Black Snow displays both the autobiographical and the satirical components in Bulgakov’s work. Written in the first person, it tells the story of Maxudov, the author of a novel who has been invited to write a play based on his novel, much as Bulgakov was asked to turn The White Guard into Days of the Turbins. The theater is clearly the Moscow Arts Theater of the 1930’s, guided by Konstantin Stanislavsky, the originator of method acting. Bulgakov skewers the character representing Stanislavsky, whom he clearly found difficult during his own days at the Moscow Arts Theater.
The novel opens with the chapter “How It All Began,” with Maxudov receiving a request for an interview from Xavier Borisovich Ilchin, the director of the Academy of Drama at the Independent Theater. With Bulgakov’s typical fondness for playing with plot structures, however, this turns out not to be the beginning, since the story then shifts back to a previous time, when Maxudov was the proofreader for The Shipping Gazette and had written an unpublished novel in his spare time. He was about to commit suicide when he heard a performance of the opera Faust in a nearby room and was interrupted by a magazine editor, who wanted to publish his novel. For several chapters, Maxudov tells the story of his novel’s publication and then suddenly returns to his meeting with Ilchin.
Instead of bringing success, the dramatization of Maxudov’s novel is an endless series of farcical frustrations. Ultimately, Maxudov does commit suicide by throwing himself off a bridge. The narrative ends in an uncompleted sentence. However, Bulgakov includes an afterword explaining that Maxudov did not finish his novel because of his suicide. Was the novel really unfinished, or was Maxudov’s failure to end the tale the real and intended ending of Bulgakov’s novel about a story about a play based on a novel?