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Morphine by Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakov
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Morphine (1926)

by Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakov

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First published in 1925, Morphine is a mini-novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, one of the giants of twenteith century Russian literature. The storyline is simple: Bromgard, a young doctor moves from the backwoods to a small country town to practice medicine in a clinic. A month passes and he receives news that Polyakov, a friend, a "very reasonable man," he knew as a student in medical school is ill and needs his help.

Bromgard plans to travel by train to his friend but before his scheduled departure Polyakov is brought to the clinic on the verge of death, resulting from a self-inflicted bullet wound. But before Polyakov dies, he hands Dr. Bromgard a diary recording his addiction to morphine. And the heart and soul of this Bulgakov tale is the contents of the diary.

Such a simple story. But please don't be fooled - through Bulgakov's literary magic we are given a gem. The author crafts with a kind of subtle perfection the step-by-step decent of an intelligent young man with a promising future in the grip of morphine addiction.

And it all starts so innocently: On the night of February 15th an otherwise perfectly healthy twenty-three year old Dr. Poyakov experiences intense stomach pain. He sends for Anna Kirillovna, a kind and intellegent nurse, and she gives him a morphine injection.

The next day, Dr. Polyakov makes a decision that will prove to be a drastic mistake, turning him into an addict. We read, "Fearing a recurrence of yesterday's attack, I injected myself in the thigh with one centigramme"

Such a penetrating observation on human psychology: the young doctor does not experience intense pain; rather, he gives himself a morphine injection because he fears intense pain. Oh my goodness: according to the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophers, a prime emotion we must overcome is our fear, most especially fear of pain and fear of death. And ff we act based solely on our fear, the consequences can quite possibly be dreadful in the extreme

A mere two weeks later, the young doctor's identity has completely transformed; he and his morphine are one. Here are his words from the diary: "I would say that a man can only work normally after an injection of morphine."

Then, we read the following March 10 entry: "Never before have I had such dreams at dawn. They are double dreams. The main one, I would say, is made of glass. It is transparent. This is what happened: I see a lighted lamp, fearfully bright, from which blazes a stream of many-colored light. Amneris, swaying like a green feather, is singing. An unearthly orchestra is playing with a full, rich sound - although I cannot really convey this in words. In short, in a normal dream music is soundless . . . but in my dream the music sounds, quite heavenly. And best of all I can make the music louder or softer at will."

Ecstasy! Ecstasy! Ecstasy! Our young doctor is completely hooked, psychologically every bit as much as physically. Incidentally, Amneris is an opera singer, the doctor's former mistress who left him weeks prior to his first morphine injection.

But such ethereal, blissful dreams have a price, a big price. On April 9th he writes, "The devil is in this phial. . . . This is the effect: on injecting one syringe of a 2% solution, you feel almost immediately a state of calm, which quickly grows into a delightful euphoria. This lasts for only a minute or two, then it vanishes without a trace as though it has never been. Then comes pain, horror, darkness."

And then a month later we read: "What overtakes the addict deprived of morphine for a mere hour or two is not a "depressed condition": it is slow death."

Ten more months of morphine addiction, alternating between injections and the slow death between injections, Dr. Polyakov takes his own life at tender age of twenty-four. Such a tragedy.

From what I've read on the net, this is a much read and consulted cautionary tale for those involved in the medical industry. And recognizing the many forms of drug addiction in our brave new twenty-first century world, Bulgakov's Morphine is a cautionary tale for each and every one of us.

( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
I was at the bookstore on a quest for a classic science fiction anthology I had seen once before. Thwarted (temporarily, sf anthologies turned out to be in a slightly stupid place), I drifted about, scanning for Melville House books, like I do. This was similar enough to the novella series design to stop me, and when I saw it was Bulgakov, I was in.

I did not realize that this was one of the stories from A Country Doctor's Notebook until after I read it. Meh. That just means I can give this copy away once I get a copy of Notebook. (But will I? This copy is so small and lovely!)

I really loved the opening -- Dr. Bromgard's relief at moving to a small city with a hospital with departments in which he is merely one cogged wheel after being a country doctor -- on call 24/7 -- the only thing between any resident of his district and death. Or so he felt. This is nicely contrasted with Dr. Polyakov's notebook, another doctor in a country post. Isolated, recently heartbroken, certainly depressed. One night he suffers severe and unexplained pain, and is given a shot of morphine. The rest of the diary is a descent into addiction and depravity. Sometimes desperate, sometimes lucid except for his insistence in those moments that everything is fine... At times directly indicting the way we treat people with mental illness and addiction, always indicting, if indirectly, and society in which people are expected to bear all their burdens on their own shoulders.

Many words for such a short book, but Bulgakov is a master. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |

First published in 1925, Morphine is a mini-novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, one of the giants of 20th century Russian literature. The storyline is simple: Bromgard, a young doctor moves from the backwoods to a small country town to practice medicine in a clinic. A month passes and he receives news that Polyakov, a friend, a `very reasonable man', he knew as a student in medical school is ill and needs his help. Bromgard plans to travel by train to his friend but before his scheduled departure Polyakov is brought to the clinic on the verge of death, resulting from a self-inflicted bullet wound. But before Polyakov dies, he hands Dr. Bromgard a diary recording his addiction to morphine. And the heart of this Bulgakov tale is the contents of the diary.

Such a simple story. But please don't be fooled - through Bulgakov's literary magic we are given a gem. The author crafts with a kind of subtle perfection the step-by-step decent of an intelligent young man with a promising future in the grip of morphine addiction. And it all starts so innocently: On the night of February 15 an otherwise perfectly healthy 23 year old Dr. Poyakov experiences intense stomach pain. He sends for Anna Kirillovna, a kind and intellegent nurse, and she gives him a morphine injection.

The next day, Dr. Polyakov makes a decision that will prove to be a drastic mistake, turning him into an addict. We read, "Fearing a recurrence of yesterday's attack, I injected myself in the thigh with one centigramme" Such a penetrating observation on human psychology: the young doctor does not experience intense pain, but he gives himself a morphine injection because he fears intense pain. Oh my goodness: according to the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophers, a prime emotion we must overcome is our fear, fear of pain and fear of death. If we act from our fear, the consequences can be dreadful.

A mere two weeks later, the young doctor's identity has completely transformed; he and his morphine are one. Here are his words from the diary: "I would say that a man can only work normally after an injection of morphine." Then, we read the following March 10 entry: "Never before have I had such dreams at dawn. They are double dreams. The main one, I would say, is made of glass. It is transparent. This is what happened: I see a lighted lamp, fearfully bright, from which blazes a stream of many-colored light. Amneris, swaying like a green feather, is singing. An unearthly orchestra is playing with a full, rich sound - although I cannot really convey this in words. In short, in a normal dream music is soundless . . . but in my dream the music sounds, quite heavenly. And best of all I can make the music louder or softer at will." Oh, such ecstasy! Our young doctor is completely hooked, psychologically every bit as much as physically. Incidentally, Amneris is an opera singer, the doctor's former mistress who left him weeks prior to his first morphine injection.

But such ethereal, blissful dreams have a price, a big price. On April 9th he writes, "The devil is in this phial. . . . This is the effect: on injecting one syringe of a 2% solution, you feel almost immediately a state of calm, which quickly grows into a delightful euphoria. This lasts for only a minute or two, then it vanishes without a trace as though it has never been. Then comes pain, horror, darkness." And then a month later we read: "What overtakes the addict deprived of morphine for a mere hour or two is not a `depressed condition': it is slow death." Ten more months of morphine addiction, alternating between injections and the slow death between injections, Dr. Polyakov takes his own life at age 24.

From what I've read on the net, this is a much read and consulted cautionary tale for those involved in the medical industry. And recognizing the many forms of drug addiction in our brave new 21st century world, Bulgakov's Morphine is a cautionary tale for each and every one of us. Available on-line: https://www.google.com/#q=morphine bulgakov pdf ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
"Morphine" itself is a fairly good story/novella which I would rate on its merits at 3*** or maybe even 3½*** — this ½* rating is specifically of the New Directions paperback, ISBN 978-0811221689.

I stumbled across this New Directions paperback while browsing at a B&N. Since it's a Bulgakov work that I'd never heard of (and I've read much of his prose and most of his plays as well), I bought it on impulse. It's a waste of money, and I should have realized that it's just an excerpt from A Country Doctor's Notebook (which is one of Bulgakov's works that I haven't ever gotten around to).

I do have an old translation of A Country Doctor's Notebook around the house somewhere, and the quality of this "Morphine" story is nudging me to dig out ACDN itself and do a complete reading. My recommendation for a first-time buyer, though, is simply to buy ACDN for a couple of dollars more and have the entire anthology rather than just this single "Morphine" excerpt. ( )
1 vote CurrerBell | Mar 31, 2014 |
The fact that Bulgakov himself suffered from a morphine addiction adds a certain poignancy to this story; he writes of what he knows. Luckily, Bulgakov beat the addiction and survived but the experience plainly showed him what could happen in extremis, as it does to his protagonist.

This is not even a novella it is so short (often included with short stories), but it is a good description of the descent into addiction‎, which need not be specific to morphine, beginning with pain relief that is welcome, but then moving onto dependence and finally addiction with all the attendant pathologies of paranoia, denial, lying, rationalization, self-destruction, thieving, physical decline, more denial, and then the final, awful realization that there is no salvation, that the addiction will triumph over any effort to thwart it, that any human relationship, even love, will be sacrificed to the need for the needle, and the only way out is death.

This all takes place at the time of the abdication of the Tsar, the Revolution, and the beginnings of the Civil War. There are oblique references to those events which are turning Russian society and politics inside-out, but I don't think Bulgakov is reaching for any deeper metaphors.

One thing that did come to mind, is how ‎history is shaped and structured by momentous events under which play-out the lives and loves, hopes and fears, successes and failures, happiness and terrors of millions of individuals. The broken-hearted Doctor's descent into the madness of addiction is just one of those stories of the human condition that persist whatever the larger political, economic, social contexts and currents.

If there is a deeper sense to the story, maybe it is that individuals are quite capable, for ‎a multitude of rational and irrational reasons, to ruin their own lives, never mind the wholesale destruction visited upon millions and millions of individuals by great historic events.
1 vote John | Feb 27, 2014 |
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Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Creus, JaumeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gourg, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sichel, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Clever people have been pointing out for a long time that happiness is like good health: when it's there, you don't notice it. But when the years have passed, how do you remember happiness, oh, how do you remember it!
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"Young Dr. Bromgard has come to a small country town to assume a new practice. No sooner has he arrived than he receives word that a colleague, Dr. Polyakov, has fallen gravely ill. Before Bromgard can go to his friend's aid, Polyakov is brought to his practice in the middle of the night with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and, barely conscious, gives Bromgard his journal before dying"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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