Mikhail Bulgakov the heart of a dog and other stories



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*


The crime had ripened and now, as so often happens, fell like a stone. Polygraph Polygraphovich returned that evening in the van troubled by some indefinable presentiment of disaster which simply would not go away. Philip Philipovich's voice invited him into the consulting room. Surprised, Sharikov went and, with a vague stirring of fear, looked down the barrel of Bormental’s face and then at Philip Philipovich. The assistant looked like thunder and his left hand with the cigarette trembled slightly on the arm of the gynaecological chair.

Philip Philipovich with most ominous calm said:

"Take your things this instant: trousers, coat, everything you need, and get out of this flat!"

"What the?.." Sharikov was sincerely taken aback.

"Out of the flat — today," Philip Philipovich repeated monotonously, examining his nails through narrowed eyes.

Some evil spirit took possession of Polygraph Polygraphovich: evidently death was already awaiting him and Doom stood at his elbow. He cast himself into the embrace of the inevitable and snapped angrily and abruptly:

"What do you think you're trying to do? Surely you don't think I don't know where to go to get you lot sorted out. I've a right to my 13 square yards here, and here I'll stay."

"Get out of this flat," whispered Philip Philipovich on a note of intimate warning.

Sharikov invited his own death. He raised his left hand and, with scratched and bitten fingers which smelt unbearably of cats, made a vulgar gesture of defiance. Then, with his right hand, pulled a revolver from his. pocket on the dangerous Bormental. Bormental's cigarette fell like a shooting star and a few seconds later Philip Philipovich, leaping over the broken glass, was dithering in horror between the cupboard and the couch. On the couch, flat on his back and struggling for breath, lay the head of the sub-department of Pest Control, and on his chest the surgeon Bormental was crouching and stifling him with a small, white cushion. A few minutes later an unrecognisable Doctor Bormental went through to the hall and hung out a notice: "There will be no reception today on account of the Professor's illness. Please do not disturb by ringing the bell." With a shiny penknife he cut the bell-wire, and looked into the mirror at his scratched, bleeding face and convulsively trembling hands. Then be appeared in the door of the kitchen and said to the anxious Zina and Darya Petrovna:

"The Professor requests you not to leave the flat." "Very good, Sir," Zina and Darya Petrovna answered timidly.

"Permit me to lock the back door and keep the key," said Bormental hiding in the shadow behind the door and covering his face with his hand. "It is a temporary measure, not because we don't trust you. But someone might come and you might find it difficult to refuse them entry, and we must not be disturbed. We are busy." "Very good, Sir," replied the women and immediately turned pale. Bormental locked the back door, locked the front door, locked the door into the corridor, and his footsteps receded into the consulting room.

Silence enveloped the flat, crawling into every corner. Twilight infiltrated it, ill-omened, tense, in a word — murk. True, later on the neighbours on the other side of the courtyard said that in the windows of the consulting room, which overlooked the courtyard, all the lights were ablaze that night and they even glimpsed the white surgeon's cap of the Professor himself... It is hard to check. It is true also that Zina, when it was all over, did say that by the fireplace in the study after Bormental and the Professor had left the consulting room, Ivan Arnoldovich had scared her almost to death. She said he was squatting down in front of the fire burning with his own hands a blue exercise book from the pile of case histories of the Professor's patients! The doctor's face appeared completely green and covered all over in scratches. As to Philip Philipovich, he was not himself at all that evening. She also said that ... however, maybe the innocent girl from the Prechistenka flat is just making it all up...

One thing is certain: throughout that evening the most complete and terrible silence reigned throughout the flat.



END OF STORY



EPILOGUE


On the night of the tenth day after the battle in the consulting room in the flat of Professor Preobrazhensky in Obukhov Alley there was a sharp ring at the door.

"Militia here. Open up."

There was a sound of running footsteps, they began to knock, entered and, in the brilliantly lit entrance hall with all the cupboards newly glazed, a mass of people were suddenly foregathered. Two in militiaman's uniform, one in a dark coat with a briefcase, the chairman Shvonder, pale and bursting with malicious satisfaction, the youth-woman, the porter Fyodor, Zina, Darya Petrovna and the half-dressed Bormental, trying in embarrassment to cover his bare throat, having been caught without a tie.

The door from the study opened to admit Philip Philipovich. He emerged in the familiar azure dressing gown and there and then it became clear to them all that Philip Philipovich had much improved in health over the last week. It was the old commanding and energetic Philip Philipovich, full of dignity, who appeared before these nocturnal visitors and begged pardon that he was in his dressing gown.

"Don't let that worry you, Professor," said the man in plain clothes with deep embarrassment, hesitated for a moment, then pronounced: "Very unpleasant business. We have a warrant to search your flat and," the man squinted at Philip Philipovich's moustaches and concluded, "and to make an arrest, depending on the results."

Philip Philipovich narrowed his eyes and asked:

"May I ask on what grounds and whom?"

The man scratched his cheek and began to read from a paper in his briefcase:

"Preobrazhensky, Bormental, Zinaida Bunina and Darya Ivanova are hereby arrested on suspicion of the murder of the head of the sub-department of Pest Control of M. K. Kh., Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov."

Zina's sobs drowned the end of his words. There was a general stir.

"Quite incomprehensible," replied Philip Philipovich with a lordly shrug of the shoulders.

"What Sharikov had you in mind? Ah, yes, I see, that dog of mine ... the one I operated on?"

"Beg pardon, Professor, not the dog, but when he was already human; that's what it's all about."

"You mean when he was able to speak?" asked Philip Philipovich. "That does not necessarily imply being human. However, that is not important. Sharik is still with us and most definitely no one has killed him."

"Professor!" the man in black exclaimed in great surprise, raising his eyebrows. "In that case he must be produced. It's ten days since he disappeared and the facts at our disposal, if you'll pardon my saying so, look very black indeed."

"Doctor Bormental, be so good as to produce Sharik for the inspector," ordered Philip Philipovich, taking the warrant.

Doctor Bormental, with a smile that went somewhat awry, made for the door.

When he returned and gave a whistle a curious-looking dog came prancing in after him. Parts of him were bald, on other parts the hair had already grown back. He made his entrance like a trained circus-dog on his hind legs, then sank down onto all fours and looked about him. A deathly hush froze the hall, setting like jelly. The ghoulish-looking dog with the crimson scar round his forehead again stood up on his hind legs and, with a smile, sat down in an armchair.

The second militiaman suddenly crossed himself in a sweeping peasant fashion and, stepping back, trod heavily on both Zina's feet.

The man in black without shutting his mouth pronounced:

"I can't believe it ... he worked for Pest Control."

"That was not my doing," replied Philip Philipovich. "It was Mr. Shvonder who recommended him, if I am not mistaken."

"It's beyond me," said the man in black at a loss, and turned to the first militiaman. "Is this he?"

"He it is," the first militiaman mouthed the words soundlessly. "He as ever was."

"That's him all right," Fyodor's voice made itself heard. "Only the villain's gone all hairy again."

"But he could talk ... hee ... hee..."

"And he still can, but less and less as time goes by, so now is the time to hear him, he'll soon be quite dumb again."

"But why?" asked the man in the black coat quietly.

Philip Philipovich shrugged his shoulders.

"Science has yet to discover ways of transforming beasts into human beings. I had a try, but it was unsuccessful, as you see. He spoke for a while and then began to regress towards his original condition. Atavism."

"Do not use improper expressions," barked the dog suddenly and rose from his chair.

The man in black suddenly went very pale, dropped his briefcase and began to keel over sideways. A militiaman steadied him from the side and Fyodor from the back.

There was some confusion, through which most distinctly could be heard three phrases:

Philip Philipovich's: "Tincture of valerian. He's fainted."

Doctor Bormental's: "As to Shvonder I'll throw him down the stairs with my own hands if he ever again shows his face in Professor Preobrazhensky's flat."

And Shvonder's: "I request that those words be recorded in the protocol."



*


The grey accordion-shaped radiators were pleasantly warm. The long curtains hid the dark Prechistenka night with its single star. The higher being, the dignified benefactor of the canine breed, was sitting in his armchair and the dog Sharik, delectably relaxed, lay on the carpet beside the leather sofa. The March mists affected the dog with morning headaches which tormented him along the line of the scar round his head. But the warmth helped, and by evening they no longer troubled him. And now it was getting easier and the thoughts flowing through the dog's head were sweet and warm.

I was so lucky, so lucky, he thought, drifting off to sleep, indescribably lucky. I've really got settled into this flat. Now I'm quite certain there was something odd about my origins. A Newfoundland must have had a hand in it somewhere. My grandmother was a bit of a fly-by-night, God rest her soul, dear old thing. It's true they've made scars all over my head for some reason or other, but that'll mend. There's no call to count that against them.

____________________
There was a faint clink of phials from the distance. The bitten man was tidying up in the cupboards of the consulting room.

The grey-haired magician sat and hummed to himself:



"To the sacred shores of the Nile..."

The dog had seen terrible things. This important man would plunge his hands in slippery gloves into glass jars and fish out brains — a determined man, persistent, always trying for something, cutting, examining, narrowing his eyes and singing: "To the sacred shores of the Nile."

COMMENTARY

In September 1921, after a short period of about two years in Vladikavkaz with visits to Tiflis, Batum and Kiev and still weak from typhus, Mikhail Bulgakov arrived in Moscow. Life in the capital was very hard at that time, and the future writer was immediately confronted with the problems of finding accommodation and a way of earning a living. "This is the blackest period of my life. My wife and I are starving. Had to ask Uncle (the doctor N. M. Pokrovsky, the brother of Bulgakov's mother) for some flour, cooking oil and potatoes... Have been all over Moscow — no work," he wrote in his diary in early February 1922. By then the writer had already changed jobs several times, not of his own volition, of course. His two months in the Literary Department of the People's Commissariat for Education ended when the department was "disbanded". The private newspaper for which the future author of The Master and Margarita sold advertisement space "packed up".

In March 1922 Bulgakov started work as a reporter for the high-circulation daily Rabochy (The Worker). During this period he wrote a great deal for the newspaper Nakanune (On the Eve), which published about thirty of his feuilletons, then contributed for four years to the newspaper Gudok (The Whistle), for which Yuri Olesha and Valentin Katayev wrote feuilletons at this time, as well as Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov at a later stage.

"It was not from a splendid distance that I studied the Moscow of 1921-1924," Bulgakov wrote. "Oh, no, I lived in it and tramped the length and breadth of the city..." He was repeating, as it were, the experience of the young Chekhov, working for all sorts of newspapers and periodicals and writing lots of sketches, humouresques and notices (mostly under pseudonyms).

Documentary evidence suggests that the autobiographical story Notes Off the Cuff was to have consisted of three parts. The full manuscript has not been found. During Bulgakov's lifetime Part One was published three times, in the newspaper Nakanune, then in the almanach Vozrozhde-niye (Rebirth) and, in part, in the newspaper Bakinsky Rabochy (The Baku Worker). Another part, without any indication of which one, appeared in the journal Rossiya (Russia). We have made a composite text of Part One based on the three published versions, and this text has been translated for the present volume. Part Two corresponds to the original publication in the journal Rossiya. With regard to the hypothetical third part (which was actually intended to follow Part One), some specialists believe that the stories "The Unusual Adventures of a Doctor" and "The Bohemian" can be regarded as constituting this. It was this text (but without "The Unusual Adventures of a Doctor") which the magazine Teatr (Theatre) chose when it published Notes Off the Cuff in 1987 (No. 6).

During these years Bulgakov's pen eagerly recorded the rapidly changing, incredible and unique reality around him. ("Moscow is a cauldron, in which a new life is stewing. The trouble is that you get stewed too," he was to write in the sketch "The Capital in a Notebook".) Bulgakov produced many satirical sketches and articles based on workers' letters in the mid-1920s. A rich gallery of types, time-servers, nouveau riches and bureaucrats, thronged the pages of his "small prose". At the same time he was working on a long novel, The White Guard.

In 1924-1925 the satirical novellas Diaboliad and The Fateful Eggs about contemporary Moscow life were published in the series of literary almanacs called Nedra (The Inner Depths). His attempts to get the third novella, The Heart of a Dog, published were unsuccessful. It did not come out in the Soviet Union until 1987.

These stories form a kind of satirical trilogy. It can be said of all three that they are "fantasy rooted in everyday life". Bulgakov's social satire is set against a carefully painted urban backcloth, and ordinary everyday life is closely interwoven with fantasy. In a series of sharp and merciless scenes the author satirises the "diaboliad" of bureaucracy, its lack of culture, its negligence, irresponsibility and aggressive ignorance.

Naturally the significance of Bulgakov's "fantastic" satires extends beyond these topical issues of his day. The writer's intention was, using the concrete background of Moscow in the 1920s, to present more important and far-reaching problems.

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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