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Atelier de communication scientifique pour doctorant·es

Publié le 13 mai 2022 Mis à jour le 1 juin 2022

Élise Haja : "The Invisible Hands of Doctor Zhivago: A Study of the Translations’ Reception"

À la demande d’un des promoteurs de la thèse d’Élise Haja, le bureau du centre organise, pour la première fois, un atelier de communication scientifique pour jeunes doctorant·e·s souhaitant s’exercer à la communication orale devant le public de Tradital, avant une prise de parole programmée dans le cadre d’un colloque ou d’un congrès. La doctorante présentera la communication qui a été acceptée au prochain congrès EST (Oslo, 22-24 juin 2022).

Cette simulation se déroulera selon le timing suivant :

- temps de parole limité à 20 minutes,

- communication en anglais,

- discussion de 40 minutes.


In 1956, Boris Pasternak’s prosaic masterpiece Doctor Zhivago was barely finished that the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs already qualified it as “hate pamphlet against the USSR” and refused to have it published. The CIA’s role in the distribution of the book, forbidden in the Soviet Union, has only been recently revealed. According to a memo to all branch chiefs of the agency’s Soviet Russia Division, the book had “great propaganda value” and was an opportunity “to make Soviet citizens wonder what [was] wrong with their government”. As a result, the CIA encouraged the novel to be published in “a maximum number of foreign editions”. The first translation, published in Italian in 1957, was quickly followed by numerous other translations into several European languages, all written in a few months as a matter of urgency to serve the soft power manoeuvre. Boris Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize, and forced to turn it down. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, the novel was still being called anti-Sovietic and anti-Revolution and was more and more decried by a population that hadn’t even read it.

Our proposal addresses Doctor Zhivago’s particular case, its public demonization in the USSR, and the CIA’s strong intervention on the distribution, translations and promotion of the book. In the light of the newly revealed CIA documents, we describe this well-known case of cultural diplomacy (Von Flotow, 2018), and the role and motivations of the different agents who commissioned or produced the translations of the novel in the West and of those who hindered its diffusion on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Through the study of paratextual material, we analyse the reception of the translated novel in the Western world and in the Soviet Union. We shortly present how political circumstances impacted the quality and reception of the translations in Dutch, English and Italian and compare the way it shaped the readers’ perception. We then give a particular attention to the French translation, to determine if its quality had a different influence on the French-speaking populations. We conclude with a reflection on how this affair is still being used as an illustration of the past Soviet censorship today.


  • FINN, P., COUVEE, P. (2014). The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, New York : Pantheon.
  • POPA, I. (2010). Traduire sous contraintes : Littérature et communisme. Paris : CNRS Éditions.
  • SAUNDERS, F. S. (2000). The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and The World of Arts and Letters. New York : The New Press.
  • TOLSTOY, I. (2009). Отмытый роман Пастернака: «Доктор Живаго» между КГБ и ЦРУ, Moscow: Vremya.
  • TOLSTOY, I. (2010). « Доктор Живаго» : Новые фактыи находкив Нобелевском Архиве, Prague : Human Rights Publishers.

Le 16 juin 2022


Campus du Solbosch