Pasternak and the Calendar of the Revolution (1959)
The most striking characteristic of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is its archaism, the archaism of the idea and of the artistic style alike. The book has been received, in the West, as part of the recent Russian revulsion against Stalinism and as its most consummate literary expression. Yet, Doctor Zhivago is nothing less than it is that — it is utterly unrelated to the Russia of the 1950’s and to the experiences, troubles, and heart-searchings of the present Soviet generation. It is a parable about a vanished generation. Pasternak, now approaching his seventieth year — his formative period fell in the last decade before the October revolution — might have written this book in 1921 or 1922. It is as if his mind had stopped at that time, after the traumatic shock of the revolution; and as if nearly all that his country has since gone through had remained a blank. His sensitivity has remained unaffected, almost untouched, by the great and grim, yet not unhopeful drama of Russia’s last three decades. The actual story of Doctor Zhivago ends in 1922. Pasternak brings it artificially ‘up to date’ in two brief and hurried postscripts, ‘Conclusion’ and ‘Epilogue’, the first covering thinly the years from 1922 to 1929, till Zhivago’s death, and the second jumping straight into the 1950’s. The postscripts have almost none of the better qualities of the work but show all its weaknesses and incongruities absurdly magnified.
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