пятница, 15 мая 2009 г.

Today is the birthday of M.A. Bulgakov


Our focus is on the prominent Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov. Even though his best works appeared in the first half of the past century, they are still hugely popular today.

Mikhail Bulgakov died in 1940 just a little shy of his 50th birthday. Looking at this prematurely aged man exhausted by deadly disease that was eating him up, few people could recognize in him the lanky, blue eyed young man who later became one of Russia’s very best authors.

Mikhail Bulgakov had his full share of head-spinning triumphs and crushing defeats. Loved by the most dazzling beauties and a good friend of many outstanding personalities of his time, Bulgakov remained forever in love with a woman he had once mistreated and whose forgiveness he craved, even on his deathbed… Her name was Tatyana.

They first met in Kiev, back in 1908. Tatyana was in town to spend her summer vacations with her aunt. The girl from the backwater Volga town of Saratov was new in town, so her aunt promised to get her acquainted with a young man who would show her around. Tanya and Mikhail made a perfect pair, peers, both coming from decent families, and small wonder that they quickly fell in love with each other. The vacations over, Tanya returned home but the two kept writing to each other, much to the displeasure of their parents who feared his mutual infatuation would interfere with their studies. These hurdles only added fuel to the burning flames of the young lovers’ passion though and in 1911 Mikhail Bulgakov headed to Saratov to meet his would be in-laws. Two years later their relatives finally resigned themselves to their offspring’s desires and gave a much-awaited nod to their marriage.

Shortly after the wedding ceremony the newlyweds settled down in Smolensk where Mikhail started working as a doctor after his graduation from the Medical School of Kiev University. During his very first night duty at the local clinic they rushed in a pregnant woman whose desperate, gun-toting husband said he would kill the young doctor if his wife died. Tanya assisted her husband reading loudly from a gynecology textbook while Mikhail tried to follow her instructions to the letter. Happily, everything went well.

Shortly afterwards Mikhail was drafted to the army where he was enlisted as a field doctor; Tatyana followed him there tending to the wounded as a nurse. Upon his discharge from the army Bulgakov worked in a village hospital near Smolensk. The hospital’s staff was literally overwhelmed by an avalanche of patients dying of starvation and the lack of medicine. Unable to help them, a desperate Bulgakov became addicted to morphine. Living with a drug addict is never easy, especially if you are surrounded by an atmosphere of general disrepair and catastrophic lack of money. To buy morphine, Mikhail Bulgakov was forced to sell family jewels and live literally from hand to mouth. During the recurrent bends, Bulgakov was alternatively aggressive or sheepish tearfully imploring his wife not to send him to a junkie shelter. It was his devoted Tatyana, not the doctors, however, who eventually managed to wrest him free from his deadly addiction. Diluting each shot of morphine with distilled water, Tatyana eventually entirely replaced the drug with water…

When, in the winter of 1920, Bulgakov was laid low by a terrible bout of diphtheria, Tatyana was again running around looking for doctors and selling what had remained of her family jewels to feed her slowly recuperating husband. She even ventured to sell their wedding bands – an act of desperation she later blamed for the ultimate breakdown of their family life…

Life in post-revolutionary Russia was one big nightmare. The Bulgakovs, who now lived in Moscow, were working desperately to make ends meet with Mikhail staying up nights writing his novel “The White Guards” while Tatyana sat by his side boiling water to warm up his freezing hands… That selfless effort did not go in vain and a couple of years later Mikhail Bulgakov’s literary career started looking up. Unlike his family life which was now going down and down and down…

Tatyana was not particularly interested in her husband’s literary work and looked too plain for her now trendy husband. For his part, Bulgakov was getting increasingly susceptible to advances made by his many young fans of the fair sex. He did not keep his promise to never leave Tatyana. Eleven years after their wedding he proposed a divorce. By that time he was dating Lyubov Belozerskaya, a 29-year-old divorcee who had just arrived from abroad and was trying desperately to marry again. The fling with Bulgakov was a real Godsend for Belozerskaya. Mikhail Bulgakov was deeply impressed by her refined manners, love for literature and high-society luster. Mikhail suggested they live all together in their apartment. Tatyana said a flat no and so he packed up and left…

Even though Lyubov Belozerskaya became Bulgakov’s second wife, Tatyana was still on his mind. He occasionally bought her food and visited her in their old apartment. Once he gave her a copy of a magazine where she could see “The White Guards” published with the author’s personal dedication to Lyuba Belozerskaya. “She asked me to,” he explained. “I can say no to a dear one but never to a stranger…” Unimpressed by that flattering explanation, Tatyana tossed the magazine onto the floor. They never saw each other again. Tatyana later married another man and lived a whole 90 years. Bulgakov divorced Belozerskaya and married Yelena Shilovskaya with whom he lived the rest of his life. But memories of his first love were always there, deep down in his heart…


Illustrations: E.Bulgakova, S.Lyandres, “Recollections of Mikhail Bulgakov”, Sovietsky Pisatel, Moscow, 1988

Source:The Voice of Russia

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