IntroductionNot many Russian writers received telephones calls from Joseph Stalin. And not many of them ever wanted to. But Mikhail Bulgakov, even though he often made fun of the world’s first Communist government and wrote scathing satire against its leader, was actually one of Stalin’s favorite writers. That didn’t mean, however, Bulgakov was safe from the censor’s pen. He was so depressed by Stalin’s ban on all his earlier books that he burned the first and only copy of The Master and Margarita; he then changed his mind and had to rewrite the novel from memory. It was a good decision. Because of this novel, critics have praised Bulgakov as one of the best authors of the twentieth century. He died in 1940, dictating the final changes of his masterpiece to his wife.
- Bulgakov was a doctor by training and practiced medicine before he became a writer. While he served as a doctor on the front line during the war between Russia and Germany, he became addicted to morphine.
- Stalin once asked Bulgakov to produce several classic literary pieces for the stage. Very few of those works, however, were allowed to be published.
- Bulgakov’s greatest novel, The Master and Margarita, was not published until twenty-seven years after the author’s death. He asked his wife to hide the manuscript, fearing that it might be confiscated or destroyed
- One of the characters in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is Satan. For this reason, a group of Satanist occupied Bulgakov’s empty apartment after the author’s death and created lavish graffiti all over the walls.
- Despite his fears, Bulgakov used to say that “a manuscript cannot be burned.” This has become a popular phrase in Russia, meaning that once an author has written a book, it might be banned but it will never disappear.
All Resources by Category
Critical Survey of Drama
Days of the Turbins - Literary Characters
Mikhail Bulgakov - Critical Survey of Long Fiction
Mikhail Bulgakov Censorship
Short Story Criticism
The Heart of a Dog - Literary Characters
The Heart of a Dog - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
The Master and Margarita - Literary Places
The Master and Margarita - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
TMikhail Bulgakov - Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
The son of a theology professor, Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov was born in Kiev on May 15, 1891, and was reared in a middle-to upper-middle-class family among the intelligentsia of that city. Characters like the ones he must have known as a child show up in his drama frequently and are usually portrayed sympathetically, indicating, perhaps, a comparatively happy childhood in an affluent milieu that was to be radically altered during the Revolution and the following civil war. From 1901 to 1909, Bulgakov attended Kiev’s Aleksandrovsky High School, where his main interest seemed to be theater. Nevertheless, though renowned in childhood as a storyteller and mimic, Bulgakov enrolled in the College of Medicine at Kiev University, from which he was graduated with distinction in 1916. Bulgakov declared a specialty in venereology and, taking his first wife, Tatiana Lappa, to whom he had been married in 1913, with him, practiced medicine in the rural villages of Nikolskoe and Vyazma, primarily curing infections and amputating limbs. Returning to Kiev, where he spent the Civil War residing in the formerly placid family apartment, he witnessed fourteen changes of government in Kiev. He later chronicled this instability and its effects on Kiev’s citizens in the novel The White Guard and in his first major play, Days of the Turbins.
In 1920, Bulgakov abandoned medicine for a career as a writer, penning several no longer remembered plays for the...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov, the eldest of seven children, was born in Kiev on May 15, 1891, into a family that was both devout and intellectual. His father, who died when Mikhail was sixteen, was a professor of divinity at the Kiev Theological Academy. Bulgakov developed an early interest in music and the theater, but he pursued a medical degree at Kiev University. In 1913, he married Tatyana Nikolaevna Lappa, and in 1916 he graduated with distinction as a doctor. He subsequently served as a military doctor in remote village hospitals, settings that were to provide the material for the stories in A Country Doctor’s Notebook. The isolation depressed him, and he attempted to obtain his release, only succeeding in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Bulgakov returned to Kiev to establish a private practice in venereology and dermatology. During this time, the tense atmosphere of which is re-created in The White Guard, Kiev was a battleground for the Germans, the Ukrainian nationalists, the Bolsheviks, and the Whites. In November, 1919, Bulgakov fled south to the Caucasian town of Vladikavkaz. While he was confined to bed with typhus, Vladikavkaz was captured by the Bolsheviks. He abandoned the practice of medicine and began devoting himself entirely to writing.
In 1921, Bulgakov moved to Moscow, where, amid general hardship, he attempted to support himself and his wife through a variety of literary and journalistic jobs....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (bewl-GAH-kuhf) was born in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, then part of the Russian empire, in 1891. Although Kiev was an ancient seat of Russian civilization, Ukraine was a distinct province of the Russian empire with its own sense of identity. Bulgakov’s family was of Russian ethnicity, however, and solidly situated in Kiev’s middle-class intelligentsia. His father, A. I. Bulgakov, came from a line of theologians and was himself a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. His mother was both religious and intellectual and played a large part in the education of Mikhail and his six brothers and sisters. At home, Bulgakov developed an interest in religion that lasted into the officially atheistic Communist years of his country, influencing his writings.
A. I. Bulgakov died in 1907, when Mikhail was only sixteen. His widowed mother supported the family, becoming a teacher and secretary at a society for the advancement of learning. At an early age, then, the future writer experienced the life of the struggling middle class.
Bulgakov’s literary tastes and understanding were formed in school, as well as at home. His teachers at the First Kiev Gymnasium, which he attended from 1901 to 1904, encouraged him to read the great writers of Russian literature, including Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Fyodor Dostoevski. After graduating from the gymnasium, he went on to study medicine at St. Vladimir University,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Mikhail Bulgakov blended social and spiritual concerns in his work, satirizing the absurdities and injustices of Stalinist Russia while raising questions about the deeper meaning of life. In a society ruled by rigid bureaucracy and collectivism, Bulgakov affirmed the transcendent value of individuals and the lasting worth of art. He drew on many of the traditions of Russian literature and religion, but his fictions are modern and experimental in their structures and styles.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (bewl-GAH-kuhf) is one of the most revered and widely read twentieth century Russian authors. He was born in 1891 in the Ukrainian capital Kiev into a highly educated family that was devoted to Russia’s religious and cultural heritage. After initial tutoring at home, supervised by his father, a professor of theology, Bulgakov attended the best local high school and subsequently completed medical studies at the University of Kiev. He graduated at the height of World War I and immediately served in field hospitals. The revolution of 1917 and postwar upheavals in Ukraine caused Bulgakov, now married, to establish residence in Moscow. There he followed in the footsteps of Anton Chekhov by giving up medicine in favor of literature.
Bulgakov had a sharp eye for the incongruities attending the violent postrevolutionary social changes, and he developed a flair for satirizing them in feuilletons. His sarcastic impressions, however, soon collided with an ever-stricter Communist censorship. Because of his subsequent continuous clashes with censors, Bulgakov’s career of publishing and play production follows no neat chronological pattern. Some works, such as his vicious attack on the folly of social experiments, The Heart of a Dog, were published only posthumously. A similar fate befell his most important work, The Master and Margarita. Of his first novel, The White Guard, detailing the defeat of...
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In his final weeks, as he lay dying of nephrosclerosis, Mikhail Bulgakov continued to dictate changes for The Master and Margarita to his wife. He had been working on the book for twelve years, through eight versions, and he meant it to be his literary legacy.
Bulgakov was born in Kiev on May 3, 1891. His father was a professor at the Kiev Theological Seminary, an influence that appears in the novel through mentions of the history and philosophy of religious matters. Bulgakov graduated with distinction from the University of Kiev, and after attaining his medical degree from St. Vladimir's University, he went into the army, which sent him to a small town in the province of Smolensk. It was 1916, and Russia was involved in the First World War. The autobiographical stories in Bulgakov's collection A Country Doctor's Notebooks are based on his experiences in Smolensk.
Bulgakov returned to Kiev in 1918, but was drafted into the White Army to fight in Russia's civil war against the communist Red Army. On a train trip home from Northern Caucasus, where the army had sent him, he sat up all night writing his first short story, and when the train stopped he took the story to the local newspaper office, which promptly published it. The following year, 1920, Bulgakov gave up medicine and moved to Moscow to write full time. He had several books published and several plays produced. His greatest success was the play Days of the Turbins,...
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As a young man Bulgakov lived through Russia’s revolution and civil war without taking sides. When he began publishing in the mid-1920’s, he took an objective view, as in his novel The White Guard (1926), later adapted for stage as Days of Turbins. Both works were very popular, a fact that led eventually to Bulgakov’s ostracism. All of his works take satirical views of the changed state of affairs in the Soviet Union. His play Zoyka’s Apartment (1926), which satirizes the housing problems, as well as the new Soviet philistines, had to be withdrawn. Another of Bulgakov’s plays, Molyer; A Cabal of Hypocrites (1936), uses the struggle that the French playwright Moliere waged against critics—whom he often pilloried—in order to symbolize his own plight within modern Soviet society.
Perhaps the greatest satire of the Soviet system is to be found in Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita (written in the 1940’s but not published until 1967). It challenges the very basis of the Soviet system by posing age-old questions about the truth, reality, and sanctity of materialistic philosophy. For all these reasons Bulgakov was severely censored and prevented from publishing and developing his full potential as a writer in a police state.
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