Call#: Van Pelt Library HC334.5 .G378 2005
Peter Gatrell's novel, Russia's First World War, provides a detailed account of how Russia became inolved in World War I, its alliances during the conflict, and the psychological ramifications of such a historical atrocity. However, what separates Gatrell's novel from the others is that he approaches this topic from the perspective of the economic situation in Russia. He explains the ways in which the war had a profound economic impact on the country, and how this lead to inevitable revolution. Gatrell begins his novel by describing Russia's entrance into the war. Although many contibuting factors initiated the first world war, he claims that there was one in particular that lit the fire; the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on June 28th, 1914. The assassin was later discovered to have been a member of the Serbian terrorist regime, the Black Hand. In response to this, Austro-Hungary immediately declared war on Serbia. Russia reluctantly mobilized the nation due to a long-standing alliance with Serbia. This process took roughly six weeks, and by the middle of September, 1914, Russia was fully engaged in warfare on the side of Serbia, and against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The rest of the countries joined the war in a similar fashion, by fulfilling alliances or treaties with nations already involved in the conflict. But Peter Gatrell focuses on the war in the context of the economic hardships that ravaged Russia during this period. He writes, "The buden of overseas debt that Russia had accumulated by 1917 would inevitably saddle any post-war regime with enormous balance of paymetns difficulties."(Russia's First World War, pg. 254). To exacerbate the problem, no country was willing to write a blank check for the Russians in order to pull them out of debt. In other words, Russia's extraordinary expenditures during World War I forced them to lay a heavy tax burden on the citizens, which in turn stimulated the call for a revolution. Civil War broke out, and the new rulers of Russia promised a more conscious economic policy in the future, and the empowerment of the Russian masses. Russians unquestioningly placed their faith in the Communistis. Gatrell's economic explanation for the first world war and revolution helps to illuminate much of the social commentary in Doctor Zhivago. Throughout the film, David Lean subtly hints at the poverty that plagued Russia during this time of strife. As Lara walks to the Christmas party, she is surrounded by street beggars, peasants, and drunkards. Similarly, when Zhivago travels across the Urals by train, he does so in a carriage fillled with homeless vagabonds. Furthermore, when Zhivago returns to his home after directing the veteran hospital for a few years, he finds several impoverished families living in it. Without doubt, Lean does attempt to portray an accurate respresentation of the socio-economic crisis that plagued Russia during and after the war. But its presence in the film is subtle. If the viewer is uninformed of this historical context, David Lean's social commentary is lost upon him.