Mikhail Bulgakov was born on May 15th, 1891, in Kiev, Ukraine. He was the son of a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. He graduated as a doctor in 1916. After eighteen months in general practice in the depths of rural Russia (the subject matter of A Country Doctor’s Notebook) he set up in Kiev as a venereologist. After another eighteen months or so, Bulgakov moved to the Caucasus, due to the upheavals of the civil war. In 1920 he gave up medicine to write. He settled in Moscow, earning a living as a freelance journalist. He completed the short, satirical novel The Heart of a Dog in 1925. It remained unpublished in the Soviet Union until 1987 – he had great problems with the censors throughout his life. Three collections of his short stories – including the Diaboliad and A Country Doctor’s Notebook were published in 1925-27, and The White Guard was serialised in Rossiya, although this journal was closed down before it printed the entire novel.
However, The White Guard was dramatised as The Days of the Turbins in 1926, and was very successful. The Days of the Turbins was banned three years after its first performance, but later, in 1932, Bulgakov personally appealed to Stalin to remove the ban. After a performance was put on for Stalin alone, it was permitted back on the stage. Such was the importance – artistic and pecuniary – of this play to the Moscow Arts Theatre that they called it “the second Seagull”. This is a reference to Chekhov’s Seagull, one of the first plays to be performed at the M.A.T.
By 1930 Bulgakov had been worn down by the political climate and the suppression of his works. He wrote a letter to Stalin begging permission to emigrate if he was not to be allowed to earn his living as a writer. Stalin personally telephoned him and offered to arrange a job for him at the M.A.T. instead. While at the M.A.T. Bulgakov wrote a number of plays, and his unfinished novel Black Snow. In 1938 he completed his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, which he had been working on from as early as 1924-27. In 1939 he contracted a fatal illness. He went blind in September of that year, and died in 1940.
The Master and Margarita made an incomplete appearance in the journal Moskva in 1966-67. This was due to the persistance of Bulgakov’s widow, Yelena Sergeyevna Bulgakova. The novel appeared in full in 1973. Black Snow first appeared in 1965 in Novy Mir under the title A Theatrical Novel (in it, Bulgakov satirises Stanislavsky and others at the M.A.T.). Until then Bulgakov’s reputation had been based largely on his plays.
That’s enough of the dry historical details. It would be tragic to make Bulgakov, of all authors, sound boring. For, especially, the fantasy of The Master and Margarita and The Heart of a Dog makes terrifically entertaining reading. Bulgakov is a brilliant satirist, and without question deserves to be counted among the greatest of the 20th century Russian authours.
- Notes of a Young Physician
- Turbin Brothers (play)
- The White Guard 1923
- The Fatal Eggs 1924
- Diaboliad 1924
- The Days of the Turbins 1926
- Heart of a Dog 1927
- The Purple Island 1928
- Zoyka’s Apartment: A Tragic Farce in Three Acts 1928
- The Master and Margarita 1938
- Flight and Bliss
- Black Snow
- A Country Doctor’s Notebook
- Notes On the Cuff And Other Stories
- The Capital in a Notebook
- Molier (The Cabal of Hypocrites)
- Theatrical Novel
- Adventures of Chichikov
- The Terrible news : Russian stories from the years following the Revolution