Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 1, Part 2 : A Girl from a Different Circle | Summary



Sixteen-year-old Lara begins a secret affair with her mother's part-time boyfriend, the lawyer Viktor Komarovsky. The "cold-blooded businessman" is infatuated with the girl, but she knows it "will end badly someday." She is torn between the satisfaction of having a much older man pay attention to her and spend money on her, and the disgust she feels by letting the relationship continue. When they finally do sleep together, Lara is immediately remorseful, while Komarovsky is even more bewitched. She becomes deeply depressed, with an "aching sense of brokenness and horror at herself" clouding her every moment. Lara goes to church not to worship but to cry."

A railway workers' strike at the Moscow railway junction sets off a chain of events that will impact the rest of the narrative. Many of the strike's leaders, including Pavel Antipov and Kiprian Tiverzin, are exiled from Moscow for their involvement. Antipov's son, Pasha, goes to live with Tiverzin's mother. Lara meets Pasha in the Tiverzins' courtyard when she and her friend Olya visit Olya's grandmother, Marfa Tiverzina. Pasha idolizes Lara, and she revels in her power over him. Compared to Komarovsky, he and his friend Nika seem like little boys, "playing at the most dreadful and adult of games," war.

Real war is coming closer, and Lara and her mother prepare to move into a hotel, away from the gunfire. They put off the move until the employees at her mother's dressmaking shop go on strike. Though the women promise Amalia Karlovna that their striking isn't personal, she is terribly distressed. In her hotel room one night, she poisons herself by drinking iodine. A doctor is sent for. He is performing in a chamber music recital at the home of the Gromekos, the family who has taken in Yuri like one of their own. When Alexander Alexandrovitch, the head of the family, announces that he will accompany the doctor on his call, Yuri and Misha (who spends as much time at the Gromekos' as he does at his own home) beg to tag along.

In the Guichard hotel room, the doctor tends to Amalia behind a partition as an exhausted Lara sleeps in an armchair. When Komarovsky steps out from behind the partition and wakes Lara, both Misha and Yuri are riveted, for different reasons. As Lara communicates silently with Komarovsky through looks and glances, Yuri can't take his eyes off her, sensing her "enslavement" to him and something vulgar between them. Although Yuri has philosophized about vulgarity with Misha and Tonya, seeing it here both confuses and mesmerizes him. On the way home, Misha tells Yuri that Komarovsky is the man from the train, "the same one who got your father to drink and destroyed him." But Yuri can think only "about the girl and the future, and not about his father and the past."


Lara enters her relationship with Komarovsky fully aware of how her actions could damage her future—she and her brother know they would have to make their own way in the world, and for that, "one had to be in good repute." Yet she takes the risk anyway, pushing aside her straight-laced image for one of "naughty schoolgirl daring." It feels good to be bad, at least for a little bit. But more importantly, it feels good to have an older, more powerful person taking care of her. Lara's father is dead, and her mother is timid and more like a child than an authority figure. Komarovsky fills the role of both lover and parent, the latter being the reason why Lara ultimately stays with him.

Lara could be called a shape-shifter since she represents different things to different men. To Komarovsky, she is innocence personified. After their first night together, he remembers how "[h]er shadow on the wallpaper of the hotel room seemed the silhouette of her uncorruption." Young and pure, she is everything he is not. The only way he knows to capture her innocence is to destroy it further. But with Pasha, Lara is the predator. Mirroring her own relationship with Komarovsky, Lara notices the effect she has on the boy and "unconsciously beg[ins] to take advantage of it." It doesn't matter whether Lara is playing predator or prey: both men "love her to distraction." Even Yuri becomes fascinated after watching her interact with Komarovsky on the night her mother tries to poison herself.

Lara's a magnet for male attention, but Pasternak never really explains why. That's because Pasternak based the character of Lara on his own mistress, Olga Ivinskaya. When they met, he was 56 years old and married; she was a 34-year-old widow working at a literary magazine. Love letters between the two show the depth of Pasternak's devotion to the "other woman" in a real life love triangle that strongly resembles the one depicted in the book. The men in Doctor Zhivago desire Lara because Pasternak desires her. As the "other woman," she represents an escape from Pasternak's life and comes to represent, for both him and the reader, freedom from responsibility, family, and previous commitments. For most people there's nothing more attractive than that.

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