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  • The Author's HeroesBulgakov's Molière, and Other Deployments of World Literature Classics
  • Margarita Marinova

In a letter to Carlyle from January 1, 1828, Goethe frets about the extent to which his German play about an Italian Renaissance poet, Tasso, "can be considered English" in its English translation. "You will greatly oblige me by informing me on this point," he writes, "for it is just this connection between the original and the translation that expresses most clearly the relationship of nation to nation and that one must above all know if one wishes to encourage a common world literature transcending national limits" (qtd. in Strick 349). Goethe's concern with the fate of his German work in English accentuates his insistence on seeing the processes underlying the creation and proliferation of world literature as ultimately enabling transnational exchange and understanding. As John David Pizer has noted in The Idea of World Literature, Goethe's Weltliteratur in general promotes openness, and enables "the movement of the self toward the Other (28)."1 This inter-personal and international textual trafficking is reflected not only in the dissemination of originals in foreign translations, but also, as Goethe's play about Tasso nicely illustrates, in the imaginative engagement with and re-interpretation of world writers in a foreign environment, which provides new vehicles for the meaningful encounter between the source author and his work (the Italian poet in our example), and the projected audience (the German public of Goethe's time). To be sure, such a claim calls for the expansion of the already ambiguous definition of Weltliteratur in order to make room in it for a particular kind of authorial layering that takes even more liberties with an original than a self-acknowledged translation would ever allow itself to do. But it could prove to be especially beneficial for the literary scholar interested in the questions of how individual world literature texts infiltrate and are made use of in a particular society through the efforts of established native writers, and how the resulting artistic (re)constructions can turn into examples of Weltliteratur themselves. This essay tracks just that kind of innovative use of an established French classic author, Molière, and his texts by the famous in his own right Soviet novelist and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov, in order to contribute to our understanding of how the creative appropriation of another's life and works can enable the survival of the Artist during times of severe political repression. [End Page 197]

Bulgakov's reputation as a great writer in the West rests almost exclusively upon his posthumously published magnum opus Мастер и Маргарита (1929–40, The Master and Margarita), the brilliant novel about the Devil's visit to Stalin's Moscow, the fate of a talented author (a "Master") in times of great social crises, and the purpose and future of art beyond the confines of the nation-state. Yet this work constitutes only a fraction (albeit arguably the most important one) of his creative output during the 1920s and '30s, the years of his full creative maturity. In fact, in his lifetime Bulgakov was considered a playwright first and foremost. He acquired significant fame, which soon turned to notoriety, because of the success of an early play, Дни Турбиных [1925, The Days of the Turbins, based upon his 1922–24 novel Белая гвардия (The White Guard)], whose 1926 production at Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko's Moscow Art Theater (MKhAT) created a furor. It went on to become one of the most celebrated and most often performed plays during the Soviet period. A poignant semi-autobiographical account of the experiences of tsarist officers and intellectuals during the civil war in Ukraine, The Days of the Turbins did not feature a proper Communist hero and did not openly celebrate the victory of the October Revolution—both facts that could not be tolerated by the censors for too long even if the play enjoyed the continued support of some very high-placed admirers. Stalin's expressed enthusiasm for the work kept it going till 1928, despite the hostile reviews in the press, but eventually its author fell out of favor, and it was removed from the theater's repertoire...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 197-213
Launched on MUSE
2017-11-01
Open Access
No
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