Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Of Love and War

Maybe it is just me, but I found an intriguing resonance between Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago and Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.  Doesn't seem much has been written on this possible connection, but the "love stories" are very similar and they are both set during World War I.

Hemingway's book preceded Pasternak's book by more than two decades, but no doubt Pasternak had long envisioned Zhivago.  Yury, like Hemingway's Frederic Henry, was a very strong part of himself.  You can read alot about the authors in both works.  Both opt for a very visceral style of writing, as they bring the reader into the war and force him to gain an understanding of the consequences.  Both were expatriates in their own ways.  Zhivago saw the Russia he knew reduced to ruin with the never-ending scramble for firewood to keep the stove going.

Frederic Henry, or Tenente, is an American expatriate who finds himself enveloped in WWI on the Western Front.  Although he comes from much more simple means, Henry has adopted a similar cynical view of war, no longer capable of understanding the reasons, and ever more appalled by the death toll.  At first he seeks comfort and then love in Catherine Barkley, a British volunteer nurse, with a much fuller realization of their romance in the second half of the novel.

The big difference between the two novels is the scope of the respective works.  Pasternak is much more complex.  He takes on the full width and breadth of Russia during the tumultuous civil war that followed, where Hemingway increasingly turns inward, treating Europe more as "battle fronts," with the romance between Frederic and Catherine taking center stage.  Yet, both end on very similar notes, leaving both characters with an abject emptiness.  Frederic's is made more poignant by the death of Catherine, whereas Zhivago consciously gives Lara up.

Hard to say whether Hemingway would have had any influence on Pasternak.  He was probably more drawn to the stories of Isaac Babel and other Russian writers who chronicled World War I.  But, it is fascinating how two well known writers could come up with similar stories of "The Great War."

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