Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was a unique 20th-century Russian poet and writer and the 1958 Nobel Prize winner in Literature. His multifaceted, intricate and personal worldview put into simple but striking words is a pleasure to read. His creative work, transcending literary genres and movements, had a major influence on the evolution of Russian literature. His best-known work, Doctor ZhivagoRussian: Доктор Живаго, was translated into hundreds of languages, adapted for the screen three times and continues to win the hearts and minds of millions of people worldwide.
The life of Boris Pasternak was closely connected with Moscow, his hometown, where he grew up and lived almost all his life. The protagonists of his novel – doctor Yuri Zhivago, his first wife Tonya, his beloved Larissa, and his friend Marina who shared his last days – also lived in Moscow. Russia’s capital still holds memories of Pasternak, and every attentive traveler has the unique opportunity to follow the tracks of the great writer – there are few left now, however. The main address associated with Pasternak is his memorial home located in the village of PeredelkinoRussian: Переделкино in Moscow RegionRussian: Moskovskaya oblast or Московская область.
The journey begins at 3, Oruzheyny LaneRussian: Oruzheynyi pereulok or Оружейный переулок, more precisely, at the intersection of Oruzheyny Lane and 2nd Tverskaya-Yamskaya StreetRussian: 2-ya Tverskaya-Yamskaya ulitsa or 2-я Тверская-Ямская улица. It was in this small 19th-century building that the future poet was born on 10 February, 1890. There is a memorial plate on its façade to this effect.
Pasternak’s father was the painter and graphic artist Leonid Pasternak, who was close to many remarkable people in the art world, such as I. Levitan, V. Polenov, N. Gefamous Russian painters, L. Tolstoy, A. Scriabin and S. Rachmaninoff. Fascinating people would gather in that building on Oruzheyny Lane, and little Boris met many creative people from his early childhood. He therefore grew familiar with the morals and customs of Russian intellectuals.
In 1894, the Pasternaks moved to a state-provided apartment in one of the outbuildings of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and ArchitectureRussian: Moskovskoe uchilische zhivopisi, vayaniya i zodchestva or Московское училище живописи, ваяния и зодчества (21, Myasnitskaya StreetRussian: Myasnitskaya ulitsa or Мясницкая улица). Boris displayed a strong affection for this neighbourhood with its quiet streets and picturesque buildings. In later years, Pasternak witnessed the repression of a demonstration held in this neighbourhood, which made a profound impression on him.
In 1911, Leonid Pasternak was offered another state-provided apartment, this time on the second floor of a building at 14, Volkhonka StreetRussian: ulitsa Volkhonka or улица Волхонка. Today, this building houses 19th–20th century art collections from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine ArtsRussian: Gosudarstvennyi muzey izobrazitelnykh iskusstv im A. Pushkina or Государственный музей изобразительных искусств им А. Пушкина. This apartment was located in a lovely neighbourhood which was conducive to creativity.
Boris was an extraordinarily talented young man. A promising musician, he was preparing to enter the Composition Department at the Moscow ConservatoryRussian: Moskovskaya konservatoriya or Московская консерватория. He dismissed this idea, however, persuaded that he was not sufficiently gifted to become a professional musician. Instead, he entered the Department of Law at the Moscow State UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyi universitet or Московский государственный университет (9, Mokhovaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Mokhovaya or улица Моховая) and later transferred to the Department of History and Philology. Located at 11, Mokhovaya Street, the main building designed by M. F. Kazakovone of the first Russian architects of Neoclassicism in the 1760s and renovated by architect Gilardi after the Great Fire of 1812during the war between the Russian Empire and Napoleonic France on the territory of Russia in 1812, still stands today.
In 1912, Pasternak went to Germany to study philosophy at the University of Marburg. Upon returning to Russia, he abandoned his scholarly studies and took to writing. He travelled a lot, including to the KamaRussian: Кама River and the Ural Mountains where he drew inspiration for his future novel, but his hometown was always in his heart. He loved Moscow in all its diversity, from its picturesque central streets to the quiet suburban settlements on the outskirts of Russia’s capital. Moscow was a real home to Pasternak. He viewed it as more than a mere city with streets and squares and his love for the city echoes throughout his writing. He cherished the very atmosphere of life in Moscow:
Spring bursts violently
into Moscow houses.
Moths flutter about
crawl on summer hats,
and furs hide secretly.
Pots of wallflowers and stock
stand, in the window, just,
of wooden second storeys,
the rooms breathe liberty,
the smell of attics is dust.
The street is friends
with the bleary glass,
and white night and sunset
at one, by the river, pass…
(The Earth, 1946)
Boris’s parents emigrated after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Boris, however, could not imagine his life without Russia and remained faithful to his homeland for the rest of his days. Pasternak’s relationship with the Soviet government was developing with varied success. His works were published, until he stood up against Joseph Stalin for Anna Akhmatova’s husband and son, who had been sent to correctional camps. They were eventually released, but the authorities’ attitude to Pasternak changed considerably.
From 1936 on, Pasternak lived in his country house in Peredelkino, a village about 20 km to the west of Moscow. This house has now been converted into Pasternak’s memorial museum. Here, he started writing after a long break, finished his novel Doctor Zhivago and composed many remarkable poems, including the poetic series Peredelkino and The Poems of Yuri Zhivago, which he later assessed as his best creations.
This sight is located far away from the city center, and it is comfortable to use a taxi to reach it. If you are interested in Moscow taxi fare system, you can read about it on our website page “Taxi in Moscow”.
Pasternak loved spending time in his dachasummer house. He planted a garden and grew his own greens and vegetables, as gardening was a hobby of his. His house was not overly large, but spacious, full of light – it was often compared to a ship sailing out of the woods. Pasternak furnished it to his own taste. His relatives still keep the interior the way it was in Pasternak’s lifetime. Even the paintings and drawings by Leonid Pasternak are still hanging on the walls in precisely the same order as his son Boris arranged them. The interior is simple, with only the most necessary pieces of furniture, so the rooms look almost ascetic, but cozy at the same time. When walking around this house, one cannot help but recall the following verses from one of his poems:
This was its promise, held to faithfully:
The early morning sun came in this way
Until the angle of its saffron beam
Between the curtains and the sofa lay,
And with its ochre heat it spread across
The village houses, and the nearby wood,
Upon my bed and on my dampened pillow
And to the corner where the bookcase stood.
Pasternak died of lung cancer on 30 May, 1960 and was buried at Peredelkino CemeteryRussian: Peredelkinskoe kladbische or Переделкинское кладбище (Peredelkino railway stationRussian: platforma Peredelkino or платформа Переделкино, 5th Lazenki StreetRussian: ulitsa 5-ya Lazenki or улица 5-я Лазенки). Olga Ivinskaya, Pasternak’s muse and his last love, was also buried here. Supposedly, Ivinskaya was Lara’s prototype in Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak was unable to leave his wife and children, but he also found it impossible to put an end to his relationship with Olga. This woman had a tough life. In 1949, she was accused of disseminating anti-Soviet propaganda and was sent to a correctional camp. After her release, Olga resumed her relationship with Pasternak. Her support was especially helpful when Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Doctor Zhivago. Political pressure forced Pasternak to refuse the award, which did not save him from a wave of negative speeches and articles in the Soviet media. The Nobel Committee decided to restore justice in 1989, handing over the award to Pasternak’s son, Evgeni.
Pasternak’s creative achievements alternated with crises, his readers’ recognition with ideological persecution and his happy family life with frenzied passion. His life was not easy, just like the destiny of his dacha in Peredelkino. After Pasternak’s death, it became a pilgrimage site for his admirers, but this informal museum was closed in 1984; the dacha, once presented to the Pasternaks, was taken back under some pretext and his belongings discarded. A memorial exhibition under the auspices of the State Literary MuseumRussian: Gosudarstvennyi literaturnyi muzey or Государственный литературный музей was mounted in the deserted house as late as 1990, when UNESCO declared it the Year of Pasternak in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Boris Pasternak. Its current custodian is Pasternak’s granddaughter Elena.
Pasternak’s memorial house in Peredelkino is still run by his descendants who look after it and bring it to life by organizing poetic evenings, plein-air painting sessions and other events. The museum staff are always happy to welcome new visitors and tell them about the house and Boris Pasternak’s life and creative legacy. Linguists, biographers and cultural studies specialists work as guides. Excursions are available in Russian, English and German. In addition to themed and express excursions, the museum offers a weekly excursion (on Friday, at 3 p.m.) that is never cancelled, even if only one visitor signs up for it.
The Boris Pasternak Memorial House in Peredelkino is open daily, except Mondays (for a day off) and the last Tuesday of every month (for a cleaning day): from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (tickets sold until 4:30 p.m.), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays (tickets sold until 4:30 p.m.) and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (tickets sold until 5:30 p.m.).© 2016-2018 moscovery.com