Category Archives: History
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition.” The Prize was prompted by his crowning achievement, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that concludes with a cycle of poetry by the main character weaving together the seasons of nature, love, redemption, and the life of Christ. While Pasternak was “infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, [and] overwhelmed,” at the award, six days later he declined the prize in a telegram: “Due to the resonance caused by my award in the society I belong to, I have to decline the Prize; don’t consider my voluntary refusal an insult.”
Pasternak reflected on this moment in a poem entitled “The Nobel Prize,” which asks, “What sort of dirty trick I’ve done, am I a murderer, a villain? I, who made the whole world crying of my homeland’s beauty.”
Pasternak was neither murderer nor villain; however, his book challenged the presiding Russian-Soviet ideological vision of the world. He was given a strong indication of how Doctor Zhivago would be taken when he received a 10,000 word rejection letter by the Russian magazine New World saying that “the spirit of [the] novel [was] that of non-acceptance of the socialist revolution.” Explaining further, the magazine felt the novel’s main character, Dr. Yuri Zhivago, to be “an essentially immoral man who refuses to do his duty by the people and who is interested only in his own rights, including the alleged privilege of a superman to betray with impunity.”
It is at least obvious that the editorial board read his book. Following are some not so subtle statements that Pasternak made through his main character about those of whom it could be said, “We are the children of Russia’s terrible years”:
- “It turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil: that’s their native element.”
- “And do you know why there is this incessant whirl of never-ending preparations? It’s because they haven’t any real capacities, they are ungifted. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself – the gift of life – is such a breathtakingly serious thing!”
- “They always talk of ‘remaking life,’ but “people who can talk in this way,” claims Zhivago, “have never known life at all, have never felt its spirit, its soul. For them human existence is a lump of raw material which has not been ennobled by their touch.”
- To Yuri, life “is always out of reach of our stupid theories.”
- “They are so anxious to establish the myth of their infallibility, that they do their utmost to ignore the truth.” Yet, “They had the boastful, dead eternity of bronze monuments and marble columns.” (Series of quotations from the poetry foundation and Geoffrey Hosking)
Pasternak was just as clear in his own poem, “After the Storm.” He closed with this stanza: It is not revolutions and upheavals / which clear the way to a new life / But the revelations, storms and bounties / Of someone’s spirit on fire.
Like other intellectuals at the time of his country’s Revolution, Pasternak held high hopes that change would work for a new and better Russia. But life 40 years “after the storm” gave him such extended and overwhelming evidence against the socialist utopia, that he went from disappointment to disillusionment to a “new birth” of sorts that included his taking seriously once again his Christianity. Pasternak was part of the intellectuals who could be called “pre-Soviet; post-Marxist.” This helps make sense of two statements Pasternak made during the Doctor Zhivago controversy when he requested his closest loved one to write “that I was born not in the Soviet Union, but in Russia,” while he wrote Premier Krushchev to avoid deportation, with this explanation: “Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work.”
While Doctor Zhivago was censured in the former Soviet Union, the novel escaped to the West in 1957 through a publisher in Milan, Italy, who refused to return the book “for revisions.” By the next year the novel had been translated into 18 languages, including English.
Meanwhile, The Union of Soviet Writers (of which Pasternak was one of the some 800 members) took swift action. It is important to understand that the Writer’s Union was indoctrinated and in full concert with Soviet Socialist Realism. “Socialist Realism is the officially sanctioned style of art that dominated Soviet painting for 50 years from the early 1930s. The style and content was laid down by the state with the purpose of furthering the goals of socialism and communism. The result was a huge body of work by thousands of artists, the majority of which is stultifyingly boring and which has been mocked in the West ever since as “Girl meets tractor”. (This description of Socialist Realism and policy quote below from http://www.russianartdealer.com/socialist-realism/)
Applying Socialist Realism to literature, The Union of Soviet Writers stated in 1934 that “Socialist Realism is the basic method of Soviet literature and literary criticism. It demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism.”
It is hardly surprising that Doctor Zhivago inspired hostility from those committed to the spirit of socialism. One Union representative called Pasternak, “a literary whore, hired and kept in America’s anti-Soviet brothel,” while a government official called him “a pig who has fouled the spot where he eats and cast filth on those by whose labor he lives and breathes.” Not only was Pasternak excommunicated from the Union of Soviet Writers, but some demanded that he be banished from Russia altogether.
Pasternak did not have to leave Russia; however, his being cut off from the Union of Soviet Writers meant that his many translations of the classics into Russian could no longer be published. This made it impossible for him to make a living as a writer. The love of Pasternak’s life, Olga Ivinskaya, said “The easiest way of dealing with intellectuals like us was simply to starve us into submission.” Ironically this did not silence Pasternak, and neither Ivinskaya. Another way of getting to Pasternak, however, was pressuring Ivinskaya. She was taken away to prison in 1950 while pregnant with Pasternak’s child. While there she experienced a miscarriage.
As Pasternak completed the translation of many tragedies of Shakespeare, it seemed his real life was just as tragic. Pasternak’s reaction to times of suffering is formulated, naturally, in poetic verse:
The order of the acts has been schemed and plotted / And nothing can avert the final curtain’s fall / I stand alone / All else is swamped by Pharisaism / To live life to the end is not a childish task.
Yet, Pasternak’s determination to stay the course, is neither simple defiance nor resignation. He expressed, “If there is suffering anywhere, why should not my art suffer and myself with it? I am speaking of the most artistic in the artist . . . of the sacrifice without which art becomes unnecessary.”
The insight of literary critic Mitzi Brunsdale is surely significant here. Explaining the novel’s point of view, she writes:
“Zhivago” itself derives from the Russian verb “to live,” lending irony to the opening scene of the novel, the funeral of Zhivago’s mother: “’Who’s being buried?’ – ‘Zhivago’ [the living one].” The name also has a wealth of religious connotations stemming from the risen Christ’s question in the Orthodox Easter liturgy, “Why seek you the living [zhivago] among the dead?” In his search for truth, the thinking man Yuri Zhivago at first naively embraces revolution as the natural result of the czarist repression of the people, only gradually realizing that enforced collectivization under the Soviets means the spiritual slavery of the very souls it falsely purported to free. The truth at which Yuri Zhivago at last arrives, after his long journey through the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the savagery of World War I and the Civil War, and the struggle for survival that faced his people during the 1920s, is the old truth of humanity’s youth – that an individual can be fulfilled only by free choice in pursuing his own creativity, his own love, unhampered by political or social stricture.” (from the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Volume 6, pp. 3464-3465)
Pasternak, “presented Zhivago’s inability to influence his own fate not as a fault, but as a sign that he was destined to become an artistic witness to the tragedy of his age. The author closely identified Zhivago’s predicament with that of the suffering Christ.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/zhivago/ei_pasternak.html)
Professor Brunsdale ends her critical consideration of Pasternak by refusing to ignore the strong religious aspect of Pasternak’s work. The cycle of poetry concluding Doctor Zhivago speaks not only of nature and love, but also the meaning of life and the life of Christ. She explains: “Pasternak exercised . . . intense awareness of all cosmic and human reality as ‘life in Christ,’ and the consequent plunge into love as the only dynamic and creative force which really honors this ‘Life’ by creating itself anew in Life’s – Christ’s – image. In the glorious healing lesson of Doctor Zhivago, that modern man’s renewal lies in identification of his sufferings with those of his Savior, undistracted by selfish materialistic desire, the poet of Doctor Zhivago thus is “the living one” against whom godless history cannot prevail.”
In 1987 Pasternak was posthumously reinstated to the Soviet Writer’s Union. In 1988, thirty years after its censure, Doctor Zhivago was published in Russia. The New World, which had rejected Doctor Zhivago, went on to publish Solzhenitsyn. Pasternak’s house was made into a museum. In 1989, Pasternak’s son accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of his father.
Geoffrey Hosking (from The Cambridge History of Russian Literature), observes, Pasternak’s “novel and its accompanying poems . . . were to be very influential, for they helped to revive a concern with the human personality, with morality and with religion, which had been largely submerged within the majestic state sponsored collective certainties of the Soviet era.”
It is only appropriate to let Pasternak conclude with his poetry, the last three stanzas of HOLY WEEK from the “Poems of Yuri Zhivago.” Pasternak became the suffering artist he had mentioned, with a profound artistic message for his Motherland. His message neither suppressed nor submerged the suffering, but rather offered the highest social realism, transformation, and hope for the Russian people he loved so much.
March scatters handfuls of the snow; Like alms among the lame,
As though a man had carried out
The holy Ark outside the church,
And gave its all unto the poor.
They sing until the sunrise hour.
Then, having wept their fill,
Their chants of the Psalms and Acts
Flow with an air serene
Into an empty lamplit street.
All creatures hear the voice of spring
In the still of night, believing
That when good weather comes
Death itself shall be destroyed
By the travail of the Resurrection.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
It’s Leif Erikson Day! Hinga Dinga Durgen Everyone! Turns out this what Spongebob Squarepants wishes everyone on Leif Erikson Day. It’s his second favorite holiday, after April Fool’s… He even has a costume!
Leif Erikson (pronounced Layf, like some of us of a certain age remember the actor Leif Garrett) was a Norwegian traveler, voyager, explorer and sailor who is considered the leader of the first boat of explorers to visit North America. It’s generally considered that he landed at Newfoundland and later Labrador. Leif had a very adventurous father, Erik the Red, who established a colony on Greenland, after being kicked out of Iceland—but that’s another story.
There was no place for Leif there, since Erik the Red was a larger than life person himself, so he set his eyes on the West. There had been rumors of a far-away land full of wonders, (specifically from Bjarni Herjólfsson, another Viking explorer who some believe is the true first discover of North America.) He decided to go exploring, heading west across a great body of water. Artifacts excavated at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland have been dated to around 1000 A.D., which is considered the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America. According to sagas, the Norse called the area Vinland, because they found grapes growing there.
It wasn’t until 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge, after learning of the research done by Norwegian-American researchers, recognized Erikson as the “Discoverer of America,” even though the first book written about the Norse having discovered America was published in the late 1800s. Wisconsin was the first state to make Leif Erikson day an official holiday—not surprising since it was mostly settled by Scandinavians. Over the years, other states made the day an official holiday. In 1963, a U. S. Congressman from Duluth introduced a bill to observe Leif Erikson day across the nation. In 1964, L B J started the tradition of proclaiming October the 9th as Leif Erikson Day. Every year, it’s at least one thing Congress can agree on!
Why is it October 9? Since there were no records available from the Viking visitation in 1000, any date could have been chosen for Leif Erikson Day. How was October 9th chosen? The Norwegian ship Restauration, bearing the first official waive of Norwegian immigrants, arrived in New York on October 9, 1825.
So have a happy holiday, and remember that it’s because of Leif Erikson and the Restauration that Congress is actually agreeing once a year. Hinga Dinga Durgen Everyone!
(As always, the opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and in no way reflect upon the beliefs and principles of Williamson County Public Library, its employees, or the Norwegians.)
This year Williamson County Public Library is having a program on Saturday, August 15 in conjunction with Spirit of ’45 to commemorate the end of World War II and the soldiers who fought, served, returned or died during the war.
Why August 15th? The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw so eloquently named them, would know immediately. Japan surrendered on august 14, and August 15 immediately began to be celebrated as V-J Day (as June 6th was V – E Day.) 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. As those who served in World War II and those who lived during it pass away, many people began to realize that as they pass away, so does our connection to World War II and remembering the cost and sorrow of the war.
Led by Susan Collins, Senator from Maine, supported by Senators Daniel Inouye and Frank Lautenberg, who co-sponsored this resolution, Congress in 2010 voted unanimously to create a national day to preserve and honor those who served in World War II. Spirit of ’45 Day is observed on the second Friday of August this year, aligning with August 14, 1945, when spontaneous celebrations broke out across America at the news that the most destructive war in history was over. The purpose of Spirit of ’45 Day is to renew the sense of community, national unity, shared sacrifice and “can do” attitude that were the hallmarks of the generation that endured the difficult times of the Great Depression, fought to defend democracy in the largest mobilization of manpower since the building of the pyramids, and led an unprecedented effort to assure a better future for their children and their children’s children, for both former ally and foe alike.
Spirit of ’45 Day has been steadily gaining traction each year, and is now being celebrated throughout the country with events and activities organized by museums and community history associations, WWII heritage groups, senior living communities and care providers, veterans’ organizations, youth leadership organizations, and others. This year, Scarlett Johansson and Elton John both are stepping up in a big way to help commemorate this generation. John’s mother manned an anti-aircraft gun during the Battle of Britain, and Johansson’s great uncle was the last soldier to die in combat on August 15, 1945.
WWII in Images: Remembrance and Reflection
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Library
Music and movies were two of the best and least expensive forms of entertainment during World War II. Ballrooms were packed as people got together to listen to music, dance, and forget about the Depression and the War for a while. Music pulled communities and nations together, and could be used symbolically to remind everyone what the soldiers and armies were fighting for.
Remember, there was no television yet, only radio, and people gathered around their radios to listen to news and radio programs, and the music they loved. Sometimes groups of people danced in living rooms, “cutting a rug,” others danced at school dances, in ballrooms and clubs. The famous Savoy Ballroom opened in 1926; it had a huge dance floor and a raised bandstand and was an immediate hit—that’s where the song “Stompin’ at the Savoy” came from. Prices were low; everyone was doing what they could to contribute to the war effort. It was a release to have fun and dance.
Many in Europe used Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as a secret code to show support for the Allies. The first five notes of the symphony are exactly the same at V (for victory) in Morse code – dit dit dit dah. Even though Beethoven was a German, he was known to have stood up for individual rights and was against Napoleon’s empire-building, which was enough for many Europeans. The Germans, under the leadership of Hitler, were big fans of Wagner, which made Wagner’s comeback after World War II take much longer than normal.
World War I vets had fallen in love with Paris, and the “Lost Generation “of the 1920s followed suit. Many soldiers had fond memories of Paris and wanted to remember France in better days. Starting with “As Time Goes By” (by Max Steiner) in Casablanca to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein) showed that men fighting abroad and other Allied countries mourned the Nazi occupation of France.
As for popular music, Hitler was rumored to detest jazz – perhaps because it was played (written and sung) by non-Aryans? The response to this belief was definitely to listen to more jazz, jive and swing music. Big bands and swing music were popular before World War II, and continued to be popular throughout the war. It was a nice diversion from thinking about the war and worrying if your special someone would be coming back. This was the time of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bennie Goodman and their orchestras. Also included in this popular craze were Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. “Swing, Swing, Swing, Swing” was a popular song, instrumental with lots of brass. “Deep Purple” (not to be confused with the band that came later!–guitarist Richie Blackmore named the band after the song because it was his grandmother’s favorite) was such a popular piano piece that words were quickly written for the song. Other popular swing music songs were “Begin the Beguine”, “In the Mood”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, “Sentimental Journey”, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Midnight Serenade”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”.
Big bands became less and less big as there were fewer and fewer men to play the instruments. Glenn Miller was rumored to have been a spy for the United States. He was flying over the English Channel when his plane went down in bad weather in December 1944. No one on the plane was ever found. So we’ll never know if he was a spy or just a musician going to another USO gig to remind the GIs of home. The music of the 1930s and 40s will always be remembered as a background to war, and a time when all people of the Greatest Generation were connected by music and patriotism. The fact that swing keeps coming back is a testament to its beat, its popularity and a true sense of nostalgia. Read the rest of this entry
In 2000, when Derek Arnold created International CAPS LOCK day, it was a parody, making fun of those people who insist in typing everything in ALL CAPITALS. But, as it happened, it became more and more popular, with people celebrating it just for the key itself. No parody at all. The day became so popular with internet users that it is now celebrated twice a year—on June 28 (this Sunday)and on October 22. But, WHERE DID WE GET THE CAPS LOCK KEY FROM?!?
In the beginning, before computers (GASP!) there were typewriters (ancient technology that went the way of the PHONOGRAPGH). Remington typewriters were the first to have a shift key, so you could shift to a capital letter but it was just a toggle switch–there was no way to keep that key down. In 1914, Remington added the SHIFT LOCK KEY on its Junior model, which gave the user access to more characters by keeping the key locked. Some think typewriters and computers added the CAPS LOCK KEY for businesses that needed forms typed in all caps (so anyone who hates the caps lock key, blame them). Typewriters placed the CAPS LOCK KEY where it is now, and computer designers copied the typewriter keyboard when the first put out computers, keeping the familiar QWERTY keyboard we all have become accustomed to. Even then, there were complaints when computers kept the same keyboard design (for those of you who wish the keyboard letters were alphabetical, they tried that first… there were issues, and now we’re stuck).
Early on in Internet history, Internet users had only text keys to show emphasis, no fun yet strange emoticons that can create entire conversations by themselves. They used **** and CAPS to differentiate their thoughts and emotions. Some people, holdovers from early Internet days perhaps, still type messages in all capitals. Nowadays, writing in ALL CAPS has become an etiquette NO-NO, since it is the equivalent of shouting online. Every once in a while for emphasis is considered OK, but not everything in caps. People have gotten fired for using all caps all the time. REALLY! In 2007, a woman in New Zealand was fired from her job after she sent one too many memos in all caps.