From September 28 to October 2, The Hoover Library & Archives are co-hosting, along with Stanford’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, a conference entitled “Poetry and Politics in the Twentieth Century: Boris Pasternak, His Family, and His Novel Doctor Zhivago.” Held in the Oak Room of Tresidder Union, the conference—the largest ever to be dedicated to the works of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author—is free and open to the public. Hoover and Stanford extend a special welcome to undergraduate and graduate students interested in Pasternak studies, Russian history, book history, and archival research. The conference brings together leading academics in the fields of literature and history, as well as Boris Pasternak’s family members, several of whom have donated their family papers to the Hoover Archives. The Hoover Archives holds the largest collection of Pasternak materials in the world and serves as a center for research on the famed writer and poet. In conjunction with the conference, Hoover will mount a week-long exhibition of Pasternak materials in the rotunda of the Hoover Tower. The materials on display will include rare first editions of Doctor Zhivago selected from the Hoover and Stanford Libraries and the personal collection of Professor Paolo Mancosu, a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, a visiting fellow at Hoover, and a Pasternak expert who, on Monday, provided the keynote for the conference. Introduced by Hoover Library & Archives director Eric Wakin, Professor Mancosu explained the intricate publication history of Doctor Zhivago—a book which was described by its first publisher as an “explicit protest, a moment in the battle for tolerance that is still current today and not easy to win.” Tracing the global dissemination of the book, he explored the novel as a symbol in the fight for free speech and artistic expression.
Few works of twentieth-century literature have exerted such enormous influence on social and cultural life as Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Written during the darkest years of the Stalinist era and the first years of the post-Stalinist period in the Soviet Union, and then smuggled abroad and published in the West in 1957 despite efforts of the Soviet bureaucracy to intimidate the author and stop publication, the novel became an immediate international sensation. In 1958, Pasternak became the first Soviet writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which caused a political firestorm. The novel not only was banned in the poet’s homeland for some thirty years (until Gorbachev’s perestroika) but became unmentionable in the Soviet press. It was, however, widely circulated clandestinely and inspired an entire generation of dissident intelligentsia in the USSR.
Celebrating the enormous impact of Pasternak’s work, the conference, “Poetry and Politics in the Twentieth Century: Boris Pasternak, His Family, and His Novel Doctor Zhivago,” organized by Stanford professor and Pasternak authority Professor Lazar Fleishman, brings together an international roster of Pasternak scholars and enthusiasts, many of whom have conducted research in the extensive Pasternak family archives held at Hoover. Professor Fleishman, in 1996, was instrumental in bringing the papers of Josephine Pasternak, the writer’s older sister, to Hoover. The collection contains valuable materials related to Pasternak’s remarkable and talented family, including his parents: Leonid Pasternak, a renowned painter, and Rosalia Pasternak, a concert pianist. Following this acquisition, a large digital component of documents scanned by family members in Moscow was added to Hoover’s already rich cache of materials. This year, in conjunction with Stanford Libraries, Hoover received the papers of Boris Pasternak’s younger sister, Lydia Pasternak Slater, as well as other family archives held by the Pasternak Trust in Oxford. The Pasternak materials are complemented by a number of other collections held at Hoover, notably those of Gleb Stuve, professor of Russian literature at UC Berkeley and editor of Pasternak’s poetry and prose (acquired in 1985); of Irwin T. Holtzman, legendary collector of Pasternak’s works (acquired in 1998); and of Sergio d’Angelo, the Italian journalist who, in 1956, visited Pasternak at the poet’s home near Moscow and smuggled the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago out of the Soviet Union, delivering it to the Milanese publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who published the first worldwide edition of the novel in Italian in 1957 (acquired in 2014).
The rich and growing Pasternak archives at Hoover form the foundation for modern scholarship surrounding the poet, and leading experts in the field will present their research throughout the week of the conference. To complement the event, The Hoover Institution Library & Archives and Hoover Press are pleased to introduce Professor Paolo’s Mancosu’s Smugglers, Rebels, Pirates: Itineraries in the Publishing History of Doctor Zhivago, a volume which provides striking reproductions of nearly thirty rare editions of Pasternak’s masterpiece and provides the background to the tumultuous history of the book’s publication and censorship. In 2010, Hoover Press also published Boris Pasternak: Family Correspondence 1921–1960, the first English translation of the poignant letters that the poet and his parents and two sisters exchanged during their forty-year separation. The letters were translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater, the poet’s nephew who, along with his sister Ann Pasternak Slater, discussed their family archives and history during a Monday conference panel.
For more information concerning the Pasternak conference, see the webpage and consult the conference’s schedule of events. An announcement and visitor information for the Pasternak exhibition in Hoover Rotunda can be found on the Hoover events page.