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Conference: 'The Pasternak Family: Surviving the Storms'



Tuesday, May 4, 2010 - 1:30pm

Conference: 'The Pasternak Family: Surviving the Storms'

This conference on Boris Pasternak and his family will mark the 120th anniversary of the poet's birth and 60th anniversary of his death. It will also coincide with the release of a new important publication - the English-language translation of Pasternak's correspondence with his parents and sisters (Hoover Institution Press) that was prepared by the poet's nephew, Nicolas Pasternak Slater (London).

The goal of this conference is to underscore the role of the Pasternak family in 20th century Russian and European cultural life.

In conjunction with the conference, there will be an exhibit of archival documents and recently published books on Pasternak from the Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Toby Holtzman collection.



The poet's father Leonid Osipovich Pasternak, a well-known Russian artist (trained in Munich), one of those Jewish intellectuals who were deeply integrated in Russian cultural life, had strong ties with the Zionist movement. In the beginning of the 20th century, some of his contemporaries (including great Jewish poet Chaim Nachman Bialik) considered him to be a principal figure in the revival of Jewish art. Leonid Pasternak was also a wonderful writer, as evident from both his private correspondence and from his published writings (his book on Rembrandt and Jewry published in 1922-1923 in Russian and Hebrew and his memoirs). His idiosyncratic literary style exerted great influence on Boris's quest for his own literary manner in poetry. The poet's mother was an excellent pianist whose public recitals were long remembered by the audience. Soon after the birth of her two sons, she decided to give up her concert career and devoted herself to her family. But her children grew up in the atmosphere of her playing. All four children and, above all, Boris, absorbed these childhood impressions into their creative work. His younger brother, Aleksandr, was a prominent architect affiliated with the Constructivist movement in the 1920s. The poet's sisters, Josephine and Lydia, wrote poetry and had intellectual interests and literary tastes strikingly similar to those of Boris.

After the 1917 revolution, Boris's parents and his two sisters left for Germany, never to come home again. While in Berlin, Josephine became involved in the activities of the circle of young Russian émigré poets there and published her poetry under the pen name Anna Nei. After Hitler's rise to power, the family fled Germany and settled in England, where the poet's parents died -- his mother on the eve of the WWII and his father just after its end in May of 1945.

Lydia, who was married to a son of Oxford Professor Gilbert Slater, had mastered the English language so well that she translated Boris' poetry. Her verse translations scored high praise from such admirers of Boris Pasternak's work as Isaiah Berlin and Cecil Maurice Bowra. Josephine and Lydia had close ties with the circle of British Personalists who were publishing the journal Transformation during the 1940s and who became the most ardent supporters of Pasternak's work in the West.



Two main speakers at the conference, Lydia's children Nicolas and Ann Slater, will discuss in their presentations the little known aspects of the life of the family in Oxford and share their personal recollections of the political storm that followed the Nobel Prize award for Boris Pasternak in October 1958.

Jacqueline de Proyart, a prominent French Slavicist who studied with Roman Jakobson in Harvard, was a central figure in smuggling the manuscript of Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago and his other writings out of the Soviet Union, in translating them and publishing them in the West.

The poet's grandson, the artist Petr Pasternak (b. 1957) has prepared a splendid book, "Boris Pasternak: Biographical Album" (2007) and is instrumental in the digitalization of the rich Moscow collection of the poet's family papers for Stanford users. Together with the archive of Josephine Pasternak, previously acquired by the Hoover Institution, Stanford campus's Pasternak collections currently have about ¾ of the poet's extant papers and by far exceed all Pasternak collections in Russia or elsewhere in the world.

James E. Falen, Professor of the University of Tennessee, one of the very best translators of Russian literature today, will present his new translations of Boris Pasternak's poetry.