Places: Doctor Zhivago

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Doktor Zhivago, 1957 (English translation, 1958)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1903-1943

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Moscow

*Moscow. Doctor ZhivagoRussia’s greatest city, in which the two most important families in the novel, the Zhivagos and the Gromekos, lead a life of privilege. Yuri Zhivago, the son of a late profligate millionaire, is a young doctor with a bright future. Tonia Alexandrovna, a friend of his early youth and his future wife, belongs to a well-to-do family with an estate in the Ural Mountains. Zhivago is bent on ministering to the needy, while Tonia is a typical wife in love with her husband and supporting him in every way. There is another woman, Lara, whom Zhivago meets coincidentally in Moscow during a patient visit. He gradually falls in love with Lara, who comes from an impoverished family. She is drawn into a love affair with an older man, a lawyer named Khomarovsky, whom she tries to kill at a Christmas party given by another well-to-do family. Thus the paths of the two classes–the wealthy upper class and that of the poorer inhabitants of Moscow–are interwoven, auguring the fateful events that eventually overwhelm Russia. Through the depiction of the affair between Yuri and Lara, Pasternak shows the diverse makeup of Moscow along with the willingness of a member of the upper class to mix freely with those less privileged.

When revolution reaches Moscow, the well-to-do citizens are threatened with a loss of their privileges. In addition to shortages and deprivations of all kinds, homes and apartments are requisitioned by the military, and the Gromekos are forced to squeeze into two rooms of their spacious house. Yuri and Tonia are finally forced to leave Moscow and travel to their family estate in the Ural Mountains, again underscoring the difference between the Zhivagos’ stature and that of the revolutionaries, most of whom come from the lower classes. When they return to Moscow much later, separately and at different times, they find that their old way of life has come to an end. Tonia and her family emigrate to France, while Yuri dies of a heart attack in a packed Moscow trolley, symbolizing suffocation under the new communist rule.


Varykino (vah-RAH-kee-no). Country estate belonging to Tonia Zhivago’s family in the Ural Mountains. The Zhivagos find peace and serenity at the beautiful estate in the Russian countryside. However, because of the revolution swirling around them, Yuri and Tonia are forced to raise their own crops, a departure from their easy lifestyle in Moscow. Moreover, Yuri, a poet since his student days, returns to writing, inspired not only by the beauty of the surrounding countryside but also by the dramatic, often dangerous events taking place around them. It is the last home Yuri and Tonia share and the place where Yuri and Lara later separate permanently. The heavy snow covering the mansion and the howling wolves, who draw nearer and nearer each night, epitomize the isolation of the Zhivagos and the perils of the encroaching revolution.


Yuriatin (yur-YA-teen). Fictitious town in the central part of the Ural Mountains. It is the final stop after the Zhivagos’ long journey from Moscow. It is also the native town of Lara, who plays a fateful role in Yuri’s life. The similarity of Yuri’s name with the first part of the town’s name is not coincidental. The name “Yuri” is equivalent to “George,” and Yuri is equated to St. George, who was reputed to have bravely slain a dragon. Yuriatin is an old town with beautiful buildings that boasts a House of Sculpture, a beacon of culture in the destructive days of the revolution. It is also significant that, after escaping from communist forces, Yuri returns to Yuriatin, where Lara is living, and not to Varykino, where Tonia and their child are waiting.


Highway. Road near Yuriatin, on which many events concerning Yuri take place. Controlled mostly by communist forces, it is here that they capture and hold him, forcing him to work for them for several months. From the highway, Yuri witnesses many atrocities taking place. Although as a physician he is morally opposed to bloodshed, Yuri is forced to participate in a skirmish between communists and their opponents, mostly young men. Zhivago nurses a wounded soldier from the opposing side, as if to show that he does not sympathize with the communist cause.


Railroads. Trains play an important role in the novel. They not only crisscross the huge expanses of both Europe and Asia but also figure at crucial points in the story. These include the mysterious death of Yuri’s father, which occurs on a train; the days-long journey of the Zhivagos from Moscow to the Urals; and Yuri’s meeting Strelnikov, Lara’s husband and a revolutionary firebrand, who knows about Yuri’s tryst with Lara and implicitly warns him of the consequences. The trains also have a symbolic meaning in that they connect people in the days of the revolution, when individuals and groups tend to drift apart.

BibliographyErlich, Victor, ed. Pasternak: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1978. This collection of essays covers all important facets of Pasternak’s opus, including short fiction, although the emphasis is on his poetry and Doctor Zhivago.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 in those stages in order to establish his achievements as a poet, writer of prose fiction, and translator. Chapters 12 and 13 deal with Doctor Zhivago.Ivinskaya, Olga. A Captive of Time. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978. Ivinskaya, Pasternak’s love in the last years of his life and the model for the character Lara in Doctor Zhivago, provides a wealth of information about Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago.Mallac, Guy de. Boris Pasternak: His Life and Art. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. An extensive biography of Pasternak. The second part is devoted to Mallac’s interpretation of the most important features of Pasternak’s works. Doctor Zhivago is discussed in “Toward Doctor Zhivago.”Muchnic, Helen. “Boris Pasternak and the Poems of Yuri Zhivago.” In From Gorky to Pasternak. New York: Random House, 1961. Muchnic discusses the poems appended to the novel as an integral and important part of the novel.Rowland, Mary F., and Paul Rowland. Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago.” Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. This book-length interpretation of Doctor Zhivago attempts to clarify allegorical, symbolic, and religious meanings in the novel. Although some interpretations are not proven, most of them are plausible, making for fascinating reading.
Categories: Places