Mikhail Bulgakov in 1939
|Born||May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1891
Kiev, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)
|Died||10 March 1940 (aged 48)
|Occupation||novelist & playwright|
Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (Russian: Михаи́л Афана́сьевич Булга́ков, May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1891, Kiev – March 10, 1940, Moscow) was a Soviet Russian novelist and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, which The Times of London has called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.
Mikhail Bulgakov was born to Russian parents on May 15, 1891 in Kiev (now the capital of Ukraine), in the Russian Empire. He was the eldest son of Afanasiy Bulgakov, an assistant professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. He was the grandson of priests on both sides of the family. From 1901 to 1904 Bulgakov attended the First Kiev Gymnasium, where he developed an interest in Russian and European literature, theatre and opera.
In 1913 Bulgakov married Tatiana Lappa. At the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered with the Red Cross as a medical doctor and was sent directly to the frontline, where he was badly injured at least twice. In 1916, he graduated from the Medical School of Kiev University and then served in the White Army alongside his brothers. He also briefly served in the Ukrainian People's Army.
After the Civil War and rise of the Soviets, much of his family emigrated to Paris (in exile). Mikhail and brothers ended up in the Caucasus. He first began to work as a journalist there, but when they were invited to return as doctors by the French and German governments, Bulgakov was refused permission to leave Russia because of typhus. This was when he last saw his family.
Bulgakov suffered from his long-acting war wounds, which had a bad effect on his health. To suppress chronic pain, especially in the abdomen, he injected himself with morphine long enough to become addicted to it. Throughout the following years his addiction grew stronger as he eventually reached a state of hypochondriasis. His book, entitled Morphine and released in 1926, provided an account of the writer's state during these years.
Though his first fiction efforts were made in Kiev, he only decided to leave medicine to pursue his love of literature in 1919. His first book was an almanac of feuilletons called Future Perspectives, written and published the same year. In 1921, Bulgakov moved with Tatiana to Moscow where he began his career as a writer. They settled near Patriarch's Ponds, close to Mayakovskaya metro station on the Sadovaya street, 10. Three years later, divorced from his first wife, he married Lyubov' Belozerskaya. He published a number of works through the early and mid 1920s, but by 1927 his career began to suffer from criticism that he was too anti-Soviet. By 1929 his career was ruined, and government censorship prevented publication of any of his work and staging of any of his plays.
In 1931, Bulgakov married for the third time, to Yelena Shilovskaya, who would prove to be inspiration for the character Margarita in his most famous novel. 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, librettos. Many of them were not published, other ones were "torn to pieces" by critics.
Bulgakov was ambivalent towards Soviet regime: while mocking it in some of his works, he also wrote the play "Batum" glorifying Stalin's early revolutionary activity (the play was banned by Stalin). Much of his work stayed in his desk drawer for several decades. In 1930 he wrote a letter to the Soviet government, requesting permission to emigrate if the Soviet Union could not find use for him as a writer. He received a phone call directly from Stalin asking the writer whether he really desired to leave the Soviet Union. Bulgakov replied that a Russian writer cannot live outside of his homeland.
Stalin had enjoyed Bulgakov's work, The Days of the Turbins and found work for him at a small Moscow theatre, and then the Moscow Art Theatre. In Bulgakov's autobiography, he claimed that he wrote to Stalin out of desperation and mental anguish, never intending to post the letter. Bulgakov wrote letters to Stalin during the 1930s again requesting to emigrate, to which Stalin did not reply.
The refusal of the authorities to let him work in the theatre and his desire to see his family living abroad, whom he had not seen for many years, led him to seek drastic measures. Despite his new work, the projects he worked on at the theatre were often prohibited and he was stressed and unhappy. He also worked briefly at the Bolshoi Theatre as a librettist but left when his works were not produced.
Bulgakov died from nephrosclerosis (an inherited kidney disorder) on March 10, 1940. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His father had died of the same disease, and from his youth Bulgakov guessed his future mortal diagnosis.
During his life, Bulgakov was best known for the plays he contributed to Konstantin Stanislavsky's and Nemirovich-Danchenko's Moscow Art Theatre. Stalin was known to be fond of the play Days of the Turbins (Дни Турбиных) (1926), which was based on Bulgakov's novel The White Guard. His dramatization of Molière's life in The Cabal of Hypocrites (Кабала святош) is still performed by the Moscow Art Theatre. Even after his plays were banned from the theatres, Bulgakov wrote a comedy about Ivan the Terrible's visit into 1930s Moscow and a play about the early years of Stalin (1939), which was prohibited by Stalin himself.
Bulgakov began writing prose with The White Guard (Белая гвардия) (1924, partly published in 1925, first full edition 1927–1929, Paris) – a novel about a life of a White Army officer's family in Civil war Kiev. In the mid-1920s, he came to admire the works of H. G. Wells and wrote several stories with elements of science fiction, notably The Fatal Eggs (Роковые яйца) (1924) and the Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце) (1925). He intended to compile his stories of the mid-twenties (published mostly in medical journals) that were based on his work as a country doctor in 1916–1918 into a collection titled Notes of a Young Doctor (Записки юного врача), but he died before he could publish it.
The Fatal Eggs 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 chicken eggs, while the government-run farm receives the shipment of ostrich, snake and crocodile eggs 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 kill most of the workers on the farm. The propaganda machine then turns on 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 features a professor who implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a dog named Sharik (means "Little Balloon" or "Little Ball" - popular Russian nickname for a male dog). 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 contains few bold hints to communist leadership (e.g. the name of donor drunkard of human implants is Chugunkin ("chugun" is a cast iron) which can be seen as parody on the name of Stalin ("stal'" is steel). It was turned into a comic opera called The Murder of Comrade Sharik by William Bergsma in 1973. In 1988 an award-winning movie version Sobachye Serdtse was produced by Lenfilm, starring Yevgeniy Yevstigneyev, Roman Kartsev and Vladimir Tolokonnikov.
The Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита), which Bulgakov began writing in 1928, is a magic realism satirical novel published by his widow in 1966, twenty-six years after his death, that has led to an international appreciation of his work. 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. It contributed a number of sayings to the Russian language, for example, "Manuscripts don't burn" and "second-grade freshness". 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 of this novel.
The novel is a critique of Soviet society and its literary establishment. The work is appreciated for its philosophical undertones and for its high artistic level thanks to its picturesque descriptions (especially of old Jerusalem), lyrical fragments and style. It is a frame narrative involving two characteristically related time periods and/or plot lines: a retelling of the gospels and a description of contemporary Moscow.
The novel begins with Satan visiting Moscow in the 1930s, joining a conversation between a critic and a poet debating the existence of Jesus Christ and the Devil. It then evolves into an all-embracing indictment of the corruption, greed, narrow-mindedness, and widespread paranoia of Soviet Russia. Published more than 25 years after Bulgakov's death, and more than ten years after Stalin's, the novel firmly secured Bulgakov's place among the pantheon of great Russian writers.
Bulgakov's old flat, in which parts of The Master and Margarita are set, has since the 1980s become a gathering spot for Bulgakov's fans, as well as Moscow-based Satanist groups, and had various kinds of graffiti scrawled on the walls. The numerous paintings, quips, and drawings were completely whitewashed in 2003. Previously the best drawings were kept as the walls were repainted, so that several layers of different colored paints could be seen around the best drawings. Although quite old,the building stayed viable for a while. The building's residents, in an attempt to deter loitering, are currently attempting to turn the flat into a museum of Bulgakov's life and works. To date (February, 2005), they have had trouble contacting the flat's anonymous owner.
On December 21, 2006, the museum in Bulgakov's flat was damaged by an anti-satanist protester and disgruntled neighbor, Alexander Morozov.
The Bulgakov museum in Moscow remains open and contains personal belongings, photos, and exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. There is a fantastic museum and different poetic and literary events are often being held in the flat. The museum's web site is only available in Russian but the entrance fee is only about $1 (the museum was free till January 2009) and its opening hours are 1 p.m. - 7 p.m. The flat is located close to Mayakovskaya metro station on the Sadovaya street, 10.
The Mikhail Bulgakov Museum (Bulgakov House) in Kiev, (in his family home, which was the model for the house of the Turbin family in The White Guard) has been converted to a literary museum with some rooms devoted to the writer, as well as some to his works.
The award-winning British writer Salman Rushdie stated that The Master and Margarita was an inspiration for his own novel The Satanic Verses.
The following quotes from The Master and Margarita have become catch phrases in Russia:
|Born|| May 15, 1891|
Kiev, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)
|Died|| March 10, 1940 (aged 48)|
Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (May 15 1891 - March 10 1940) was a Soviet novelist and playwright. He wrote in the first half of the 1900s. He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita.
Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev on May 15 1891. Two of his grandparents were priests and his father was an assistant professor. At school Bulgakov developed an interest in Russian writing, European writing, the theatre and the opera.
In 1913 Bulgakov married Tatiana Lappa. When the First World War started he volunteered with the Red Cross as a doctor. Bulgakov was sent to an area where fighting was heavy, and he was badly injured at least twice. In 1916, he graduated from the Medical School of Kiev University. Bulgakov then joined the White Army with his brothers. They fought against the communists who were taking control of Russia. Bulgakov also fought in the Ukrainian People's Army.
After the Russian Civil War, Mikhail and his brothers went to the Caucasus in Western Russia. Mikhail worked as a journalist. Many members of Bulgakov's family left Russia for Western Europe. Bulgakov was not allowed into other countries, however, as he had a disease called typhus.
The injuries Bulgakov received in the First World War continued to cause him a lot of pain. To ease the pain, he started injecting himself with morphine. He eventually became addicted to morphine. He wrote a book about this period called Morphine, which was finally released in 1926.
Bulgakov left medicine behind as he was now sure he wanted to be a writer. He moved to Moscow with his wife Tatiana in 1921. Bulgakov eventually divorced Tatiana, and married Lyubov' Belozerskaya in 1924. He published a number of works in the early 1920s. By 1927, however, he was criticised by people who said he was writing against the Soviet government. By 1929, Bulgakov's writing career was in ruins. Government censorship stopped his work and plays being released in the USSR.
In 1931, Bulgakov got married again, to Yelena Shilovskaya. Yelena inspired one of the main characters in Bulgakov's most famous novel, The Master and Margarita. In the last ten years of his life, Bulgakov continued to write novels, plays and translate works in other languages. Many could still not be published in the USSR of the 1930s. Those that were published were often heavily criticised.
Bulgakov did not like the Soviet system which did not allow his works to be published. He wrote a letter to the Soviet government requesting to leave the country. He even spoke directly to Stalin on the telephone, asking to be allowed to leave the USSR. Stalin's reply implied that if Bulgakov attempted to leave, he would be killed. Stalin did allow Bulgakov to work at a small theatre in Moscow, however. Bulgakov eventually worked at the Moscow Art Theatre, but the Soviet system still did not allow him to write as he really wanted. This, and the fact that he was not allowed to go abroad to see his family, made Bulgakov very unhappy.
Bulgakov died from problems with his kidneys on March 10, 1940. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.