The Eugenic Program of Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog

Sharon M. Bailey, Pennsylvania State University

Professor Preobrazhenskijof Mixail Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog is a problematic character. On the one hand, as a foil to sharikov, the repulsive laboratory creature with proletarian sympathies, Preobrazhenskij represents order, wisdom, education, and culture. On the other hand, his experimentation with transplantation of animal organs into people and visa versa, as well as his habit of dissecting brains, makes him seem too much the mad scientist to deserve our admiration as the voice of reason in an age of corruption. However, despite the fantastic and sometimes disturbing imagery of the experiment, the substance of Preobrazhenskij's research is in essence representative of the concerns of the Russian Eugenics Society (1920-30) before the rise of Lysenkoism in the early 1930s. Furthermore, Preobrazhenskij's cosmopolitan background and political views are typical of the leaders in the Russian natural sciences at the time. In fact, the professor's Christian name may even be intended as a tribute to Jurij Aleksandrovich Filipchenko, who was the leading figure in the field of eugenics in Leningrad and who gave lectures and published books and articles, including popular books, between 1915-25. This indicates that Bulgakov was better informed of the scientific and political situation in the field of eugenics than has perhaps been previously assumed.

Therefore, when we conclude that Bulgakov is advocating slow, natural evolution in opposition to revolution, we can be sure that Bulgakov is not simply taking a reactive stance to Bolshevik rule, but rather than he has a sophisticated understanding of the mechanisms and possibilities of evolution. Consequently, much can be inferred about Bulgakov's views on evolution, human nature, and society in Heart of a Dog. Preobrazhenskij's interests in eugenics had led him to do extensive research not only on the human brain, but also on the human reproductive system. This intersection of eugenics and rejuvenation seems to indicate that the evolutionary progress being sought is primarily physical, but Preobrazhenskij hints that his goal is intellectual progress--ideally to produce another Spinoza or Lomonosov. This juxtaposition of the physical and humanistic spheres can be found throughout the novella. Bulgakov's treatment of Preobrazhenskij's eugenic experimentation, as well as his use of the themes of education, nourishment, and the arts, indicates an attempt to define the divide between the physical and the social human and thus to define the proper goals both for scientific research and political reform.