Following the “Red Brick” road: Was There a Wizard in Bulgakov’s Moscow of the 1920s?

Galina Krivonos, Indiana University

This paper addresses M.A. Bulgakov’s early works written in the period between 1922-24. It focuses on a number of feuilletons including “Red Bricked Moscow,” “Moscow in a Notebook,” “Moscow of the 20s” and others, as well as some short stories, most specifically “The Diaboliad.” These works are chronologically related to the writer’s first years in Moscow, and thematically reflect the author’s attempt to understand and accept the new reality and its shifting conceptualization of the nature of private and public space. Individual works from this period differ significantly in the degree in which the author’s personal experiences affect the point of view of the narrator or of the major character. This paper will begin with an analysis of those feuilletons narrated by a newcomer to Moscow, in which the reader is not informed about Bulgakov’s personal emotional and psychological experiences. Behind the façade of the outward world of “Red-Bricked Moscow,” the narrator of these stories discovers an inner world of communal apartments and their inhabitants. A conflict arises between the exterior “linear” public space and the “faceted” amassment of the private/communal space, each being associated with a different understanding of an individual’s place and role in the changing configuration of the role between personal and public space in the society. The kaleidoscopic image of the new and changing city, whose incongruent and often self-contradicting features the narrator of the feuilletons fails to reconcile, acquires a new “fantastic” dimension in “The Diaboliad” which contains modified features of the fantastic world of Gogol’. In this spatial structure of “The Diaboliad,” the conflict between public and private presented in the feuilletons is given physical embodiment which results in a fluidity of space, where the shards of the kaleidoscopic image are rearranged, thereby blurring the boundary between reality and the absurd. In this case, as well as in the “reality” of the feuilletons, public and private space cannot coexist. In the end, public space is victorious, and the narrator is left without a home.