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Reviewed by:
  • My Life with Mikhail Bulgakov, and: Bulgakov: Life and Work, and: A Pictorial Biography of Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Phyllis W. Powell and Bruce Beatie
Lyubov Belozerskaya-Bulgakova. My Life with Mikhail Bulgakov. Translated by Margareta Thompson. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1983. 136 pp, $18.95.
Ellendea Proffer. Bulgakov: Life and Work. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984. 670 pp. $45.00.
Ellendea Proffer, ed. A Pictorial Biography of Mikhail Bulgakov. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984. 151 pp. $35.00 cloth; pb. $15.00.

Lyubov Evgenievna Belozerskaya-Bulgakova was, from 1924 to 1932, the wife of Mikhail Bulgakov, the long-suppressed writer of the Soviet Stalinist period whose greatest work, The Master and Margarita, was not published until 1967 though it was complete at his death in 1940, The period from 1924-32 encompassed the writing of all Bulgakov's major plays and stories as well as the first three drafts of The Master and Margarita.

Belozerskaya's memoirs are therefore of great interest to anyone interested in Bulgakov's work, and she has a keen eye for significant detail, especially in her impressionistic sketches of the couple's friends and neighbors, some wellknown in their own right, such as Yuri Olesha, Osip Mandelstam, and Anna Akhmatova. Belozerskaya is a woman of intelligence and wit, and her suggestions as to the models for many of Bulgakov's characters, including the dog Bouton, the original of "Sharik" in Heart of a Dog, are convincing. For those scholars concerned with Bulgakov's penchant for literary allusion and parody, her listing of the many writers and artists with whom the sociable Bulgakovs associated in these years may prove especially valuable, because Bulgakov's personal library held at his death pitifully few of the books he is known to have owned. It is unfortunate that, to judge by this translation, Belozerskaya has little sense of prose style; she certainly has no idea of how to tell a coherent story. [End Page 438]

Belozerskaya's memoirs furnish one of the principal sources for Ellendea Proffer's biography that, though published a year after the memoirs, has its roots in Proffer's 1971 Indiana University dissertation. The subtitle of Proffer's large book is "Life and Work," but her emphasis is on the latter: eighteen of the book's thirty chapters, and 295 of its 543 pages of text, are devoted explicitly to commentary on Bulgakov's writings. These chapters, and perhaps most obviously the final one, "The World According to Bulgakov," are expanded revisions of the dissertation chapters.

To compare Proffer's volume with A. Colin Wright's earlier study with a similar title (Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretation, 1978) is illuminating. Though Wright's 324 pages make scarcely half of Proffer's 670, they devote almost identical proportions of text to the different stages and works in Bulgakov's career. The difference in size is due only in part to the inclusion of voluminous critical reactions to Bulgakov's works, and of his own reactions to them, a step taken by Proffer to "provide a fairly detailed picture of what a Soviet writer's life was like in the period from 1917 to World War II." Most of the added bulk comes from her perhaps too-extensive retellings of the plots of Bulgakov's works and from those sorts of analyses in which her work goes well beyond Wright's: her skillful handling of the interconnections of themes in Bulgakov's work from his earliest stories through the last novel, and her exploration of Bulgakov's literary allusions.

Thus even within the chapters whose focus is apparently biographical, the works receive as much attention as do the nonliterary events of Bulgakov's life. Indeed, a more appropriate title for the book would have been that of Proffer's dissertation: "The Major Works of Mikhail Bulgakov," if one adds the phrase "and Minor."

As a result, the biographical side not only comes up short, but the book as a whole is often confusing and sometimes repetitive. The confusion is due in some part to the fact that many of Bulgakov's works came into being over many years. His first novel, White Guard, its roots in a story published...


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