Paradise or Paradise Lost? The Image of Kiev in the Writings of M. A. Bulgakov

Natalia Lechtchenko, Brown University

The significance of Kiev in Bulgakov's life and art is well known--Kiev transcends the notion of a certain place becoming an entity of a cosmic nature, a universe of its own. Focusing on Kiev's real and masked appearances (Kiev as the City, Gorod) I will address its function in the multifaceted net of the historical, and the mythical elements of Bulgakov's texts. I would posit that Kiev is a mythical place that combines the features of the purity of creation with the demonism of paradise lost. It could be argued that Kiev becomes an idyll (perhaps even a metamorphosis of the romantic countryside) for Bulgakov, as opposed to the other cities and towns portrayed by the writer. The idyllic character of Kiev is reflected in the choice of imagery, which includes, but is not limited to, the image of a garden; the authorial choice of seasons and colors; and the impact that Kiev produces through its status as memory, dream, or final destination/home. The purity of the idyll is often threatened by the presence of the demonic element, but it seems that the eternal character of Kiev is never in doubt.

I will address the presence (and the absence) of death, chaos, entropy, beauty, and religion, and the consequences of the coexistence of these elements in Kiev. I believe that Kiev's often antithetical character is reflected in a string of oppositions, namely cosmos vs. chaos, past vs. present, the primordial vs. the civilization, the inner and the outer. Either as the seemingly tangible City of The White Guard, or as the subject of a dream in The Flight, Bulgakov's Kiev is always a surreal place, a paradise lost but existing, contaminated by the invasive power of the world outside, yet preserving its eternal nature.