From Bulgakov’s novel The White Guard. Translation by Dr. Julie Curtis
From Bulgakov: A Life in Letters and Diaries by Julie Curtis
28 March 1930. Moscow.
After the banning of all my works, I began to hear voices among many citizens of my acquaintance, all giving me one and the same piece of advice: that I should write a ‘Communist play’ (I am quoting them in inverted commas)…The aim: to escape persecution, destitution, and death as the inevitable finale. I did not follow that advice.
…When I carried out an analysis of my albums of cuttings, I discovered that there had been 301 references to me in the Soviet press during my ten years of work in the field of literature. Of these, three were complimentary, and 298 were hostile and abusive…I was referred to as a ‘literary SCAVENGER’ picking over scraps after ‘a good dozen guests HAVE THROWN UP’….I can prove with documents in my hands that the entire press of the USSR has unanimously and with EXTRAORDINARY FURY demonstrated that the works of Mikhail Bulgakov cannot exist in the USSR. And I declare that the Soviet press is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.
…To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water…ANYONE WHO WRITES SATIRE IN THE USSR IS QUESTIONING THE SOVIET SYSTEM. Am I thinkable in the USSR?
…All my own endeavours to find work in the only field in which I can be useful to the USSR as an exceptionally well-qualified specialist have resulted in a complete fiasco. My name has been rendered so odious that proposals on my part that I should apply for a job have been met with ALARM…I would like to offer the USSR the services of an entirely honourable specialist director and actor, without a trace of the saboteur, who will undertake conscientiously to stage any play, beginning with Shakespeare and coming right up to the plays of the present day.
If I am not to be appointed a director, then I request that I be appointed a regular extra. And if I cannot be an extra, then I request to be given a job as a stage-hand. And if even that is impossible, then I request the Soviet Government to take whatever action concerning me it considers necessary, but at least to take some sort of action, because at the moment what is staring me in the face, as the author of five plays and as someone who is famous both in the USSR and abroad, is destitution, the street, and death.
- from Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov – A Life in Letters and Diaries, Dr. Julie Curtis
I had been dreaming of my native city, of the snow in winter, and the Civil War… A soundless snowstorm passed before my eyes, and then a battered old piano appeared, and standing next to it were some people who are no longer of this world. In my dream I was struck by my loneliness, and I felt sorry for myself. I awoke in tears. […] And that’s how I began to write my novel. I described the dreamlike storm. I tried to depict the way the flank of the piano gleamed beneath the shaded lamp.
Translated by Dr. Julie Curtis
The ancient city of Kiev is situated high above a river, on a hilly mound riddled with catacombs and crowned with onion-domed churches which celebrate its role as the cradle of Orthodoxy in Russia, when at the end of the 10th century Prince Vladimir converted to Christianity and compelled the citizens to follow suit. The capital city of Ukraine, it was also one of the major cities of the Russian Empire before the 20th century, and many of its wealthier citizens were Russians.
Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) was the oldest son of a liberal Professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. In the play, The White Guard, the seven Bulgakov children become the three Turbins: Alexei, Elena and Nikolai
By the early 1920s, when Ukraine had been finally incorporated into the Soviet state, Bulgakov’s family was scattered; his mother died in 1922 (his father had died earlier), and his two younger brothers had fled into exile with the remnants of the White Army, eventually ending up, like so many of their compatriots, in Paris. Bulgakov, who heard no news of them for three years, never saw them again. Emigration was an option he himself nearly pursued in 1921, but in the end he decided to stay in Russia and move to Moscow, abandoning his former career as a doctor to try to establish himself as a writer. Why didn’t he leave? Perhaps because the reconstruction programme announced by Lenin in 1921 (the New Economic Policy or NEP) seemed to betoken that the worst was over, and that peace would genuinely replace the years of violence. And, of course, a Russian writer needs a Russian readership for his works.
in a journal during 1924-25, before it had even reached its conclusion.
It was as though there was a box, and in between the lines of writing I could see that the lights were on and those same small figures who were described in the novel were moving around there. […] Do I enjoy this? Exceedingly. And so I wrote: scene one. I can see the evening, and the lamp burning. The fringe on the lampshade. The music on the piano is open. They’re playing Gounod’s Faust. […] I spent three nights playing around with the first scene, and towards the end of the third night I understood that I was writing a play.
from Bulgakov’s Black Snow