The Wind or the Hearth? Pasternak’s Blok in Doktor Živago

The aim of this paper is to explore the image and significance of Aleksandr Blok in Boris Pasternak’s Doktor Živago. In 1947 at a reading of his novel-in-progress Pasternak noted that he had been planning an article on Blok a year earlier, but that the novel had supplanted the unfinished article: “I’m writing this novel instead of an article about Blok” (E. B. Pasternak and V. M. Borisov 1988, 225). Building upon previous scholarship (particularly Masing-Delic 1980, Kling 1995, and Lesnaja 1996), this paper will consider Doktor Živago’s overt and implied references to Blok in conjunction with the views of Blok found in Pasternak’s contemporaneous I Remember and “The Wind: Four Fragments about Blok.”

The novel’s first direct reference to Blok comes as Jurij Živago, like Pasternak himself, ponders writing an article on Blok. Linking Blok to a Russian Christmas and to the Adoration of the Magi (see Masing-Delic 1980), Živago proceeds to note a candle burning in a nearby window; this is, of course, the candle that lights Lara and Paša’s conversation that evening. Out of this moment will emerge both poetry (“A Candle Burned”) and Živago’s future life path (“Could [Lara] have thought that the dead man lying on the table had … paid attention to that candle? That from that flame the course of his life had been set?”).

As Živago returns home from the front during World War I, he again evokes Blok, this time in conjunction with home, family, poetry, and his own original approval of Russia’s revolution. Opposed to this vision of life—and, apparently, to Živago’s vision of Blok—are the war, homelessness, Lara, and the Bol′ševik revolutionaries. On a later return to Moscow, Živago’s thoughts turn again to Blok, this time as an urban, truly modern poet. The narrator links Živago’s poem “Hamlet” to Živago’s desire to be a city poet akin to Blok. Blok reappears at the novel’s conclusion, as Miša Gordon recalls Blok’s nightmares of “Roždennye v goda gluxie” in a discussion of the literal horrors (contrasted by Gordon with the metaphorical terrors of Blok’s poem) Russia’s Soviet children have encountered. As Gordon discusses his ideas with Dudorov, the two participate in Živago’s poetic “resurrection,” reading his poetry even as they pay reverence to the “holy city” they see before them.

Thus Blok is connected with Živago’s coincidental meetings with Lara, both in life and in death, with the roots of Živago’s poetry, with his vision of Christ, with his stress on the everyday in life and poetry, and with the novel’s final vision of resurrection and a country holy through crucifixion. My paper explores these themes and attempts to answer several questions. First, what is Pasternak’s relationship to the later, revolutionary Blok of “The Twelve” and “The Intelligentsia and Revolution”? While in “The Wind” Pasternak finds Blok’s fundamental essence in all his works, including “The Twelve,” in the novel he describes an earlier, less revolutionary Blok associated with home and family, rather than with the destruction that Živago, unlike Blok himself, rejected. Next, is Blok’s significance for Pasternak situated in Blok’s often urban “realism,” as Henry Gifford (1967) has argued, or does Živago’s concept of Blok and his poetry change over the course of the novel? Finally, how does Pasternak link Živago’s “Hamlet,” his role of self-sacrificial victim for the poetic redemption of Russia, and Blok’s image as a self-sacrifical poet?