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C H A P T E R E I G H T “EMPHATICALLY HUMAN, DELIBERATELY PROVINCIAL” The Christ of Boris Pasternak But now the book of life has reached a page More precious than the holy things of men. And now must be fulfilled the Word ordained. So let Thy will be done, my Lord.Amen. “Garden of Gethsemane,” The Poems of Yuri Zhivago, translated by James E. Falen If the “gospel” of Bulgakov’s Yeshua is driven by a distinct personalism—there are no evil people; we must love our enemies, even our executioners; divine, agapic love is the means by which everything will be made right in the world— then Boris Pasternak makes the centrality of human personhood and the human personality the fundamental discovery and essence of Christianity itself and the core concept of his own literary Christology in his novel, Doctor Zhivago. Of all of the Christ novels examined in this book, Doctor Zhivago is by far the one most driven by a personalist understanding of human-divine relations. A pronounced personalism marks the Christian philosophy of Zhivago’s uncle Vedeniapin and his disciples and helps us understand the actions of Yuri Zhivago himself, who shares his uncle’s views and whose life choices are motivated by a personalist perspective. Indeed, Zhivago’s relationships with three separate women and the children that he sires by them challenge how far the application of personalist insights can be used as a means of understanding his irregular C H A P T E R E I G H T 178 love life. They also bring to the fore the opposition between eros and agape, which in this novel, more than any of the other Christ novels analyzed here, assumes a heightened Christological importance.Complicating our Christological reading are the many Christological associations attaching to Zhivago himself , beginning with his name and the private Passiontide his life story enacts and concluding with the many Christ poems Zhivago wrote that are included in the final part of the novel. To fully understand Pasternak’s Easter novel, then, this chapter undertakes three important tasks: it analyzes how a personalist understanding of Christianity is deployed on the thematic and Christological levels; it assesses the meaning of Yuri’s imitatio Christi in the novel, whether in the shape of his life or the poems he writes about Jesus’s Passiontide; and it explains how Yuri’s sexual indiscretions are to be understood in the context of Pasternak’s unorthodox Christology. In addressing these questions, this chapter will attempt to discover the ways in which Pasternak’s novel celebrates how “individual human life became the life story of God”1 —a phrase that succinctly sums up the personalist theme of the novel itself. Pasternak and Christianity As was the case with Bulgakov, Pasternak’s interest in Christ loomed largest in his writing at the end of his life. His biographer Guy de Mallac notes that there are only “rare references to New Testament values” in Pasternak’s pre-Zhivago poetry, stating that it is only with the novel that“Christ appears as a major presence .”2 Lazar Fleishman argues that“a new concept of Christianity crystallized in the poet” in the postwar period and his work on Doctor Zhivago.3 As evidence, he cites the February 1946 version of his poem “Hamlet,” containing only two stanzas (not the four of the final version) and devoid of any reference to Christ or any Christian images.4 By the winter months of 1946–1947, however, Pasternak had already written the first Christian-themed poems of the novel,“Star of the Nativity” and “Miracle,” thus announcing the spiritual direction the novel was to take.5 Even so, Fleishman cautions readers that Pasternak treated Christian themes“as an artist, not as a theologian, preacher or academic historian.”6 The son of liberal Jews who did not observe the rites of the synagogue, Pasternak looked at Christianity in the context of his parents’“broad, non-denominational religiosity”7 as well as through the unique prism of his own inspiration .Unlike Dostoevsky and Tolstoy,who each made famous pronouncements 179 “Emphatically Human, Deliberately Provincial” about Christ or Christianity at the beginning of their careers that determined the trajectory of their Christology, and unlike Bulgakov, whose encounter with a stack of Bezbozhnik back issues served as the catalyst for his own imaging of Jesus, Pasternak did not seem to have one defining moment in his own encounter with Christ that crystallized his...


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