New Investigations on Boris Pasternak and the Doctor Zhivago Saga

by Rikke From and Greyson Young

On Thursday, October 3, IES and ISEES were pleased to welcome Professor Paolo Mancosu (Philosophy, UC Berkeley) for a lecture based on his new study of Russian Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak. Mancosu’s lecture, titled “Moscow Has Ears Everywhere: Olga Ivinskaya and the loss of Pasternak’s 'Will',” centered on Soviet resistance to Pasternak for engaging with Western writers and publishers in order to secure the publication of his 1955 novel Doctor Zhivago, which was primarily distributed in Western Europe. Analyzing newly procured archival documents, Mancosu covered the timeline of the Soviet-Italian drama, beginning with Pasternak’s completion of the novel and his reception of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958. The USSR not only forced Pasternak to turn down the Nobel but also expelled him from the Soviet Writers’ Union, cutting him off financially. Pasternak thus reluctantly accepted $100,000 in royalty money from the West--namely, from the Garritano family who worked for the Italian publisher Feltrinelli. 

Mancosu addressed the implications of this royalty money for Pasternak’s family, outlining how the drama unfolded after the author’s death on May 30, 1960. The $100,000 had been transferred to her by August and Ivinskaya tried to send the restored will abroad, as she had promised Feltrinelli. Feltrinelli claimed to have a contract confirming he was allowed to publish Pasternak’s book in Italy, but even though that document existed, it was never returned to Feltrinelli, instead remaining in Ivinskaya’s possession in Moscow. The documents containing the correspondence between Ivinskaya and Feltrinelli suddenly disappeared, due to a storm in the Caucasus. Both Ivinskaya and her daughter Irina Emelianova were highly suspicious about this story and questioned how the KGB could have procured these documents. On August 16, 1960, only two months after her husband died, Ivinskaya and her daughter were arrested and sentenced to hard labor in the Gulag prisons for accepting Pasternak’s royalties from the West.

Mancosu is the first to provide the archival documents, thereby offering an unprecedentedly accurate explanation of what happened after Pasternak’s Nobel Prize in October 1958. Although the awarding of the Nobel to Pasternak led to accusations of political motivations for his selection, Mancosu claimed there was no actual evidence of such a conspiracy.

This engaging presentation - based on Mancosu's recent book "Moscow has Ears Everywhere. Recent Investigations on Pasternak and Ivinskaya" (Hoover Press, Stanford, 2019) - drew an audience of 30 students, faculty, and community members, and was followed by concluding remarks from Harsha Ram (Associate Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley).