The Ukrainians and the Russians both claim Bulgakov as one of their own:
The identity crisis arises it seems because although Bulgakov was born in what is now Ukraine’s capital, a city he immortalized in his first novel The White Guard, the playwright and novelist was ethnically Russian, wrote in Russian and moved to Moscow when he was 21. So, while in a recent poll of Russians, the author of The Master and the Margharita was named the country’s second greatest writer, in similar poll in Ukraine, he was claimed as Ukraine’s third best playwright. The mixed opinions on nationality aren’t any less muddy elsewhere in the world of letters. Take, for example, Bernard Shaw – described as an Irish dramatist despite living in England most of his life – or Polish-born Tom Stoppard, who is nearly always referred to as a British playwright.
I don’t know what occasioned this little article in the Guardian, but what occasioned my post about the article is Marian Schwartz’s excellent new translation of The White Guard, which one should definitely buy.
These Master & Margarita pages are intended as a web-based multimedia annotation to Bulgakov’s novel.
You won’t find the full text of the novel here, as it is still under copyright and no one in his right mind would want to read a 300-page novel online in any language. Curling up with the novel, preferably in a basement apartment in front of a fire on a moonlit night, is highly recommended.
You won’t find a summary of the novel here either, and it’s unlikely the site will make much sense as a whole if you don’t read the novel. You can’t use this site like Cliff’s Notes.
It’s an awesome resource if you’re interested in understanding the novel on a different level. It even has a little analysis of the available translations, which is pretty cool:
Mirra Ginsburg (Grove Press, 1967) Ginsburg’s translation is lively and entertaining, but it was unfortunately made from the 1967 Soviet text without the advantage of the censored sections. As a result, it mirrors the censored version, including deletion of passages about the actions of the secret police and most of Nikanor Ivanovich’s dream (Ch. 15).
Michael Glenny (Harper & Row, 1967) Glenny’s translation restores the passages that were missing from Ginsburg’s. Both translations were done so quickly after publication of the Russian original that they lack much critical depth. Both, for example, miss the crucial inclusion of the Devil in Berlioz’s thought: “It’s time to throw everything to the Devil and go to Kislovodsk.” Ginsburg has “drop everything” and Glenny “chuck everything up.”
Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O’Connor (Ardis, 1995) Burgin and O’Connor’s translation is by far the best, if one is interested in studying what Bulgakov really wrote. They have the advantage of some 30 years of Bulgakov scholarship, which they take into consideration in their translation, which gets details right. The notes, provided by the Bulgakov scholar Ellendea Proffer, are also invaluable.
Richard Pevear (Penguin, 1997) There appears to be a new translation by Richard Pevear, but I have not yet seen it.
Over at About Last Night there’s an interesting discussion about the merits of the various translations of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, especially the Mirra Ginzburg one versus the one from Michael Glenny.
Seems most people like the Glenny best, although I think both have issues. This follow-up about “sneakers” versus “slippers” is interesting as well.
Generally overshadowed by The Master and Margarita, A Dog’s Heart sounds really interesting, especially in Meek’s description of an underground reading that was infiltrated by secret police informer:
The bulk of the audience seem to have hoped that Bulgakov’s new novel, A Dog’s Heart, would similarly mock the rickety state of affairs that Vladimir Lenin’s heirs had inherited. It did. Bulgakov’s tale of a professor who implants the sexual organs and pituitary gland of an evil man into a good mongrel, creating a loutish man-hound who fits with ease into communist society, went down well. The anonymous informer’s outraged report to his masters describes how one passage, where the professor complains that the Russian revolution coincided with the theft of galoshes from the communal hallway, provoked “deafening laughter”.
Of course, this was all reported to the authorities, and Bulgakov’s publisher refused to publish the manuscript, which was then stolen in a raid, returned in 1929, and finally published in 1987.
On the face of it, A Dog’s Heart looks like an act of extreme courage, if not recklessness. Bulgakov was exposed. He was a member of the officially reviled bourgeois class. His foppish dress by Bolshevik standards – the bow ties, the monocle – didn’t help. The voice of his published writings was of a patriot who believed Russia had taken a wrong turning in 1917, and believed it was his duty to do something about it. He was aware that the Soviet authorities had heard him, knew that they were being mocked and did not like it. If The White Guard offered the comfort to the Kremlin of representing an elegy for the death of middle-class tsarist Russia, The Fatal Eggs and A Dog’s Heart seemed to propose terminal flaws in their own, communist project.
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