Lawyers in Revolutionary Times: Doctor Zhivago.

AuthorNormey, Rob

A remarkable manuscript was bundled out of the Soviet Union in the late spring of 1956. An Italian Communist journalist named Sergio d'Angelo had visited Boris Pasternak to discuss possible publication of his latest work. Pasternak was the famed Russian poet and survivor of the various purges and show trials of the Great Terror that had gripped Russia since the 1930s, to discuss possible publication of his latest work. The novel was Doctor Zhivago (the new translation by Richard Peavear and Larissa Volokhonsky is recommended). Pasternak's longtime project would finally be submitted for approval by the state publisher in the fall. The result would be biting criticism, followed by ongoing hostile attacks on Pasternak as a counter-revolutionary, decadent and ungrateful author, who had dared to challenge the dominant narrative of a glorious revolution that continued to achieve great things on behalf of the proletariat.

Earlier in the year Pasternak had obviously anticipated difficulties with publication in his native land. When he handed over a copy of the manuscript to d'Angelo, as agent for the Milanese publisher Feltrinelli, he stated in a resigned voice that: "you are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad." Nonetheless, courageously Pasternak assented to foreign publication and the world was able to read one of Russia's great epic tales, a work that harkens back to the great nineteenth century tradition introduced by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

Doctor Zhivago is well known to lovers of world literature, as is its film adaptation, the romantic epic directed by David Lean in 1962. The film stars Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, Julie Christie as Lara, Tom Courtenay as Lara's husband--to--be turned revolutionary commander operating as "Strelnikov" and Rod Steiger, as the decadent lawyer and dandy, Victor Ippolitovich Komarovsky.

Rather than offer a review of the novel as a whole, I want to concentrate on key scenes where lawyer Komarovsky plays a critical role, as well as scenes where quite different lawyers are described. It is rather inspiring to consider the prominent role that Pasternak assigns in the early chapters to progressive lawyers, who are quite willing to engage in what we would today refer to as human rights work, including taking on contentious labour cases on behalf of vulnerable workers. For instance, the hero Yuri (or Yura) travels in the opening section with his Uncle Nikolai Nikolaevich by carriage to visit a friend at...

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