Original title Собачье сердце
Publication date 1925
Publisher Harcourt (English)
Genres Satire, Science Fiction
Published in English 1968
Originally published 1968
Adaptations Dog's Heart (1976)
Country Soviet Union
|Media type Print (Hardback and Paperback)|
Similar Works by Mikhail Bulgakov, Russia books, Satire books
Heart of a Dog (Russian: Собачье сердце, Sobach'e serdtse) is a novel by Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov. A biting satire of the New Soviet man, it was written in 1925 at the height of the NEP period, when communism appeared to be weakening in the Soviet Union. It's generally interpreted as an allegory of the Communist revolution and "the revolution's misguided attempt to radically transform mankind." Its publication was initially prohibited in the Soviet Union but circulated in samizdat until it was officially released in the country in 1987. It is "one of novelist Mikhail Bulgakov's most beloved stories" featuring a stray dog "named Sharik who takes human form" as a slovenly and narcissistic incarnation of the New Soviet Man. The novel has become a cultural phenomenon in Russia, known and discussed by people "from schoolchildren to politicians." It has become a subject of critical argument, was filmed in both Russian and Italian-language versions, and adapted in English as a play and an opera.
The book was rejected for publication in 1925, due in part to the influence of Lev Kamenev, then a leading Party official. Bulgakov subsequently wrote a play based on the story in 1926 for the Moscow Art Theater. However, the play was cancelled after the manuscript and copies were confiscated by the secret police, or OGPU. Eventually, Maxim Gorky intervened to get the manuscript returned.
The story has similarities with Dr. Faustus, Frankenstein, and The Island of Dr. Moreau. It was published in the Soviet Union only in 1987, more than 60 years after its completion, but was made known to Russian readers via samizdat. In 1968, it was published in English by Harvill Press, translated by Michael Glenny.
The real life prototype for Professor Preobrazhensky was possibly a Russian surgeon Serge Voronoff who was famous for his experiments on implanting humans with animal's testicles and thyroid glands, though there were others who did similar work.
Moscow, 1924. While foraging for trash one winter day, a stray dog is found by a cook and scalded with boiling water. Lying forlorn in a doorway, the dog awaits his end awash in self-pity. To his surprise, successful surgeon Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky (whose name means 'he who transforms or transfigures') arrives and offers the dog a piece of sausage. Overjoyed, the dog follows Filip back to his flat, where he is given the name of Sharik. This is ironic, as 'Sharik' is used to describe a pampered, usually pure-bred dog.
At the house, Sharik gets to know Dr. Preobrazhensky's household, which includes Doctor Ivan Arnoldovich Bormental, Professor's student and protegé and two female servants Zinaida Prokofievna Bunina and Darya Petrovna Ivanova. Despite the Professor's vocal anti-communism, his frequent medical treatment of the RCP(b) leadership makes him untouchable. As a result, he refuses to decrease his seven-room flat and treats the Bolsheviks on the housing committee, led by Schwonder, with unveiled contempt. Impressed by his new master, Sharik slips easily into the role of "a gentleman's dog".
After several days, one of the servants begins taking Sharik for walks through Moscow. Preening in his new collar, Sharik is unmoved by the taunts of a passing stray. After his health improves, the Professor at last reveals his real intentions in taking in Sharik. As the laboratory is prepared, he orders Sharik locked in the bathroom.
As a seething Sharik plots to again destroy the Professor's stuffed owl, the door opens and he is dragged by the scruff of the neck into the lab. There, he is sedated and an operation begins. As Bormenthal assists, the Professor trepans Sharik's skull and gives him a human pituitary gland. Sharik's torso is also opened and he is given human testicles. These organs were cut from Klim Grigorievich Chugunkin - killed in a brawl thief-recidivist, an alcoholic and a bully. Only repeated injections of adrenaline prevent the dog from dying on the operating table.
It is after this point that the story shifts from being told from the perspective of Sharik to being told from the perspective of Bormenthal, via his notes on the case, and then finally to a third person perspective.
During the weeks after the operation, the household is stunned as Sharik begins transforming into an incredibly unkempt, and at first primitive human. After building an alliance with Schwonder, the former canine is granted papers under the absurd name "Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov".
In the aftermath, the Professor and Bormenthal patiently attempt to teach Sharikov basic etiquette. Instead, Sharikov mocks manners as a relic of Tsarism. He insists that it is better to behave "naturally". As a result, Sharikov curses in front of women, refuses to shave, dresses and eats like a complete slob.
Meanwhile, Sharikov progressively turns the Professor's life into a living hell. One day, he accidentally turns on the spigot while chasing a cat. With the bathroom door locked and Sharikov unable to unlock it, the entire apartment is flooded. Later, he is caught attempting to sexually assault one of the female servants. Enraged, Bormenthal repeatedly hits Sharikov and forces him to apologize. Infuriated, Sharikov leaves the apartment and remains gone for several days.
Later, Bormenthal begs the Professor for permission to dose and kill Sharikov with arsenic, calling him a "man with the heart of a dog". The Professor is horrified and orders Bormenthal not to "slander the dog". He explains that the human body parts, which came from a homeless drunkard with Bolshevik sympathies, are responsible for all of Sharikov's defects. Bormenthal then suggests that they redo the operation, using the body of a genius. Again the Professor refuses, explaining that the operation was meant to improve the Human race. Breaking with his former beliefs, the Professor admits that any peasant woman could give birth to a genius and that eugenics are therefore a waste of time. In conclusion, the Professor refuses to permit Sharikov's murder or to undo the operation, which could easily kill him as well.
Soon after, Sharikov returns, explaining that he has been granted a job by the Soviet State. He now spends his work-day strangling stray cats. The Party, he says, is turning them into cheap fur coats for the working class. Soon after, Sharikov brings home a female co-worker, whom he introduces to the Professor as his common law wife.
Instead of giving them their own room as Sharikov demands, the Professor takes the woman aside and explains that Sharikov is the product of a lab experiment gone horribly wrong. The woman has been told that Sharikov was maimed fighting Admiral Alexander Kolchak's White Army in Siberia. Upon learning the truth, she leaves the apartment in tears. Seething with hatred, Sharikov vows to have her fired. Again Bormenthal beats up Sharikov and makes him promise not to do anything of the sort.
The following day, a senior Party official, patient and good friend of Professor Preobrazhensky, Pyotr Alexandrovich arrives and informs the Professor that Sharikov has denounced him to the secret police, or CHEKA. Explaining that nothing is going to happen to him due to the State's distrust of Sharikov, the Party official departs. When Sharikov returns, the Professor and Bormenthal order him to leave the flat permanently. Instead, Sharikov refuses and draws a revolver. Enraged, the Professor and Bormenthal pounce upon him.
That night, an ominous silence reigns in the flat and the lights are left on for many hours after bedtime. Over the days that follow, the Professor and Bormenthal look far more relaxed than at any time before Sharikov's arrival. Eventually, the police arrive escorted by a beaming Schwonder.
Bearing a search warrant, they demand that the Professor and Bormenthal produce Sharikov on pain of immediate arrest. Unintimidated, the Professor orders Bormenthal to summon Sharikov, who is changing back into a dog. The Professor explains the change as a natural phenomenon, although it is obvious to the reader that he and Bormenthal have simply reversed the operation. Followed by the now apoplectic Schwonder, the police depart.
In the aftermath, the fully canine Sharik blissfully resumes his status as a gentleman's dog. However, in the ending of the book he describes the Professor bringing home a human brain and removing the pituitary gland. This perhaps shows that Sharik retains some memories of his time as a human, or that Filip intends to carry out a similar experiment.
The novel has been interpreted both as a satire on the Communist attempts to create a New Soviet man and as a criticism of eugenics. One commonly accepted interpretation is that Bulgakov was trying to show all the inconsistencies of the system in which Sharikov, a man with a dog's intelligence, could become an important part. Sharik is seen as "a reincarnation of the repellent proletarian", and the professor represents a "hyperbolic vision of the bourgeois dream", according to J.A.E. Curtis.
Names figure prominently in the story. Preobrazhensky's name is derived from the Russian word for "transfiguration". "Sharik" is a common name for dogs in Russia meaning "little ball".
The name and patronymic "Poligraf Poligrafovich" echoes a tradition of nonsense double names in Russian literature that goes back to Nikolai Gogol's heroes Akakii Akakievich in The Overcoat and Pifagor Pifagorovich in The Carriage. The name is also a satire on new naming conventions in the early Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the name was chosen following the Russian tradition of "consulting the calendar," with Poligraf's name day being March 4. The name Poligraf has many possible meanings, including a printing process used for calendars.
The name of the donor of the human implants, an alcoholic and bum, is Chugunkin ("chugun" is cast iron) which can be seen as parody on the name of Stalin ("stal′" is steel).
In popular culture
A comic opera, The Murder of Comrade Sharik by William Bergsma (1973), is based on the plot of the story. The story was filmed in Italian in 1976 as Cuore di cane and starred Max von Sydow as Preobrazhensky.
A very popular 1988 Soviet movie, Sobachye Serdtse, was made (in sepia) by Vladimir Bortko. Major sequences in the movie were famously shot from an unusually low dog's point of view.
In 2007, Guerilla Opera staged the premiere of Heart of a Dog, an opera by Rudolf Rojahn, directed by Sally Stunkel. In 2010, the second production was directed by Copeland Woodruff.
In 2010 De Nederlandse Opera staged the premiere of A Dog's Heart, an opera composed by Alexander Raskatov, directed by Simon McBurney. This was staged again by the Opéra de Lyon in January 2014.
In March 2011, "Heart of a Dog" was staged at the University of Leeds, directed by James Ahearne and Matthew Beaumont.
A new musical adaptation of "Heart of a Dog" has been developed in Australia and is premiering in May, written by Jim McGrath, composed by Marc Robertson and Directed by Nick Byrne.
In 2016, rock band The Kills released a song 'Heart of a Dog', the title inspired by the book.