Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev, Ukraine, the eldest son of a theology professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. He attended First Kiev High School (1900-09) and studied then medicine at Kiev University (1909-16). From 1916 to 1918 he served as a doctor in front-line and district hospitals. These experiences he described in notes of a young doctor, 'Zapiski yunogo vracha' (1925-26).
Russian journalist, playwright, novelist, and short story writer, whose major work was the Gogolesque fantasy The Master and Margarita. In the story the Devil visits Stalinist Moscow to see if he can do some good. The book is considered a major Russian novel of the 20th century. It first appeared in savagely censored form in the Soviet journal Moskva in 1966-67. The work was suppressed because Bulgakov refused to make the changes reguired by the authorities. Although Bulgakov was still making changes to the text on his death bed, the novel was completed. A first Soviet edition was published in 1966-67. The fuller text appeared in 1973 and the revised full text in 1989.
Bulgakov also used satire and fantasy in his other works, among them the short story collection Diaboliad (1925).
The naked man pushed his way to the front, tapped with his nail on the bronze bonnet and said:
"Here, comrades, we have a remarkable character. A notorious harlot of the first half of the 19th century..."
The lady with the stomach turned purple, took her young daughter by the hand and quickly drew her away.
(from 'The Fire of the Khans')
In 1918-19 Bulgakov worked as a doctor in Kiev, and witnessed the German occupation and then the occupation by the Red Army. During these war years he suffered from a morphine addiction, but was helped by his first wife to win the addiction. In 1920 Bulgakov abandoned medicine in favor of a career as a writer. He organized in Vladikavkaz, Caucasus, a 'sub-department of the arts', wrote stories for newspapers and moved to Moscow in 1921. There he worked for the literary department of the People's Commissariat of Education, writing as a journalist for various groups and papers. His largely autobiographical novel BELAYA GVARDIYA (1925, full text 1966, The White Guard) was an account of the turbulent years between 1914 and 1921 as reflected in the lives of a White family in the Ukraine. Two parts of the work was published in the journal Rossiya, whch was closed before the third part could appear.
From 1925 Bulgakov was associated with the Moscow Arts Theatre. He wrote and staged many plays, which enjoyed great popularity. Bulgakov's criticism of the Soviet system was not swallowed by the authorities. The Heart of the Dog (written in 1925), a satire on Soviet life in the guise of science fiction, was condemned unpublishable. In the story 'Pokhozhdenia Chichikova' the protaginist of Gogol's Dead Souls was dropped in the middle of the Soviet Russia's New Economic Policy period of 1921-27. 'Diaboliad' (1925) portrayed a poor clerk in a gigantic bureaucracy, where he loses his identity and life. In 1928 Bulgakov had three plays running in three Moscow theatres, Zoya's Apartment, The Crimson Island, and The Days of the Turbins, dramatized from his novel The White Guard. It brought the author overnight success and became 'a new Seagull' for the new generation, although it also received hostile reviews for the sympathetic portrayal of White officers. Paradoxically, The White Guard was one of Stalin's favorite plays. It was banned in 1929, reinstated in 1932 but published only in 1955.
By 1930s Bulgakov's works were published rarely or not at all - Zoya's Apartment (1926), a play set in an atelier-bordello, was banned, as The Crimson Island (1928). Flight (1928), dealing with White fugitives leaving Russia, was banned before its premiere. In 1929 he wrote to Maxim Gorky: "All my plays have been banned; not a line of mine is being printed anywhere; I have no work ready, and not a kopeck of royalties is coming in from any source; not a single institution, not a single individual will reply to my applications..."
After writing a letter to Soviet government, requesting permission to emigrate, Bulgakov received a personal telephone call from Stalin and was employed as an assistant producer with the Moscow Arts Theatre. He adapted classics for the stage and during the late 1930s he was librettist and consultant at Bolshoi Theatre. However, Stalin's favour protected Bulgakov only from arrests and executions, but his writings remained unpublished. In Black Snow, a Theatrical Novel, Bulgakov described his love-hate relationship and took a revenge on Stanislavsky for the failure of his play A Cabal of Hypocrites, produced under the title Moliиre. In one scene Louis XIV, the Sun King, says: "Then hear this: my author is oppressed. He is frightened. I will show kindness to anyone who forewarns me of whatever danger imperils him... The ban is lifted. You may stage Tartuffe." The Last Days was performed first in 1943 under the title Pushkin.
Bulgakov was married three times: with Tatiana Nikolaevna Lappa (1913), Liubov Evgenevna Belozerskaia (1924), and Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya (1932), who gave invaluable support to the author when he wrote The Master and Margarita and had his fits of paranoia. Bulgakov was writing Black Snow, his theatre novel, when he died in Moskow on March 10, 1940. It took until 1980s before all Bulgakov's works could be published in Russia. Bulgakov was considered decades an outsider and the most "un-Soviet" writer. Supernatural and occult attracted him, and he used sudden cuts into the fantastic and mockery. Although he was subjected to a number of restrictions as a writer, he survived attacks from the officials, when others were imprisoned and perished in the 'Gulag Archipelago'.