Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 10 February, 1890 (Old Style, 29 January) in Moscow, Russia, in an affluent Russian Jewish family to Leonid Pasternak and Rosa Kaufman as one of their four children.
His father was a Post-Impressionist painter and professor at the ‘Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture’ and his mother was a concert pianist.
His parents were involved in the Tolstoyan Movement. His father created several illustrations for novelist Tolstoy’s books. Tolstoy was a family friend and when Tolstoy escaped home and finally died, Leonid Pasternak along with Boris went to see Tolstoy and created a drawing of the novelist on his deathbed.
Many renowned personalities including philosophers, composer and pianists, poets and novelists visited the Pasternak's household regularly. Some of them were Alexander Scriabin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Lev Shestov.
He began his academic life in a German Gymnasium in Moscow. Inspired by composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin, he joined the ‘Moscow Conservatory’ in 1904 and studied musical composition till 1910.
In1910 he joined the ‘German University of Marburg’. There he studied under the guidance of Neo-Kantian philosophers like Paul Natorp, Nicolai Hartmann and Hermann Cohen.
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Though few of his poetry collections including ‘Twin in the Clouds’ (1914), ‘Over the Barriers’ (1916) and ‘Themes and Variations’ (1917) were published, success and recognition eluded him.
He became romantically involved with Ida Wissotzkaya who belonged to a family of wealthy tea merchants. He met her in 1912 in Marburg. When the damsel turned down his marriage proposal due to family pressure, he expressed his emotions in the 1917 poem, ‘Marburg’.
At the time of the First World War, he joined a chemical factory in Vsevolodovo-Vilve and taught as well. When the Russian Revolution of 1917 ended, unlike his other family members, he chose to stay back in Russia and joined the library of the Soviet commissariat of education.
He penned down some Hermetic pieces that included the lyrical masterpiece, ‘Rupture’ in 1921.
His book of poetry collections, ‘My Sister, Life’ was published in 1922. It not only established him as one of the prominent poets of the Russian language, but also made him a new role model among aspiring poets. His revolutionary works in the collection reoriented the poetry of many others.
At the turn of 1920s, he wanted to make his works more comprehensible for one and all and in this pursuit he re-wrote many of his works. He penned two long poems and also endeavoured into prose writing that included many autobiographical stories. A few remarkable ones are ‘Safe Conduct’ (1931), ‘Second Birth’ (1932) and ‘The Last Summer’ (1934).
In 1937, during the trial of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and General Iona Yakir, he refused to sign a statement, which was consent for death penalty for the defendants. It was forwarded by the ‘Union of Soviet Writers’ to all its members. The chairman of the Union, Vladimir Stavski was terrified that he would be punished for Pasternak's dissent so he tried to force Pasternak to sign the statement but he refused. The fear of a possible arrest made his pregnant wife Zinaida Pasternak extremely upset but he refused to bow down.
He instead made a direct appeal to Stalin and conveyed his family’s strong Tolstoyan convictions. It is believed that Stalin struck off Pasternak’s name from the execution list at the time of the ‘Great Purge’. Pasternak was never incarcerated by the Soviet secret police.
In 1943, in the midst of the Second World War, he obtained permission and visited the fronts to meet the soldiers. He mingled with them and cheered them up by reading out his poems.
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He completed his masterpiece, ‘Doctor Zhivago’ in 1956, with some of its parts written in as early as 1910s and 1920s. ‘Novy Mir’ refused to publish the novel as the novel defied socialist realism. Some of its portions were considered anti-Soviet.
Journalist, Sergio d'Angelo visited Soviet Union at the behest of the Italian Communist Party in March 1956. Sergio d'Angelo was also in the lookout for new literary works in the Soviet as commissioned to him by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a publisher of Milan. After Sergio d'Angelo came to know about ‘Doctor Zhivago’, he approached Pasternak. It was published by Feltrinelli’s company and released in November 1957.
After a closed door trial, the ‘Union of Soviet Writers’ declared that they have ousted Pasternak from the Union and signed a petition to the ‘Politburo’ to revoke his Soviet citizenship and deport him.
Published in 1959, ‘When the Weather Clears’ was his last book on poetries. In 1959 he began his work on a stage play trilogy, ‘The Blind Beauty’, but before he could finish the first play, he became a victim of terminal lung cancer.
Posthumously he was reinstated by the ‘Union of Soviet Writers’ in 1987 which ultimately paved way for publication of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ in the Soviet Union.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Evgeniya Lurye in 1922.
He got involved in a relationship with Zinaida Neigauz in 1932 and later both of them divorced their respective spouses to marry each other.
He had two sons, Evgenii and Leonid.
He had an extramarital relationship with single mother Olga Ivinskaya, who he met in October 1946. Even though he never abandoned Zinaida, he maintained his relation with Olga throughout his life.
He succumbed to lung cancer on May 30, 1960 after which ‘Panikhida’ was carried out covertly in Pasternak's dacha. His funeral was performed in Peredelkino which was attended by thousands of admirers.