the Desert (1981), Witness (1985), Fatal Attraction (1987), and Ghost (1990).
Jarre was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Three of his compositions spent a total of 42 weeks on the UK singles chart; the biggest hit was “Somewhere My Love” (to his tune “Lara’s Theme”, with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) performed by the Mike Sammes Singers, which reached Number 14 in 1966 and spent 38 weeks on the chart.
Jarre was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning three in the Best Original Score category for Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984), all of which were directed by David Lean. He also won four Golden Globes, two BAFTA Awards, and a Grammy Award.
“Lara’s Theme” is the name given to a leitmotif written for the film Doctor Zhivago (1965) by composer Maurice Jarre. Soon afterward, the leitmotif became the basis of the song “Somewhere, My Love”.
While working on the soundtrack for Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre was asked by director David Lean to come up with a theme for the character of Lara, played by Julie Christie. Initially Lean had desired to use a well-known Russian song but could not locate the rights to it, and delegated responsibility to Jarre. After several unsuccessful attempts at writing it, Lean suggested to Jarre that he go to the mountains with his girlfriend and write a piece of music for her. Jarre says that the resultant piece was “Lara’s Theme”, and Lean liked it well enough to use it in numerous tracks for the film. In editing Zhivago, Lean and producer Carlo Ponti reduced or outright deleted many of the themes composed by Jarre; Jarre was angry because he felt that an over-reliance on “Lara’s Theme” would ruin the soundtrack.
On the soundtrack album for Zhivago, there is no track listed as “Lara’s Theme”. A variation of the piece appears in numerous sections, however. Some tracks briefly include it, while others are composed entirely from the motif. The orchestration is varied, most notably with balalaika and orchestra.
One of the main reasons the theme is featured in so many tracks is that Lean had hired an impromptu balalaika orchestra from several Russian Orthodox Churches in Los Angeles; the musicians could only learn 16 bars of music at a time, and could not read written music. Edgar Stanistreet, a street musician from Philadelphia, claimed that he was asked to play the song over the telephone to an MGM executive, and was later taken into the studio to record. He was not credited, however. Tracks which feature it include (from the 1995 Extended Soundtrack release):
1) Overture – a fast-paced march version of it plays during part of the pre-credits overture
2) Main Title – a significant portion of the Main Theme is devoted to “Lara’s Theme”
3) Kontakion/Funeral Song – briefly cited at the end of the piece
12) After Deserters Killed The Colonel – again, a brief “quote” from it appears at the end of the song
14) Lara Says Goodbye To Yuri – The first extensive use of “Lara’s Theme” is a sad version played with heavy balalaika and violin sections
23) Yuri Follows the Sound of the Waterfall
24) Tonya and Yuri Arrive At Varykino – briefly cited in the middle of the track
27) Yuri and the Daffodils – plays during the “changing of seasons” part of the film, the monotonous winter theme builds into a full-fledged rendition of “Lara’s Theme”
28) On A Yuriatin Street – a complete rendition with full orchestral backing
29) In Lara’s Bedroom
30) Yuri Rides To Yuriatin
33) Yuri Is Escaping – a gloomy military march is punctuated by a quote from “Lara’s Theme” which ultimately turns into a climax
37) Yuri Is Trying To Write
39) Lara Reads Her Poem
42) Then It’s A Gift (End Title) – very similar to “On A Yuriatin Street”, a complete, triumphant final rendition of the song
This soundtrack also includes jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and swing versions of “Lara’s Theme” which were performed by the MGM Studio Orchestra between takes (per Wikipedia).
Here is Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago played by SHIRIN, set to images from Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Even so, one step from my grave, I believe that cruelty, spite, The powers of darkness will in time, Be crushed by the spirit of light.” – Boris Pasternak
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky