Friday, May 3, 2019


The book I was reading, Mikhail Bulgakov: A Critical Biography, by Lesley Milne, was a disappointment. It consists mainly of summaries of his works and includes little biographical information. There is a brief description of his early life, but very few details are offered from letters, spouses, friends, acquaintances or other sources. For example, you learn that he was married three times, and that his third wife served as a model for Margarita in The Master and Margarita, the latter of which I already knew, but there is no explanation of the circumstances of his marriages and divorces. As far as I know, he was childless. Besides the fact that there isn't much information about his personal life, I didn't feel that his works were analyzed proficiently. For me, this was a typical medium-grade academic book in which it seems as if the author has accumulated notes on a stack of index cards, sorted them by subtopic and then copied them out as chapters. This type of writing usually seems incoherent to me and makes me grateful that I'm not an academic and therefore don't have to read it as a professional duty. At this point, I still think that Bulgakov would make a good biographical subject, but I am concluding that there is probably no good biography of him currently available in English. It is possible that one exists in Russia or Ukraine, because Bulgakov once had a following in Russia and grew up in Kiev. However, he was not the kind of writer whom Vladimir Putin would appreciate, and his works may be suppressed in Russia now. There is also a chance that at this stage there is insufficient material available to produce a good biography of Bulgakov, though I still think that more information must exist, and that it did not appear in Milne's book partly because her focus wasn't sufficiently biographical. For my purposes, I'm giving up on Bulgakov biographies unless something new and promising pops up. From the biographies I've read of George Eliot, I noticed that the early ones were terrible, and good ones didn't begin to appear until she had been dead for more than a century.

I have little going on at the moment and am awaiting a new book and the full-throated arrival of spring, which is still dark, gloomy and wet. Of course, I can't easily avoid the Trump controversy, which is like a festering wound. Or it's like a gigantic tumor growing on the top of your head: the first doctor tells you that it looks normal, and that you should just cover it with a hat if it makes you feel uncomfortable; the second doctor tells you that it does look serious, but that if you attempt to remove it surgically it will only grow back larger. Trump will be gone eventually, but it's still hard to reconcile his continued presence with the idea of an orderly government. But, then, if medical doctors are often quacks, charlatans or crooks, why would politicians be any different?

I'll make another post whenever I think I have something worthwhile to say.

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