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The White Guard Mikhail Bulgakov. 1891- 1940

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Presentation on theme: "The White Guard Mikhail Bulgakov. 1891- 1940"— Presentation transcript:

1 The White Guard Mikhail Bulgakov

2 1891- 1940

3 In White Guard, one can read Bulgakov’s profound shock at the Revolution, once he had seen its real face. He wrote, without his characteristic irony, “Owing to the extraordinary grandiosity of the Revolution, it would be impossible to write a lampoon on it.” One might counter that Bulgakov in fact spent his whole life as a writer writing such lampoons... Indeed, his contemporary critics accused him of this. But the critics were wrong. And, paradoxically, so was Bulgakov himself: it was actually impossible to write a lampoon of the Russian Revolution because the Russian Revolution itself was a lampoon of socialism, and bolshevism was a lampoon of Marxism. Virtually all of Russian history is the history of such revolutions and the lampoons (“operettas”) they engendered. Some of them were bloody; some were comparatively bloodless, like the most recent one, which produced a lampoon of democracy. But every time Russia tried to throw off the odious state, it sank into chaos, and therefore returned to “order” and once again plunged into the stifling world of an oppressive police state that holds its own people in contempt. Eugeny Dobrenko, Introduction, The White Guard, 2008 edition

4 Born in Kiev in 1881, the eldest of what was to become a family of seven children, Bulgakov belonged not only by blood... but also by inclination to the ancient regime. Yet this was not straightforward reaction; rather, the writer's complex political standpoint... had its roots in the same black Ukrainian soil from which the myriad regimes of the civil war sprang. As Michael Glenny, the eminent translator of both play and novel has observed, perhaps the best way of understanding the position of Russian families in Ukraine such as the Bulgakovs is by analogy with the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. →→→

5 Although Ukraine had been part of the Russian empire since 1654, many Ukrainians had never been reconciled, while the Russians who formed a significant part of the landed gentry, and who came to occupy senior positions in the professions, the officer corps and the civil service, continued to speak Russian and to look to Moscow as the centre of their culture. Like many of the Irish Protestants, these people were more loyal than actual Russians to the symbolism – if not the actuality – of tsarist rule. Will Self, the Guardian, Saturday 20 March 2010

6 ‘Great and terrible was the year of Our Lord 1918, of the Revolution the second. Its summer abundant with warmth and sun, its winter with snow, highest in its heaven stood two stars: the shepherds’ star, eventide Venus; and Mars – quivering red’ Opening lines, p 9

7 ‘Crimson patches began to appear on his cheeks and Lieutenant Myshlaevsky, grimacing in clean underwear and bathrobe, loosened up and came to life. A stream of foul abuse rattled around the room like hail on a window-sill. Squinting with rage, he poured a stream of obscenities... and ended by heaping the most vulgar abuse on the Hetman of all the Ukraine himself... “Where were the Horse Guards eh? Back in the palace! And we were sent out in what we stood up in... Days on end in the snow and frost... Christ! I thought we were all done for... Nothing but a row of officers strung out at intervals of two hundred yards – is that what you call a defensive line? It was only by the grace of God that we weren’t slaughtered like chickens!”’ pp 22-23

8 ‘On the long distance departure track of the City’s No.1 Passenger Station, the train was already standing, though still without a locomotive, like a caterpillar without a head... It was made up of nine cars... carrying General von Bussow and his headquarters staff to Germany. They were taking Talberg with them... “Look my dear (whisper) the Germans are leaving the Hetman in the lurch and it’s extremely likely that Petlyura will march in... and you know what that means...” Elena knew what that meant. Elena knew very well. In March 1917 Talberg had been the first – the first you realise – to report to the military academy wearing a broad red armband. That was in the very first days of the revolution, when all the officers in the City turned to stone at the news from Petersburg and crept away down dark passages to avoid hearing about it... →→→

9 But one day in March the Germans arrived in the City in their grey ranks, with red-brown tin bowls on their heads to protect them from shrapnel balls; and their hussars wore such fine busbies and rode on such magnificent horses that Talberg at once realised where the roots of power grew now...At Easter in April 1918 the electric arc-lights hummed cheerfully in the circus auditorium and it was black with people right up to the domed roof. A tall, crisp, military figure, Talberg stood in the arena counting the votes at a show of hands... there was to be a Ukrainian state but a ‘hetmanite’ Ukraine – they were electing the ‘Hetman of all the Ukraine’... Life would have been fine for Talberg if everything had proceeded along one definite straight line; but events in the City at that time did not move in a straight line, they followed fantastic zig-zags and Sergei Talberg tried in vain to guess what was coming next. He failed’ pp 30-32

10 ‘”As for your Hetman,” Alexei Turbin was shouting, “I’d string him up the first of all! He’s done nothing but insult us for the past six months. Who was it forbade us to form a loyalist Russian army in the Ukraine? The Hetman. And now that things have gone from bad to worse, they’ve started to form a Russian army after all... Ah the fool – if only he had allowed us to form units manned by Russian officers back in April, we could have taken Moscow by now... Not only would we have chased Petlyura out of the Ukraine, but we would have reached Moscow by now and swatted Trotsky like a fly. Now would have been the time to attack Moscow – it seems they’re reduced to eating cats. And Hetman Skoropodsky, the son of a bitch, could have saved Russia”. pp 44-45

11 ‘In that winter of 1918 the City lived a strange unnatural life which is unlikely ever to be repeated in the twentieth century. Behind the stone walls every apartment was overfilled. Their normal inhabitants constantly squeezed themselves into less and less space, willy-nilly making way for new refugees crowding into the City... They sent off letters through the only escape hole across turbulent, insecure Poland (not one of them, incidentally, had the slightest idea of what was going on there or even what sort of place this new country – Poland – was) to Germany, that great nation of honest Teutons – begging for visas, transferring money, sensing that before long they would have to flee Russian territory altogether to where they would be finally and utterly safe from the terrible civil war and the thunder of Bolshevik regiments. They dreamed of France, of Paris... →→→

12 And there were other thoughts, vague and more frightening, which would suddenly come to mind in sleepless nights on divans in other people’s apartments... They hated the Bolsheviks, but not with the kind of aggressive hatred which spurs on the hater to fight and kill, but with a cowardly hatred which whispers around dark corners. They hated by night, choking with anxiety, by day in restaurants reading newspapers full of descriptions of Bolsheviks shooting officers and bankers in the back of the neck with Mausers, and how the Moscow shopkeepers were selling horsemeat infected with glanders. All of them – merchants, bankers, industrialists, lawyers, actors, landlords, prostitutes, ex-members of the State Council, engineers, doctors and writers, felt one thing in common – hatred’. pp56-59

13 ‘For the fact was that although life in the City went on with apparent normality – it had a police force, a civil service, even an army and newspapers with various names – not a single person in it knew what was going on around and about the City, in the real Ukraine, a country of tens of millions of people, bigger than France. They not only knew nothing about the distant parts of the country, but they were even, ridiculous though it seems, in utter ignorance of what was happening away from the City itself. They neither knew nor cared about the real Ukraine and they hated it with all their heart and souls. And whenever there came vague rumours of events from that mysterious place called ‘the country’, rumours that the Germans were robbing the peasants, punishing them mercilessly and mowing them down by machine-gun fire, not only was not a single indignant voice raised in defence of the Ukrainian peasants but... they would bare their teeth in a wolfish grin and mutter: →→→

14 “Serve them right!... I’d give it ‘em even harder. That’ll teach them to have a revolution – didn’t want their own masters, so now they can have a taste of another!” “You’re so mistaken...” “What on earth d’you mean, Alexei? They’re nothing more than a bunch of animals. The Germans’ll show ‘em...” The Germans were everywhere. At least they were all over the Ukraine; but away to the north and east beyond the furthest line of the blue-brown forest were the Bolsheviks. Only these two forces counted’ p62

15 ‘And alas, it was only in November 1918, when the roar of gunfire was first heard around the City, that the more intelligent people... finally realised that the peasants hated that same Lord Hetman as though he were a mad dog; and that in the peasants’ minds the Hetman’s so-called ‘reform’ was a swindle on behalf of the landlords and that what was needed once and for all was the true reform for which the peasants themselves had longed for centuries: All land to the peasants Three hundred acres per man No more landlords’. p69

16 ‘And in those same little towns there were countless teachers, medical orderlies, smallholders, Ukrainian seminarists, whom fate had commissioned as ensigns in the Russian army, healthy sons of the soil with Ukrainian surnames who had become staff-captains – all of them talking Ukrainian, all longing for the Ukraine of their dreams free of Russian landlords and free of Muscovite officers and thousands of Ukrainian ex-prisoners of war returned from Austrian Galicia. All these plus tens of thousand of peasants could only mean trouble...’ p70

17 ‘Far away in western Europe the Gallic rooster in his baggy red pantaloons had at last seized the steel- grey Germans in a deathly grip. It was a terrible sight: these fighting cocks in Phrygian caps, crowing with triumph, swarmed upon the armour-plated Teutons and clawed away their armour and lumps of flesh beneath it. The Germans fought desperately, thrust their broad- bladed bayonets into the feathered breasts of their adversaries and clenched their teeth; but they could not hold out, and the Germans – the Germans! – begged for mercy.’ p 71

18 ‘It was then that the reality of the situation began to penetrate the brains of the more intelligent of the men who with their solid rawhide suitcases and their rich women-folk, had leaped over the barbed wire surrounding the Bolshevik camp and taken refuge in the City. They realised that fate had linked them with the losing side and their hearts were filled with terror. “The Germans are beaten”, said the swine. “We are beaten”, said the intelligent swine. And the people of the City realised this too. →→→

19 Only someone who has been defeated knows the real meaning of that word. It is like a party in a house where the electric light has failed; it is like a room in which green mould, alive and malignant, is crawling over the wallpaper; it is like the wasted bodies of rachitic children, it is like rancid cooking oil, like the sound of women’s voices shouting obscene abuse in the dark. It is, in short, like death’. pp 71-2

20 ‘It was a time and a place of suffocating uncertainty. So – to hell with it! It was all a myth. Petlyura was a myth. He didn’t exist. It was a myth as remarkable as an older myth of the non-existent Napoleon Bonaparte, but a great deal less colourful. But something had to be done. That outburst of peasant wrath had somehow to be channelled into a certain direction, because no magic wand could channel it away... Wilhelm. Three Germans murdered yesterday. Oh God, the Germans are leaving – have you heard? The workers have arrested Trotsky in Moscow!! Some sons of bitches held up a train near Borodyanja and stripped it clean. →→→

21 Petlyura has sent an embassy to Paris. Wilhelm again... Petlyura has sent a mission to the Bolsheviks. That’s an even better joke. Petlyura. Petlyura. Petlyura. Peturra... There was not a single person who really knew what this man Peturra wanted to do in the Ukraine though everyone knew for certain that he was mysterious and faceless (even though the newspapers had frequently printed any number of picture of Catholic prelates, every one different, captioned ‘Simon Petlyura’) and that he wanted to seize the Ukraine. To do that he would advance and capture the city’. pp77-9

22 ‘Two little boys in grey knitted sweaters and woollen caps had just ridden down the hill on a sled. One of them, short and round as a rubber ball, covered with snow, was sitting on the sled and laughing. The other, who was older, thinner and serious looking, was unravelling a knot in the rope. A youth was standing in the doorway and picking his nose. The noise of rifle fire grew more audible, breaking out from several directions at once. “Vaska, did you see how I fell off and hit my bottom on the kerb!” shouted the youngest. “Look at them playing so peacefully”, Nikolka thought with amazement. →→→

23 He turned to the youth and asked him in an amiable voice: “Tell me please what’s all the shooting going on up there?” The young man removed his finger from his nose, thought for a moment and said in a nasal whine: “It’s our people, beating the hell out of the White officers”. Nikolka scowled at him and instinctively fingered the revolver in his pocket. The older of the two boys chimed in angrily: “They’re getting even with the White officers. Serve ‘em right. There’s only eight hundred of them the fools. Petlyura’s got a million men” He turned and started to pull the sled away.’ p 173

24 ‘The fact is that the most important thing of all has disappeared – I mean respect for property. And once that happens, it’s the end. We’re finished. I’m a convinced democrat by nature and I come from a poor background. My father was just a foreman on the railroad. Everything you can see here and everything those rogues stole from me today – all that was earned by my own efforts. And believe me I never defended the old regime, on the contrary, I can admit to you in secret I belonged to the Constitutional Democrat party, but now that I’ve seen with my own eyes what this revolution’s turning into, then I swear to you that I am horribly convinced that there’s only one thing that can save us... Autocracy. Yes, sir... the most ruthless dictatorship imaginable... it’s our only hope... Autocracy’. p 245

25 ‘Everything passes away-suffering, pain, blood, hunger, pestilence. The sword will pass away too, but the stars will remain when the shadows of our presence and our deeds have vanished from the Earth. There is no man who does not know that. Why, then, will we not turn our eyes toward the stars? Why?’ p302

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