Mikhail Bulgakov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov (or Bulhakov, Михаил Афанасьевич Булгаков; May 15 (May 3 Old Style), 1891March 10, 1940) was a Soviet novelist and playwright of the first half of the 20th century. Although a native of Kiev, he wrote in Russian. He is best known for the novel The Master and Margarita.



Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev, Ukraine, the oldest son of a professor at a theological seminary. The Bulgakov sons enlisted in the White Army, and in post-Civil War Russia, ended up in Paris, save for Mikhail. Mikhail Bulgakov, who enlisted as a field doctor, ended up in the Caucasus, where he eventually began working as a journalist. Despite his relatively favored status under the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin, Bulgakov was prevented from either emigrating or visiting his brothers in the West.

In 1913 Bulgakov married Tatiana Lappa. In 1916, he graduated from the Medical School of Kiev University. In 1921, he moved with Tatiana to Moscow. Three years later, divorced from his first wife, he married Lyubov' Belozerskaya. In 1932, Bulgakov married for the third time, to Yelena Shilovskaya, and settled with her at Patriarch's Ponds. During the last decade of his life, Bulgakov continued to work on The Master and Margarita, wrote plays, critical works, stories, and made several translations and dramatisations of novels.

Bulgakov never supported the regime, and mocked it in many of his works. Therefore, most of them were consigned to his desk drawer for several decades. In 1938 he wrote a letter to Stalin requesting permission to emigrate and received a personal phone call from Stalin himself, unfortunately denying him that. Bulgakov died from an inherited kidney disorder in 1940 and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Early works

During his life, Bulgakov was best known for the plays he contributed to Konstantin Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre. They say that Stalin was fond of the play Days of the Turbins (Дни Турбиных), which was based on Bulgakov's phantasmagoric novel The White Guard. His dramatization of Moliere's life in The Cabal of Hypocrites is still run by the Moscow Art Theatre. Even after his plays were banned from the theatres, Bulgakov wrote a grotesquely funny comedy about Ivan the Terrible's visit into 1930s Moscow and several plays about the young years of Stalin. This perhaps saved his life in the year of terror 1937, when nearly all writers who did not support the leadership of Stalin were purged.

Bulgakov started writing prose in the early 1920s, when he published The White Guard and a short story collection entitled Notes of a Country Doctor, both based on Bulgakov's experiences in post-revolutionary Ukraine. In the mid-1920s, he came to admire the works of H.G. Wells and wrote several stories with sci-fi elements, notably The Fatal Eggs (1924) and the Heart of a Dog (1925).

The Fatal Eggs, a short story inspired by the works of H.G. Wells, tells of the events of a Professor Persikov, who in experimentation with eggs, discovers a red ray that accelerates growth in living organisms. At the time, an illness passes through the chickens of Moscow, killing most of them and, to remedy the situation, the Soviet government puts the ray into use at a farm. Unfortunately there is a mix up in egg shipments and the Professor ends up with the chicken eggs, while the government-run farm receives a shipment of ostriches, snakes and crocodiles that were meant to go to the Professor. The mistake is not discovered until the eggs produce giant monstrosities that wreak havoc in the suburbs of Moscow and killed most of the workers on the farm. The propaganda machine then turns on the Persikov, distorting his nature in the same way his "innocent" tampering created the monsters. This tale of a bungling government earned Bulgakov his label of a counter-revolutionary.

Heart of a Dog, a story obviously based on Frankenstein, features a professor who implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a dog named Sharik. The dog then proceeds to become more and more human as time passes, resulting in all manner of chaos. The tale can be read as a critical satire of the Soviet Union; it was turned into a comic opera called The Murder of Comrade Sharik by William Bergsma in 1973. A hugely popular screen version of the story followed in 1988.

The Master and Margarita

It is the fantasy satirical novel The Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита), published by his wife almost thirty years after his death, in 1967, that has granted him critical immortality. The book was available underground, as samizdat, for many years in the Soviet Union, before the serialization of a censored version in the journal Moskva. In the opinion of many, The Master and Margarita is the best of the Soviet novels, although it is difficult to imagine Joseph Stalin approving it. The novel contributed a number of sayings to the Russian language, for example, "Manuscripts don't burn". A destroyed manuscript of the Master is an important element of the plot, and in fact Bulgakov had to rewrite the novel from memory after he burned the draft manuscript with his own hands.

Famous quotes

  • "Manuscripts do not burn" ("Рукописи не горят") — The Master and Margarita
  • "Second-grade fresh" — The Master and Margarita


Short stories



External links

Personal tools