Heart of a Dog  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Heart of a Dog , a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, is a satire of the New Soviet man written in 1925 at the height of the NEP period, when Communism appeared to be weakening in the Soviet Union.

It's generally interpreted as an allegory of the Communist revolution and the revolution's attempt to transform mankind. Its publication was initially prohibited in the Soviet Union, but circulated in samizdat until it was officially released in the country in 1987. It features a stray dog named Sharik who takes human form, as a slovenly and narcissistic incarnation of the New Soviet Man.

The novel has become a cultural phenomenon in Russia, known and discussed by people "from schoolchildren to politicians."



The book was rejected for publication in 1925, due in part to the influence of Lev Kamenev, then a leading Party official. Bulgakov subsequently wrote a play based on the story in 1926 for the Moscow Art Theater. However, the play was cancelled after the manuscript and copies were confiscated by the secret police, or OGPU. Eventually, Maxim Gorky intervened to get the manuscript returned.

The story has similarities with Dr. Faustus, Frankenstein, and The Island of Dr. Moreau. It was published in the Soviet Union only in 1987, more than 60 years after its completion, but was made known to Russian readers via samizdat. In 1968, it was published in English by Harvill Press, translated by Michael Glenny. More recently, it has been reprinted by Grove Press in paperback; ISBN 0-8021-5059-4.

The real life prototype for Professor Preobrazhensky was possibly Russo-French surgeon Serge Voronoff who was famous for his experiments on implanting humans with animal's testicles and thyroid glands


Moscow, 1925. While foraging for trash one winter day, a stray dog is found by a cook and scalded with boiling water. Lying forlorn in a doorway, the dog awaits his end awash in thoughts of self-pity. To his surprise, successful surgeon Filip Filippovich Preobrazhensky arrives and offers the dog a piece of sausage. Overjoyed, the dog follows Filip back to his flat, where he is given the stock dog name, Sharik.

At the house, Sharik gets to know Dr. Preobrazhensky's household, which includes the medical student Bormental and two female servants. Despite the Professor's blatant anti-communism, his frequent medical treatment of the CPSU leadership makes him untouchable. As a result, he refuses to decrease his seven room flat and treats the Bolsheviks on the housing committee, led by Shvonder, with unveiled contempt. Impressed by his new master, Sharik slips easily into the role of "a gentleman's dog."

After several days, one of the servants begins taking Sharik for walks through Moscow. Preening in his new collar, Sharik is unmoved by the taunts of a passing stray. After his health improves, the Professor at last reveals his real intentions in taking in Sharik. As the laboratory is prepped, he orders Sharik locked in the bathroom.

As a seething Sharik plots to again destroy the Professor's stuffed owl, the door opens and he is dragged by the scruff of the neck into the lab. There, he is sedated and an operation begins. As Bormental assists, the Professor trepans Sharik's skull and gives him a human pituitary gland. Sharik's torso is also opened and he is given human testicles. Only repeated injections of adrenaline prevent the dog from dying on the operating table.

During the weeks after the operation, the household is stunned as Sharik begins transforming into an incredibly unkempt human. After building an alliance with Shvonder, the former canine is granted papers under the absurd name "Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov."

In the aftermath, the Professor and Bormental patiently attempt to teach Sharikov basic ettiquette. Instead, Sharikov mocks the idea of manners as relics of Tsarism. He insists that it is better to behave, as he puts it, "naturally." As a result, Sharikov curses in front of women, refuses to shave, and dresses like a complete slob.

Meawhile, Sharikov progressively turns the Professor's life into a living hell. One day, he accidentally turns on the spigot while chasing a cat. With the bathroom door locked, the entire apartment is flooded. Later, he is caught attempting to rape one of the female servants. Enraged, Bormental beats Sharikov up and forces him to apologize. Infuriated, Sharikov leaves the apartment and remains gone for several days.

Later, Bormental begs the Professor for permission to dose Sharikov with arsenic, calling him a man with "the heart of a dog." The Professor is horrified and orders Bormental not to "slander the dog." He explains that the human body parts, which came from a drunken Proletarian, are responsible for all of Sharikov's defects. Bormental then suggests that they redo the operation, using the body of a genius. Again the Professor refuses, explaining that the operation was meant to improve the Human race. Breaking with his former beliefs, the Professor admits that any peasant woman could give birth to a genius and that eugenics are therefore a waste of time. In conclusion, the Professor refuses to permit Sharikov's murder or to undo the operation, which could easily kill him as well.

Soon after, Sharikov returns, explaining that he has been granted a job by the Soviet State. He now spends his work-day strangling vagrant cats, whose fur is used to imitate that of squirrels. Soon after Sharikov brings home a female co-worker, whom he introduces to the Professor as his new common law wife.

Instead of giving them their own room as Sharikov demands, the Professor takes the woman aside and explains that Sharikov is the product of a lab experiment gone horribly wrong. The woman, who had believed that Sharikov was a Red Army veteran maimed during the Russian Civil War, leaves the apartment in tears. Seething with hatred, Sharikov threatens to fire her. Again Bormental beats Sharikov up and makes him promise not to do anything of the sort.

The following day, a senior Party official arrives and informs the Professor that Sharikov has denounced him to the secret police, or CHEKA. Explaining that nothing is going to happen to him due to the State's distrust of Sharikov, the Party official departs. When Sharikov returns, the Professor and Bormental order him to leave the flat permanently. Instead, Sharikov refuses and draws a revolver. Enraged, the Professor and Bormental pounce upon him.

That night, an ominous silence reigns in the flat and the lights are left on for many hours after bedtime. Over the days that follow, the Professor and Bormental look far more relaxed than at any time before Sharikov's arrival. Eventually, the police arrive escorted by Shvonder.

Bearing a search warrant, they demand to see Sharikov on pain of arresting the Professor and Bormental. Unintimidated, the Professor orders Bormental to summon Sharikov, who is slowly being transformed back into a dog. The Professor explains the change as a natural phenomenon, although it is obvious to the reader that in fact he and Bormental have simply performed the reverse operation. Followed by the now apoplectic Shvonder, the police depart.

In the aftermath, the fully canine Sharik blissfully resumes his status as a gentleman's dog. However, he is soon terrified to see the Professor bringing home a human brain and removing the pituitary gland...


The novel has been interpreted both as a satire on the Communist attempts to create a New Soviet man and as a criticism of eugenics. One commonly accepted interpretation is that Bulgakov was trying to show all the inconsistencies of the system in which Sharikov, a man with a dog's intelligence, could become an important part. Sharik is seen as "a reincarnation of the repellent proletarian," and the professor represents a "hyperbolic vision of the bourgeois dream," according to J.A.E. Curtis.

[[File:Sobachye.jpg|thumb|left|250px|Professor (Yevgeniy Yevstigneyev) and Sharikov (Vladimir Tolokonnikov) in the 1988 Soviet movie.]] Names figure prominently in the story. Preobrazhensky's name is derived from the Russian word for "transfiguration." "Sharik" is a common name for dogs in Russia, equivalent to "Spot."

The name and patronymic "Poligraf Poligrafovich" translate roughly as "Rotogravure, Son of Rotogravure" and echoes a tradition of nonsense double names in Russian literature that goes back to Gogol's hero Akakii Akakievich in "The Overcoat". The name is also a satire on new naming conventions in the early Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the name was chosen according to the old Russian tradition, of "consulting the calendar," with Poligraf's name day being March 4.

The name of the donor of the human implants, an alcoholic and bum, is Chugunkin ("chugun" is cast iron) which can be seen as parody on the name of Stalin ("stal'" is steel).

In popular culture

A comic opera, The Murder of Comrade Sharik by William Bergsma (1973), is based on the plot of the story. The story was filmed in Italian in 1976 as "Cuore di cane" and starred Max von Sydow as Preobrazhensky.

A very popular 1988 Soviet movie, Sobachye Serdtse, was made (in sepia) by Vladimir Bortko Major sequences in the movie were famously shot from an unusually low dog's point of view.

In 2007, Guerilla Opera staged the Premier of "Heart of a Dog", a new opera composed by Rudolf Rojahn, directed by Sally Stunkel. In 2010, the second production was directed by Copeland Woodruff.

In 2010 Dutch National Opera staged the Premier of "A Dog's Heart", a new opera composed by Alexander Raskatov, directed by Simon McBurney.

In March 2011, "Heart of a Dog" was staged at the University of Leeds, directed by James Ahearne and Matthew Beaumont.


In Michael Glenny's English translation, when Preobrazhensky asks Sharikov what do he and his co-workers do with the dead cats, he replies: "They go to a laboratory, where they make them into protein for the workers". In the original Russian text (as well as in Vladimir Bortko film) Sharikov's reply is: "They will be made into fur collars on the coats, workers would buy them as squirrels". This is a mistake of the translator, who has apparently confused the word белок ('belok, Russian genitive plural for белка (squirrel)) for a homographic белок (bel'ok, protein).

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Heart of a Dog" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools