Bulgakov, Mikhail (Afanas'evich)

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BULGAKOV, Mikhail (Afanas'evich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Kiev, 3 May 1891. Education: First Kiev High School, 1900-09; Medical Faculty, Kiev University, 1909-16, doctor's degree 1916. Family: Married 1) Tatiana Nikolaevna Lappa in 1913; 2) Liubov' Evgenievna Belozerskaia in 1924; 3) Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaia in 1932. Career: Served as doctor in front-line and district hospitals, 1916-18; doctor in Kiev, 1918-19, but abandoned medicine in 1920; organized a "sub-department of the arts," Vladikavkaz, 1920-21; lived in Moscow from 1921; journalist, with jobs for various groups and papers; associated with the Moscow Art Theatre from 1925: producer, 1930-36; librettist and consultant, Bolshoi Theatre, 1936-40. Died: 10 March 1940.



P'esy. 1962; revised edition, as Dramy i komedii, 1965.

Izbrannaia proza. 1966.

Sobranie sochinenii, edited by Ellendea Proffer. 1982—.

Short Stories

Rokovye iaitsa [The Fatal Eggs]. 1925.

D'iavoliada: Rasskazy. 1925; as Diaboliad and Other Stories, edited by Ellendea and Carl Proffer, 1972; as Diaboliad, 1991.

Rasskazy [Stories]. 1926.

Zapiski Uinogo vracha. 1963; augmented edition, as A Country Doctor's Notebook, 1975.

Sobach'e serdtsa (novella). 1969; as The Heart of a Dog, 1968.

Notes on the Cuff and Other Stories, edited by Ellendea Proffer. 1992.


Dni Turbinykh (Belaia gvardiia). 2 vols., 1927-29; as Day of the Turbins, 1934; as The White Guard, 1971.

Teatralnyi roman, in Izbrannaia proza. 1966; as Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel, 1967.

Master i Margarita. 1967; complete version, 1969; as The Master and Margarita, 1967; complete version, 1967.


Dni Turbinykh, from his novel (produced 1926). With Poslednie dni (Pushkin), 1955; as Days of the Turbins, in Early Plays, edited by Ellendea Proffer, 1972; as The White Guard, 1979.

Zoikina kvartira (produced 1926), edited by Ellendea Proffer.1971; as Zoia's Apartment, in Early Plays, edited by Proffer, 1972.

Bagrovyi ostrov (produced 1928). In P'esy, 1971; as The Crimson Island, in Early Plays, edited by Ellendea Proffer, 1972.

Mertvye dushi [Dead Souls], from the novel by Gogol (produced1932). With Ivan Vasil'evich, 1964.

Kabala sviatosh (as Mol'er, produced 1936). In P'esy, 1962; as A Cabal of Hypocrites, in Early Plays, edited by Ellendea Proffer, 1972; as Molière, 1983.

Skupoi, from L'Avare by Molière, in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii 4, by Molière. 1939.

Don Kikhot, from the novel by Cervantes (produced 1940). InP'esy, 1962.

Poslednie dni (Pushkin) (produced 1943). With Dni Turbinykh, 1955; as The Last Days (Pushkin), in Russian Literature Triquarterly 15, 1976.

Rakhel, edited by Margarita Aliger, music by R.M. Glier (broad-cast 1943; produced 1947). Edited by A. Colin Wright, in Novy zhurnal 108, September 1972.

Beg (produced 1957). In P'esy, 1962; as Flight, 1970; as On the Run, 1972.

Ivan Vasil'evich (produced 1966). With Mertvye dushi, 1964.

Poloumnyi Zhurden, from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière (produced 1972). In Dramy i komedii, 1965.

Adam i Eva, in P'esy. 1971; as Adam and Eve (produced 1989) inRussian Literature Triquarterly 1, Fall 1971.

Minin i Pozharskii, edited by A. Colin Wright. In Russian Literature Triquarterly 15, 1976.

Voina i mir [War and Peace], from the novel by Tolstoi, edited by A. Colin Wright. In Canadian-American Slavic Studies 15, Summer-Fall 1981.

Flight, and Bliss. 1985.

The Heart of a Dog (produced 1988).

Six Plays (includes The White Guard, Madam Zoyka, Flight, Molière, Adam and Eve, The Last Days), edited by Lesley Milne. 1991.


Zhizn' gospodina de Mol'era. 1962; as The Life of Monsieur de Molière, 1970.



An International Bibliography of Works by and about Bulgakov by Ellendea Proffer, 1976; Bulgakov in English: A Bibliography 1891-1991 by Garth M. Terry, 1991.

Critical Studies:

Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita": The Text as a Cipher by Elena N. Mahlow, 1975; The Master and Margarita: A Comedy of Victory, 1977, and Bulgakov: A Critical Biography, 1990, both by Lesley Milne; Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations by A. Colin Wright, 1978; "Bulgakov Issue" of Canadian-American Slavic Studies 15, Summer-Fall 1981; Three Russian Writers and the Irrational: Zamyatin, Pil'nyak, and Bulgakov by T. R. N. Edwards, 1982; Bulgakov: Life and Work by Ellendea Proffer, 1984; Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to The Master and Margarita by Andrew Barratt, 1987; Bulgakov's Last Decade: The Writer as Hero, 1987, and Manuscripts Don't Burn. Bulgakov: A Life in Letters and Diaries, 1991, both by J. A. E. Curtis; The Writer's Divided Self in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita by Riitta H. Pittman, 1991; The Apocalyptic Vision of Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita' by Edwin Mellen, 1991; Bulgakov's Apocalyptic Critique of Literature by Derek J. Hunns, 1996.

* * *

Mikhail Bulgakov first acquired his reputation in Russia as a writer for the theater. His play Dni Turbinykh (Days of the Turbins, also The White Guard) became a staple production on the Soviet stage. Based on his own novel, it sympathetically portrays incidents in the life of the Turbin family during the Russian Civil War. That a play about the "losing side" enjoyed such status in Soviet Russia attests to its power and brilliance. However, Bulgakov's universally acknowledged masterpiece is his novel Master I Margarita (The Master and Margarita), a rich blend of fantasy, satire, and irony that depicts life in Russia of the 1930s. Though Bulgakov excelled in writing long forms, his shorter works—feuilletons, novellas, and stories—are not without merit.

The short stories remain valuable on many levels, most basically as a source of autobiographical details filtered through the eyes of various narrators. The stories also provide information about the literary establishment and life in general in the 1920s in Russia; Bulgakov gives to these works a satirical slant. Some of these compositions also serve as sources for his later works. Nevertheless, many are interesting on their own, especially "The Fatal Eggs" and the novella Sobach'e serdtse (The Heart of a Dog). Bulgakov tells these early tales in the dual voice of a writer and a doctor. The stories that became known collectively as "Zapiski na manzhetakh" ("Notes On The Cuff") began to appear in the periodical press in 1922 and continued through the following year; the collection remains incomplete. The stories of this cycle chronicle Bulgakov's literary apprenticeship. Here begins the theme that recurs throughout his career: the romance of being a writer, with its joys and sorrows, its pain and rewards. The fragmentary nature of the stories parallels the chaos of the times. During the early 1920s Bulgakov published a number of feuilletons and stories in newspapers, especially the railway workers' gazette Gudok and the prestigious Berlin Russian language publication Nakanune. Bulgakov's stories, fragments of larger works, and journalistic pieces in the latter paper informed the émigrés about life in Russia during the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP), a source of much of his satirical work. The pieces for Gudok are much weaker in content and form.

Bulgakov's first substantial cycle of stories, Zapiski Uinogo vracha (A Country Doctor's Notebook), began to appear in print in the mid-1920s, mainly in the journal Meditsinskii rabotnik. Trained as a doctor with a specialty in venereal diseases, Bulgakov himself worked among peasants in rural districts. Following the tradition of other writer/doctors, most notably Anton Chekhov, Bulgakov chronicles his first experiences as a doctor in the provinces. Except for two works, "Morfii" ("Morpheum") and "Ia ubil" ("The Murder"), the stories share a compositional unity with one narrator and recurring characters all in the same setting—the doctor/narrator's first bleak posting miles away from Moscow and the university. Fortunately the doctor has three able and sympathetic assistants with whom he quickly establishes a solid professional relationship. They help to see him through his first months on the job when he finally gets to put his passive knowledge into practice; they also help to ease his loneliness. The various incidents of each story—an amputation in "Polotentse s petukhom" ("The Embroidered Towel"), a tracheotomy in "Stal'noe gorlo" ("The Steel Windpipe"), the battle against syphilis in "Zvezdnaia syp" ("The Speckled Rash"), an abnormal birth in "Kreshchenie povorotom" ("Baptism by Rotation"), a patient's stubborn ignorance in "T'ma egipetskaia" ("Black as Egypt's Night"), a series of his mistakes in "Propavshii glaz" ("A Vanishing Eye")—combine to recount the doctor's struggle against loneliness, frustration, and ignorance. As the narrator tells tale after tale we see him grow as a doctor and as a human being. When he first arrives he attempts to act older and more self-confident than he is; but when his self-consciousness disappears, he gains confidence and becomes a better doctor. Part of the charm of the collection lies in the narrative voice and Bulgakov's reliance on dialogue, a technique not surprising in an author who wrote primarily for the theater.

A quick-moving, dramatic, almost cinematic quality characterizes the story "D'iavoliada" ("Diaboliad"), which gave its name to the collection published in 1925. (Except for a small 1926 volume of feuilletons, this was the last time Bulgakov appeared in print until after Stalin's death.) The plot of "Diaboliad" centers on a simple mistake the main character, Korotkov, makes: he confuses his supervisor's name Underwarr (Kal'soner) with some of his warehouses inventory, underwear (kal'sony). This mix-up spawns mass confusion involving the hero, his boss, and their doubles, a situation not unlike those found in early works of Gogol and Dostoevskii, two writers who clearly influenced Bulgakov. The confusion all turns out to be the work of the devil. (The device of the devil performing his magic in Moscow in the 1930s became one of the organizing principles of The Master and Margarita.) Korotkov gets caught up in the all-engulfing bureaucracy of the new regime and loses his job and his documents. But in the Soviet Union without documents one does not exist; therefore, in order to realize the metaphor of non-existence, Korotkov commits suicide. A comic fantasy turns into an all too real tragedy.

Bulgakov focuses his satiric eyes on other aspects of Soviet life in the title story of Rokovye iaitsq ("The Fatal Eggs"), the most famous, and probably best story of the collection. Here he attacks the abuses of journalism, bureaucracy, and power. He also exposes the danger of obsession with science for the sake of science alone. Based in part on H. G. Wells's The Food of the Gods (1904), "The Fatal Eggs" tells the story of a scientist who has invented a special ray that enhances and accelerates growth. Reading of this invention, the director of a collective farm gets the idea of using the ray on chicken eggs to help ease the food shortage in the country. Thanks to stupidity and bungling, he unfortunately receives a shipment of snake eggs and inadvertently uses the ray to create monstrous creatures that roam the land devouring hapless citizens. To use Bulgakov's term, a "frosty deus ex machina saves the day." Another work with Wellsian overtones, the novella The Heart of a Dog addresses some of the same problems as "The Fatal Eggs"; but here Bulgakov turns a more jaundiced eye on the system and the creature it has spawned: the New Soviet Man. Like his predecessor, Wells's Dr. Moreau, the noted Soviet surgeon Professor Preobrazhenskii (whose name means "transfiguration") experiments with trying to make animals more human. He transplants a human pituitary gland and testicles into a dog. The experiment works and the dog, Sharik, gradually "evolves" into the man Shaurikov, who regrettably turns into an all too common example of New Soviet Man, a specimen more brutish than Sharik ever could be: a commissar who turns on his "creator."

Two other works in the collection, along with a number of stories that appeared in Nakanune, satirize life in Moscow in the 1920s under NEP. "No. 13. The Elpit-Rabkommun Building" (1922) recounts the disintegration and ultimate destruction of a once-magnificent building after it becomes communal property. The horrors of communal living is also the subject of "Samogonnoe ozero" (1921, "Moonshine Lake"). "Pokhozhdeniia Chichikova" (1922, "The Adventures of Chichikov") is an amusing parody of Gogol's Dead Souls, whose main hero finds himself in NEP-era Russia. A swindler in the nineteenth century, Chichikov has no trouble at all functioning under NEP; in fact, corruption seems to flourish in the new Soviet State. Most of Bulgakov's short works never match the artistic quality of his plays and novels. Nevertheless the early fiction provides a valuable picture of life in Russia in the 1920s; it also provides valuable insights into Bulgakov's development as a writer.

—Christine A. Rydel