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Mikhail Bulgakov

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Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov
Born Mikhaíl Afanasyevich Bulgakov
May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1891
Kiev, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)
Died March 10, 1940(1940-03-10) (aged 48)
Moscow, Soviet Union (present-day Russian Federation)
Occupation novelist, playwright, physician
Nationality Soviet[1]
Ethnicity Russian[2]
Genre Satire, Fantasy, Science fiction, Historical fiction
Spouse Tatiana Lappa 1913–1924
Lubov Belozerskaya 1924–1932
Elena Shilovskaya 1932–1940
(his death)

Mikhaíl Afanasyevich Bulgakov (Russian: Михаи́л Афана́сьевич Булга́ков, pronounced ; May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1891 – March 10, 1940) was a Russian writer and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century.[1] He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, which has been called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.[3]


  • Life and work 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Career 1.2
    • Last years 1.3
  • Early works 2
    • The Master and Margarita 2.1
  • Political views 3
  • Legacy 4
    • The Bulgakov Museums in Moscow 4.1
      • The Bulgakov House 4.1.1
      • The Museum M.A. Bulgakov 4.1.2
    • Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, Kiev 4.2
    • One Street Museum, Kiev 4.3
  • Bibliography 5
    • Novels and short story collections 5.1
    • Theatre 5.2
    • Biography 5.3
  • Biographies of Bulgakov 6
    • Letters, memoirs 6.1
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Life and work

Early life

Mikhail Bulgakov was born on May 15, 1891, in Kiev, at that time in the Russian Empire. He was one of seven children (the oldest of three brothers) of Afanasiy Bulgakov, an assistant professor at the Kiev Theological Academy, and Varvara Mikhailovna, a former teacher. Both of his grandfathers were clergymen in the Russian Orthodox Church.[4] Afanasiy Bulgakov was born in Bryansk Oblast, Russia, where his father was a priest, and he moved to Kiev to study in the academy.[5] Varvara Bulgakova was born in Karachev, Russia.[6] Friendship, respect, and mutual love reigned in Bulgakov's large family and happy home. From childhood Bulgakov was drawn to theater. At home, he wrote comedies, which his brothers and sisters acted out.[7]

In 1901 Bulgakov joined the First Kiev Gymnasium, where he developed an interest in Russian and European literature (his favourite authors at the time being Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Dickens), theatre and opera. The teachers of the Gymnasium exerted a great influence on the formation of his literary taste. After the death of his father in 1907, Mikhail's mother, a well-educated and extraordinarily diligent person, assumed responsibility for his education. After graduation from the Gymnasium in 1909,[8] Bulgakov entered the Medical Faculty of Kiev University, which he finished with special commendation. He then took a position as a physician at the Kiev Military Hospital.[9]

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 front, where he was badly injured at least twice. Bulgakov's suffering from these wounds had deleterious long-term effects. To suppress chronic pain, especially in the abdomen, he injected himself with morphine. Over the next year his addiction grew stronger. In 1918, he abandoned morphine and never used it again. Morphine, a book released in 1926, is his account of that trying period.

In 1916, Bulgakov graduated from the Medical Department of Kiev University and after serving as a surgeon at Chernovtsy hospital, was appointed provincial physician to Smolensk province. His life in those days is reflected in his A Country Doctor's Notebook.[9] In September 1917 Bulgakov was moved to the hospital in Vyazma, near Smolensk. In February 1918, he returned to Kiev, where he opened a private practice at his home at Andreyevsky Descent, 13. Here he lived through the Russian Civil War and witnessed ten coups. Successive governments drafted the young doctor into their service while two of his brothers were serving in the White Army against the Bolsheviks.

In February 1919 he was mobilised as an army physician by the Ukrainian People's Army and assigned to the Northern Caucasus. There, he became seriously ill with typhus and barely survived.[9][10] In the Caucasus he started working as a journalist, but when they were invited to return as doctors by the French and German governments, Bulgakov was refused permission to leave Russia because of the typhus. That was when he last saw his family; after the Civil War and the rise of the Soviets most of his relatives emigrated to Paris.


After illness Bulgakov abandoned his career as a doctor for that of a writer. In his autobiography, he recalled how he started writing: "Once in 1919 when I was traveling at night by train I wrote a short story. In the town where the train stopped, I took the story to the publisher of the newspaper who published the story".[9] 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 December 1919 Bulgakov moved to Vladikavkaz. He wrote and saw his first two plays, Self Defence and The Turbin Brothers, being produced for the city theater stage with great success.[8][9]

Bulgakov, 1930 or earlier

After travelling through the Caucasus, Bulgakov headed for Moscow, intending "to remain here forever". It was difficult to find work in the capital, but he was appointed secretary to the literary section of Glavpolitprosvet (Central Committee of the Republic for Political Education).[9] In September 1921 Bulgakov and his wife settled near Patriarch's Ponds, close to Mayakovskaya metro station on Bolshaya Sadovaya street, 10. To make a living, he started working as a correspondent and feuilletons writer for the newspapers Gudok, Krasnaia Panorama and Nakanune, based in Berlin.[9] For the almanac Nedra, he wrote Diaboliad, The Fatal Eggs (1924), and Heart of a Dog (1925), works that combined bitter satire and elements of science fiction and were concerned with the fate of a scientist and the misuse of his discovery. The most significant features of Bulgakov's satire, such as a skillful blending of fantastic and realistic elements, grotesque situations, and a concern with important ethical issues, had already taken shape; these features were developed further in his most famous novel.[7]

Between 1922 and 1926 Bulgakov wrote several plays (including Zoyka's Apartment), none of which were allowed production at the time.[8] The Run, treating the horrors of a fratricidal war, was personally banned by Joseph Stalin after the Glavrepertkom (Department of Repertoire) decided that it "glorified emigration and White generals".[9] In 1925 Bulgakov divorced his first wife and married Lyubov Belozerskaya.

When one of Moscow's theatre directors severely criticised Bulgakov, Stalin personally protected him, saying that a writer of Bulgakov's quality was above "party words" like "left" and "right".[11] Stalin found work for the playwright at a small Moscow theatre, and next the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT). On October 5, 1926, Days of the Turbins, the play which continued the theme of The White Guard (the fate of Russian intellectuals and officers of the Tsarist Army caught up in revolution and Civil war)[7] was premièred at the MAT[8] Stalin liked it very much and reportedly saw it at least 15 times.

Ivan Vasilievich, Last Days (Pushkin), and Don Quixote were banned. The premier of another, Moliere (The Cabal of Hypocrites), in which Bulgakov plunged "into fairy Paris of the XVII century", received bad reviews in Pravda and the play was withdrawn from the theater repertoire.[9] In 1928, Zoyka's Apartment and The Purple Island were staged in Moscow; both comedies were accepted by public with great enthusiasm, but critics again gave them bad reviews.[9] By March 1929 Bulgakov's career was ruined when Government censorship prevented the publication of any of his work and staging of any of his plays.[8]

In despair, Bulgakov first wrote a personal letter to Joseph Stalin (July 1929), then on March 28, 1930, a letter to the Soviet government.[12] He requested permission to emigrate if the Soviet Union could not find use for him as a writer.[9] In his autobiography, Bulgakov claimed to have written to Stalin out of desperation and mental anguish, never intending to post the letter. He received a phone call directly from the Soviet leader, who asked the writer whether he really desired to leave the Soviet Union. Bulgakov replied that a Russian writer cannot live outside of his homeland. Stalin gave him permission to continue working at the Art Theater; on May 10, 1930,[8] he re-joined the theater, as stage director's assistant. Later he adapted Gogol's Dead Souls for stage.[7]

In 1932, Bulgakov married for the third time, to Yelena Shilovskaya, who would prove to be inspiration for the character Margarita in his most famous novel, which he started working on in 1928.[9] 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. Much of his work (ridiculing the Soviet system) stayed in his desk drawer for several decades. The refusal of the authorities to let him work in the theatre and his desire to see his family who were 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 strained and unhappy.

Last years

In the late 1930s he joined the Bolshoi Theatre as a librettist and consultant. He left after perceiving that none of his works would be produced there. Stalin's favor protected Bulgakov from arrests and execution, but he could not get his writing published. His novels and dramas were subsequently banned and, for the second time, Bulgakov's career as playwright was ruined. When his last play Batum (1939), a complimentary portrayal of Stalin's early revolutionary days,[13] was banned before rehearsals, Bulgakov requested permission to leave the country but was refused.

In poor health, Bulgakov devoted his last years to what he called his "sunset" novel. 1937-1939 for Bulgakov were stressful years as he veered from glimpses of optimism, believing the publication of his masterpiece could still be possible, to bouts of depression, when he felt as if there were no hope. On June 15, 1938, when the manuscript was nearly finished, Bulgakov wrote in a letter to his wife:

"In front of me 327 pages of the manuscript (about 22 chapters). The most important remains - editing, and it's going to be hard, I will have to pay close attention to details. Maybe even re-write some things... 'What's its future?' you ask? I don't know. Possibly, you will store the manuscript in one of the drawers, next to my 'killed' plays, and occasionally it will be in your thoughts. Then again, you don't know the future. My own judgement of the book is already made and I think it truly deserves being hidden away in the darkness of some chest..."[7]

In 1939 Mikhail Bulgakov organized a private reading of The Master and Margarita to his close circle of friends. Yelena Bulgakova remembered 30 years later, "When he finally finished reading that night, he said: 'Well, tomorrow I am taking the novel to the publisher!' and everyone was silent", "...Everyone sat paralyzed. Everything scared them. P. (P. A. Markov, in charge of the literature division of MAT) later at the door fearfully tried to explain to me that trying to publish the novel would cause terrible things", she wrote in her diary (May 14, 1939).[7]

Mikhail 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 had guessed his future mortal diagnosis.

Early works

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) (1936) 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. His play Batum (1939) about the early years of Stalin was prohibited by the premier 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 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.[14]

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

Soviet postal stamp: prepaid postcard of 1991.

The Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита), which Bulgakov began writing in 1928 and which was finally published by his widow in 1966, twenty-six years after his death, led to an international appreciation of his work. The book 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. Bulgakov had to rewrite the novel from memory after he burned the draft manuscript.

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 develops 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 .

A story within the story portrays the interrogation of Jesus Christ by Pontius Pilate and the Crucifixion.

Political views

Lesley Milne points out that one of "Bulgakov's semi-autobiographical heroes affirms in almost the same breath that he is 'monarchist by conviction' and 'against the death penalty'".[15]



  • Full English text of The Master and Margarita
  • Full English text of The Heart of a Dog
  • Full English text of The Fatal Eggs
  • Full English translation of "Future Prospects" and "In the Café"
  • Master and Margarita profile and resources
  • Chris Hedges, Welcome to Satan's Ball, Truthdig, 2014.03.10. A comparison of the Soviet society described in Master and Margarita and modern society in the United States and Russia
  • Mikhail Bulgakov in the Western World: A Bibliography, Library of Congress, European Reading Room
  • Mikhail Bulgakov at Find a Grave
  • "Remembering Gudok" by M.Bulgakov. {from}

External links

  1. ^ a b Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov Encyclopaedia Britannica
  2. ^ Edythe C. Haber. Mikhail Bulgakov: the early years. Harvard University Press. 1998. p. 23
  3. ^ Neel Mukherjee (May 9, 2008). "The Master and Margarita: A graphic novel by Mikhail Bulgakov". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  4. ^ Lesley Milne. Mikhail Bulgakov: A Critical Biography. Cambridge University Press. 2009. p. 5
  5. ^ Ермишин О. Т., Православная энциклопедия, Том 6, 2003 (Russian)
  6. ^ Булгакова, Варвара Михайловна :: Булгакова, Варвара Михайловна (in Русский). Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Mikhail Bulgakov Biography". Retrieved 2011-10-10. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Bulgakov timeline /Краткая хроника жизни и творчества М.А.Булгакова". Retrieved 2011-10-10. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Katherine Konchakovska and Bohdan Yasinsky (1998). "Mikhail Bulgakov in the Western World: A Bibliography". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2011-10-10. 
  10. ^ {Виленский Ю. Г. Доктор Булгаков. Под ред. Т. И. Борисовой. Киев. Изд. Здоровье. 1991. Стр. 99-103. ISBN 5-311-00639-0
  11. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, p. 110. swedish edition of Stalin: The Red Tsar and His Court.
  12. ^ Михаил Афанасьевич Булгаков. Письмо правительству СССР (in Русский).Новый мир, 1987, N8. Retrieved 2011-10-10. 
  13. ^ "Батум. Комментарии". Retrieved 2011-10-10. 
  14. ^ Coulehan, Jack (1999-11-09). "Literature Annotations: Bulgakov, Mikhail - A Country Doctor's Notebook". Literature Arts and Medicine Database.  
  15. ^ Milne 2009, pp. 5–6.
  16. ^ Schmadel, Lutz (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Springer.  
  17. ^ Lesley Milne, ed. (1995). Bulgakov: the novelist-playwright. Routledge. p. 232.  
  18. ^ Stephen, Chris. "Devil-worshippers target famous writer's Moscow flat". The Irish Times, Saturday, 5 February 2005. Page 9.
  19. ^ Elina Galtseva. "About the museum". Museum M.A. Bulgakov. 
  20. ^ Inna Konchakovskaia (1902–85) a daughter of the owner (who had become a hero of Bulgakov's novel) and niece of composer Witold Maliszewski preserved the house during hard soviet times. [1]


  • Belozerskaya-Bulgakova, Lyubov 1983. My life with Mikhail Bulgakov. transl. Margareta Thompson, Ann Arbor: Ardis.
  • Curtis J.A.E. 1991. Manuscripts don't burn: Mikhail Bulgakov: a life in letters and diaries. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Vozvdvizhensky, Vyacheslav (ed) 1990. Mikhail Bulgakov and his times: memoirs, letters. transl. Liv Tudge, Moscow: Progress.

Letters, memoirs

  • Drawitz, Andrzey 2001. The Master and the Devil. transl. Kevin Windle, New York: Edwin Mellen.
  • Haber, Edythe C. 1998. Mikhail Bulgakov, the early years. Harvard University Press.
  • Milne, Leslie 1990. Mikhail Bulgakov: a critical biography. Cambridge University *Press.
  • Proffer, Ellendea 1984. Bulgakov: life and work. Ann Arbor: Ardis.
  • Proffer, Ellendea 1984. A pictorial biography of Mikhail Bulgakov. Ann Arbor: Ardis.
  • Wright, Colin 1978. Mikhail Bulgakov: life and interpretation. University of Toronto Press.

Biographies of Bulgakov

  • Life of Mr. de Molière, 1962


  • The Early Plays of Mikhail Bulgakov, 1990
  • Peace plays: two, 1990
  • Zoyka's apartment: A tragic farce in three acts, 1991
  • Six plays, 1991


Novels and short story collections


Several displays of One Street Museum are dedicated to Bulgakov's family. Among the items presented in Museum are original photos of Mikhail Bulgakov, books and his personal belongings and a window frame from the house Bulgakov lived. Also Museum keeps scientific works of professor Afanasy Bulgakov, father of Mikhail Bulgakov.

One Street Museum, Kiev

The Mikhail Bulgakov Museum (Bulgakov House) in Kiev has been converted to a literary museum with some rooms devoted to the writer, as well as some to his works.[20] This was his family home, the model for the house of the Turbin family in his play The Days of the Turbins and his novel The White Guard.

Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, Kiev

Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, Kiev

The Museum M.A. Bulgakov contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held.

In the same building, in apartment number 50 on the fourth floor, is a second museum that keeps alive the memory of Bulgakov, the Museum M.A. Bulgakov (Russian: Музей М. А. Булгаков). This second museum is a government initiative, and was founded on March 26, 2007.

The Museum M.A. Bulgakov

The Bulgakov House contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held, and excursions to Bulgakov's Moscow are organised, some of which are animated with living characters of The Master and Margarita. The Bulgakov House also runs the Theatre M.A. Bulgakov with 126 seats, and the Café 302-bis.

The Bulgakov House (Russian: Музей - театр "Булгаковский Дом") is situated at the ground floor. This museum has been established as a private initiative on May 15, 2004.

The Bulgakov House in Moscow

The Bulgakov House

There is a rivalry between the two museums, mainly maintained by the later established official Museum M.A. Bulgakov, which invariably presents itself as "the first and only Memorial Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov in Moscow".[19]

In Moscow, two museums honor the memory of Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita. Both are situated in Bulgakov's old apartment building on Bolshaya Sadovaya street nr. 10, in which parts of The Master and Margarita are set. Since the 1980s, the building has 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.[18]

The Bulgakov Museums in Moscow

The 2011 play Collaborators by British playwright John Hodge is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin.

Master and Margarita was also inspiration, according to Mick Jagger, for the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand based "Love and Destroy" on the same book.

Pearl Jam's song "Pilate" featured on their album entitled Yield has its lyrics inspired by the novel. The lyrics were written by the band's bassist Jeff Ament.

Salman Rushdie said that The Master and Margarita was an inspiration for his novel The Satanic Verses.[17]


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