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. Biography of Mikhail Bulgakov

. Biography of Mikhail Bulgakov.

 / Mikhail BulgakovMikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev in 1891. His father was a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy; his grandfather was a scholar of the famous Russian playwright, Gogol.

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; in high school, theater was his favorite subject. In 1909, he enrolled in Medical School of Kiev University. He graduated in 1916. In 1913, he moved with his first wife to the village of Viazma where he was assigned to obligatory medical service as part of his education. [Bulgakov had married three times: with Tatiana Nikolaevna Lappa (1913), Liubov Evgenevna Belozerskaia (1924) and Elena Sergeevna (1932).]

In 1918 Bulgakov returned to Kiev and began to practice medicine.

Kiev was at that time the focal point of an intense struggle between German troops, the Ukrainian Nationalist Army, Red troops, and the Russian Volunteer Army. Bulgakov enlisted as a field doctor in a Volunteer Army regiment and went to the Caucasus. Toward the end of 1919, he resigned from military service and started to work as a journalist and playwright. After a few of his early plays were staged in local theaters, Bulgakov moved to Moscow, where he stayed for the rest of his life and where literature and theater were his only concerns.

The first few years in post-revolutionary Moscow were a continuous struggle for survival. Bulgakov wrote comic sketches for various newspapers. In many of these works--some autobiographical--Bulgakov protested the cruelty, violence, and murders he witnessed during the Civil War. From 1924 to 1926 wrote "The Fatal Eggs" and "Heart of a Dog," two short novels that contain bitter satire and elements of science fiction. Both are 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 Bulgakov's last novel The Master and Margarita.

In 1925, Bulgakov began his eleven-year association with the Moscow Art Theater. His play The Day of the Turbins premiered on October 5, 1926 and continued the theme of the earlier The White Guard -- dealing with the fate of Russian intellectuals and officers of the Tsarist Army caught up in revolution and civil war. Other plays treated the topic of people caught up in momentous, historical upheavals. Bulgakov's satirical comedies were staged with success but provoked hostile attacks in the Soviet press. In the spring of 1929 all of Bulgakov's plays were banned, leaving him without a source of income. He sent a letter to the Soviet government in March of 1930 requesting permission to resume his publications. He received a personal telephone call from Stalin and permission to work at the Art Theater, where he adapted Gogol's Dead Souls for stage.

The fate of a writer fighting for his spiritual and artistic independence and his right to create became the subject of several of Bulgakov's works in the 1930s. During the late 1930s he was librettist and consultant at Bolshoi Theatre. However, Stalin's favor protected Bulgakov only from arrests and executions, but his writings remained unpublished. His novels and dramas were subsequently banned and, for the second time, Bulgakov's career as playwright was ruined. After his last play Batum was banned even before rehearsals, Bulgakov requested permission to leave the country. Years of such requests resulted in failure. In poor health, Bulgakov devoted his last years to what he called his "sunset" novel--The Master and Margarita.

The Master and Margarita (written 1928-40) takes place on three levels, each of which provides a commentary on the others. The historical narrative is set in Jerusalem, where Pontius Pilate condemns to death a man whom he knows to be innocent. The contemporary narrative is set in Moscow, where the Master and Margarita live and where the Master has written a novel about Pilate. The third, fantastic level introduces the devil, who appears in Moscow with a retinue that includes an enormous black cat. The philosophical and religious themes circulate around the intrusion of the devil into the life of modern Moscow and the crucifixion of Jesus-figure, Yeshua, in Jerusalem. Yet this is a carnivalesque world created by Bulgakov: the devil, Woland, is unconventionally seen more as an agent for good and the Jesus-character is not at all very Biblical.

While working on Master and Margarita in 1937-1939, Bulgakov was sometimes optimistic and believed in the possibility of the publication, but at other times he lost his optimism and did not dream of ever seeing it in print.

In the summer of 1938, when the manuscript was nearly finished, the author ultimately lost all hope: "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", wrote Bulgakov from Moscow to his wife on June 15 1938, "'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..."

Over thirty years had passed when on November 22, 1969, Elena Bulgakova told how, with an almost ritual attention to detail, Bulgakov organized his first private reading of Master and Margarita to his friends:

"He divided it into four evenings. All arrived exactly 7:30pm. Sat in his office in half-circle, like in the theatre. He sat at his desk, lighted candles. Read. When he finished reading, the dinner table had to be perfectly set. 'Well, now a shot of vodka', he would say, rubbing hands. Nobody was allowed to talk about the novel; everyone was barely able to stay silent... He wrote the Conclusion on the fourth evening. When he finally finished reading that night, he said: 'Well, tomorrow I am taking the novel to the publisher!' and everyone was silent".

When the reading ended, the panic that Bulgakov's friends felt overpowered their admiration of this rare and bright literary phenomena. "At times the strain became too much", honestly wrote V. Vilenkin, "I remember when he finished reading, we were silent for a long time, and felt overwhelmed and bruised. And it was quite a while before I understood the philosophical and moral implications of this incredible work."

As if he already had known the future readers' reaction, in 1934, when working on the first version of the manuscript, Bulgakov included the tale of the Master tells Ivan how the author tried to read his novel "to some people, but even half of it wasn't understood".

There were such sharp differences between the novel and the other books in print [in Soviet Union] at the time - the bible chapters, the character possessing inhumanly powers.. - that at first the novel's readers were in shock. It was hard for them to listen when in the back of their minds was the thought of what was going to happen to such a novel, and to its author.

On May 14, 1939 Elena Bulgakova wrote in her diary, "When he read the last chapters, everyone sat paralyzed. Everything scared them. P. (P. A. Markov, in charge of the literature division of MHAT) later at the door fearfully tried to explain to me that trying to publish the novel would cause terrible things". (Due to the political climate of the 1930s and 40s Soviet Union, Bulgakov would have faced ostracism, work camps and maybe even death had he attempted to publish Master and Margarita.)

In the sixties, after Stalin's death, many of the literary works previously banned in the USSR were published. Master and Margarita was first published in censored form in 1967 in number 11 of Moscow magazine. The novel's readers experienced a sharp feeling of loss, which stemed from the conclusion of the novel: "You will be reading these pages when I will no longer be among you; you will look for me, but you will not find me". Master and Margarita was again republished in a fuller form in 1973; yet it took until 1989 before Bulgakov's work could be published in Russia in its original form.

Bulgakov has an astonishing talent for transforming harsh reality into an almost jovial anecdote. His works are full of genuine humor and wit along with satire and bitter irony. From humorous sketches Bulgakov progressed through Gogolian grotesque and surrealistic stories to end with the profoundly philosophical novel, Master and Margarita.

Bulgakov transformed ugly reality by elevating the problem of evil to the realm of metaphysics. Along with the castigation of everyday triviality, lies, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, the main themes of Bulgakov's works are crucial confrontations of an individual with the hostile forces of is environment, the arbitrariness of the (Soviet) authorities, and the cruelty of man to man. By introducing into Master and Margarita the figures of Yeshua and Pilate, Bulgakov showed his concern for the significance of ethics in modern life, with a continuous struggle between light and darkness going on today as it did two thousand years ago.

Mikhail Bulgakov died in Moscow on March 10, 1940.

. Biography of Mikhail Bulgakov
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