P.E.N. International, Isaiah Berlin, and the Ivinskaya Case

One third of my book Moscow has Ears Everywhere. New Investigations on Pasternak and Ivinskaya (Hoover Press, Stanford, 2019) is devoted to one episode of the Cultural Cold War that followed on the heels of the Pasternak case and is intimately related to it. I am referring to the “Ivinskaya case” (the account in my book originates from the article Mancosu 2018). One can trace the roots of the Ivinskaya case to 1946, when Olga Ivinskaya and Boris Pasternak started their love affair and to Ivinskaya’s first labor camp experience between 1950 and 1953. The passionate story between Ivinkskaya and Pasternak encompassed Ivinskaya’s first conviction in 1950, her liberation in 1953, the crisis surrounding the publication of Doctor Zhivago in 1957, and Pasternak’s persecution by the Soviets, on account of the Nobel Prize, from 1958 till his death. Olga Ivinskaya was always at Pasternak’s side and, at times, personally shielded him from the pressure exercised by the Soviets. After Pasternak died in May 1960, Ivinskaya and her daughter, Irina Emelianova, were sentenced and sent to labor camps. Olga was sentenced to eight years and Irina to three years. The charge brought against them was of having received money from abroad originating from Pasternak’s royalties in the West. This led to international outrage and to the Ivinskaya case. In my book, I describe the campaign that was carried out in the West in order to persuade the Soviet authorities to revoke or soften the labor camp sentences for Ivinskaya and Emelianova. Intellectuals in the United Kingdom were especially active in the campaign and a special committee was formed in Oxford. Moreover, P.E.N. International, through its General Secretary David Carver (General Secretary of P.E.N. International from 1951 to 1974; for more biographical information on Carver click here), also pressured the Soviets for a reversal of the “savage” sentences. While I recounted these events in detail in my book, recent documents have emerged concerning the activities of P.E.N. and contacts between Isaiah Berlin (who had joined P.E.N. in 1961) and David Carver that, while not altering the general picture, complement it in interesting ways. In this post, I would like to present these new documents with some commentary to explain the background to the events. It is my hope that this post might be useful to future historians interested in the activities of P.E.N. International on behalf of persecuted writers and intellectuals.

The documents to be presented originate from the McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, The Isaiah Berlin Manuscripts Collection (IBMC) at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at Austin. I am extremely grateful to Henry Hardy for having brought the Carver-Berlin correspondence to my attention and to the curators of the McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, and the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, for permission to publish (for the holdings of P.E.N. at the University of Tulsa click here; for the holdings of P.E.N. at the Harry Ransom Center click here). Despite my attempts, it has not been possible to determine who owns the rights for Carver’s letters. Finally, I thank the trustees of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust (Wolfson College, Oxford) for permission to cite the Berlin letters.

Olga Ivinskaya was arrested on August 16, 1960 and her daughter, Irina Emelianova, on September 5, 1960.

Olga Ivinskaya, Boris Pasternak, and Irina Emelianova, 1959

They were sentenced in December 1960 and news of the sentencing arrived to private individuals in the West only on January 1st. The first to receive the news was Georges Nivat, Irina’s fiancé, who had been forced to leave the USSR just before the planned wedding with Irina (Nivat left the USSR on June 10, 1960). The detailed reconstruction of the turbulent period going from Pasternak’s death to the arrests of Olga and Irina constitutes the first two-thirds of Mancosu 2019. Once the news of the sentencing arrived in the West, Nivat lost no time to get in touch with his Oxford contacts (George Katkov and Max Hayward) and this set in motion a process that led to the constitution of the Oxford Committee, organized by Katkov, which included intellectuals of the caliber of Bertrand Russell, Rebecca West, and others. The aim of the committee was to secretly pressure the Soviets to release the two women. Also P.E.N. International swiftly got into action and appealed to the Soviets through David Carver, its General Secretary.

David Carver with his wife Blanche

Carver addressed Alekseĭ Surkov (1899–1983; head of the Soviet Writers’ Union from 1953 to 1959), who during the Ivinskaya case was chairman of the foreign commission of the Soviet Writers’ Union.

Surkov was Pasternak’s arch-enemy and he is greatly responsible for many events that affected the Pasternak case (see Mancosu 2013), including the decision to ban Pasternak from the Soviet Writers’ Association. That decision was taken at the end of the Nobel Prize crisis and effectively cut off any possibility for Pasternak to earn his living in the USSR. Much of the troubles that were to follow originated with this ban. Surkov was also greatly responsible for the way the Ivinskaya case developed.

Here is how I summarize the Carver-Surkov exchange in my book:

The exchange between David Carver and A. Surkov began in January with a telegram from Carver to Surkov expressing concern about the condemnation of Ivinskaya and Emelianova. A press release dated January 19, 1961, informed the public of the contents of Carver’s telegram to Surkov, which urgently appealed to Surkov to intervene to “secure [the] release [of] Madame Olga Ivinskaya and her daughter.” A telegram along similar lines was sent on January 23 by the English Centre of International P.E.N. Surkov replied on January 24, dismissing the relevance of the Ivinskaya case to a body such as P.E.N. According to Surkov, there were neither moral nor legal grounds for intervening in the case, for Ivinskaya and her daughter had been condemned in a court of law for criminal offenses related to “currency machinations.” Carver replied on January 24 by pointing out that everyone in the West was well aware of who Ivinskaya was and of her relation to Pasternak. Carver asked that the trial proceedings be made public. He also wrote a longer letter on January 30 in which he reiterated his plea for clemency and pointed out how badly this case would affect the relations between P.E.N. and the Soviet Writers’ Union.

No answer was sent to this request, but Carver met Surkov while the latter visited England with the Soviet delegation in February 1961. Surkov replied to Carver on April 4 with a long letter that summarizes the Soviets’ point of view on the Ivinskaya case. Surkov claimed to have studied the three thick volumes making up the trial proceedings and, while he made no concessions on any point, his letter delivered some interesting information.[…] Surkov then expressed his point of view on the proper way to establish relations between P.E.N. and the Soviet Writers’ Union. Carver closed the exchange with a letter dated April 26. Surkov, as we know, did his best to smear Ivinskaya’s reputation, but he also made a terrible blunder. At a reception at the Soviet embassy in February, he promised that Ivinskaya would be released within a few months. Carver reminded him of that promise in his last letter, dated April 26, 1961. This was certainly a source of embarrassment for Surkov, who probably had to justify his statement in front of higher authorities in the USSR. (Mancosu 2019, pp. 125-126)

Aleksei Surkov

We will momentarily see that the first letter presented below, from Carver to Berlin, dated April 19, 1961, begins with a mention of the letter Carver had prepared in reply to Surkov, which was sent on April 26, 1961. The reference in the same letter to the “Wiston House Conference” is a reference to the visit of the Soviet delegation in February 1961 that I mentioned above.

But before I provide the background for the meeting at Wiston House, let me cite from a letter by Carver to Pethick Lawrence explaining why Surkov had become the main Soviet referent for P.E.N.’s attempts to influence the Soviets on the Ivinskaya case. On January 23, 1961, Carver explained to Lawrence:

The Moscow radio story of yesterday morning is almost certainly, I feel, a direct result of my cable to Mr. Surkov which went off to him last Thursday [this was the telegram Carver sent to Surkov on January 19]. Don’t imagine for one moment that I feel Surkov himself is likely to be on our side on this, but he is an important functionary and was received here as a guest of P.E.N. at a reception about a year ago. Also, I have been corresponding with him about the possibility of having Russian writers as observers at P.E.N. Congresses. So we are using him as a “letter box”. (PEN Box 153.6; HRC)

Carver used very similar words in a letter, also written on January 23, to Maurice Edelman. The goal of the letters was that of asking Lawrence and Edelman, who were both members of the House of Commons, to raise the issue of the Ivinskaya case in the House. In his future dealings with Surkov, Carver would find drastic confirmation of how little Surkov was on his side on this and other matters.

Let us now return to the meeting at Wiston House. On February 23, 1961, British and Russian politicians met at Wiston House, near Stying, Sussex, for a four-day conference on “the principles and practice of coexistence.” The conference was organized by the Great Britain–USSR Association, presided over by Earl Attlee. The Russian delegation was headed by Alekseĭ Surkov and included Alekseĭ Adzhubei, editor of Izvestia and son-in‑law of Khrushchev. In addition, Georgiĭ Zhukov, a minister in charge of cultural relations with foreign countries, was part of the delegation. On the British side, the delegates included, among others, William Hayter, former British ambassador in Moscow, and Isaiah Berlin. Whatever the goals of the four-day conference might have been, it became clear to everyone involved that the Soviet delegation had arrived with the explicit intent to put an end to the protests concerning the Ivinskaya case that had been raised in the previous month.

Surkov, Zhukov and Adzhubei in London on February 21, 1961

This took two forms. The first, as reported in the Daily Telegraph of February 24, consisted in Adzhubei’s  “foisting on the British Press documents intended to blacken the character of Mrs. Olga Ivinskaya, friend of the late Boris Pasternak”. I described and analyzed these documents at length in Mancosu 2019. But in addition to the “public” performance by Azhubei, such as it was, there was Surkov’s “private” performance at the conference and, in particular, what he told Isaiah Berlin in what Berlin calls in one of the letters to be presented below the “never-to-be-forgotten bus journey from Covent Garden at midnight to Wiston House”. Surkov’s main aim was to convince Berlin and the other British delegates that Olga Ivinskaya was a whore. In a very long letter to Rowland Burdon Muller from mid-March 1961, which I published in its entirety in Mancosu 2019, Berlin summarizes Surkov’s performance on the bus journey to Wiston House as follows:

in the bus, Mr Surkov began to tell me why Pasternak’s mistress had to go to jail for 8 years for receiving money from P.’s royalties abroad. She was described as a filthy whore; a woman engaged on subverting not only the financial but the moral politics of the Soviet State; a liar, a cheat, & an evil influence. I was told that while the English clapped their hands with joy when the bloodstained murderer Hammarskjöld—the enemy of liberty & justice—murdered Lumumba, they cried out with hypocritical horror when a squalid prostitute—who led a man of genius to write his worst book—the worthless Zhivagowas imprisoned for receiving stolen goods—100‑000 dollars sent by the pimp Feltrinelli through the spies he filtered into Russia for P’s ill gotten royalties obtained by betraying his country—then the great British public threw up its hands in horror! Did I know with whom I was sympathising? this woman’s husband committed suicide in 1941. Why? because he found her secret diary: containing no fewer than 74—74 he repeated in a voice of thunder which reverberated down that poor bus—lovers! this is the strumpet the British public felt sorry for, Lord Russell wrote about in the Times etc. etc. etc.

Isaiah Berlin

I cd only riposte by saying that I cd not check or deny their facts: the trial had not been attended by foreign journalists: but that (a) Pasternak ws the second most famous author in the world now, never mind whether justly or not; anything touching him automatically obtained world wide repercussions; (b) nobody wd believe the Russian story, however true: for the motives for persecution were too great. If, I said, the governor of Napoleon III, who had been denounced by, say, Victor Hugo, had put his mistress, Mme Sainte Beuve, a widow, in gaol for alleged currency offences, who wd have believed them? Karl Marx? One can imagine what he wd have written! or Herzen? or Mazzini? They cd imprison “evil influences” (it is now plain to me that they mean to canonise Pasternak, who really did loathe them, on the principle of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”) as much as they wished: but the effect in the West cd be very melancholy. They wd alienate even the left wing intelligentsia, etc. So we went at it ding-dong till we got to Wiston House, Wilton Park, Sussex, & dropped to bed exhausted at 2 a.m.— (IBMC, MS. Berlin 269, fols. 178–81; Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust: © the Trustees of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust 2018; an excerpt from the letter has already been published in Berlin 2013, 29–32)

After the visit of the Soviet delegation, which gave Carver the opportunity to speak with Surkov in London, Surkov replied with a very long letter dated April 4. All the Carver-Surkov correspondence was published for the first time in the original English in Mancosu 2019 although Italian, Russian (Afiani and Tomilina 1991), and French (Le Dossier 1994) translations had been available much earlier, the Italian one as early as September 1961 in Tempo Presente. A plan to publish the correspondence in English in 1961 failed when the New Statesman, which had been offered the letters, declined to publish them (as it emerges from a letter from John Freeman of the New Statesman to Max Hayward dated September 12, 1961; the letter is preserved in the Max Hayward papers at St Antony’s College, Oxford).

It is with the mention of Surkov’s letter dated April 4 that the next letter from Carver to Berlin opens.

19th April, 1961

Dear Sir Isaiah,

I enclose a copy of a very long letter, as you will see, from Alexei Surkov. It seems to me very interesting that he should have taken the trouble to write at such length and go into so much detail in regard to the Ivinskaya case. Presumably he has been instructed to do so because of the very considerable stir the case made in the West, the extent of which in England, must have been observed by him and his colleagues when they were over here for the Wiston House Conference.

In regard to his comments on Madame Ivinskaya, it seems curious that he does not seem to realise that whatever Ivinskaya did prior to the trial has no bearing whatever on the charges made against her in regard to currency irregularities. If she is [an] immoral woman the Russian courts should not have let this weigh with them. Again Surkov presumably knows that there are letters from Pasternak which make it clear that he was very apprehensive of some such persecution being instituted after his death. The letter makes no mention of the daughter whose sentence was perhaps even more shocking than that of her mother, especially since the Soviet authorities prevented her marriage to her French fiancé.

When replying to this letter I would like to be able to say that I trust that nothing in the letter can be taken to affect the promise he gave to you, (of which Edward Crankshaw has told me) that Madame Ivinskaya would be released in some twelve months. This seems to me to be of crucial importance because the effect of this promise was to muzzle us all here. Crankshaw made no further reference to the matter in his OBSERVER article on the Wiston House Conference and I abandoned the general appeal to all P.E.N. Centres to bombard Moscow with telegrams and letters.

The latter part of this letter, and its discussion of relations between Soviet writers and P.E.N., follows quite logically on the conversation I had with Surkov at the Soviet Embassy just before I met you as you came in to the reception. I have had the letter a few days but have not been able to find the time to deal with it until now, so that I would very greatly appreciate a word from you as soon as possible. I do not want to delay replying much longer.

I am sending Crankshaw a copy of the letter and also Mark Bonham-Carter, who is naturally very interested as Pasternak’s English publisher.

Yrs etc etc

 D[avid] C[arver] [signed]

Sir Isaiah Berlin, C.B.E.,

Headington House,


OXFORD.        Enclosure ….. (PEN Box 153.7, HRC)

An interesting part of this letter is the claim that the effect of Surkov’s promise in England “was to muzzle us all here”. While trying to strike a delicate balance between raising an energic protest without antagonizing the Soviets, thereby losing the ability to influence the course of events, even a comment such as the one by Surkov could give hope and call for restrain. The later correspondence, to be presented below, will shed more light on the exact nature of the “promise” Surkov had made. Edward Crankshaw (1909-1984) was a British writer and journalist who devoted much attention to the Ivinskaya case (see also Crankshaw 1984) and wrote two especially effective articles on it, the first published in early March (this is the article referred to in the letter above) and the second on October 1, 1961, which will be mentioned below. Berlin praised both articles in letters to Crankshaw.

Now for Berlin’s reply to Carver’s letter.



TEL. OXFORD 81005.

22 May, 1961.

Dear Mr. Carver,

I am exceedingly sorry not to have replied to your letter of 19 April, but I was away in Paris during the flurry in North Africa and your letter, which was sent on to Paris, got lost there as a result of the same flurry and only came back weeks later. I know all about Surkov and the case of which you speak for he addressed a long and very lying sermon on the subject in the bus that took us from Covent Garden into the country where an unhappy weekend was spent by the Anglo-Russian symposiasts. You say how curious it is that he does not realise that Ivinskaya’s previous life is not relevant to the case, etc, He does realise all this perfectly well and could not care less. He wishes to convey the notion that she is a prostitute, a low woman, not worthy of our sympathy, and men who can regard the death of Lumumba with equanimity should not make a fuss about the temporary imprisonment of a liar, a cheat, an embezzler and an evil influence. I think you are absolutely right not to bombard Moscow with letters, etc. about this case just then. But I do not think that Surkov has much power of authority and although it is right to treat his promise (if promise it was) as something of great value, since we have heard no more about this lately, it could do no harm if something were done from time to time to convey to them that we have not forgotten. What they hope for is oblivion. I feel that a memorial addressed to them now, signed, if possible, by fairly left-wing writers and those they know -e.g. Maugham, Russell, Graham Greene, Moravia, Mauriac, and of course if you can get them Sartre, etc. just to ask what is happening and whether there is any hope of clemency could not do any harm. It would be as well to stress that the writers of Europe continue to be concerned about this and will go on asking questions. There is no need to include the names of well-known “enemies” like Rebecca West, Stephen Spender, or for that matter myself. – I am not regarded as an enemy exactly – but my name will not add lustre to the document.

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin [signed] (PEN Box 153.7, HRC)

Meanwhile, as Berlin’s reply was taking too long to arrive, Carver had already sent his reply to Surkov, as he reports in the next letter to Berlin.

26th May, 1961.

Dear Sir Isaiah,

Thank you very much for your letter.

I realise, of course, that my letter to you had been delayed.

I duly wrote to Surkov in answer to his long letter to me and I made there pointed reference to his promise that Ivinskaya should be released within a period of months. I have not heard again yet but he is  believed to be coming to this Country with a party of Soviet writers towards the end of next month and they are all expected here, at Glebe House , at the Midsummer Eve subscription party which we happen to be holding for members. In view of this, I think I had better delay organising the kind of memorial which you suggest, and of which of course I heartily approve, until I have had a chance to talk to him. I am sure you are right that we must not let him imagine that we have forgotten the poor woman.

Best regards,

Yours sincerely,

D[avid] C[arver] [signed]

General Secretary.

Sir Isaiah Berlin, C.B.E., Headington House,

Old High Street,


Oxford. (PEN Box 153.7, HRC)

What Carver had written to Surkov concerning the “promise” was as follows:

Your letter makes no mention of Madame Ivinskaya’s daughter, whose sentence has, perhaps, shocked people in the west almost more profoundly.

I would like to express the hope that nothing you say in your letter should be taken to affect the promise you gave while in England that Madame Ivinskaya would be released within a period of months. (For the full letter and the entire Carver-Surkov exchange see Mancosu 2019, document 4.51, pp. 233-245). What follows is Berlin’s reply.



TEL. OXFORD 81005.

29th May, 1961.

Dear Mr. Carver,

I am sure you are quite right. If you could raise the matter with Surkov on his arrival, although he would certainly not be best pleased – that would be excellent.

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin [signed] (PEN Box 153.7, HRC)

The next letter is from Berlin to Crankshaw. Edward Crankshaw, who worked for The Observer, had shown an early interest in the Ivinskaya case with the first article on it written on January 22, 1961. In addition to some early articles, he wrote a major story for The Observer on October 1, which brought the reader up to date with the Carver-Surkov exchange (which had meanwhile been sent to the different branches of P.E.N.). The article repeated Surkov’s obscene characterization of Ivinskaya with the intent of conveying to the British public the extent of Surkov’s crassness. In the article Crankshaw returned to the issue of the “promise” and in his letter Berlin clarified what exactly had been said in “the unforgettable bus journey” (I take the opportunity to correct what I said in the passage of my book, cited above: Surkov’s promise was made in the bus ride not at the reception at the Embassy).

Edward Crankshaw. Photo by Jane Bown


2nd Oct. 1961

First let me congratulate you warmly on your piece on Pasternak in the Observer yesterday. It is a noble, unanswerable and definitive piece on the whole subject – I do not see how this could be done otherwise or better. There is only one correction I should like to make – Surkov did not of course “promise” that Madame I[vinskaya] would be liberated as a matter of weeks – not that he was in a position to make any such promise anyway – he only let drop the possibility that she might in fact not be imprisoned for more than a year or two – all this happened in that unforgettable bus journey from Covent Garden and was never adverted to again. I shall not write to the Observer to correct the record, but I thought I ought to let you know, and I shall send a copy of this to Carver. It makes no difference, of course, to the burden of your indictment. [next sentence added by hand] than[k] you also for not mentioning my name – (Letter from Berlin to Crankshaw, dated October 2, 1961. P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)

The next letter, from Berlin to Carver, contained the carbon copy of the letter to Crankshaw (see above) as enclosure.



TEL. OXFORD 81005.

2nd October, 1961.

Dear David Carver,

I enclose a copy of my card to Edward Crankshaw – this is only to set the record straight. If you did write to Surkov to say that he had “promised” this would not have been quite an exact rendering of what occurred, but perhaps it does not make a great difference. He could always reply that he neither wished nor had the power to divert the course of “justice”, but I fear he will let the whole matter drop.

Anyway, we have all done what we can at this end.

It is sad that only we should have bestirred ourselves – why have the Americans, the Italians, the French, not done a little more? I do not see how we can be expected to do any more.

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin [signed] (Letter from Berlin to Carver, dated October 2, 1961. P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)

Crankshaw replied to Berlin’s letter on October 24. I report the beginning of the letter (preserved at the Isaiah Berlin Manuscripts Collection at Oxford), which mentions the matter of the “promise”.

24th October, 1961.

Sir Isaiah Berlin, C.B.E.,

All Souls College,


My dear Isaiah,

How very sweet of you to trouble to write about my Ivinskaya piece. I am so glad you thought it was all right: it caused me a good deal of heart-searching before I raised the matter again; but as it was clearly going to be raised, I thought it might as well take it on myself and try to hit the right tone. Thank you for telling me that it came off. As you know, there are very few people whose good opinion I value. And you are at the head of them.

I am only sorry that I was careless about the use of the word “promise”. I blame myself for this. But I think it better to say nothing more until the matter comes up again when, if it seems desirable, I can correct myself. (IBMC, MS. Berlin; Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust: © the Trustees of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust 2019)

Let us now go back to the exchange between Carver and Berlin. In a letter dated October 5th, Carver provides Berlin with a report of the conversations he had had with Surkov in late June when he realized that Surkov had no intention to help with improving the lot of Ivinskaya and her daughter.

5th October, 1961.


Dear Isaiah Berlin [handwritten]

Thank you very much for your letter and the copy of your card to Edward Crakshaw. “Promised” does seem a little too strong from what you say, but I certainly got the impression from Crankshaw that Surkov’s final words to you amounted to that.

I quite realise that he could argue that in any case he had no authority to make any promise. But at that time I did not know that he was, to a certain extent, discredited vis-à-vis the USSR government.

I had intended to write and tell you of the conversation I had with Surkov here, at Glebe House, on the 23rd June and very much regret that I did not do so.

You will remember that he was to come to a party here with a number of Russian writers, including Polevoi, and that you agreed that I should tackle him about Ivinskaya. He duly arrived with a gift of L.P. records of Gagarin’s feat and the voices of renowned Russian writers, a volume of Georgian poetry translated into rather bad English and a bronze medaillon struck to commemorate the centenary of Chekov. We talked of relations between Soviet writers and P.E.N.; I heard again a lot about COM.E.S. and then later during the party, I referred to his conversation with you. I said in fact that we were all depending on him to obtain the release of Mrs Ivinskaya and dwelt on the lamentable effect the persecution of her and her daughter had made in the West. The usual smile was on his face and remained while he said “I know too much about Mrs. Ivinskaya to wish to assist her to obtain her release”. I let him see that I was horrified by this, but I failed to move him at all.

When D’Angelo’s open letter reached me after I had talked to Max Hayward and previously Dr. Katkov, and had read Conquest’s long article in ENCOUNTER, I decided that it would be best to allow the relevant passages of Surkov’s long letter to me to be made public so that the whole story could be told and I agree with you that Crankshaw has done it admirably.

The texts of the telegrams and letters that passed between Surkov and myself together with D’Angelo’s letter and a statement by Hayward (anonymous) have been sent to all the national centres of P.E.N. with the suggestion from me that the national executives should consider what action to take, vis-à-vis their own press, following publication of Crankshaw’s article in THE OBSERVER. I don’t think there is any doubt that the result will be a considerable amount of further airing throughout the world.

Hayward assures me that anything that can be done to expose Surkov is likely to help Madame Ivinskaya. I can only hope that he is right. Perhaps now, the Americas, Italy, France and all the rest of them will do something more.

My International Executive Committee meets in Rome on November 1st with Moravia presiding and one of the main items for discussion on the Agenda will, of course, be the action taken in London.

Kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

DC [signed]

General Secretary.

Sir Isaiah Berlin

Headington House,

Old High Street,



(Letter from Carver to Berlin, dated October 5, 1961. P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)

This letter of October 5 refers to a number of events that we need to summarize briefly. First of all, we need to clarify the reference to the meeting at Glebe House with Surkov in June. The P.E.N. records contain a list of all the Soviet writers in attendance at the meeting that took place on June 23, 1961. Among them were Boris Polevoi, Svevolov Ivanov and his wife Tamara Ivanova. Second, let us say something about the reference to Sergio d’Angelo’s letter. D’Angelo had found out about Surkov’s April letter to Carver (which had been treated confidentially but, apparently, not sufficiently so) and thus saw the accusations against him (d’Angelo) that were contained in it (among other things, Surkov said that d’Angelo was an international swindler). D’Angelo wrote an open letter  to Surkov challenging Surkov to provide proofs of his accusations. D’Angelo sent a copy of his letter to Surkov to David Floyd asking the latter to forward the letter to the General Secretary of P.E.N. for maximum publicity and distribution.  The accompanying cover letter to P.E.N., written by d’Angelo, is dated July 27, 1961. However, since the letter was published in Italian in the June 21 issue of Vita, its composition goes back to the month of June. As it transpires from correspondence between Carver and Floyd, the letter was first translated into English by David Floyd, and then Max Hayward improved the translation (the English version of the letter is now published in Mancosu 2019, document 4.51; the letter from d’Angelo to P.E.N., the letter from Floyd to Carver (undated) and the reply from Carver to Floyd, dated August 30, 1961, are found in the PEN Box 153.7, HRC). I now cite from the memo that Carver sent to the P.E.N. centers on September 25, 1961 (PEN Box 153.7, HRC), for it reflects Carver’s reasons for making the various letters available to the P.E.N. centers.

Olga Ivinskaya And Her Daughter Irina.

I regret I must refer again to the imprisonment of Olga Ivinskaya, literary collaborator of the Russian poet Boris Pasternak, and her daughter Irina. You will remember that this matter was discussed at the International Executive Committee last May (when I referred to a letter I had received from Mr. Surkov) and was reported on in the Minutes of that meeting since circulated to all Centres. Reference was also made to Sir Isaiah Berlin in February this year that both women would be released within a period of months. Because of this promise, P.E.N. refrained from further pursuing the question of their release.

Mr. Surkov visited Glebe House as one of a party of Russian writers late in June, when I took the opportunity of reminding him of his promise, and was bitterly disappointed and disturbed to learn that he had no intention of fulfilling it.

Mr. Surkov’s letter to me contained a number of charges against the Italian publisher of Dr. Zhivago and other persons, including Signor Sergio D’Angelo. I have now received a letter from Signor D’Angelo, enclosing an open letter intended for the press, in which he replies to Mr. Surkov’s charges. I must stress very emphatically that I have no knowledge as to how Signor d’Angelo obtained a sight of Mr. Surkov’s letter to me, since it has only been shown to a very few leading P.E.N. personalities in London (as Mr. Surkov himself suggested at the close of his letter); this was felt to be in the best interest of Mrs. Ivinskaya as, in view of Mr. Surkov’s promise, silence was then believed to be fundamental to her safety and eventual release.

Now, in view of Signor D’Angelo’s open letter, and as it is clear he hopes to secure maximum publicity for his refutal of Mr. Surkov’s charges in the world’s press, it has been decided to release the contents of Mr. Surkov’s letter to me in so far as they refer to Mrs. Ivinskaya, so that Signor D’Angelo’s letter can be judged in the context of the original charges. The relevant parts of Mr. Surkov’s letter and my reply are therefore being given to the press, and an article dealing with the whole matter is likely to appear in one of the leading British Sunday newspapers on October 1st [this was Crankshaw’s article on the Observer] You will find, enclosed with this letter, the texts of the correspondence that has passed between Mr. Surkov and myself on this subject, including the texts of telegrams sent early this year. I also enclose an English translation of Sergio d’Angelo’s letter, and a brief memorandum by an English friend of the late Boris Pasternak which comments on certain aspects of Mr. Surkov’s expressed views of Mrs. Ivinskaya.

You will appreciate that the release of this material, forced upon me by events, has been decided  upon solely to help the unfortunate woman who has been condemned to eight years’ imprisonment in the Soviet Union. (PEN Box, 153.7, HRC)

Now back to Berlin’s reply to Carver’s letter of October 5th.

6 October 1961

Headington House

Dear Carver,

Thank you for your letter of 5 October. The account of your conversation with Surkov does not of course surprise me in the least. They have made up their mind to do exactly what Crankshaw said they intended to do, and that is a decision taken well above Surkov’s head, and he is merely the tough and cynical executant.

All that happened in that never-to-be-forgotten bus journey from Covent Garden at midnight to Wiston House was that after Surkov had revealed the full depth of Madame I[vinskaya]’s depravity, and other members of his party joined in about her financial dishonesty and acts likely to undermine the financial policy of the Soviet Union, etc., Surkov finally said, with a sort of crocodile smile, that perhaps she would not have to stay in prison all the eight years, or whatever it was – perhaps ‘a year or two’ (that is my recollection) would be enough. I said that one year was better than two, and six months better than one year, to which he rejoined nothing at all and spent himself on amiabilities about Baroness Budberg and other London friends.

I do not myself believe that anything done to expose Surkov will help Madame I. – I think they have made up their minds about that and Surkov is merely reproducing a carefully officially prepared line to which they all stick. He may, being an exceedingly clever man, have helped to work out the official version, but once it is adopted it ceases to be his property, and his personal fate has little to do with the fate of the victims. The only thing which could save them would be a change of heart on the part of some person in real authority from Mr K[rushchev] downwards – and how that is to be compassed I have no idea. If the people I still preserve a tenuous connection with inside the Soviet Union are not to get into further trouble (they have had a good deal already – I do not know if I ever told you about my conversations with various semi-condemned writers), it were best if my name were kept out of this. But there is no harm in saying, perhaps, that Surkov, in general conversation with no one in particular, seemed to hold out hope of a shorter sentence owing to the general clemency and humanity of the Soviet authorities (or similar rot).

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin (Letter from Berlin to Carver, dated October 6, 1961. P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)

Carver replied on October 11.

11th October, 1961.


Dear Berlin,

Thank you very much for your letter and for letting me have the picture so fully.

I feel with you that it is all pretty hopeless. Surkov is a such a tough, cynical creature that there is no hope of moving him and, as you say, we need to get at some person in real authority. Margaret Storm Jameson wrote a note to Madame Furtseva when she was here, as one woman to another, but got no reply.

Furtseva and Surkov

The Russian Service of the BBC persuaded me to do a piece for them which went out last night. I retold the story simply and that is apparently what they wanted. I enclose a copy of my talk. I was persuaded to do this by Lieven, who said he wanted something from somebody in a more objective position, Crankshaw being so well known as a political journalist.

I will certainly do what I can see that your name is not mentioned.

Yours, DC [signed]

Sir Isaiah Berlin, C.B.E., F.B.A.,

Headington House,

Old High Street,

Headington, Oxford. (Letter from Carver to Berlin, dated October 11, 1961. P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)


12 October 1961

Headington House

Dear Carver,

Thank you very much for your letter and the excellent enclosure. I thought your talk absolutely appropriate and I hope it penetrates Surkov’s thick hide to the necessary depth. But I fear he is a hopeless case. And so are they all, including Ehrenburg, who is falsely credited with civic courage. I am sure there is nothing more to be done at present; and it is very creditable that the sharpest voices were raised in England. I hope that you will have sent copies of your talk to the other national centres of P.E.N.

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin (Letter from Berlin to Carver, dated October 12, 1961. P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)

Here is the the text of the talk by Carver that was broadcast on the B.B.C.’s Russian Service on October 10. The talk was circulated to P.E.N. Centers a few days after October 17.

Olga Ivinskaya

Since drafting the letter to Centres dated October 17. 1961, Mr. Carver obtained permission from the B.B.C. to send out to all Centres the text of a broadcast by him which went out over the B.B.C.’s Russian Service on October 10. 1961, which it was felt would interest Centres since it is on the subject of Olga Ivinskaya. In any reproduction of this talk, due ACKNOWLEDGMENT must be made to the B.B.C., London.


Who is Olga Ivinskaya?

Until a comparatively short time ago her name, in the West, was known to only a handful of intellectuals as being the close friend and literary assistant of one of the most admired of living poets – Boris Pasternak.

Then, Boris Pasternak died and – suddenly – the world was startled and shocked to hear reports of the arrest of this woman, and her daughter Irina, in Moscow, and of their condemnation to Siberia – the mother for eight years and Irina for three. I say ‘shocked’ because this savage sentence has, without doubt, profoundly stirred and horrified all thinking people in the West.

The protestations of Alexei Surkov in speeches, conversations and in letters that those women had been involved in illegal traffic in roubles and therefore it was necessary to make an example of them has done nothing to shake the firm belief held here that the trial and condemnation of Olga Ivinskaya and her daughter is an act of sordid revenge.

That Pasternak feared for Mrs. Ivinskaya’s safety is quite clear from letter to friends written during the last few months of his life. Certainly those few in the West who knew something of the inner history of the systematic persecution to which the poet had been subjected were worried and apprehensive.

I did not know Pasternak – I have never met Mrs. Ivinskaya. But, in my capacity as General Secretary of the international organization known as P.E.N., I have met and talked with Mr. Surkov on several occasions. Mr. Surkov is known to me principally as a high executive of the Union of Soviet Writers. It was to him that the cable was addressed appealing to Soviet writers to protect Pasternak from persecution when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958. It was to him also that I addressed several telegrams and letters, early this year, begging him to intercede with his government on behalf of Mrs. Ivinskaya and her daughter.

I turned to Mr. Surkov because I had this contact with him already. We had exchanged views on the question of whether or not Soviet writers would attend annual P.E.N. Congresses and meet their colleagues from all over the world, exchange opinions with them and so let in that draught of fresh air on a cultural level which, I believe, is our greatest, perhaps our only, hope for future peace and understanding.

I have always understood that Mr. Surkov favoured  this contact between Soviet writers and their colleagues abroad. His interest in the Italian-based European Community of Writers certainly suggests it. But in the very long letter he addressed to me last April – in reply to my letters and telegrams – he devoted page after page to vicious attacks on Mrs. Ivinskaya’s morals and referred only comparatively briefly to developing contacts between Soviet writers and their colleagues in International P.E.N.

Does Mr. Surkov believe that such terrible events as the persecution of Boris Pasternak, and the savage sentence on the woman who was for fourteen years his greatest friend, foster these cultural links which are so vital to our survival? Or doesn’t he care?

The tragic story of Olga Ivinskaya and her treatment at the hands of those who affect to admire Pasternak  as a great Russian writer has – in my views – destroyed the patient work of years. It has, in fact, confirmed in their belief those who support the policy of the closed door – those who mistakenly urge that contact, whether cultural or otherwise, between people with widely different political systems can bring profit to neither.

One thing is clear: Mr. Surkov doesn’t understand the extent to which enlightened opinion in the West has been shocked by this persecution of Mrs. Ivinskaya and her daughter.

She is a whore, he repeats again and again, she was a bad influence on Pasternak and a trafficker in illegal currency. But as I and many others have told him – we, in the West, are not concerned with Mrs. Ivinskaya’s morals, we are not arguing about the alleged currency crimes; what we are saying is simply this ‘Let her and her daughter go free in the name of humanity: release this aging woman who was the trusted friend of the greatest creative writer of his generation.’

There is no place in the annals and history of a modern state with its record of superb achievement in the arts and the sciences for such a degrading story.


62 Glebe Place

London S.W.#

October 17/1961

DC/hr. (P.E.N. Archive, 1932-1983. 1984.004. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. University of Tulsa.)

Irina Emelianova in Potma (1962)

The final part of the exchange between Carver and Berlin relevant to the Ivinskaya case is from November-December 1964. Irina Emelianova had already been freed in 1962 and the correspondence below concerns what attitude to take towards Surkov and the Soviet Writers’ Union after Ivinskaya’s liberation in November 1964.



TEL. OXFORD 81005.

20th November [1964]

Dear David Carver,

Ought we now – P.E.N., I mean – to signify our satisfaction at the release of Ivinskaya which we must assume to have occurred? Having rightly persecuted Surkov, etc., over all this, we ought, I suppose, to react – if only because it makes future protests (the need for which will, alas, probably not be absent) more effective if we chalk something up in favour of the oppressors whenever they display ‘clemency’ even for non­existent offences: still, about this you would know better than I. I had no idea before reading the Bulletin of the English Centre that Surkov had let himself go about P.E.N: it does us nothing but credit.

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin [signed] (PEN Box, 153.7; HRC)

[Carbon Copy]

mg.                27th November, 1964.

Dear Sir Isaiah Berlin,

Thank you for your letter of the 20th November addressed to Mr. Carver. He is at present away from the office but will see your letter immediately on his return to Glebe House early next week.

Yours sincerely,

Secretarial Assistant to Mr. David Carver.

Sir Isaiah Berlin, CBE., FBA., Headington House,

Old High Street.


Oxford. (PEN Box, 153.7, HRC)

4th December, 1964.


Dear Isaiah Berlin,

Thank you very much for your letter which, back from a short visit to Brussels, I have now seen.

On the whole I am inclined to think that beyond merely telling the Soviet Writers Union that we are glad to see that Ivinskaya has been released we should leave matter as they are. I have to write to Konstantin Simonov to follow-up a discussion we had in Budapest a few weeks ago when he and three other Soviet writers attended a Round Table Conference as observers, and I could very easily put in a sentence then. I rather jib at talking of clemency, particularly in the case of Ivinskaya when I remember how monstrous the whole thing was and how ill she became during the last year of incarceration.

Yes, certainly Surkov let himself go about P.E.N. and it will interest you perhaps to see the IZVESTIA article in which he made his accusations. I also enclose the text of my reply which, of course, was not printed. It did, however, form the basis of a number of articles in the European press, particularly in France and Italy.

Budapest was the first P.E.N. International meeting in forty-three years at which Soviet writers were present in any capacity. If this leads to a real relationship between Soviet writers and P.E.N., either direct or through their Union, I can only feel that it would be very desirable. There is talk of my going to Moscow to discuss ways and means ­– I shall certainly go if invited. Yours is the perfect comment on the Surkov attack and I appreciated it greatly.

Kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

DC [signed]

General Secretary

Sir Isaiah Berlin, c.a.,

Headington House,


OXFORD.     Enclosures (PEN Box, 153.7, HRC)



TEL. OXFORD 81005.

7th December [1964]

Dear D.C.

Thank you for your letter of the 4th. “Clemency” is perhaps not the right word – it certainly isn’t on any true appraisal of what was done – I entirely agree with you about that – the only question is whether from a strictly utilitarian point of view this would be useful for the purpose of saving further victims who, I fear, are bound to crop up behind the Iron Curtain. But in general, I think you are probably quite right: we could simply acknowledge our satisfaction at this release and communicate this to them in cool and correct terms.

I hope you go to Moscow: it cannot possibly do any harm and might do good.

Yours sincerely,

Isaiah Berlin [signed] (PEN Box, 153.7; HRC)

This completes the exchange between Carver and Berlin on the matter of the Ivinskaya case. It is only a small portion of a very complex case. The reader who would like to grasp the case in its totality is referred to Mancosu 2019. I will conclude by mentioning that the Carver–Surkov debate was to flare up again in 1964 (see the reference in the last two letters to Surkov’s “letting himself go about P.E.N.”) in connection with an article published by Surkov in Izvestia on January 4, 1964. However, since that exchange was only tenuously related to the Ivinskaya case, I will not treat it here.


Afiani, Vitaliĭ I., and Natal’ia G. Tomilina, eds. 2001. A za mnoiu shum pogoni: Boris Pasternak i vlast’; dokumenty 1956–1972 [But the hunters are gaining ground: Boris Pasternak and the regime; Documents, 1956–1972]. Moscow: ROSSPĖN.

Berlin, Isaiah. 2013. Building: Letters 1960–1975. Edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle. London: Chatto & Windus.

Crankshaw, Edward. 1984. Putting Up with the Russians 1947–1984. London: Macmillan.

Le dossier de l’Affaire Pasternak: Archives du Comité Central et du Politburo. 1994. Preface by Jacqueline de Proyart. Paris: Gallimard.

Mancosu, Paolo.  2013. Inside the Zhivago Storm. The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak’s Masterpiece. Milan: Feltrinelli.

Mancosu, Paolo.  2018. “We Need to Help The Russians Save Face: ‘The Ivinskaya Case’ in the West”, Russian Literature, Vol. 100-101-102 (2018), pp. 127–220.

Mancosu, Paolo.  2019. Moscow has Ears Everywhere. New Investigations on Pasternak and Ivinskaya. Stanford: Hoover Press.