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The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Heart of a Dog (original 1925; edition 1997)

by Mikhail Bulgakov, Michael Glenny

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1,932343,536 (3.84)1 / 76
Title:The Heart of a Dog
Authors:Mikhail Bulgakov
Other authors:Michael Glenny
Info:Harvill Press (1997), Paperback
Collections:Your library, Fiction

Work details

Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (1925)

  1. 30
    The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Daimyo)
  2. 10
    Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis (knomad)
  3. 00
    The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (Michael.Rimmer)
  4. 00
    Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord by Olaf Stapledon (Michael.Rimmer)
    Michael.Rimmer: Both feature dogs endowed with human intelligence, though they seem to inhabit different ends of the moral spectrum.

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English (28)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Great novella! It was a great comedy, until it got sad. Loved the comment on human nature towards the end, and especially loved how they solved the problem of Sharikov. I didn't think any of that would end well.

I had been putting off reading Heart of a Dog for years, as I loved Master and Margarita so much that I knew anything else by Bulgakov would be disappointing. This is just a novella, and isn't nearly as ambitious, but it's still a pretty funny story that reflects the time period in which it was written very well.

I read the Grove Press edition, which... I think was translated and typeset in 1968. It would have benefited from the same type of treatment as the annotated Master and Margarita, or even a few footnotes that pointed out historical or cultural references. Having just read a little bit about early 20th century Russian history, I picked up on some of it, but exactly how Bulgakov was lampooning the times would have been great. ( )
  ConnieJo | Jan 24, 2016 |
One of my least favorite clichés in science fiction is man going "too far" with scientific advancement, with some new technology or process causing unintended horrors. Oryx & Crake, Jurassic Park, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and of course The Island of Dr. Moreau (as well as many others) tell stories of artificial biological manipulation going terribly wrong, and the foolish message each of the works contains always rubbed me the wrong way. Despite having the same tired "scientist doing something because he can without thinking of whether he should" idea, Heart of a Dog isn't dragged down by it, as Bulgakov puts meaning into the story beyond just an author railing against new things.

In this Frankenstein story the subject of the experiment is a dog whose experience living on the streets of Moscow was probably my favorite piece of writing in the book- you feel the poverty and corruption, and general terribleness of life in Soviet Russia at that time. Taken in by the famous scientist Philip Philipovich to be a subject of an experiment and named Sharikov, the dog gets to see how the wealthy live, in stark contrast to his life before. It's not all easy for the good doctor, though, as a housing committee is pressuring him to give up some of his spacious apartments. To maintain his luxuries Philipovich acts as a mad-scientist for hire, performing rejuvenation procedures on high officials, willing to do whatever it takes to enable his client’s vices and thereby maintain his own comfort in a Moscow where comfort is getting harder and harder to afford. There is no spirit of communism in this Russia- those who are well-off take action to keep what they have, and those who aren’t well-off try to exert pressure to take from those who have a disproportionate amount. One is more equitable, neither is pure hearted.

Philipovich attempts a daring operation that has the unintended result of turning the stray dog into a man by implanting testicles and the pituitary gland- man being nothing but a lusting beast. The resulting "man" is a brute, though he couldn't very well be a saint in the Moscow of this era- everything is poverty and the struggle to survive for the poor, and corruption for the rich. Still, he's even more reprehensible than most, developing some of the absolutely worst features of a human, to the extent that eventually Philipovich and his assistant reverse the procedure.

Everything in this short book reveals the doomed nature of the soviet state, from the living conditions of the populace to the corrupted bureaucracy. The transformation of Sharikov seems to be more than a tale of the follies of eugenics, he seems symbolic of the creation of the soviet state: educated men create it without thinking through all the consequences, and then are surprised by its failure due to the base instincts of man. Even the small things are an indictment of communism, such as the scene where Philipovich laments that the revolution has brought changes like the loss of minor comforts- carpeting on the stairs, flowers in the hall, the courtesy to take your dirty shoes off when you go into someone’s apartment- the absence of which doesn’t hurt anyone. I'm not suggesting that Philipovich is supposed to be purely sympathetic, here, but Bulgakov puts a lot of anti-communist ideas in his mouth and doesn't have anyone refute them. The resolution suggests that the only way for the educated men to become healthy again is to do away with their creation, and, while the end is a disturbing scene, it seems the best out of a lot of bad possibilities.

Bulgakov gives the story of a scientist trying "to force the pace and lift the veil" of nature much more depth than a screed against scientific advancement, he makes it symbolic of the entirety of the Russian Revolution and the resulting state. Science fiction fans (of which I am one) oftentimes like to think that the genre uses its trappings to say something about society and the world- unfortunately, works of science fiction rarely do something so interesting. Heart of a Dog, however, does. It's amazing that Bulgakov got away with such a satire, but I'm glad he did. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Rating: 4*of five

The Publisher Says: A new edition of Bulgakov’s fantastical precursor to The Master and Margarita, part of Melville House’s reissue of the Bulgakov backlist in Michael Glenny’s celebrated translations.

A key work of early modernism, this is the superbly comic story of a Soviet scientist and a scroungy Moscow mongrel named Sharik. Attempting a medical first, the scientist transplants the glands of a petty criminal into the dog and, with that, turns a distinctly worryingly human animal loose on the city. The new, lecherous, vulgar, Engels-spouting Sharik soon finds his niche in governmental bureaucracy as the official in charge of purging the city of cats.

A Frankenstein fable that’s as funny as it is terrifying, The Heart of a Dog has also been read as a fierce parable of the Russian Revolution. It was rejected for publication by the censors in 1925, and circulated in samizdat for years until Michael Glenny translated it into English in 1968—long before it was allowed to be officially published in the Soviet Union. That happened only in 1987, although till this day the book remains one of Mikhail Bulgakov’s most controversial novels in his native country.

My Review: Anyone who's ever read The Master and Margarita already knows that Bulgakov is a rebel, an anarchist, and damn good and funny with it. His thoughts were, based on the novels I've read, contrarian in the extreme as well as profoundly sensitive to practical concerns:
“The rule apparently is – once a social revolution takes place there’s no need to stoke the boiler. But I ask you: why, when this whole business started, should everybody suddenly start clumping up and down the marble staircase in dirty galoshes and felt boots? Why must we now keep our galoshes under lock and key? And put a soldier on guard over them to prevent them from being stolen? Why has the carpet been removed from the front staircase? Did Marx forbid people to keep their staircases carpeted? Did Karl Marx say anywhere that the front door of No. 2 Kalabukhov House in Prechistenka Street must be boarded up so that people have to go round and come in by the back door? What good does it do anybody? Why can’t the proletarians leave their galoshes downstairs instead of dirtying the staircase?’
‘But the proletarians don’t have any galoshes, Philip Philipovich,’ stammered the doctor.”
And the simple truth about revolution that probably contributed heavily to the book's suppression in the Soviet era:
“People who think you can use terror are quite wrong. No, no, terror is useless, whatever its colour – white, red or even brown! Terror completely paralyses the nervous system.”
He saw the terror around him, saw the results, and distilled a response into a short phrase. That's writing that's a joy to read.

But we can't leave revolutionary-era Moscow without hearing from the eponymous heart-haver. Early in the book, we're told the sad tale of an unwanted dog whose people-savvy beats that of most of the humans I've ever met:
Eyes mean a lot. Like a barometer. They tell you everything-they tell you who has a heart of stone, who would poke the toe of his boot in your ribs as soon as look at you-and who’s afraid of you. The cowards – they’re the ones whose ankles I like to snap at. If they’re scared, I go for them. Serve them right..grrr..bow-wow…”
All hail Michael Glenny, of blessed memory since dying in 1990. Without him, Bulgakov's banned and suppressed works might remain out of the English-speaker's reach. ( )
4 vote richardderus | Oct 30, 2015 |
Serge Voronoff is a surgeon born in Voronezh, Russia and later a naturalised French citizen, famous for experiments implanting animal testicles into humans. This was during a time when xenotransplantation research was trending and in 1889 he injected himself under the skin with a combination of ground-up dog and guinea pig testicles. He theorised that the animal implants will help increases the hormonal effects to retard ageing. However his methods quickly lost favour when it was discovered any improvements were a result of the placebo effect. This real life scientist helped inspire Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel A Dog’s Heart (also known as Heart of a Dog).

While foraging through the garbage on winter night in Moscow, 1924 a stray dog is found by a cook and given a scrubbing with hot water. While waiting his end, the dog lies there in self-pity, but to his surprise a successful surgeon Filip Preobrazhensk comes and gives him a piece of sausage. The dog followed Filip home where he is give the name Sharik, which is a word to describe a well pampered dog. Very experiments were performed on Sharik, including various transplants of human organs until he was transformed into an unkempt human and given the name Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov.

Having read a few books by Mikhail Bulgakov, I have come to expect one thing; social satire on the state of Communist Russia. A Dog’s Heart has this in spades, satirising the Communist ideal of the New Soviet man, while even criticising eugenics. The New Soviet man was an idolised version of what the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believe all citizens should be like. Leon Trotsky wrote about this in his 1924 book Literature and Revolution; “Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.” The New Soviet man (or woman) was selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution, this was the ideal citizen needed to grow the Soviet nation.

The plot of A Dog’s Heart parodies Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein while it looks at the idea of the New Soviet man. This gives Bulgakov the ability to look at eugenics as well. Take for example the practices of Serge Voronoff and compare them with Victor Frankenstein. This paints a vivid picture and if the Soviets knew how to create their ideal citizen in a lab there is no doubt in my mind they would be working towards; it is possibly, they were researching a way in secret.

Mikhail Bulgakov seems to have started a tradition of doubling names with patronymic; Poligraf Poligrafovich in A Dog’s Heart and Leopold Leopoldovitch in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. This could be considered a nod to Nikolai Gogol’s with his hero Akakii Akakievich in “The Overcoat”. However I have come to learn this is also satirising the new naming conventions adopted during the early Soviet Union. A large number of Soviet children were given atypical names to show their Revolutionary support. This included initialisms, for example; Мэл (Mel named after Marx, Engels and Lenin), Марлен (Marlene named after Marx and Lenin) and Стэн (Stan named after Stalin and Engels).

The more I read from Mikhail Bulgakov, the more I think he was one of Russia’s best satirist. I have been slowly working my way through Manuscripts Don’t Burn, which is a collection of Bulgakov’s letters and diary entries compiled by J.A.E. Curtis. This has been beneficial in gaining insight to the start’of the Soviet Union at the time of writing his novels. A Dog’s Heart is one of Bulgakov’s better known novels and I am glad to have read it with an understanding of the personal and historical context. I believe The Master and Margarita is Mikhail Bulgakov’s best novel but A Dog’s Heart is worth checking out too.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://www.knowledgelost.org/uncategorized/a-dogs-heart-by-mikhail-bulgakov/ ( )
1 vote knowledge_lost | Sep 20, 2015 |
Finished this with tears in my eyes at 1:54 in the morning, and anxiously awaiting my lecture on it tomorrow afternoon. It's THAT good.

In this short novel, written in the mid 1920's in Soviet Russia and not published until the 80's, Bulgakov manages a few different levels of awareness. The surface level is a moderately comedic story about a scientist that transplants a human's brain into a dog's body, at which point the dog (Sharikov) begins to become progressively "human". The human-like creature, though, still has dog tendencies (chasing after cats in the small apartment, etc) which create the funny scenes.

On a deeper level, though, Bulgakov pens a scatching critique of Soviet Russian society. He knows that Sharikov is lacking what makes a human being, well, a human: a heart. Not the physical surgeon la-dee-da heart, but the moral heart that tells you when something's right or wrong. Not-so-coincidentally, pulling a few various pieces together reveals that Bulgakov thought that this was what the Soviets were repressing in the population--morals, good choices, individually, all sorts of "heart"-related concepts.

Essentially, it's Sharikov's lack of morals and feelings that make us realize how very important these qualities are in humans to make us who we are.

To pack just that bit of extra punch to the story, we receive the dog's perspective in both the beginning AND the end of the novel. In the beginning we keep in mind the innocent dog's expressions and interpreations of the human world around him. They are undoubtedly endearing passages. After going through the whole novel, once Sharikov the dog/human undergoes his transformation and loses his narrative voice, we again at the end are permitted a short glimpse at the dog's thoughts. THIS is what made me cry. The loss of innocence. Or, perhaps, the regaining of it after all that had been said and done.

I give this my highest marks and fondest love !! ( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (58 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mikhail Bulgakovprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aplin, HughTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bromfield, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fondse, MarkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginsburg, MirraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Glenny, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henstra, FrisoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Melander, VivecaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802150594, Paperback)

This early novella from Mikhail Bulgakov, published in 1925, already shows the surreal comic genius that later produced The Master and Margarita, the writer's masterpiece. A kind of Frankenstein parable, Heart of a Dog is the story of a stray dog that gains a human intelligence after a prominent Moscow professor transplants human glands into the unfortunate canine's body.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

This hilarious, brilliantly inventive novel by the author of The Master and Margarita tells the story of a scroungy Moscow mongrel named Sharik. Thanks to the skills of a renowned Soviet scientist and the transplanted pituitary gland and testes of a petty criminal, Sharik is transformed into a lecherous, vulgar man who spouts Engels and inevitably finds his niche in the bureaucracy as the government official in charge of purging the city of cats.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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