Mikhail Bulgakov the heart of a dog and other stories



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The Fateful Eggs is one of Bulgakov's finest works. In subject matter and artistic structure it is easily appreciated by the present-day reader. Experiments that interfere with nature, the misuse of scientific discoveries, the role of pure chance in what appear to be perfectly well-founded and carefully planned undertakings and the unpredictability of human behaviour—all this is portrayed with prophetic clarity. Critics who belonged to the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers gave the novella a hostile reception. There were also reviews of a different tenor, however. Maxim Gorky praised The Fateful Eggs highly. True, as a great writer he evidently sensed that Bulgakov had not fully exploited the possibilities at the end of the story and drew attention to this. It is interesting that in the first draft the closing chapters of The Fateful Eggs were far less "optimistic". It ended with the evacuation of Moscow as hordes of giant boa constrictors advanced on the city. The final scene was of the dead capital with a huge snake wound round the Ivan the Great Bell-Tower. Either the writer himself decided against this ending, or the censor objected to it, for it was changed in the final version. To quote a specialist on Bulgakov, this story "should be read aloud in all gene engineering laboratories and all offices responsible for the work of these laboratories". It is indeed full of prophetic ideas.

One of the main themes in The Heart of a Dog is that it is impossible to predict the outcome of an experiment involving the human psyche. The ideas of rejuvenation and eugenics, so fashionable in the 1920s, which seemed to open up incredible possibilities for "improving" and "correcting" imperfect human nature, have perhaps an even more topical ring today than sixty years ago. The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed the start of gene engineering and raised the much alarming question of possible abuses when people begin tinkering with the mechanism of the human mind. Bulgakov's story sounded this alarm as far back as the 1920s.

Another revelation by Bulgakov in this story is the figure of Sharikov. Obviously this was directed primarily against the anarchistic Lumpenproletariat who made capital out of their working-class background and refused to recognise the most elementary rules of civilised behaviour. This powerful and thought-provoking story has by no means lost its relevance today.

Notes

1. "Okhotny Ryad shops..." Trading booths in the middle of old Moscow for the sale of dead and live poultry, wild fowl, meat, fish, berries, mushrooms, etc.

2. Mosselprom — the Moscow association of industrial enterprises for processing agricultural produce.

3. "Eliseyev Bros., ex-owners." The owners of the largest food shop in pre-revolutionary Moscow.

4. "...Mendeleyev the chemist!" D. I. Mendeleyev (1834-1907), Russian chemist and progressive public figure. Mendeleyev discovered the periodic law of chemical elements, one of the basic laws of natural science.

5. "Just take a walk down the Kuznetsky..." Kuznetsky Most, one of the streets in the centre of Moscow.

6. Nepman — a private entrepreneur or trader in the 1920s, when the Soviet government introduced its New Economic Policy (NEP).

7. "Then again, there's the Union, the Labour Exchange..." The Union is a reference to the trade union. In the 1920s in the Soviet Union labour exchanges performed certain mediatory operations on the labour market.

8. Yussems — a family of Spanish acrobats who gave guest performances at the Moscow circus during this period.

9. "After all, Madame Lomonosova bore that famous son of hers in Kholmogory..." M. V. Lomonosov (1711-1765), the first Russian natural scientist of world standing, also a poet, artist and historian. Kholmogory — a village in Archangel Province.



10. "They make squirrels out of them and sell them on workers' credit schemes." Articles of sham squirrel fur for sale on credit to members of the working class.







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