The Landscape After Battle: A Sentimental Journey of the White Guard

Elena Mikhailik, University of New South Wales

It has long been established by the researchers that one of the characters of M. Bulgakov's White Guard, M.S. Shpoljanskij, a high-flying bohemian, philologist and a pro-bolshevist saboteur, was modelled after Victor Shklovskij, a brilliant literary scholar and, at the time, a socialist-revolutionary urban guerrilla fighter. It had been suggested that this character owes its existence to the impression made on Bulgakov by Shklovskij's book of memoirs, Sentimental Journey. (M.Chudakova, Zhizneopisanie Mixaila Bulgakova, etc.)

However, neither the nature of the impact that Sentimental Journey had on Bulgakov, nor the role Shpoljanskij played within the structure of Bulgakov's novel have ever been properly examined.

In this paper we intend to subject Shpoljanskij as a character to the structural and comparative analysis within the framework of Bulgakov subsequent works and contemporary culture, using the apparatus derived from the methods developed by the Moscow-Tartu school and in particular by Ju. Lotman.

We are going to demonstrate that Shpoljanskij is not just another prototype-based satirical character (like Talberg or Lisovich). Bulgakov uses authentic facts of Shklovskij's biography and twists them in order to marginalize the character. Moreover, within the semiotic structure of the novel Shpoljanskij is not only marginalized but no less actively demonized. (In fact, Shpoljanskij's major attributes later become standard characteristics of subsequent Bulgakov demoniac and semi-demoniac characters.) Curiously it is this demonization that raises Shpoljanskij over the lowly status of a social caricature and turns him into a powerful and ambiguous figure, one of the linchpins of the plot. Within the semiotic space of the novel, Shpoljanskij is a quintessential fetch, a negative double: Shpoljanskij is a "false suitor" to Alexej Turbin's "true" one, he is tempter to colonel Malyshev's protector and a "demon" to colonel Naj-Turs's "angel". Being opposite to all three, Shpoljanskij is also surprisingly similar to them. (In the case of Naj-Turs there also exists a striking physical resemblance.) There are grounds to suggest that in the image of Shpoljanskij Bulgakov tried to externalize and exorcize something he found very disturbing.

Enlarging the scope, we intend to demonstrate that White Guard and Sentimental Journey display striking similarities in both artistic an personal responses of their respective authors. But while Mixail Bulgakov had completely accepted post-revolutionary black-and-white apocalyptic vision, Victor Shklovskij approached the revolution and the civil war with an antediluvian estranged attitude of a scholar. There is textual evidence that this approach to the catastrophe struck Bulgakov as amoral, inhuman and all but impossible, yet it obviously existed and had to be dealt with.

We are going to suggest that Bulgakov tried to subsume the vision of Sentimental Journey and incorporate it into his own universe, and that, within that apocalyptic universe, Shklovskij's formalist approach to bloodshed naturally fit the niche provided for the devil.