Our Notes & References
A beautifully fresh ‘samizdat’ of Bulgakov’s classic canine satire of scientific and social engineering in early Soviet Russia.
Heart of a Dog was originally submitted to the journal Nedra [Natural Resource] in 1925, but it was turned down after an informer denounced the work to the authorities. OGPU agents seized the manuscript, though it was returned to Bulgakov some three years later.
The period of Lenin’s New Economic Plan was one of great literary experimentation and a time when some degree of constructive dissent was still permitted. Bulgakov himself trod a fine line between social criticism and biting satire. While Heart of a Dog is not wholly anti-Soviet, it is not difficult to see why the government might have objected. This is essentially a damning allegory of the whole Communist project and its futile attempts to refashion man for the new world.
Samizdat typescripts of Heart of the Dog started emerging during Khrushchev’s Thaw, and these eventually found their way west. The novel was first published in the UK (Flegon’s Student) and Germany (Posev’s Grani) in 1968, and in the USSR only in 1987.
We handled a few years ago an example of another samizdat of Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog. It was originally owned by a documentary film maker, and what he wrote by email perfectly illustrates the use of samizdats in the 1970s Soviet Union: “The book came into my possession at the end of the 70s, and was given to me by a friend. I was given other books during this period as well, but these I returned to their original owners at the time … With just one exception (Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petushki), I only ever read books like this at home and never took them outside the flat in order avoid any unnecessary risks … I myself never tried to reproduce and distribute this type of book, as it was illegal to do so, but one of my friends was involved in the production of Khroniki tekushchikh sobytii [Chronicle of Current Events], while another was arrested in 1975 for involvement in the dispersal of forbidden works.” (Translated excerpt from e-mail, 8 August 2012).
Understandably it is rare to find samizdats in such a fresh condition. Soviet samizdats of the text tend also to be rarer than both 1968 first publications.