Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago  
Doctor Zhivago-1st edition.jpg
First edition cover
Author(s) Boris Pasternak
Original title Доктор Живаго (in Russian)'
Country Italy
Language Russian
Genre(s) Historical, Romantic novel
Publisher Feltrinelli (first edition), Pantheon Books
Publication date 1957
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 592 (Pantheon)
ISBN NA (Feltrinelli) & ISBN 0-679-77438-6 (Pantheon)

Doctor Zhivago (Russian: До́ктор Жива́го, Doktor Zhivago Russian pronunciation: [ˈdoktər ʐɪˈvaɡə]) is a 20th century novel by Boris Pasternak, first published in 1957. The novel is named after its protagonist, Yuri Zhivago, a physician and poet. It tells the story of Zhivago's life and how it is affected by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War.

The book was made into a film by David Lean in 1965, and since then has twice been adapted for television, most recently as a miniseries for Russian TV in 2006.[1]



First Italian edition cover

Although it contains passages written in the 1910s and 1920s, Doctor Zhivago was not completed until 1956. The novel was submitted to the literary journal Novy Mir ("Новый Мир"). However, the editors rejected Pasternak's novel because of its implicit rejection of socialist realism.[2] The author, like Zhivago, showed more concern for the welfare of individuals than for the welfare of society. Soviet censors construed some passages as anti-communist. They were also enraged by Pasternak's subtle criticisms of Stalinism and his references to the GULAG.

In 1957, multi-billionaire Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli arranged for the novel to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union by Isaiah Berlin. Upon handing his manuscript over, Pasternak quipped, "You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad."

Despite desperate efforts by the Union of Soviet Writers to prevent its publication, Feltrinelli simultaneously published editions in both Russian and an Italian translation. So great was the demand for Doctor Zhivago that Feltrinelli was able to license translation right into eighteen different languages well in advance of the novel's publication. The Communist Party of Italy expelled Feltrinelli from their membership in retaliation for his role in the publication of a novel they felt was critical of communism.

Meanwhile, as the novel topped international bestseller lists, the British MI6 and the American CIA commenced an operation to ensure that Doctor Zhivago was correctly submitted to the Nobel Committee. This was done because it was known that a Nobel Prize for Boris Pasternak would seriously harm the international credibility of the Soviet Union. As a result, British and American operatives intercepted and photographed a manuscript of the novel and secretly printed a small number of books in the Russian language. These were submitted to the Nobel Committee's surprised judges just ahead of the deadline.[3][4]

Meanwhile, Pasternak wrote to Renate Schweitzer,

"Some people believe the Nobel Prize may be awarded to me this year. I am firmly convinced that I shall be passed over and that it will go to Alberto Moravia. You cannot imagine all the difficulties, torments, and anxieties which arise to confront me at the mere prospect, however unlikely, of such a possibility... One step out of place -- and the people closest to you will be condemned to suffer from all the jealousy, resentment, wounded pride and disappointment of others, and old scars on the heart will be reopened..."[5]

On 23 October 1958, Boris Pasternak was announced as the winner of the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. 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."[6]

On October 26, the Literary Gazette ran an article by David Zaslavski entitled, Reactionary Propaganda Uproar over a Literary Weed.[7]

Acting on direct orders from the Politburo, the KGB surrounded Pasternak's dacha in Peredelkino. Pasternak was not only threatened with arrest, but the KGB also vowed to send his mistress Olga Ivinskaya back to the GULAG, where she had been imprisoned under Stalin. It was further hinted that, if Pasternak 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."[8]

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.[9]

Despite his decision to decline the award, the Soviet Union of Writers continued to denounce Pasternak in the Soviet 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, "Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work."[10][11]

As a result of this and the intercession of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Pasternak was not expelled from his homeland.

I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?

Ultimately, Bill Mauldin produced a political cartoon lampooning the Soviet State's campaign against Boris Pasternak. The cartoon depicts Pasternak and another convict splitting trees in the snow. In the caption, Pasternak says, "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?" The cartoon won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1959.[12]

Pasternak died of lung cancer in his dacha in Peredelkino on the evening of 30 May 1960. He first summoned his sons, and in their presence said, "Who will suffer most because of my death? Who will suffer most? Only Oliusha will, and I haven't had time to do anything for her. The worst thing is that she will suffer."[13] Pasternak's last words were, "I can't hear very well. And there's a mist in front of my eyes. But it will go away, won't it? Don't forget to open the window tomorrow."[13]

Shortly before his death, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church had given Pasternak the last rites. Later, in the strictest secrecy, an Orthodox funeral liturgy, or Panikhida, was offered in the family's dacha.

Despite only a small notice appearing in the Literary Gazette,[13] handwritten notices carrying the date and time of the funeral were posted throughout the Moscow subway system.[13] As a result, thousands of admirers traveled from Moscow to Pasternak's civil funeral in Peredelkino. According to Jon Stallworthy, "Volunteers carried his open coffin to his burial place and those who were present (including the poet Andrey Voznesensky) recited from memory the banned poem 'Hamlet'."[11]

One of the dissident speakers at the graveside service said, "God marks the path of the elect with thorns, and Pasternak was picked out and marked by God. He believed in eternity and he will belong to it... We excommunicated Tolstoy, we disowned Dostoyevsky, and now we disown Pasternak. Everything that brings us glory we try to banish to the West... But we cannot allow this. We love Pasternak and we revere him as a poet... Glory to Pasternak!"[14]

Until the 1980s, Pasternak's poetry was only published in heavily censored form. Furthermore, his reputation continued to be pilloried in State propaganda until Mikhail Gorbachev proclaimed Perestroika.

In 1988, after decades of circulating in samizdat, Doctor Zhivago was finally serialized in the pages of Novy Mir, which had changed to a more anti-communist position than in Pasternak's lifetime. The folllowing year, Yevgeny Borisovich Pasternak was at last permitted to travel to Stockholm to collect his father's Nobel Medal. At the ceremony, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich performed a Bach composition in honor of his fellow Soviet dissident.

Plot summary

Yuri Zhivago is sensitive and poetic nearly to the point of mysticism. Zhivago's idealism and principles stand in contrast to the brutality and horror of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent Russian Civil War. A major theme of the novel is how mysticism and idealism are destroyed by both the Bolsheviks and the White Army alike, as both sides commit horrible atrocities.

Other major characters include Tonya Gromeko, Yuri Zhivago's wife, and her parents Alexander and Anna, with whom Zhivago lived after he lost his parents as a child. Later, he marries Tonya, and they have son Alexander together. Yevgraf Andreievich Zhivago, Yuri's half-brother (the illegitimate son of his father), is an Old Bolshevik who gains a General's post in the Soviet secret police. In this capacity, Yevgraf helps his brother evade arrest throughout the course of the novel.

Zhivago's great love is Lara, whose full name is Larissa Feodorovna Guishar. Born the daughter of a Belgian factory owner, Lara's family, like Zhivago's, has fallen upon hard times. She ultimately becomes engaged to Pavel "Pasha" Antipov, an idealistic student who sympathises with Lenin's Bolsheviks. Lara simultaneously has a discreet affair with her mother's lover, Viktor Komarovsky. A deeply corrupt lawyer, Komarovsky's connections extend to senior figures in both the Tsarist State and its revolutionary opponents. Despite her intense resentment of Komarovsky, Lara becomes very adept at using her sensuality to manipulate her besotted lover. Suspecting the worst, Lara's mother, Amalia Guishar, attempts suicide. Zhivago, along with his fellow medical student Misha Gordon, visit with a doctor and successfully save Amalia's life.

Obsessed with freeing herself from Komarovsky, Lara spends three years working as a governess for the children of Lavrenti Kologrivov, a wealthy industrialist with Marxist sympathies. Then, Lara's brother Rodion Guishar begs her to ask Komarovsky to lend him 700 rubles with he has stolen and gambled away. Infuriated, Lara instead obtains the money from Kologrivov and severs ties to her brother. However, when the children graduate, Lara resents that the Kologrivovs allow her to stay on out of charity. Blaming Komarovsky, whom she believes has ruined her life, she attends a party and shoots at him with a revolver. However, Lara insteads wounds a senior Tsarist prosecutor. Komarovsky secretly uses his political connections to shield her from prosecution.[15]

Ultimately, Pasha Antipov is declared missing in action during World War I, but is captured by the Austro-Hungarian Army. After escaping from a POW camp, Antipov joins the new Red Army. He become notorious as General Strelnikov ("The Hangman"), a fearsome commander who summarily executes both captured Whites and many civilians. Meanwhile, Lara becomes a battlefield nurse in order to search for her husband.

Following the February Revolution, Lara and Yuri serve together in a makeshift field hospital and fall in love. Neither, however, is willing to admit their feelings for the other. As he prepares to return to his wife and children in Moscow, Yuri expresses dismay to Lara that, "the roof has been ripped off," the nation he loves.

Following the October Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, Yuri and his family flee by train to their estate at Varykino, in the Ural Mountains. During the journey, he meets with General Strelnikov, who informs him that Lara has returned to their daughter in the village of Yuriatin. Soon after, Lara and Yuri meet and consummate their relationship.

While returning from an encounter with Lara, Yuri is abducted by Liberius, commander of the "Forest Brotherhood", the Bolshevik guerilla band. Liberius is a dedicated Old Bolshevik and highly effective leader of his men. However, Liberius is also a cocaine addict, loud-mouthed and Narcissistic. He repeatedly bores Yuri with his longwinded lectures about the glories of socialism and the inevitability of its victory.

After Yuri deserts and returns to Lara, Komarovsky reappears. Having used his influence within the CPSU, Komarovsky has been appointed Minister of Justice of the Far Eastern Republic, a Soviet puppet state in Siberia. He offers to smuggle Yuri and Lara outside Soviet soil. They initially refuse, but Komarovsky states that Pasha Antipov is dead, having fallen from favor with the Party. Stating that this will place Lara in the CHEKA's crosshairs, he persuades Yuri that it is in her best interests to leave for the West. Yuri convinces Lara to go with Komarovsky, telling her that he will follow her shortly.

Meanwhile, the hunted General Strelnikov returns for Lara. Lara, however, has already left with Komarovsky. After having a lengthy conversation with Yuri, Antipov commits suicide. Yuri finds his body the following morning.

After returning to Moscow, Zhivago's health declines; he cohabitates with another woman and fathers two children with her. He also plans numerous writing projects which he never finishes. Meanwhile, Lara returns to Russia for Yuri Zhivago's funeral. She persuades General Yevgraf Zhivago to assist her search for her daughter by Yuri. Ultimately, however, Lara is arrested during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge and dies in the GULAG.

During World War II, Zhivago's old friends Nika Dudorov and Misha Gordon meet up. One of their discussions revolves around a local laundress named Tanya, a bezprizornaya or Civil War orphan, and her resemblance to both Yuri and Lara. Much later, they meet over the first edition of Yuri Zhivago's poems.



In the shadow of all this grand political change we see that everything is governed by the basic human longing for companionship. Zhivago and Pasha, in love with the same woman, both traverse Russia in these volatile times in search of such stability. They are both involved on nearly every level of the tumultuous times that Russia faced in the first half of the 20th century, yet the common theme and the motivating force behind all their movement is a want of a steady home life. When we first meet Zhivago he is being torn away from everything he knows. He is sobbing and standing on the grave of his mother. We bear witness to the moment all stability is destroyed in his life and the rest of the novel is his attempts to recreate the security stolen from him at such a young age. After the loss of his mother, Zhivago develops a longing for what Freud called the "maternal object," (feminine love and affection) in his later romantic relationships with women.[16] His first marriage, to Tonia, is not one born of passion but from friendship. In a way, Tonia takes on the role of the mother-figure that Zhivago always sought but lacked. This, however, was not a romantic tie; and while he feels loyal to her throughout his life, he never could find true happiness with her, for their relationship lacks the fervor that was integral to his relationship to Lara.[17]


The Russian Revolution was at its core an ideological struggle, forcing young and old alike to align themselves or risk extermination. Its uncompromising nature put great strain on the ideals of individual thought and choice, represented in Yuri Zhivago's constant attempts to come to terms with the Revolution. Yuri is the ultimate individual, expressing himself through poetry and recognizing beauty in all aspects of life. He is frequently overcome by emotion, and is deeply introspective. His affair with Lara was primarily fueled by passion and romanticism. However, he gradually realizes that his commitment to his own unique philosophy is rapidly becoming untenable in the face of a crystallizing Soviet ideology. His attempts to exert control over his own individual self end in futility: in one pivotal scene, he wounds and possibly kills several White soldiers despite his best efforts to avoid doing so. The taking of lives is a betrayal of his personal core beliefs, and Yuri is horrified and demoralized by the incident. Ultimately, the revolution's refusal to acknowledge the fundamental nature of the individual ensured that regardless of which faction Yuri sided with, he would not be able to survive in the new Soviet era as a true individual.

Corrupted and Misdirected Revolution

When he was younger, Zhivago enjoyed having political discussions with educated people, like his uncle Nicholai. Zhivago's views were relatively neutral—though not a revolutionary zealot, he recognized that Russia needed serious reform. As the story progresses, however, Zhivago realizes that many political activists simply parrot the ideas they have heard, reciting their memorized lines in order to seem intellectual. Still others actively seek power for themselves, taking advantage of the people's thirst for betterment by promising more than they intended to deliver. Pasternak shows what he thought went wrong in the revolution: that initially, revolutionary leaders had good ideas, but because of human failings these ideas were warped or even forgotten as the revolution progressed. Pasternak's strategy to convey this point is to introduce seemingly obvious villains into the plot, but show that in the context of the entire novel, the results of their bad behavior pale in comparison to the harm caused by the corrupted revolutionary effort. Komarovsky and Strelnikov are both antagonists in the sense that they cause harm to other characters in the book, but Pasternak cleverly uses them to show that their damage was temporary and relatively minor, whereas the trauma and suffering caused by the misled train wreck of the revolution was more permanent, often fatal, and certainly more devastating to Russian society.

Names and places

Pushkin Library, Perm
  • Zhivago (Живаго): the Russian root zhiv is similar to 'life'[18]
  • Larissa: a Greek name suggesting 'bright, cheerful'
  • Komarovsky (Комаровский): komar (комар) is the Russian for 'mosquito'
  • Pasha (Паша): the diminutive form of 'Pavel' (Павел), Russian rendering of the name Paul.
  • Strelnikov (Стрельников): Pasha/Pavel Antipov's pseudonym, strelok means 'the shooter'; he is also called Rasstrelnikov (Расстрельников), which means 'executioner.'
  • Yuriatin (Юрятин): the fictional town was based upon Perm, near by which Pasternak had lived for several months in 1916. Note that this can be understood in Russian as "Yuri's town."
  • The public reading room at Yuriatin was based on the Pushkin Library, Perm.


1965 film adaptation starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif

Film and Stage Adaptations

  • A 1959 Brazilian television series (currently unavailable) was the first screen adaptation.[19]
  • The most famous adaptation is the 1965 film adaptation by David Lean, featuring the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif as Zhivago and English actress Julie Christie as Lara, with Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya and Alec Guinness as Yevgraf. The film was commercially successful and won five Oscars, but was a critical failure; currently, it is widely considered to be a classic popular film. Maurice Jarre's score, featuring the romantic "Lara's Theme", is a big part of the film's appeal. Though faithful to the novel's plot, depictions of several characters and events are noticeably different.
  • A 2002 British television serial stars Hans Matheson, Keira Knightley, Alexandra Maria Lara, and Sam Neill. It was broadcast by ITV in the UK in November 2002 and on Masterpiece Theatre in the US in November 2003.
  • A 2006 Russian mini-series produced by Mosfilm. With a total running time of over 500 minutes (8 hours and 26 minutes), it is so far the most faithful film adaptation of the novel.
  • A musical called Doktor Zhivago was scheduled to premiere in the city of Perm in the Urals on 22 March 2007, and to remain in the repertoire of Perm Drama Theatre throughout the 50th Anniversary year [1] [2].[20]
  • Doctor Zhivago is a musical adaptation of Pasternak’s novel rather than Lean’s film. It originally premiered as Zhivago at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2006. Ivan Hernandez played the title role.[21] It was revised and premiered as Doctor Zhivago at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney in February 2011, starring Anthony Warlow and produced by John Frost. The musical features a score by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), a book by Michael Weller (Hair, Ragtime screenplays), lyrics by Michael Korie (Doll and the Harvey Milk opera libretto) and Amy Powers (Lizzie Borden and songs for Sunset Boulevard). Both the 2006 and the 2011 productions were directed by Des McAnuff.[22]

Translations into English


Book collection.jpg Novels portal
  1. ^ IMDb Russian miniseries release date
  2. ^ "Doctor Zhivago": Letter to Boris Pasternak from the Editors of Novyi Mir. Daedalus, Vol. 89, No. 3, The Russian Intelligentsia (Summer, 1960), pp. 648–668
  3. ^ How the CIA won Zhivago a Nobel
  4. ^ The Plot Thickens A New Book Promises an Intriguing Twist to the Epic Tale of 'Doctor Zhivago'
  5. ^ Olga Ivinskaya, A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak, (1978), page 220.
  6. ^ Ivinskaya (1978), page 221.
  7. ^ Ivinskaya (1978), page 224.
  8. ^ Ivinskaya (1978), page 232.
  9. ^ Frenz, Horst (ed.) (1969). Literature 1901-1967. Nobel Lectures. Amsterdam: Elsevier.  (Via "Nobel Prize in Literature 1958 - Announcement". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 24 May 2007. )
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b Pasternak, Boris (1983). Pasternak: Selected Poems. trans. Jon Stallworthy and Peter France. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-042245-5. 
  12. ^ Bill Mauldin Beyond Willie and Joe (Library of Congress)
  13. ^ a b c d Ivinskaya (1978), pp 323-326
  14. ^ Ivinskaya (1978), pages 331-332.
  15. ^ pp. 73–85[Full citation needed]
  16. ^ . JSTOR 309103. 
  17. ^ Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, 1957, Pantheon Books
  18. ^ Rowland, Mary F. and Paul Rowland. Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. Southern Illinois University Press: 1967. The Rowlands present an exhaustive analysis of most of the names in the novel.
  19. ^ Doutor Jivago (TV series 1959) at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ Perm features in the novel under the name "Yuriatin" (which is a city invented by Pasternak for the book) and many locations for events in the book can be accurately traced there, since Pasternak left the street names mostly unchanged. For example, the Public Reading-Room in which Yuri and Larissa have their chance meeting in "Yuriatin" is exactly where the book places it in contemporary Perm.
  21. ^ "La Jolla Playhouse premieres stirring, haunting Zhivago" by Charlene Baldridge, San Diego News
  22. ^ "Sydney to host World Premiere of Doctor Zhivago musical", (21 July 2010)

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Doctor Zhivago — Para la película, véase Doctor Zhivago (película). Doctor Zhivago (ruso: Доктор Живаго, Doktor Zhivago) es una novela de Borís Pasternak, publicada en 1957. Al año siguiente, su autor recibiría el Premio Nobel de Literatura. La novela toma el… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Doctor Zhivago — Le Docteur Jivago (film) Le Docteur Jivago Julie Christie Titre original Doctor Zhivago Réalisation …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Doctor Zhivago — Doktor Schiwago ist der Titel folgender Werke: Doktor Schiwago (Roman), von Boris Pasternak, 1957 auf Russisch erschienen Doktor Schiwago (1965), amerikanische Romanverfilmung mit Omar Sharif und Julie Christie Doktor Schiwago (2002), Fernsehfilm …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Doctor Zhivago — n. novel by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak which was banned by the Soviet authorities but was translated and published in other countries; 1965 epic film based on said novel set against the background of the Russian Revolution (starred Omar Sharif,… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Doctor Zhivago —    Voir Docteur Jivago …   Dictionnaire mondial des Films

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  • Doctor Zhivago (musical) — Doctor Zhivago is a 2011 musical composed by Lucy Simon, lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers, book by Michael Weller; it is based on Boris Pasternak s 1957 novel Doctor Zhivago. It originally premiered as Zhivago at the La Jolla Playhouse in… …   Wikipedia

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