Tuesday 18 September 2007

Mikhail Bulgakov

One of Russia's greatest (and most suppressed) Twentieth-Century writers, Mikhail Bulgakov produced several wonderful books, the most famous of which is The Master and Margarita. Given the relative dearth of modern Russian literature in English translation, it's heartening to see just how many competing editions of Bulgakov's books are available. Here we'll look at some of their covers.

The Master and Margarita is the obvious starting point. It's a very hard book to describe. One blurb tries thus: "The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices--including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat--he immediately begins to create havoc. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos..."

The covers below are from 7 current editions. As you can see, the cat (a remarkable character) features heavily:

They are the [top row] Penguin Classics, Vintage Classics, Oneworld Classics and Penguin Red Classics editions, and the [second row] Picador, Avalon and Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics editions. The particular winner here must be the first, created by Matt Dawson and the winner of a competition run by Penguin and the Guardian newspaper. More on Matt Dawson below.

This post was inspired by my having just read Bulgakov's A Dog's Heart, the tale of Polygraf Polygrafovich Sharikov, a dark political satire about a dog turned into a man. The covers below are for the Penguin Classics, Vintage Classics, Hesperus Modern Voices and Avalon editions. The Penguin is again by Matt Dawson.

A third great novel, sadly left unfinished at Bulgakov's death in 1940, is variously translated as Black Snow or A Dead Man's Memoir. It's a savage comedy about the theatre, censorship and suicide. Below are the Penguin (by Matt Dawson) and Vintage Classics editions.

Finally, we have two other Bulgkov books--the early White Guard, set during the Revolution, and The Fatal Eggs, a science fiction satire on Soviet politics. The first is from Vintage Classics, and the second from Hesperus.

Matt Dawson has a lovely website where he shows alternative versions of his Bulgakov cover designs, and also images inspired by The Fatal Eggs, as well as some other clever and playfu artwork. It's well worth a visit.

Also worth a visit is this site, which is a goldmine of information for anyone reading The Master and Margarita. Even better is the set of links to other artwork inspired by the book: there's some inspired stuff there, much of it featuring the tomcat.

UPDATE: Commenter Readymade also posted about some of the different Master covers they have encountered--head over to Walking Without Rhythm to see them.


Readymade said...
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Readymade said...

I wrote a similar post too :) With some other covers. The older Vintage paperback one with the cat in silhouette is a quiet take on Behemoth the giant cat.


JRSM said...

Thank you very much for that: I'll amend the post to direct people to the other covers you posted.