BULGAKOV: Life and Work by Ellendea Proffer

BULGAKOV: Life and Work

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Proffer's bio-critical study of Mikhail Bulgakov--the least known of the beleaguered giants of 20th-century Russian literature--is long, detailed, and self-assured. Bulgakov, born in 1891, was the son of a professor of theology. (Proffer points up this academic background in stressing, to good effect, the thorough research that went into Bulgakov's plays and fiction.) He grew up in Kiev, went to medical school, served as a doctor in national service, and, in the process, became briefly addicted to morphine. Then, when the post-Revolution civil warfare became too violent in Kiev, Bulgakov went (with the first of his three wives) to the northern Caucasus--where he began to write plays. . . with little initial success. Yet Bulgakov continued in his playwrighting, through years of painful tribulations: his play, Days of the Turbins, about a family's civil-war experiences during the Petluria uprising in the Ukraine, all but established the Moscow Art Theatre's reputation; nonetheless, with only ambivalent support from Meyerhold and Stanislavsky, he became one of history's most harried, stymied, and censored playwrights--as everything he wrote was tampered with, produced but then hastily withdrawn, and used as an ideological dartboard for hack, careerist critics. Bulgakov survived, however--as Mandelstam, his neighbor in the Moscow writers' apartment-house, did not. (To his great shame, Bulgakov finally even wrote a play about young Stalin.) Moreover, he retained the stamina to write fiction as well as drama, from the inventive Heart of a Dog to the great Master and the Margarita--with important bolstering from his last wife, Elena Sergeevna, a devoted heroine (akin to Mandelstam's widow) of the literary life. Proffer's life-history and analysis here may not be probing, dramatically shaped, or distinctively written. But, if conventional and somewhat academic, this is a full, meticulous, welcome treatment--comparable to Guy de Mallac's 1981 Pasternak.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Ardis