Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

Mikhail Bulgakov has the distinction of being one of a very few Russian writers who received telephones calls from Joseph Stalin. Even though he often made fun of the world’s first Communist government and wrote scathing satire against its leader, Bulgakov 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 to his masterpiece to his wife.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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 Satanists 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.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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 provincial theater in Vladikavkaz, where he also did some acting. While beginning work on The White Guard, which in 1927 would establish his reputation as a writer, Bulgakov moved in 1921 to Moscow, the city that would be his home until six months before his death. During the next few years, Bulgakov worked on his novel and made a living writing stories for Communist magazines and newspapers. These first stories, some clearly autobiographical, mainly depict the cruelty and violence of the Civil War and the low-life characters struggling to exist in the first years of the New Economic Policy, which went into effect in March, 1921. Among the best-known of these pieces are “Diavoliada”...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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. In 1924, he divorced Tatyana and married Lyubov Yevgenievna Belozerskaya. Soon thereafter, with the publication of satiric stories later collected in...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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, completing his degree in 1916. While a student, he married his first wife, Tatiana Lappa, in 1913.

The young doctor finished his education to begin a professional life in the midst of war and revolution; Russia had been embroiled in World War I since 1914. Bulgakov practiced medicine for a time at the Kiev Military Hospital and then was transferred to be the only doctor in a small village in Smolensk province. His observations of peasant life became the basis for a short-story collection that he wrote in the 1920’s, Zapiski iunogo vracha (1963; A Country Doctor’s Notebook, 1975).

The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, took power in Petrograd (later Leningrad) in late 1917. They pulled the Russian empire, soon renamed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, out of World War I but waged a bloody civil war to unite the country under their government. Bulgakov returned to...

(The entire section is 971 words.)

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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.

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 1079 words.)

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

(Novels for Students)

In his final weeks, as he lay dying of nephrosclerosis, Mikhail Bulgakov continued to dictate changes for The Master and Margarita to...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Mikhail Bulgakov Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 206 words.)