Authors: Mikhail Bulgakov

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian playwright and novelist

Author Works

Drama:

Dni Turbinykh, pr. 1926 (adaptation of his novel Belaya gvardiya; Days of the Turbins, 1934)

Zoykina Kvartira, pr. 1926 (Zoya’s Apartment, 1970)

Bagrovy ostrov, pr. 1928 (adaptation of his short story; The Crimson Island, 1972)

Beg, wr. 1928, pr. 1957 (Flight, 1969)

Kabala svyatosh, wr. 1929, pr. 1936 (A Cabal of Hypocrites, 1972; also known as Molière)

Adam i Eva, wr. 1930-1931, pb. 1971 (Adam and Eve, 1971)

Blazhenstvo, wr. 1934, pb. 1966 (Bliss, 1976)

Posledniye dni (Pushkin), wr. 1934-1935, pr. 1943 (The Last Days, 1976)

Ivan Vasilievich, wr. 1935, pb. 1965 (English translation, 1974)

Minin i Pozharskii, wr. 1936, pb. 1976 (libretto)

Rashel, wr. c. 1936, pb. 1972 (libretto; adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Mademoiselle Fifi”)

Batum, wr. 1938, pb. 1977

Don Kikhot, pr. 1941

The Early Plays of Mikhail Bulgakov, pb. 1972

Six Plays, pb. 1991

Long Fiction:

Belaya gvardiya, 1927, 1929 (2 volumes; The White Guard, 1971)

Teatralny i roman, 1965 (Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel, 1967)

Master i Margarita, censored version 1966-1967, uncensored version 1973 (The Master and Margarita, 1967)

Short Fiction:

Diavoliada, 1925 (Diaboliad and Other Stories, 1972)

Traktat o zhilishche, 1926 (A Treatise on Housing, 1972)

Zapiski iunogo vracha, 1963 (A Country Doctor’s Notebook, 1975)

Sobache serdtse, 1968, reliable text, 1969 (novella; The Heart of a Dog, 1968)

Nonfiction:

Zhizn gospodina de Molyera, 1962 (The Life of Monsieur de Molière, 1970)

Translation:

L’Avare, 1936 (of Molière’s play)

Biography

Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (bewl-GAH-kuhf) is one of the most revered and widely read twentieth century Russian authors. He was born in 1891 in the Ukrainian capital Kiev into a highly educated family that was devoted to Russia’s religious and cultural heritage. After initial tutoring at home, supervised by his father, a professor of theology, Bulgakov attended the best local high school and subsequently completed medical studies at the University of Kiev. He graduated at the height of World War I and immediately served in field hospitals. The revolution of 1917 and postwar upheavals in Ukraine caused Bulgakov, now married, to establish residence in Moscow. There he followed in the footsteps of Anton Chekhov by giving up medicine in favor of literature.{$I[AN]9810001363}{$I[A]Bulgakov, Mikhail}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Bulgakov, Mikhail}{$I[tim]1891;Bulgakov, Mikhail}

Bulgakov had a sharp eye for the incongruities attending the violent postrevolutionary social changes, and he developed a flair for satirizing them in feuilletons. His sarcastic impressions, however, soon collided with an ever-stricter Communist censorship. Because of his subsequent continuous clashes with censors, Bulgakov’s career of publishing and play production follows no neat chronological pattern. Some works, such as his vicious attack on the folly of social experiments, The Heart of a Dog, were published only posthumously. A similar fate befell his most important work, The Master and Margarita. Of his first novel, The White Guard, detailing the defeat of antirevolutionary forces, two sections appeared serialized in 1925. The rest was prohibited, and this became a pattern for many other works. The White Guard appeared first in its complete form in Paris; it did not appear in the Soviet Union until 1966.

Other works by Bulgakov, having been issued incompletely in one form, were sometimes reworked and offered to the censors under different titles. Thus The White Guard reemerged as the play Days of the Turbins and, notwithstanding numerous attacks on it, enjoyed a lengthy run. Bulgakov’s other dramatic ventures fared less well. Flight was banned in 1928 because it presented a positive portrayal of counterrevolutionary figures. The experimental The Crimson Island, depicting an island revolt in comic terms, had a brief run before castigation by Joseph Stalin forced its removal in early 1929. In the same year, A Cabal of Hypocrites, based on Molière’s life, was rejected; it reappeared briefly in 1936 as Molière. It was allowed seven performances before negative reviews in Pravda necessitated its closing.

Bulgakov’s early literary recognition rests primarily on shorter satiric prose pieces, collected in Diaboliad and Other Stories. Through delicate political maneuvering, these parodies escaped crucial censorial cuts and fully displayed Bulgakov’s talent for deft, sarcastic phrasing. By 1930, however, he realized that he could not preserve his authorial integrity under the prevailing conditions. He requested and received permission from Stalin to stage other writers’ officially approved, often-trite propagandist productions. When that task became too disagreeable, he assisted the Bolshoi Theater in fashioning operatic librettos into politically acceptable works. These accommodations to the requirements of the regime brought him a relatively secure and comfortable lifestyle while permitting him to write as he pleased in private in the hope of more liberal times to come. Also during this period, Bulgakov divorced a second wife and married a third, the great love of his life, Yelena Shilovsky. She not only became his secretary and editor when nephrosclerosis struck him in 1939 but also faithfully preserved all unpublished manuscripts and solicited Western help in securing their full publication. Bulgakov died on March 10, 1940, and was accorded an official funeral by the Soviet government.

One of the manuscripts unpublished at Bulgakov’s death, The Master and Margarita, became his ticket to posthumous fame. Without this novel, Bulgakov would have been but one of many suppressed Soviet writers. As it is, Bulgakov used the last ten years of his life to create secretly what many consider a masterpiece and term the most important Russian novel of the twentieth century. Its very publication history contributed to its reputation. During the relatively relaxed censorship period following Stalin’s death, the Soviet Union allowed a censored version to appear serialized in 1966-1967, a situation which immediately generated intense interest. The 1969 printing of the full text in West Germany, obtained through the efforts of Bulgakov’s widow and followed by translation into many languages, brought Bulgakov to Western attention. Widespread acclaim motivated a definitive Soviet version for internal consumption in 1973. Bulgakov was later fully “rehabilitated” and recognized as a major author.

The Master and Margarita encompasses many satirical views of Soviet life under Stalin that were censored in Bulgakov’s earlier pieces. It also serves as a good example of his experimental style and gives insight into his philosophical preoccupations. Critics are in disagreement about the definitive meaning of his ideas, which are presented in inscrutable, often conflicting and fantastic terms. The political exposés are carried out by Satan and his retinue rather than by avenging angels. Bulgakov periodically interrupts his panorama of Stalinist intrigue with chapters depicting a very unbiblical Jesus in a style stripped of all hagiographical language. These Jerusalem sections are the product of Bulgakov’s “Master,” a persecuted writer consigned to a comfortable Hell by a benevolent Devil for obscure reasons. The other title figure, Margarita, possessing symbolic traces of the Virgin Mary, a witch, and the author’s wife, forsakes heaven to share the Master’s fate.

Many readers and analysts, especially Russians, discern deeply hidden metaphysical implications in the narrative, and numerous books and essays attempt to offer explanation. Most agree that Bulgakov attempts to juxtapose Roman injustice at the time of Christ to Soviet oppression. A part of the critical literature less generously views the work as disjointed and overloaded with poorly integrated biographical material. It is true that Bulgakov wrote many versions of the novel, frequently putting it aside for long periods in order to begin other pieces left unfinished, among them Black Snow, and he died without having completed the final revision of The Master and Margarita. Yet even some of Bulgakov’s detractors find the book strikingly original and spellbinding. There is universal agreement that the spiritual plane is elevated above the material, though in a bizarre fashion. Fascination with the novel led to widespread interest in and publication of all Bulgakov’s output. Material scattered throughout Soviet archives permitted scholars to gain a comprehensive view of his achievements. While much of value for the Slavic specialist evolved from these collections, the overriding interest in Bulgakov is attributable to his mysterious The Master and Margarita, which continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

BibliographyBarratt, Andrew. Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to “The Master and Margarita.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Puts forth an imaginative approach to understanding Bulgakov’s most important work. Describes the genesis of the novel and its reception inside and outside the Soviet Union.Curtis, J. A. E. Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov, a Life in Letters and Diaries. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1992. Contains previously unpublished letters and a diary that were believed to be lost. Groups of Bulgakov’s letters, diaries, and speeches are arranged in chronological order and interspersed with biographical chapters, providing context for the primary source material.Drawicz, Andrzej. The Master and the Devil: A Study of Mikhail Bulgakov. Translated by Kevin Windle. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. Analyzes all of Bulgakov’s prose and dramatic works, placing them within the context of the author’s life and times. The initial chapters focus on Bulgakov’s life, providing new biographical information, and subsequent chapters concentrate on his novels and other writings.Haber, Edythe C. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Early Years. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Discusses Bulgakov’s early life and career, describing how his novels and other works arose from his experiences during the Russian Revolution, civil war, and early years of Communism. Traces the themes and characters of his early works and demonstrates how he perfected these fictional elements in The Master and Margarita.Milne, Lesley. Mikhail Bulgakov: A Critical Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Describes some of the features that are essential to understanding Bulgakov’s outlook on life and the themes and techniques of his works. Includes detailed and original interpretations of some of Bulgakov’s earliest works as well as a serious examination of The Master and Margarita.Milne, Lesley, ed. Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright. New York: Routledge, 1996. Collection of twenty-one essays surveys Bulgakov’s works from a wide variety of perspectives. Several essays examine The Master and Margarita, including one that compares the novel to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988). Includes an index of Bulgakov’s works.Natov, Nadine. Mikhail Bulgakov. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A concise and fairly complete literary biography.Proffer, Carl, and Ellendea Proffer, eds. Russian Literature Triquarterly 15 (1978). Samples of Bulgakov’s prose and dramatic output, as well as critical articles, are found in this special Bulgakov issue.Proffer, Ellendea. Bulgakov: Life and Work. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. Comprehensive treatment of Bulgakov’s career provides information and analysis of some early works that previously received little scholarly attention. Proffer’s portrait of Bulgakov contrasts with that of other critics, who depict him as being a suppressed and haunted author under the Stalinist regime. Smelianskii, A. M. Is Comrade Bulgakov Dead?: Mikhail Bulgakov at the Moscow Art Theatre. New York: Routledge, 1993. An examination of Bulgakov’s dramatic works, including their performance history. Bibliography.Terry, Garth M., comp. Mikhail Bulgakov in English: A Bibliography, 1891-1991. Cotgrave, Nottingham, England: Astra, 1991. Includes an index.Weir, Justin. The Author as Hero: Self and Tradition in Bulgakov, Pasternak, and Nabokov. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2002. Analyzes novels by three Russian authors–Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Boris Pasternak’s Doktor Zhivago (1957; Doctor Zhivago, 1958), and Vladimir Nabokov’s Dar (1952; The Gift, 1963)–to describe how these authors reveal themselves through their writing, transforming the traditional authors into the heroes of their novels.Wright, A. Colin. Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1978. Thorough critical biography examines The Master and Margarita and other works and places them within the context of Bulgakov’s life. Includes indexes and bibliography.
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