Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak

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Pasternak on a Soviet postage stamp from 1990

Boris Pasternak ( Russian Борис Леонидович Пастернак ., Scientific transliteration Boris Pasternak Leonidovič ; born January 29 . Jul / 10. February  1890 greg. In Moscow , † the 30th May 1960 in Peredelkino near Moscow) was a Russian poet and writer . He is internationally known primarily for his novel Doctor Schiwago . In 1958 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature , which he could not accept for political reasons.


Childhood and youth

Boris Pasternak (left) with his brother Alexander from their father Leonid Pasternak

Born in Moscow to Jewish parents, Boris Pasternak grew up in an intellectual and artistic milieu. His father Leonid was an artist and professor at the Moscow School of Painting, his mother the well-known pianist Rosalija Kaufmann . His brother was the constructivist architect Alexander Pasternak . In 1903, Pasternak broke his right thigh bone in a fall from his horse, which, among other things, meant that his right leg was shorter than the left. As a result, he was not drafted as a soldier in either the First or Second World War. However, he volunteered for military service in 1941, but was not used until 1943.

Among the friends and acquaintances Pasternak met at home from a young age were musicians, artists, writers - one of them Lev Tolstoy , whose books his father Leonid illustrated. Ever since he met the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin at the age of thirteen , he dreamed of becoming a pianist and composer and was constantly occupied with piano playing, music theory and composition. A piano sonata in B minor, composed by him, dates from 1909.

Boris Pasternak painted by his father Leonid (1910)

After graduating from Moscow German Gymnasium in 1908, however, he studied philosophy at Moscow University . A semester abroad in the summer of 1912 at the then most famous German university in Russia, the University of Marburg , where he successfully studied with the neo-Kantians Hermann Cohen and Nicolai Hartmann , as well as trips to Switzerland and Italy , made him decide to turn to poetry:

“In my opinion, philosophy should be added as a spice to life and art. Anyone who deals exclusively with philosophy seems to me like a person who only eats horseradish. "

Inspired above all by Alexander Blok , Pasternak initially turned to futurism and symbolism . For a short time he was a member of the poet group LEF ( Lewy front iskusstw , "Left Front of the Arts"), which was all about futurism. The manifesto of this literary movement described the poet as a worker with a social mandate, not as an artist. During this time he wrote his first poems, which appeared in the 1913 Almanac Lirika (Лирика). In 1914 he published his first collection of poems in the book Zwilling in Wolken ( Близнец в тучах ), followed by On the Barriers ( Поверх барьеров ), which appeared in 1917 , which earned him attention and recognition in the literary world. Since 1914 he was also a member of the futuristic group of poets Centrifuge ( Центрифуга ).

First and Second World War: work as a poet

One and a half years after the beginning of the First World War , at the beginning of January 1916, Pasternak traveled to Vsevolodo-Vilva, a town in the Urals still spared from the war , where, in addition to his writing, he worked for a living in the office of the local chemical factory. He also got to know Perm on a trip . He stayed in the Urals until the end of June.

Despite being shocked by the brutality of the new government, Pasternak supported the October Revolution . His parents and siblings emigrated to Germany in 1921 when foreign travel was allowed . After the war Pasternak worked as a librarian and wrote a. a. Lieutenant Schmidt ( Лейтенант Шмидт ), My Sister, Life ( Сестра моя - жизнь , 1922) and The Year 1905 (Девятьсот пятый год). In 1922 Pasternak married Yevgenia Vladimirovna Lourié and had with her the son Yevgeny Pasternak (1923-2012), who was initially a military engineer and later became a specialist in his father's work as a literary scholar and historian. The marriage ended in divorce in 1931.

Poetry remained Pasternak's passion and made him one of the most important poets of Russian modernism . His poems developed away from the symbolist influences towards philosophical approaches and the processing of the revolution. In the 1930s, however , his works did not fit into the framework of socialist realism , and he worked as a translator from French, English and German to earn a living. His transmissions of Goethe's Faust and Shakespeare's tragedies are famous , and he also translated works by Rilke , Kleist and some English writers. In 1934 he entered into a second marriage with Sinaida Nikolajewna Neuhaus; The family moved to the Peredelkino artists' colony near Moscow in 1936 .

When the war broke out in 1941, Pasternak volunteered at the front, but was initially evacuated to Chistopol and only sent to war with a “writer's brigade” in 1943. The lyrical processing of his war experiences can be found in the poems of the anthology In den Frühzügen (На ранних поездах, 1943) and in Earthly Wide (Земной простор, 1945).

Post-war period: Doctor Zhivago

After the war, Pasternak worked for a long time on his first and only novel, Doctor Zhivago (Доктор Живаго), which was not allowed to appear in the Soviet Union due to its content. The novel, set during the Russian Revolution before and after 1917, describes the conflicts that an intellectual (Zhivago) and his spiritual and religious beliefs get into with the revolutionary movement and socialist reality. Pasternak's long-time lover Olga Ivinskaja is said to have served as a model for Lara , the main female character in the novel . The novel was only published abroad in 1957, first in Italy and then in 18 other languages ​​- an international success. In the Soviet Union it could not be published until 1987 under Gorbachev , after Pasternak had been officially rehabilitated. The film of the same name with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie (directed by David Lean , 1965) won five Oscars in 1966 and was an international hit in theaters.

When Pasternak was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 "for his significant achievement both in contemporary poetry and in the field of the great Russian storytelling tradition", he initially accepted it, but later declined it under pressure from the Soviet authorities. Nevertheless, he was subsequently expelled from the Writers' Union of the USSR . From a personal letter from Pasternak to Khrushchev it emerges that, despite all the attacks on him and his work, Pasternak did not want to leave the Soviet Union under any circumstances.

Full of plans and ideas for further poems and a novel, Boris Pasternak died on May 30, 1960 in Peredelkino of a heart attack and severe gastric bleeding. An early stage lung cancer was also diagnosed. In the course of the cultural and political liberalization in the USSR, Pasternak was rehabilitated on February 23, 1987 and posthumously accepted back into the Union of Writers of the USSR and his novel Dr. Zhivago was to be published in a Soviet newspaper. In a special ceremony in Stockholm in 1989, his son accepted the Nobel Prize, which Pasternak had rejected in 1958, on behalf of his father.

In 1960, the year he died, he was elected an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters .

Works (selection)

  • Gemini in clouds. ( Близнец в тучах. ) 1914.
  • Over the barriers. ( Поверх барьеров. ) 1917.
  • My sister, life. ( Сестра моя - жизнь. ) 1922.
  • Lüvers childhood. 1922.
  • Letters from Tula. 1922.
  • The year 1905. ( Девятьсот пятый год. ) 1926/27.
  • Letter of passage. Memories. 1931.
  • Spektorsky. Verse novel. 1931.
  • In the early trains. ( На ранних поездах. ) 1943.
  • Earthly vastness. ( Земной простор. ) 1945.
  • Doctor Zhivago. ( Доктор Живаго. ) 1958/1987; Current edition, translated by Thomas Reschke : Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-596-90329-0 (= Fischer Klassik 90329).
  • About myself. Autobiography. 1959.

Work edition

  • Poems, stories, letters. Work edition in three volumes (1st volume: My sister - life; 2nd volume: Second birth; 3rd volume: When it clears up ). Edited by Christine Fischer. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2017.


  • Valentin Belentschikow: On the poetics of Boris Pasternak. The Berlin cycle of poems 1922–1923. Comparative studies on the Slavic languages ​​and literatures. Vol. 2. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1998, ISBN 3-631-32274-7 .
  • Henrik Birnbaum : Doctor Faustus and Doctor Schiwago. Attempt on 2 time novels from an exile perspective. Press publications on Boris Pasternak (PdR), Vol. 2, de Ridder, Lisse 1976, ISBN 90-316-0092-X .
  • Kay Borowsky : Art and Life. Boris Pasternak's aesthetics. Germanistic texts and studies. Vol. 2, Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 1976, ISBN 3-487-06007-8 .
  • Jevgenij Brejdo, Jürgen Hartung: The metric of the Russian verse. Computer analysis with RIMETR Ia. Poetica. Vol. 45. Kovac, Hamburg 1999. ISBN 3-86064-954-X .
  • György Dalos : Olga - Pasternak's last love. Almost a novel. Europ. Verl.-Anst., Hamburg 1999, ISBN 3-434-50423-0 .
  • Johanna Renate Döring: Pasternak's poetry in the years 1928–1934. Slavist contributions. Vol. 64. Sagner, Munich 1973. ISBN 3-87690-073-5 .
  • Sergej Dorzweiler (Ed.): Contributions to the International Pasternak Congress 1991 in Marburg. Eastern European studies at the universities of the State of Hesse. Series 2. Marburg treatises on the history and culture of Eastern Europe. Vol. 30. Sagner, Munich 1993. ISBN 3-87690-463-3 .
  • Ilja Ehrenburg : People - Years - Life. (Memoirs), Munich 1962, special edition Munich 1965, Volume I 1891–1922, pages 377–387, ISBN 3-463-00511-5 .
  • Karen Evans-Romains: Boris Pasternak and the tradition of German Romanticism. Slavist contributions. Vol. 344. Sagner, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-87690-664-4 .
  • Christine Fischer: Music and Poetry. The musical element in Pasternak's poetry. Slavist contributions. Vol. 359. Sagner, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-87690-697-0 .
  • Erika Greber : Intertextuality and interpretability of the text. On Boris Pasternak's early prose. Theory and history of literature and the fine arts. Series C, Aesthetics, Art, and Literature in Modern History. Vol. 8. Fink, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-7705-2588-4 .
  • Ulrich Hepp: Studies on Psychostylistics. Using the example of the correspondence between Rilke - Cvetaeva - Pasternak. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2000. (= Opera Slavica; NF, 23) ISBN 3-447-04292-3 .
  • Olga Ivinskaja : My time with Pasternak. Lara. Hoffmann et al. Campe, Hamburg 1978, ISBN 3-455-03643-0 .
  • Elisabeth Kottmeier : Boris Pasternak. Selected poems and how to read them. Verlag der Arche, Zurich 1961.
  • Angelika Meyer: "Sestra moja - zizn" by Boris Pasternak. Analysis and interpretation. Slavist contributions. Vol. 207. Sagner, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-87690-357-2 .
  • Gerd Ruge : Pasternak. A picture biography. Kindler, Munich 1958.
  • Fedor Stepun : Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak. In: Die Neue Rundschau , born 1959, pp. 145–161.
  • Franziska Thun (Ed.): Memories of Boris Pasternak. Structure, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-351-02314-6 .
  • Andrea Uhlig: The dimension of the feminine in the work of Boris Leonidovic Pasternak. Sources of inspiration, forms of appearance and conceptions of meaning. Eastern European studies at the universities of the State of Hesse. Series 2, Marburg treatises on the history and culture of Eastern Europe. Vol. 39. Sagner, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-87690-795-0 .
  • Thomas Urban : Boris Pasternak in Berlin. The Russian writer between emigration and Soviet power . In: Berlin in the past and present. Yearbook of the Berlin State Archives. 2010; Pp. 181-198.
  • Reinhold Vogt: Boris Pasternak's monadic poetics. Slavic literatures. Vol. 14. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1997, ISBN 3-631-49410-6 .
  • Jelena Voli'c-Hellbusch: Investigation of the poetry of Rilke, Eliots and Pasternak. European university publications. Row 1. German language and literature. Vol. 1682. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1998, ISBN 3-631-33505-9 .

Web links

Commons : Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Christopher Barnes: Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography. Volume 1: 1890-1928 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, ISBN 0-521-25957-6 , pp. 48 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  2. Der Literatur-Brockhaus: in eight volumes / Ed. Werner Habicht, Wolf-Dieter Lange and the Brockhaus editorial team. Fundamentally revised. and exp. Paperback edition - Mannheim, Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich. Paperback publisher. Vol. 6, p. 201.
  3. Der Literatur-Brockhaus: in eight volumes / Ed. Werner Habicht, Wolf-Dieter Lange and the Brockhaus editorial team. Fundamentally revised. and exp. Paperback edition - Mannheim, Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich. Paperback publisher. Vol. 5, p. 123.
  4. Christopher Barnes: Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography, Volume 1 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, ISBN 0-521-25957-6 , pp. 198 ff . ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  5. Honorary Members: Boris Pasternak. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 18, 2019 .