Mikhail Bulgakov Additional 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...

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(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.


(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...

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(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...

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(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 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.