I Remember, by Boris Pasternak

This is an odd little book. According to the copyright page, it was published in English in 1959. There is no critical help to speak of, though there  is a brief introduction and a list of names mentioned in the text. It’s really two books, or two short works–the “autobiographical sketch,” I Remember, and an essay titled, “Translating Shakespeare.”

Let us assume that the pressures from the authorities required Pasternak to make himself less than clear. Still, on reading I Remember, the reader wonders who all these people are, or why we should care. It is the kind of autobiography that a man would write to himself alone.

When he was young, Pasternak met Tolstoy and Scriabin. He even studied with Scriabin and had musical ambitions before he turned to poetry. His father was an artist, and his sketches are included in the book. Politics stays offstage.

The translator’s introduction observes that Pasternak brought several Shakespeare plays into Russian as a way of avoiding controversy in his writing. The essay is brief and gives only a few pages each to several of the plays, but his judgments are sound and recall Dr. Johnson in their common sense. He rejects any theory of Baconian or other authorship of the plays, relying on a weakness–Shakespeare’s repetition of ideas from play to play or even within speeches in the same play. “Forced to write two plays a year on an average, he had no time to revise and, constantly forgetting what he had written the day before, he repeated himself in his hurry.” This is the reliable judgment of an author who also had to work under pressure.

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