Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mikhail Bulgakov

January, 2012: I loved Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, so was keen to borrow Heart Of A Dog (1925) when I saw it in my father's study.  It starts from the point of view of a mangy dog roaming Moscow in search of food.  A man gives him sausage and takes him to his luxurious apartment.  The dog is overwhelmed to discover such kindness and generosity in the world.  Of course, we know there is no such kindness in the world; the dog's new owner turns out to be a brilliant scientist, Phillip Phillipovich, who transplants the pituitary gland and testes of a dead criminal onto the dog.  The dog turns into an uncouth and ugly man, who refuses to remain under the control of the scientist.  The scientist and his household are almost driven mad by his creation.
In writing the above summary, I'm trying to decode the story.  I know it's about the danger of meddling with the natural order of things, and about everyone having an equal right to life - Sharikov, the man with the heart of a dog, is Phillipovich's inferior in every way, yet asserts his independence from his master, his right to get drunk, to have a girlfriend.  But because I don't understand what it was like to be in the Soviet Union, the real point of this strange story eludes me.  I enjoy it as a piece of crazy fun, but I don't learn much from it.  Most Russian writers are very moral.  I'm afraid Bulgakov would be disappointed by my literal and unsophisticated reading.  

Sometime later...After reflecting on my unilluminated take on Heart Of A Dog, I decided I was being lazy, so read a few bits and pieces of what other people have to say about it. Now I think the reason I feel something has eluded me is because satire is more effective the more you're familiar with what's being satirised.  At a reading in 1925 of Bulgakov's new novel, his audience received a certain passage about galoshes being stolen in the communal hallway with "deafening laughter" - this was reported by a secret informer to the Soviet police (and more recently by James Meek in an introduction of a new edition).  A reader who knows more about Bulgakov's world would undoubtedly recognise and laugh at detail all throughout the novel.  

No comments:

Post a Comment