May is the birth month of one of the greatest Russian authors of all time – Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov. Bulgakov was born on the 15th of May 1891 in Kiev to a large Russian family. He is remembered for his numerous great works such as The White Guard (Белая гвардия), Diaboliad (Дьяволиада), The Fatal Eggs (Роковые яйца) and The Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце) as well as for his novel Master and Margarita, which is rightly considered one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. If you still haven’t read any of his works, May might be just the right month for a visit to your local library ☺ Bulgakov’s life was vivid and intriguing and as such the object of many stories and anecdotes that to this day circulate about this famous author. In that spirit, let us celebrate Bulgakov’s birthday with a few interesting facts about his exciting life.
1. Bulgakov graduated from the Medical department of the Kiev University and later served as an army physician during the First World War. During the war he was allegedly injured twice and as a consequence suffered lifelong chronic pain.
2. In order to suppress the pain, he injected himself with morphine, which eventually led to an addiction. One of the stories has it that he was operating on a child that was sick with a highly infectious disease diphtheria and as a precaution, he decided to take morphine for the first time. However, Bulgakov managed to get rid of his addiction the following year and used this experience as an inspiration for his book Morphine (Морфий), which was released in 1926.
3. Bulgakov had an unusual love-hate relationship with the Soviet regime and Stalin. His works were often censored and banned because they criticized the Soviet system and the government. Stalin himself was a great admirer of some of his works, but at the same time a harsh critic of others. Discouraged by the censorship and bans on his work, in 1930 Buglakov wrote a letter to Stalin in which he asked him for permission to emigrate from Russia. This was followed by a personal telephone call from Stalin himself in which he refused him the permission. Bulgakov remained in Russia until his death in 1940.
4. He was married three times but had no children. The character of Margarita in his novel Master and Margarita was inspired by his third wife Elena Shilovskaya.
5. He wore a monocle, which he often took from his eye and gracefully placed on his other eye.
6. His friends described him an extremely charming person who was always welcome at parties. He had a habit of giving people friendly but biting nicknames that would often last a lifetime.
7. The character of professor Preobrazensky from the Heart of a Dog was inspired by Bulgakov’s uncle who was a renowned gynecologist in Moscow.
8. One of his associates, Pavel Markov, said that Bulgakov was not only a good dramaturgist, but also an excellent actor who could perfectly portray any character from his plays.
9. Bulgakov’s work on Master and Margarita continued for many years. He began writing the novel in 1920 but decided to burn the manuscript ten years later. In 1932 he decided to start working on it again adding some changes to the plot. He continued working on it right up to his death. The novel was published posthumously in 1967.
10. Bulgakov was a great admirer of Gogol’s work. They were both buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Interestingly, right after Bulgakov’s death his widow Elena found out that Gogol’s tombstone was being replaced with his bust, so she managed to acquire it for herself and place it on Bulgakov’s grave. After his death, Bulgakov was in an unusual way united with his great idol.
By Iva Petrak