Dr. Zhivago’s heroine takes center stage in plagiarism queue | Boris Pasternak

Two authors will go toe-to-toe in London’s high court this week in a bitter literary plagiarism row revolving around the love life of one of Russia’s most romantic heroines, Lara Antipova. Dr Zhivago.

British author Anna Pasternak, a descendant of the Russian author of the original novel, will argue in court that substantial sections of her own factual account of Lara’s character’s real-life inspiration have since been copied and exploited in an American novel. .

Lara’s enigmatic beauty is at the heart of Boris Pasternak’s 1957 story, and she was notably portrayed by Julie Christie in a much-loved film. David Lean film from the book. In 2016, Pasternak, a journalist and Boris’s great-niece, published a book that identified the real person behind Lara’s character.

It was argued that he was based heavily on Olga Ivinskaya, the author’s secret mistress and literary muse. Research by Anna Pasternak for her book Lara: The Untold Love Story and the inspiration for Doctor Zhivagopublished by HarperCollins, traced previous generations of her family, including finding and interviewing Ivinskaya’s daughter Irina.

But in 2019, Penguin Random House put out a new piece of American historical fiction that used the Cold War response to the publication of Dr Zhivago as part of his narrative. This book, The secrets we keep, tells how the CIA smuggled copies of Boris Pasternak’s romance novel into the Soviet Union after it was banned by the communist regime. The plot describes how Russian-language copies were distributed throughout Soviet territory by American agents because it criticized the revolutionary zeal that spread throughout Russia in the early 20th century. Alongside its political themes, the new American novel features sex scenes involving Ivinskaya that have upset members of the Pasternak family.

According to Anna Pasternak, passages from her non-fiction study have been used to anchor the American novel which, confusingly, is written by a woman also named Lara: Lara Prescott.

The 54-year-old British author has claimed Prescott failed to properly acknowledge the use of her work and initially apologized for the “oversight” and offered to “buy her a drink”. In written submissions at a pre-trial hearing, Pasternak also claimed that when he met Prescott at the London Book Fair in 2019, he was thanked with the words: “Your book of hers was an invaluable resource. I couldn’t have written my book without him. I based the whole story of Boris and Olga on it.”

Pasternak now hopes that a legal decision this summer in the high court will help clarify how much historical research can be reused by a novelist in a fictional account and when it might be considered literary plagiarism. There is a real need, he has suggested, to establish a new “Lara’s law” as a precedent. As it stands, copyright law offers little guidance on the rules that should govern historical fiction.

Boris Pasternak with his mistress Olga Ivinskaya, believed to be the inspiration for Lara, and their daughter Irina.
Boris Pasternak with his mistress Olga Ivinskaya, believed to be Lara’s inspiration, and their daughter Irina. Photographer: Ullstein Bild/Getty

But Prescott, who lives in Texas, says her own book is also the result of hard original effort. In a statement to the ObserverHe said: “These accusations are baseless and opportunistic. The secrets we keep it is my original work and the result of years of research, writing, and editing. I am grateful to Penguin Random House for their support. I am looking forward to putting this experience behind me so I can focus on what really matters in my life: writing my second novel and being a good mother to my two-year-old son.”

Prescott’s novel was published on a two-book deal worth $2.5 million (£2 million), and the film rights were sold. His publisher has taken up the defense as costs are forecast to rise into the millions.

“Lara Prescott has created an original work of fiction from her own historical research and creative ideas,” said a statement from her publisher this weekend. “In our opinion, her claim against her is baseless and without merit. Penguin Random House UK has a long and proud history of supporting its authors and we have no hesitation in endorsing Ms Prescott.”

Anna Pasternak, on the other hand, is believed to have been supported by anonymous backers to help her with the case. The original Russian novel and film released 57 years ago have left a lasting cultural impact, and Lara’s haunting Theme remains one of the most popular film musicals of all time. But perhaps Lara’s law is her new literary legacy.

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