Critical Context

The Heart of a Dog is one of Bulgakov’s major fictions about the October Revolution. The others are the realistic novel Belaya gvardiya (1927, 1929; The White Guard, 1973), the fantastic tales of Diavoliada (1925; Diabolid and Other Stories, 1972), and the lengthy surrealistic/realistic narrative Master i Margarita (1966-1967, 1969; The Master and Margarita, 1967). These works express Bulgakov’s nightmare vision of the Revolution: the bureaucrat’s heaven which would be a citizen’s hell. The four works may be viewed as stages in an evolving attitude toward the upheavals of the 1910’s and 1920’s. The White Guard sympathetically portrays prerevolutionary and antirevolutionary Russians through the genre of the family chronicle. The Heart of a Dog and Diabolid and Other Stories combine fantastic and comic elements to satirize the architects of violent revolution; they paint a gloomy picture of cultural and spiritual losses which no one knows how to repair. The Master and Margarita, equally surreal and no less caustic about the Revolution, envisions the hidden hand of Providence working toward good amid man-made evils.

For four decades, Bulgakov’s fiction was suppressed in the Soviet Union and virtually unknown to foreign readers. Bulgakov had a reputation as a significant playwright whose always controversial, sometimes banned work enlivened the generally barren theater of the 1920’s and 1930’s. His plays lack, however, the comic and satiric inventiveness of his fiction. His rediscovery as a novelist and short story writer in the 1960’s occurred first outside the Soviet Union. The publication in the West of Soviet writers such as Boris Pasternak, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn whetted appetites for more of the literature that Soviet politics had suppressed. The publication of Bulgakov’s fiction in Russian and in other languages is belated recognition for one of the masters of twentieth century political satire. The Heart of a Dog ranks with George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), Karel Capek’s Valka s mloky (1936; The War with the Newts, 1937), and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s My (1952; We, 1924) as a classic exposure of humanity’s infatuation with dangerous ideologies.