Mikhail Bulgakov, "The Fatal Eggs"

Mikhail Afanas'evich Bulgakov (1891-1940) was born in Kiev. He trained and practiced as a doctor, but in 1920 he decided to quit and become a writer. He is best known for his plays ("Days of the Turbins," "Zoyka's Apartment," "The Crimson Island," "Molière," and others) and his novel The Master and Margarita (left not quite finished when he died), but he wrote some shorter fiction as well. "The Fatal Eggs," written in 1924, was published in the collection Diavoliada ('The Diaboliad') in Moscow in 1925 and fairly enthusiastically received. Bulgakov was skeptical of the Bolshevik revolution, and as a result he experienced all kinds of unpleasant censorship - indeed, by 1927 (a year before most of the action in "Fatal Eggs" takes place!) Bulgakov's prose was banned, and he never published any more prose in his lifetime. His success as a dramatic author lasted a bit longer, but Stalin did not let him emigrate when he asked to in 1930. Bulgakov's third wife preserved his archive after his death from nephrosclerosis, and when The Master and Margarita was finally published in the 1960s - in a censored edition! - it was a big surprise for readers everywhere.

Questions for reading:

  1. Bulgakov is imagining a not-too-distant future: some of his technology actually didn't happen that way, but in 1928 the USSR was still in the period known as "NEP," the New Economic Policy (Новая экономическая политика), so it in fact did not change as radically in those four years as it would between 1928 and 1932 with collectivization, de-kulakization, and the industrializing spasm of the first Five-Year Plan.
  2. What might the name Persikov ("Mr. Peach," as our editors helpfully point out) suggest?
  3. How does the high scientific seriousness interact with the frequent flashes of humor?
  4. In particular: does any of you know enough about Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940?) to get the bit on page 496 about his death ("as everyone knows") when crushed by a platform of naked boyars during a production of Pushkin's play Boris Godunov?
  5. It comes up over and over that this is a red ray - with what implications?
  6. Please note that "Feit" is supposed to be pronounced "Fate" - "Fayt" might have been more successful here. The Russian is "Rokk," with an extra k added to the word рок, 'fate,' producing the same resonance with the story's title.
  7. As always, how is the science? The gadgetry? (The red ray chambers were custom made, but the electric rifles?)
  8. How do the scientists acquit themselves? The media? The police? The populace? The politicians (in the Kremkin)?
  9. Re the "Frosty Deus ex Machina," it certainly does get cold enough in Russia to kill off all the cold-blooded monsters (though not perhaps the ostriches?) - but not in August! What's the effect of such a wilfully implausible plot turn?
  10. How do you like the luscious descriptions of snakes eating people?
  11. Why might the Soviet government, or the literary bureaucraacy, have objected to a story like this one? (Though they didn't... yet.)
  12. What is the moral of the story?
photo of a big snake with its mouth open

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