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An Absurd Masterpiece
on 20 January 2006
Completed by Bulgakov in 1925, this short story remained unpublished in the Soviet Union for almost sixty years. When it finally appeared on Soviet bookshelves in 1987 it became an instant hit and is arguably seen as on of the author’s most hard-hitting novels. Not for nothing did Stalin’s censors deem this book too sensitive for publication.
‘The Heart of a Dog’ is the absurd story of a stray dog, who is taken in from the streets by a well-known, well-off Professor named Philip Philipovich Preobrazhensky in order that he may attempt a groundbreaking operation; the transplantation of human testicles and pituitary gland into the dog. The operation is successful; however the Professor has produced an intolerable being which resembles a human of revolutionary sentiment with a dog-like penchant for chasing cats.
The story is enjoyable in and of itself, and one must congratulate Bulgakov for his imagination and inventiveness – forced upon him by the oppressive intellectual climate of his time - in thinking up such a tale. In addition, It is very easy to read and interesting for its portrayal of the atmosphere in a bourgeois household in 1920s Moscow. There are also a number of other levels to the book and various interpretations of what Bulgakov’s true message was. It is worth noting, for example, that Professor Preobrazhensky’s name is a derivative of the Slavic word for ‘transfiguration’, and the book is ostensibly about failed attempts to improve upon human nature. Thus, Bulgakov may be seen to be either ridiculing Soviet attempts to create communist supermen or attacking science’s interference with nature. Finally, another interpretation of the story sees it as a parable of the 1917 Revolution in which things were set into motion which became almost uncontrollable.
‘The Heart of a Dog’ is a classic story of great intellectual value, which deserves to be read and which is immensely enjoyable for its absurdity, humour, and political message(s).