Doctor Zhivago

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Yury Zhivago perceives life with mystical, religious intensity. Keenly aware of his soul’s intimations of immortality, Yury seeks out others searching for answers to life’s mysteries.

After his parents’ deaths, ten-year-old Yury lives with Uncle Nikolai whose philosophy of progress and mysticism touches the boy’s poetic instincts. Later Yury lives with a professor’s family and is inspired to become a doctor. He marries Tanya, the professor’s daughter.

When war with Germany comes, Yury serves at the front as a surgeon. He is attracted to Lara, a married nurse, but the fighting separates them. Returning to Moscow, Yury finds family, property, and personal identity threatened by the Revolution’s leveling force. Yury takes his family into the Ural Mountains.

Here he meets Lara and professes his love. The Communists capture Yury, forcing him to serve until he escapes. When Tanya returns to Moscow, Yury and Lara live together. Life is idyllic: Yury writes poetry about their transcendent love which puts them at peace with all creation.

When the townspeople label the lovers counter-revolutionaries, Yury forces Lara to escape with a protective Soviet official while he flees to Moscow. His wife and daughter have gone to Paris so he befriends his half brother, Evgraf. For several years he practices medicine and writes verse. He dies on the same day Lara comes to the capital. Later Evgraf publishes Yury’s poetry.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is slow but rewarding reading. The plot is less important than the characters’ insights into their aspirations and compromises. Without denying life’s frequent cruelty, Pasternak affirms the individual soul’s power to transform itself by inward reflection and outward reaching.


Erlich, 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.

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Critical Context


Critical Evaluation