This blog tracks my personal obsession with the Soviet revolutionary experience. Soviet Roulette is a diary, intellectual journal, series of creative writing exercises, notes for a novel, reading list, therapeutic enterprise, autobiography, extended love letter to Russia, forum for informal book reviews, chaotic sketch of a course syllabus, and "tribute band" to Russia's best historians.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Mikhail Bulgakov's The Days of the Turbins
Although Mikhail Bulgakov's reputation in twentieth century Russian letters is almost unparalleled, I have yet to fully connect with any of his works. His Days of the Turbins is no exception. To be sure, it's fascinating to read the play (based on the novella) that moved so many Russian communists to tears. Bulgakov depicts history's losers, a family of White officers, as a group of largely brave bourgeois men and women who are almost trapped in an apartment in the midst of literal and metaphorical storms. While the play lacks an compelling plot and convincing character development, it probably resonated communist audiences who felt guilt on some level about the fact that their Revolution, as necessary as it may have been, quashed so many of the values their countrymen had once cherished. For although at least one of Bulgakov's characters turns out to be coward, most are chivalrous, witty, stoical, educated people, who surely represent something worth preserving. So the play leaves no room for doubt that its romantic heroes are doomed, it does show them in a very positive light. It also makes clear that the communists, and everything associated with the revolutionary movement, had much to regret. The protagonists point out that their enemies, "the people," were capable of almost atrocity. They had rewarded Alexander II, the Great Reformer, with assassination. The symbol of the counter-revolution might be Lariosik, who traveled with only one shirt, which served to wrap the collected works of Chekhov, the biographer of a dying class. Overall, the play may not be great theater. However, it is the perfect testimony to the anxiety associated with the end of an era, anxiety that both victors and vanquished must have shared, at least on some level. What had happened to Russia? What would happen? As Nikolka asked: "I wonder what the Bolsheviks look like?"
A few of my favorite quotations from the play are below:
Elena: But why isn't he here yet? Alexei: Well, obviously, they have had to wait at every station stop.
Nikolka: Revolutionary travelling, Lenoshka. You go an hour, you stop for two.
Alexei: I don't understand, why did they send you off to the Inn?
Myshlaevsky: Why the peasants are there at the Inn. Those same damned God-bearers out of the works of Mr. Dostoyevsky.
Lariosik: But I think I have one shirt here. I wrapped the collected works of Chekhov in it.
Nikolka: The whole division will be bivouacking with the angels.
Shervinsky: As Karl Marx said, money exists to be spent.
Shervisnky: I'm so happy to see you! It's been so long since I've seen you!
Elena: If my memory doe not deceive me, you were here yesterday.
Shervisnky: Ah, Elena Vasilievna, what is "yesterday" in times like these!
Elena: The only good thing about you is your voice, and your vocation to be an opera singer.
Myshlaevsky: Your glass.
Lariosik: I...basically, I don't drink vodka.
Myshlaevsky: Well of course--I don't either. But one glass. How can you eat herring without vodka? I simply can't understand it.
Lariosik: Gentlemen, the cream-colored curtains...behind them you can rest your soul...You forget about all the horrors of the Civil War.
Alexei: We lost the war. Now we have something more terrifying than the war, than the Germans, than generally anything on earth--we have the Bolsheviks,
Alexei: But now it's too late, now our officers have turned into cafe sitters. A cafe army!
Shervinsky: Gentlemen! The news of His Imperial Majesty's death...
Myshlaevsky: Is somewhat exaggerated.
Myshlaevsky: Aloysha, can they be the people! Why they're bandits. A professional union of regicides.
Shratt: When there is a catastrophe, everyone becomes very nimble.
Myshlaevsky: Enough! I've been fighting since 1914. For what? For the fatherland?
Myshlaevsky: I'm for the Bolsheviks, only against the Communists.