Without a doubt, in the Bulgakov ménage of the 1930s we see the functioning of an authentic salon, externally altered by the difference in eras. In the evenings, with a frequency and regularity that can only astonish those who know from his archive just how much Bulgakov accomplished, the Bulgakovs entertained guests: friends, musicians, composers, artists, actors, or simply acquaintances who were interested in literature. A mere recital of the names gives an indication of the wit and intellect on display at those gathering: actors from the Moscow Art Theatre and Vakhtangov Theatre; film stars; foreign actors who were performing the host’s plays abroad; among the artists were Dmitriev, Vil’yams, Boris Erdman; among the musicians, conductors and composers were Golovanov, Asafiev, Melik-Pashaev, Samosud, Shebalin, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Dunaevsky, Shaporin… Akhmatova and Zamyatin called in when visiting Moscow from Leningrad; Nikolai Erdman was a welcome guest. … What is important is the gathering of artistic talent in the broadest sense, people of different creative professions, a living current of ideas, images, thoughts and plans.
Verses, improvisations, epigrams… just as in the drawing rooms of the previous century. And albums too, only no longer the albums of young ladies or society lionesses. Bulgakov had his own albums: reviews and newspaper articles collected and stuck in scrap-books as a record of his literary reception. They are preserved in his archive and were for a long time not released to researchers, so explosive and eloquent are they as documents of their epoch. Many shrill voices merge here into a ragged but aggressive choir.
Fragments of the old-fashioned salon, squeezed by the new times and cramped for space, persisted stubbornly, seizing every opportunity to appear. The large town houses that accommodated operas, masquerades and balls gave way to 47 square feet in which four people lived (The Bulgakovs, Elena Bulgakova’s younger son by her previous marriage and the housemaid). The luxury of the salons in Pushkin’s day had shrivelled in the new socio-economic conditions. Now the domestic “salon” was for Bulgakov first and foremost a means of forming and sustaining a circle of personal contacts that were an essential part of his life as a writer. In order to continue working he needed to sense a reader who did, despite everything, exist. Literature turned away from open, outward-directed forms – journals, almanacs, editorial offices, literary clubs and evenings – and took refuge in privacy. The domestic replaced the public space.
from Bulgakov: the novelist-playwright by Lesley Milne