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||Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940)|
Russian journalist, playwright, novelist, and short story writer, whose major work was the Gogolesque fantasy The Master and Margarita. In the story the Devil visits Stalinist Moscow to see if he can do some good. The book is considered a major Russian novel of the 20th century. It first appeared in a censored form in the Soviet journal Moskva in 1966-67. Bulgakov used satire and fantasy also in his other works, among them the short story collection Diaboliad (1925).
It was hard to say exactly what had made Bezdomny write as he had--whether it was his great talent for graphic description or complete ignorance of the subject he was writing on, but his Jesus had come out, well, completely alive, a Jesus who had really existed, although admittedly a Jesus who had every possible fault." (from The Master and Margarita)
Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev, Ukraine, the eldest son Varvara Mikhaylovna (née Pokrovskaya), a teacher, and Afanasy Ivanovich Bulgakov, a lecturer at the Kiev Theological Academy. Both of his grandfathers were priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. Bulgakov's father died of a kidney ailment in 1907 and his mother married again. Her second husband, Ivan Pavlovich Voskresensky, was a doctor, who viewed religion with indifference. Though Bulgakov rejected his father's spiritual world, supernatural and occult attracted him. Later in his stories he used sudden cuts into the fantastic and in the late 1920s he studied the Gospels and collected religious works.
After attending First Kiev High School (1900-09), Bulgakov studied medicine at the Kiev University (1909-16). With his first wife, Tatiana Nikolaevna Lappa, who was a good pianist, he frequently went to the Kiev Opera, where he heard Goudod's Faust at least ten times. The role of Mephistopheles was played by the famous Russian opera singer Fedor Shalyapin. Bulgakov himself had a fine, soft baritone, and he played piano. "The need to listen to music is very characteristic of me," he once remarked. "One might say that I worship good music. It aids creativity."
From 1916 to 1918 Bulgakov served as a doctor in front-line and district hospitals. "Fate decreed that I should employ my first-class degree only for a short time," he later wrote in an autographical piece. While in Viazma he was employed at the city hospital as the head of the department of infectious and veneral diseases. His experiences Bulgakov described in notes of a young doctor, 'Zapiski yunogo vracha' (1925-26).
During the war years Bulgakov used morphine, but with the help of his wife, he managed to win the addiction. He worked in 1918-19 as a doctor in Kiev, witnessing there the German occupation and then the occupation by the Red Army. In 1920 Bulgakov abandoned medicine in favor of a career as a writer. He organized in Vladikavkaz, Caucasus, a 'sub-department of the arts', and contributed stories to newspapers. One of his tales, 'Morphine,' tells of a young country doctor, Sergey Polyakov, who turns to morphine to escape his pain of unrequited love, and eventually commits suicide. The last entry in his diary is made on February 13, 1918 – noteworthy, on the following day the Soviet government decreed the abolition of the Old Style calendar and its replacement by the New Style Gregorian calendar. In his own life, Bulgakov left Viazma for Kiev with his wife in February 1918.
Bulgakov moved in 1921 to Moscow, where he worked for the
literary department of the People's Commissariat of Education, and
wrote as a journalist for various groups and papers. His largely
autobiographical novel Belaya gvardiya (1925, full text
1973, The White Guard) was an account of the turbulent years between
1914 and 1921 as reflected in the lives of a White family in the
Ukraine. Two parts of the book was published in the journal Rossiya,
which was closed before the third part could appear. Bulgakov abandoned
his plans for a trilogy; the proofs of the new ending surfaced in 1987,
but the final pages were missing.
The Fatal Eggs,
science fiction story from 1924, was the only novel published in its
original form during the author's lifetime. Many Bulgakov scholars have
been unanimous in the view that the protagonist, Vladimir Ilyich
Persikov, is partly based
on Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. An informant reported to the secret police
(OGPU) in 1928 that "This book represents a most brazen and outrageous
slander of the Red government. ... There is also a foul section– a
malicious nod at the late comrade Lenin – where a dead toad retains a
sinister expression on its face even after dying."
With the Moscow Arts Theatre Bulgakov was associated from
1925. He wrote and staged many plays, which enjoyed great popularity.
Bulgakov's criticism of the Soviet system was not swallowed by the
authorities. The Heart of the Dog (written in 1925), a satire
on Soviet life in the guise of science fiction, was condemned
unpublishable. In the story 'Pokhozhdenia Chichikova' the protagonist
of Gogol's Dead Souls was dropped in the middle of the Soviet
Russia's New Economic Policy period of 1921-27. 'Diaboliad'
(1925) portrayed a poor clerk in a gigantic bureaucracy, where he loses
his identity and life. Although the ban on The Heart of the Dog was eventually lifted, the work was removed from a local library by the order of an assistant public prosecutor in 2015.
In 1928 Bulgakov had three plays running in three Moscow theatres, Zoya's Apartment, The Crimson Island, and The Days of the Turbins, dramatized from his novel The White Guard. It brought the author overnight success and became 'a new Seagull' for the new generation, although it also received hostile reviews for the sympathetic portrayal of White officers. Paradoxically, The White Guard was one of Stalin's favorite plays. It was banned in 1929, reinstated in 1932 but not published until 1955.
From the beginning of 1930s Bulgakov's works were published rarely or not at all – Zoya's Apartment (1926), a play set in an atelier-bordello, was banned, as the farce Bagrovy ostrov (1928, The Crimson Island), a play-within-a-play. One of its characters asks: "And who are the judges? They're so ancient that their hostility to freedom is implacable. They cull their opinions from forgotten newspapers of the Kolchak era and the time of the subjunction of the Crimea." The German press stated that the play was "the first call in the USSR for freedom of the press." Flight (1928), dealing with White fugitives leaving Russia, was banned before its premiere. In 1929, a watershed in his writing career, he said in a letter to Maxim Gorky: "All my plays have been banned; not a line of mine is being printed anywhere; I have no work ready, and not a kopeck of royalties is coming in from any source; not a single institution, not a single individual will reply to my applications..."
After sending a letter to Soviet government, requesting
permission to emigrate, Bulgakov received a personal telephone call
from Stalin, who apparently offered him the opportunity. As a result,
Bulgakov gave up these plans and for a period he was employed as an
assistant producer with the Moscow Arts Theatre, where he worked until
his resignation in 1936. During the late 1930s he was librettist and
consultant at Bolshoi Theatre. Bulgakov's stage version of Gogol's
Dead Souls premiered in 1932 and had a modest success, but his
play about Pushkin, The Last Days,
was first performed in
1943. Although Bulgakov was subjected to a number of restrictions
during his career, he survived attacks from the officials, when other
intellectuals were imprisoned and perished in the 'Gulag
Archipelago.' Bulgakov himself once joked about his relationship
with the General Secretary of the Communist
Party that he wrote him every day long letters, signing them
"Tarzan." However, Stalin's favour protected Bulgakov only
from being arrested, but his fiction remained unpublished.
(1939) Bulgakov's last play, was written for the Moscow
Arts Theater to be
performed on the occasion of Stalin's sixtieth birthday celebration.
Its subject was Stalin's early revolutionary activities in Batum, where
the young Djugashvili organized workers and was arrested.
Noteworthy, at the end of the third act he is beaten up by the
guards as he is transferred to another prison. "Here, take that! . . .
That's for everything!" says a guard as he starts beating Stalin.
"Oh, damned demon!" exclaims the prison governor. The play was passed
by the censors, but eventually it was rejected by the dictator himself.
Batum was first published in the West by Ellendea
Proffer in Neizdannyy Bulgakov (1977).
The translation of Molière's Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, finished in November 1932, was not accepted for production. Zhizn' Gospodina de Mol'era, Bulgakov's prose biography of Molière, which he wrote the Lives of the Great series, was turned down by the series editor A.A. Tikhonov and Gorky, who said that "its 'playful' style will have to be changed. As it stands now it is not a serious piece of work. . . ." Bulgakov refused to make any alterations. The manuscript lay untouched for thirty years until the series published it in 1962 with an introduction by G. Boyadzhiyev.
With Black Snow, a Theatrical Novel, Bulgakov took a revenge on Stanislavsky for the failure of his play A Cabal of Hypocrites, produced under the title Molière. In one scene Louis XIV, the Sun King, says: "Then hear this: my author is oppressed. He is frightened. I will show kindness to anyone who forewarns me of whatever danger imperils him... The ban is lifted. You may stage Tartuffe." Stanislavsky had made changes to the play, and Bulgakov felt that they utterly destroy his artistic conception.
Bulgakov's most important novel was The Master and Margarita, a fantasy about the Devil, disguised as a professor, who causes havoc in the city. The book was suppressed because Bulgakov refused to make the changes reguired by the authorities. Although Bulgakov worked still on the text on his death bed, the novel was completed. Probably if Stalin had know of the novel it would have been destroyed. The first Soviet edition was published in 1966-67, a fuller text appeared in 1973 and the revised full text in 1989.
The Master and Margarita (1928-40). Published in installments in 1966 and 1967 in the journal Moskva. The story takes place on three levels, each of which provides a commentary on the others. Historical narrative is set in Jerusalem, where Pontius Pilate condemns to death a man, Jeshua, whom he knows to be innocent. Contemporary narrative is set in Moscow, in the 1930s, where the Master and Margarita live and where the Master has written a novel about Pilate. The third, fantastic level introduces the devil, who steps out of Goethe's Faust. He appears in Moscow with a retinue that includes an enormous black cat. The devil, Woland, is unconventionally seen as a relatively sympathetic figure, Righteous Man in Sodom. Moreover, the character of Jesus, called Yeshua, in not very Biblical. The philosophical and religious themes and examination of the freedom of art circulate around the intrusion of the devil into the life of modern Moscow and the crucifixion of Christ. Interacting and competing discourses from the realms of science, religion, literature, history, and politics, complicate further the narrative. Master burns his manuscript and retires to a madhouse. Margarita's love for the master drives her to a pact with Satan. However, "manuscripts don't burn" and Woland defends the existence of Jeshua.
Bulgakov composed two versions of the work. One was written at home and another, when he did not have the original available, was born while he was living with a mistress. Much of the the satire is aimed at greed, vanity, and pettiness, but is possible to read the book as a tribute to Stalin's policy to cut the bourgeois elements of Soviet society. After the publication Bulgakov was seen as a link between such writers as Vasilii Aksenov, Andrei Siniavskii, and the Strugatskii brothers, and the great past tradition of Gogol and Dostoevskii.
Bulgakov was married three times: with Tatiana Nikolaevna Lappa (1913), Liubov Evgenevna Belozerskaia (1924), whose first husband was the feuilletonist Vasil'evsky ('Ne-Bukva'), and Yelena Sergeyevna Shilovskaya (1932), who gave invaluable support to the author when he worked on The Master and Margarita and had his fits of paranoia. Bulgakov died of a hereditary disease in Moscow on March 10, 1940. After his death he was considered for decades an outsider and the most "un-Soviet" author. Yelena kept the existence of The Master and Margarita a close secret and eventually fulfilled her vow to have it published, but it was not until the 1980s, when all of Bulgakov's stories could be printed in his own home country.
For further reading: Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita' by Elena M. Mahlow (1974); The Master and Margarita by Lesley Milne (1977); Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations by A. Colin Wright (1978); Bulgakov. Life and Work by Ellendea Proffer (1984); Mihail Bulgakov by Nadine Natov (1985); Between Two Worlds by Andrew Barratt (1987); Mikhail Bulgakov and His Times by V.G. Vozkvizhenskii (1990); Mihail Bulgakov. A Critical Biography by Lesley Milne (1990); The Gnostiv Novel of Mikhail Bulgakov by Gerorge Krugovoy (1991); Manuscripts Don't Burn by J.A.E. Curtis (1992); Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright, edited by Lesley Milne (1995); Mikhail Bulgakov - Khudozhnik by V.V. Novikov (1996); The Master and Margarita, ed. by Laura Weeks (1996); Entsiklopediia Bulgakovskaia ed. by Boris Sokolov (1996); Mikhail Bulgakov: The Early Years by Edythe C. Haber (1998); Mikhail Bulgakov: A Critical Biography by Lesley Milne (2009); Bulgakov's Last Decade: The Writer as Hero by J. A. E. Curtis (2009) - See also: Arkady Strugatski