Authors: Boris Pasternak

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian poet and novelist

Author Works


Bliznets v tuchakh, 1914

Poverkh barierov, 1917 (Above the Barriers, 1959)

Sestra moia zhizn’: Leto 1917 goda; 1922 (My Sister, Life, 1964; also known as Sister My Life)

Temy i variatsii, 1923 (Themes and Variations, 1964)

Vysokaya bolezn’, 1924 (High Malady, 1958)

Carousel: Verse for Children, 1925

Devyatsot pyaty god, 1926 (The Year 1905, 1989)

Lyutenant Shmidt, 1927 (Lieutenant Schmidt, 1992)

Spektorsky, 1931

Vtoroye rozhdeniye, 1932 (Second Birth, 1964)

Na rannikh poezdakh, 1943 (On Early Trains, 1964)

Zemnoy prostor, 1945 (The Vastness of Earth, 1964)

Kogda razgulyayetsa, 1959 (When the Skies Clear, 1964)

The Poetry of Boris Pasternak, 1917-1959, 1959

Poems, 1959

Poems, 1955-1959, 1960

In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960, 1962

Fifty Poems, 1963

The Poems of Doctor Zhivago, 1965

Stikhotvoreniya i poemy, 1965, 1976

The Poetry of Boris Pasternak, 1969

Selected Poems, 1983

Long Fiction:

Doktor Zhivago, 1957 (Doctor Zhivago, 1958)

Short Fiction:

“Pisma iz Tuly,” 1922 (“Letters from Tula,” 1945)

“Deststvo Liuvers,” 1923 (“The Childhood of Luvers,” 1945)

Rasskazy, 1925

Sochineniya, 1961 (Collected Short Prose, 1977)


Slepaya krasavitsa, pb. 1969 (The Blind Beauty, 1969)


Hamlet, 1941 (of William Shakespeare)

Romeo i Juliet, 1943 (of Shakespeare)

Antony i Cleopatra, 1944 (of Shakespeare)

Othello, 1945 (of Shakespeare)

King Lear, 1949 (of Shakespeare)

Faust, 1953 (of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Maria Stuart, 1957 (of Friedrich Schiller)


Pis’ma k gruzinskim, n.d. (Letters to Georgian Friends by Boris Pasternak, 1968)

Okhrannaya gramota, 1931 (autobiography; Safe Conduct, 1945, in The Collected Prose Works)

Avtobiograficheskiy ocherk, 1958 (I Remember: Sketch for an Autobiography, 1959)

An Essay in Autobiography, 1959

Essays, 1976

The Correspondence of Boris Pasternak and Olga Freidenberg, 1910-1954, 1981

Pasternak on Art and Creativity, 1985


The Collected Prose Works, 1945

Safe Conduct: An Early Autobiography, and Other Works by Boris Pasternak, 1958 (also known as Selected Writings, 1949)

Sochinenii, 1961

Vozdushnye puti: Proza raz nykh let, 1982

The Voice of Prose, 1986


Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (PAS-tur-nak) is considered by many to be the most significant post-Revolution poet of the Soviet Union. He was born to Leonid Pasternak, an accomplished painter, and Rosa Kaufman, a concert pianist, and in their home he became acquainted with some of the foremost authors and composers of the times, among them Leo Tolstoy, Rainer Maria Rilke, Anton Rubinstein, and Aleksandr Scriabin. Under the influence of Scriabin, Pasternak first planned to become a composer, but in 1912, after interrupting his studies at Moscow University to spend the summer studying under the eminent neo-Kantian philosopher, Hermann Cohen, at the University of Marburg, his interest shifted to philosophy. While in Marburg he also experienced a disappointment in love, which he poignantly describes in his poem “Marburg.” Some time later he turned from logic to the more emotional discipline of poetry and two years later published his first volume of poetry. His early poetry shows the influences of Scriabin, Andrey Bely, and the Symbolist Aleksandr Blok. His second volume of poems, Above the Barriers, reveals the influence of Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Futurist poet whom he had met in 1917.{$I[AN]9810000910}{$I[A]Pasternak, Boris}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Pasternak, Boris}{$I[tim]1890;Pasternak, Boris}

Boris Pasternak

(©The Nobel Foundation)

Unable to serve in World War I because of an earlier leg injury, he was free to devote considerable time to writing and to his thoughts on aesthetics. The Urals, where he spent two years during this period, contributed to his inspiration. During the traumatic summer of 1917, when all Russia was quaking from the first shocks of the February Revolution, he was back in Moscow working on My Sister, Life, poems that reflect contemporary events. With the publication of this volume in 1922 his significance as a poet first became recognized. The revolution, however, made it necessary for his parents to immigrate to Germany, for his father’s profession as a portrait artist emphasized individualism, which was discouraged by the Communist Party. Pasternak was with his parents only rarely thereafter.

At about the time of his marriage in 1922 to Eugenia Vladimirovna Lourie, with whom he would have two sons, he turned from lyrical poetry to narrative prose and poetry. His most significant early prose narrative was “The Childhood of Luvers,” a sensitive work in which he captures the perception of the world through the eyes of a child, a theme he was later to treat in the early chapters of Doctor Zhivago. The Year 1905 and Lieutenant Schmidt deal with the abortive revolution of 1905 and High Malady and Spektorsky with the post-1917 period. In these he comes closest to the kind of ideological approach the Party demanded at the time. (Vladimir Mayakovsky, who had encouraged this approach, committed suicide in 1930.) In 1931 Pasternak and Lourie were divorced, and he married Zinaida Neuhaus. That same year he published his first autobiographical work, Safe Conduct, which provides extremely valuable insights into Pasternak’s poetical and artistic development. When the Party banned it as an “idealistic” work, he returned to lyrical poetry but with a more restrained, realistic style. Second Birth was the last volume of his poetry to appear for a decade. Then in 1943 and 1945 he published two thin volumes of poems: On Early Trains and The Vastness of Earth. The poems of this later period are characterized by a rich simplicity, and they are more religious in tone and imagery and more meditative than his earlier work.

The Zhdanov decree of 1946 sought to restore Party control over art and to restrict Western influence. This attempt of the political authorities to control literary production and to use it for propaganda through the new Socialist Realism caused Pasternak to divert his talents to translating significant German and English works, including those of Shakespeare. His translations are highly regarded. That same year he met Olga Ivinskaya, who became the inspiration for the figure of Lara in Doctor Zhivago. One year later they became lovers. In 1949, in an effort to gather information on Pasternak, the government arrested Olga; when she refused to incriminate him, they transferred her to a Siberian labor camp in 1951, from which she was not released until after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953.

No original work by Pasternak appeared between the Zhdanov decree and Stalin’s death in 1953, but he was at work on his novel Doctor Zhivago. In 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev began his de-Stalinization drive, Pasternak presented his completed manuscript to the journal Novy mir, which refused to publish it unless it were radically cut and revised. As a result, it was first published in Italian in 1957 and in English in 1958. The novel became a psychological symbol of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West, where its reception resulted in the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958. Pasternak felt compelled to refuse the honor, hoping to diffuse the tense situation in which he found himself in his own country, but he was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers in 1958 and continued to suffer attacks from the Soviet press for the rest of his life. Although he continued his creative work, except for his translations and individual poems in journals and anthologies, none of his works appeared in Russia until after his death.

He died quietly at his home in Peredelkino on May 30, 1960, from heart disease and cancer. Many artists, writers, and admirers defied the authorities and formed the funeral procession. Before the year was over, Olga Ivinskaya and her daughter had been deported to Siberia. Five years later Pasternak’s poetry was published in the Soviet Union with an appreciative, insightful introduction. The Soviets waited, however, until the glasnost movement of Mikhail Gorbachev before an official edition of Doctor Zhivago appeared in their country.

BibliographyBarnes, Christopher. Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989-1998. A two volume comprehensive biography, scholarly but also accessible.Bowra, C. M. The Creative Experiment. London: Macmillan, 1949. Contains one of the classic essays on Pasternak. While Bowra concentrates on Pasternak’s poetry, he provides considerable insight into the sensibility that informs Pasternak’s fiction as well.Ciepiela, Catherine. The Same Solitude: Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006. Ciepiela examines the ten-year love affair between Pasternak and Tsvetaeva, whose relationship was primarily limited to long-distance letters. Included in this volume is the correspondence between the two authors along with letters from Rainer Maria Rilke, who completed the couple’s literary love triangle. Ciepiela reveals the similarities between Pasternak and Tsvetaeva by painting a portrait of their lives and personalities. She scrutinizes their poetry and correspondence, finding significant links between them. This volume is written clearly and succinctly, making it easily accessible to all readers.Conquest, Robert. The Pasternak Affair: Courage of Genius. London: Collins and Harvill, 1961. A detailed account of Pasternak’s conflict with the state on his reception of the Nobel Prize. Conquest provides much valuable information about Pasternak as a man and a writer.De Mallac, Guy. Boris Pasternak: His Life and Art. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. An extensive biography of Pasternak. The second part is devoted to De Mallac’s interpretation of the most important features of Pasternak’s works. A detailed chronology of his life and an exhaustive bibliography complete this beautifully illustrated book.Erlich, Victor, ed. Pasternak: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1978. This skillfully arranged collection of essays covers all important facets of Pasternak’s work, including short fiction, although the emphasis is on his poetry and Doctor Zhivago.Fleishman, Lazar. Boris Pasternak: The Poet and His Politics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. An extensive study of Pasternak’s life and works written under the oppressive political system. Chapters on the Doctor Zhivago affair are especially poignant. A must for those who are interested in nonliterary influences upon literary creations.Gifford, Henry. Boris Pasternak: A Critical Study. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Gifford follows the stages in Pasternak’s life and discusses works written during those stages in order to establish his achievements as a poet, writer of prose fiction, and translator. This volume contains many sharp critical remarks, and chapter 6 deals with the short fiction. Supplemented by a chronological table and a select bibliography.Gifford, Henry. “Indomitable Pasternak.” The New York Review of Books 37 (May 31, 1990): 26-31. Discusses Pasternak’s courage in his defense of artistic freedom under Soviet power, refusing to sign denunciations.Hingley, Ronald. Pasternak. New York: Knopf, 1983.Ivinskaya, Olga. A Captive of Time. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978. Ivinskaya, Pasternak’s love in the last years of his life, the model for Lara in Doctor Zhivago, and a staff member at the influential Soviet literary magazine Novy mir, provides a wealth of information about Pasternak, his views and works, and Russia’s literary atmosphere in the 1940’s and 1950’s.Mossman, Elliott. “Pasternak’s Short Fiction.” Russian Literature Triquarterly 3 (1972): 279-302. Mossman sees Pasternak’s preoccupation with short fiction in the 1920’s not as a diversion but as an alternative to poetry and a legitimate genre in his work. He discusses “Aerial Ways,” “The Story,” “The Childhood of Luvers,” and “The Story of a Contraoctave” within Pasternak’s development as a writer.Pasternak, Boris, Ranier Maria Rilka, and Marina Tsvetayeva. Letters: Summer 1926. New York Review Books, 2001. The selected correspondence between the great Russian writers, scattered in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution. This poignant record of a dreadful year for all three reveals their views on art and love and sorrow.Rowland, Mary F., and Paul Rowland. Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago.” Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. This book-length interpretation of Doctor Zhivago offers many interesting attempts to clarify allegorical, symbolic, and religious meanings as, for example, the meaning of virtually every name in the novel. Although some interpretations are not proven, most of them are plausible, making for a fascinating reading.Rudova, Larissa. Understanding Boris Pasternak. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. A general introduction to Pasternak’s work, including both his early poetry and prose and his later work; provides analyses of individual novels and stories.Sendich, Munir. Boris Pasternak: A Reference Guide. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1994. This indispensable reference contains a bibliography of Pasternak editions with more than five hundred entries, a bibliography of criticism with more than one thousand entries, and essays on topics including Pasternak’s poetics, relations with other artists, and influences.
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