Pg. 259 of David Markson’s copy of Pasternak: A Biography by Ronald Hingley:
On which David Markson placed two lines and a check in the margin next to the following paragraph re: how compared to other Russian writers Pasternak didn’t have it so rough:
“Akhmatova was to carry her resentment of Pasternak beyond the grave. Shortly after his death she exploded with indignation on hearing one of his admirers describe him as a martyr to persecution. This was stuff and nonsense, she told Chukovskaya. Far from being a sacrificial victim, Boris Leonidovich had been extraordinarily lucky. His temperament had ensured that he always enjoyed himself in any circumstances whatever. Almost all his writings achieved publication in the Soviet Union or abroad, and the rest had been eagerly passed from hand to hand in manuscript. Pasternak had always had money; Akhmatova had long been desperately poor. Neither of Pasternak’s sons had ever been arrested; Akhmatova’s son had served long terms in labour camps. One had only to compare Pasternak’s fate with Mandelstam’s and Tsvetayeva’s to see how fortunate he had been. And Chukovskaya could not help reflecting that Pasternak’s sufferings over the Nobel Prize affair had been a mere ‘butterflies’ duel’ in comparison with the persecution of Akhmatova and of Zoshchenko from 1946 onwards.”
The “Nobel Prize affair” mentioned in the marked paragraph is in reference to Pasternak receiving the prize in 1958, and his subsequent threatening by the Soviet government to the point that he was forced to renounce the prize.
As Markson puts it in Vanishing Point on pg. 87:
“A reactionary bourgeois award, Pravda called Pasternak’s Nobel Prize.
Which he was forced to decline.”
And yet, Ahkmatova is right.
Sure, Pasternak didn’t necessarily have it easy—no one would say having to renounce one of the most prestigious awards in the world is easy—but compared to most other Russian writers of the time period, it’s tough to see him as “a martyr to persecution.”
“The myriad Anna Akhmatova poems, written over decades, which she or friends were forced to immediately memorize.
Because under Soviet rule she was afraid to put them on paper.”
Markson explains on pg. 152 of Vanishing Point.
On pg. 26 of the same book:
“The fact that Isaac Babel was executed in a Moscow prison cellar.
The strong possibility that the manuscript of a novel confiscated at his arrest still exists in Stalin-era files.”
Also in Vanishing Point, on pg. 60, Markson makes mention of “the first time Osip Mandelstam was arrested by Soviet authorities.”
The operative word, of course, being first.
“Osip Mandelstam once wrote a poem criticizing Stalin.
And died in a Gulag.”
Markson quite succinctly put it in This Is Not A Novel on pg. 28.
Also in that book, on pg. 55:
“In his mid-twenties, Joseph Brodsky was sentenced to five years shoveling manure at the White Sea for what the Soviet Union saw as social parasitism.”
And on pg. 85 of same:
“Meyerhold was executed by the Soviets.”
Pg. 10 of This Is Not A Novel also questions the death of Gorky:
“Maxim Gorky died of tuberculosis.
Or was he ordered murdered by Stalin?”
“Imperialist bourgeois and decadent counterrevolutionary tendencies.
Both Shostakovich and Prokofiev were accused of at one time or another by Soviet authorities.”
Markson writes in The Last Novel, on pg. 19.
“Through much of her life, Marina Tsvetayeva was forced to endure practically a beggar’s existence. And with her nearest relatives repeatedly imprisoned.
Akhmatova fared little better, confronted by the same family jailings, often subsisting for long periods on little more than black bread.”
Wrote Markson on pg. 53 of Reader’s Block.
A few pages before that, on 51, a mention of Mandelstam in the Soviet camps:
“Convinced he was being poisoned, Osip Mandelstam may have sometimes stolen food from other inmates in his Soviet prison camp. And been beaten for it. At the end he survived on scraps from a garbage heap.”
“D. S. Mirsky died in Siberia in one of Stalin’s purges.”
Markson wrote in Reader’s Block on pg. 59.
On pg. 91 of the same book:
“Irina Ratushinskaya. At twenty-eight, as late as in 1982, sentenced to seven years in the strictest of Russian prison camps.
For writing verse deemed unsuitable to the state.”
A few pages later on 105:
“Hayim Lenski died of starvation in a Soviet labor camp. Sent there for having written poems in Hebrew.”
Further on in Reader’s Block on pg. 151:
“Isaac Babel disappeared in one of Stalin’s purges. Nothing whatsoever is known about his death.
Conversely, orders allegedly given by Stalin in regard to Pasternak: Don’t touch the cloud-dweller.”
Possibly a reference to Pasternak’s poetry collection Twin in the Clouds.
In addition, obviously, to the “head in the clouds” lyrical romantic poet implication.
The cloud-dweller “a martyr to persecution”?
I think I’d go with Ahkmatova on this one:
Stuff and nonsense.