"Heart of a Dog" - A Hilarious Satirical Soviet Novella by Mikhail Bulgakov

Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog is a hilariously enjoyable novella by Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov which combines the strangeness of the scientific experiments and hypotheses of first half of the 20th century, a critique of Soviet society, mixed with the love and levity that everyone has for dogs. The story is set in Moscow in the 1920's from the perspective of a stray dog, Sharik, who is injured and on the brink of death due to the cold and lack of food. In the desperation of those final hours a savior comes to him and rescues him, though he cannot comprehend why because this is a wealthy and dignified man by all appearances. And with some bites of sausage, the man lures Sharik into his large apartment and brings him back from the brink of death with plenty of food and warm rest. 

A Scientist's House
Sharik was right, the man, Philip Philippovich, was a world renowned brain surgeon and scientist. His huge apartment of at least seven rooms was justified in Soviet society because of the medical services that he provided to all types of people, some normal care ... some experimental... though the communist enforcer of the apartment complex, Shavondr, is not convinced at the doctor's worth. "I was concerned with something else altogether - eugenics, the omprovement of the human species. And then I pull this boner with rejuvenation! You don't think I've been doing all those operations for the money? I am a scientist after all." 1 

Nevertheless, as Sharik is taken into his apartment, we are introduced to the other figures that work there. There are two females, Darya and Zina, a cook and an assistant. There's Ivan Arnoldovich, also known as Doctor Bermanthal, who is Philippovich's surgical assistant. The apartment is so large because it is also the medical practice, including a sterile surgical room. 

A Random But Interesting Passage
'Eating, Ivan Arnoldovich, is a cunning art. You have to know how to eat, and, imagine, most people haven't the slightest notion of it. ... If you care about your digestion, my good advice is - do not talk about Bolshevism or medicine at dinner. And - heaven preserve! - don't read any Soviet newspapers before dinner.' 'Hm ... But there are no others.' 'That's just it, don't read any. You know, I carried out thirty tests at my hospital. And what do you think? Patients who read no newspapers feel excellent. But those whom I deliberately compelled to read Pravda lost weight. ... But that isn't all. They had lowered knee-tap reflex, rotten appetite, a depressed state of mind.' 'The devil, you don't say ...' 'Oh, yes. But what am I doing? I've started on medicine myself.'" 2

The Transformation
As Sharik is recovering he begins to witness the comings and goings of the medical practice. One of the confusing incidents is where Sharik witnesses some of the individuals who were part of Philippovich's experiments to reverse aging. We get a sense that Sharik has not been rescued simply out of good will, though it's not quite clear to Sharik. He speculates that maybe he was royalty and just didn't know it. Then the drama of the story goes down. Philippovich has gotten word that there is a death which has only occurred a few hours before, and that a fresh specimen is ready to be picked up. This death was of a young convict, and Dr. Bermanthal was sent to extract the man's testicles and a specific gland in his brain related to growth., the "hypophysis." 

Rapidly they must prepare for surgery and Sharik is put to sleep. They swap out both the testes and the growth gland from the recently deceased convict into Sharik, expecting him to die and the experiment to fail, just as many had done before this point. And yet ... Sharik survived. 

"I cannot refrain from certain hypotheses. To the devil with rejuvination for the time being. Something else is immeasurably more important: Prof. Preobrazhensky's (Another name for Philippovich) amazing experiment has revealed one of the secrets of the human brain. From now on, the mysterious function of the hypophysis - the brain appendage - is explained. The hypophysis determines human characteristics. Its hormones may be described as the most important ones in the organism - they are the hormones of the human shape. A new realm is opening in science: a homunculus was created without any of Faust's retorts. The surgeon's scalpel has brought into being a new human entity. Professor Preobrazhensky you are a creator." 3

They realize that Sharik had been taking in information all along, and now with the addition of these key human components could allow his dog-self to be transformed into something of a human. How body from below the head begins to become more human. As for Sharik's mind, the disjointed information that he had taken in as a dog begins to be blurted out little by little. His mind is undergoing a slow process of awakening from dog to man, the only problem though is that the man part of him was from that Soviet convict. 

A Monster is Born
Sharik quickly becomes quite the disobedient handful, cursing, talking back, causing havoc in the house by attacking and chasing cats. He's sarcastic, disagreeable, and prideful. He learns to drink alcohol and promptly begins to become a drunkard. He also likewise attempts to rape the women of the house. His thoughts are only worsened with Shvondr giving Sharik (now called Sharikov) Leninist literature. 

"Philippovich shouted still more loudly. "You are a creature just in the process of formation, with a feeble intellect. All your actions are the actions of an animal. Yet you permit yourself to speak with utterly insufferable impudence in the presence of two people with a university education--to offer advice on a cosmic scale and of equally cosmic stupidity on how to divide everything . . . And right after gobbling up a boxful of toothpowder too . . . "The day before yesterday," confirmed Bormenthal. "There!" thundered Philip Philippovich. "Just get it straight! Keep your nose out of things--and, inci-dentally, why did you rub off the zine ointment from it?-and remember that you must keep quiet and listen to what you are told. Try to learn, try to become a more or less acceptable member of socialist society. And, by the way, what scoundrel supplied you with that book?" 

"Everybody's a scoundrel to you," said the frightened Sharikov, overwhelmed by the two-sided attack. "I can guess," Philip Philippovich exclaimed, flushing angrily. "Well, so what? So Shvonder gave it to me. He is no scoundrel... To help me develop . . . "I see how you are developing after Kautsky," Philip Philippovich screamed in a falsetto, his face turning yellow. He furiously pressed the button in the wall. "Today's case demonstrates it perfectly. Zina!" "Zina!" cried Bormenthal. "Zina!" howled the terrified Sharikov.

Zina came running. She was pale. "Zina, out there in the waiting room ... It is in the waiting room?" "It is," Sharikov answered submissively. "Green, like vitriol." "A green book ...” "Now they'll burn it," Sharikov cried desperately. "It belongs to the government, it's from the library." "It's called Correspondence--between what's his name, Engels, and that devil .... Into the stove with it. Zina flew out. "I'd hang that Shvonder, I swear I would, on the first dry branch," cried Philip Philippovich, furiously driving his fork into a turkey wing. "The astonishing swine, like an abscess on the house. It's not enough for him to write all sorts of senseless libels in the newspapers . . ." Sharikov began to squint at the professor with ironic malice. Philip Philippovich, in turn, sent him a sidelong glance and broke off." 4

Sharikov gets to the point of debauchery that Dr. Bormenthal wants to kill Sharikov. Philippovich refuses, though, he admits to Sharikov's degeneracy. 

"But, Philip Philippovich, what if that Shvonder goes on meddling with his 'education'? Good God, I am only just beginning to realize what this Sharikov can turn into!" "Ah! It dawned on you? And I realized it ten days after the operation. But the point is that this Shvonder is the worst fool of all. He does not understand that Sharikov is a far greater menace to him than he is to me. Today he does everything to sick him on me, without realizing that if anyone should then turn him against Shvonder himself, nothing will be left of him or his." "But of course! Look at that business with the cats! A man with the heart of a dog." "Oh, no, no," Philip Philippovich sang out. "You are mistaken, Doctor. 

In heaven's name, don't malign the dog. The cats are only temporary . . . It's a question of discipline and two or three weeks. I assure you. Another month or so, and he will stop attacking them." "But why not now?" "Ivan Arnoldovich, that's elementary . .. Really, why are you asking? The hypophysis is not suspended in the air. After all, it was grafted onto a dog's brain. Give it time to take properly. Today Sharikov manifests only the remnants of a dog's nature, and you must realize that the cats are the least of his sins. The whole horror, you see, is that his heart is no longer a dog's heart, but a human one. And the vilest you could find!" Bormenthal, beside himself, clenched his strong, lean hands into fists, moved his shoulders, and said firmly: "Of course, I will kill him!" "I forbid it!" Philip Philippovich replied emphatically". 5

Beginning of the End
Eventually, Sharikov disappears for a few days, then returning having acquired a position in the Communist government. Shvonder had gotten him a position in the city to purge stray animals, such as cats. "This will certify that the bearer of same, Comrade Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, is the director of the sub-station for purging the city of Moscow of stray animals (cats, etc.)". 6 Having returned, Dr. Bormenthal almost chokes Sharikov forcing him to apologize to the women for his abuse, but they allow him back into the house. After a few days, Sharikov appears with a woman who he claims he has hired as a "typist." Philippovich disabused the woman of the lies that Sharikov told her to get her there. Apparently she was a government worker who Sharikov had taken advantage of. 

"'I'll poison myself,' the young lady cried. 'Every day it's corned beef in the cafeteria ... and he threatens ... He says he is a Red commander ... You'll live with me, he says, in a luxurious home ... advances every day ... my psyche, he says, is very kind, it's only cats I hate ... He took my ring for a memento...'". 7

Dr. Bormenthal threatened to shoot Sharikov if he fired her ... and yet Sharikov responds, "'I can find a revolver or two myself...'"

Sharikov gets back at them by issuing this report: "'... and also threatening to kill the house committee chairman, from which it can be seen that he owns firearms. And he makes counterrevolutionary speeches, and even ordered his social servant Zinaida Prokofievna Bunina to throw Engles into the stoves, as an open Menshevik with his assistant Bormenthal, Ivan Arnoldovich, who secretly lives in his apartment without registration. Signed, Director of the purge sub-station P.P. Sharikov...'" 8

Things came to a head when Bormenthal and Philippovich demanded that Sharikov leave the apartment. Sharikov pulled a gun on them, and Bormenthal jump on him and strangled him. That night, the two doctors set to work again in their surgical room. Ten days later, Shvonder and others from the government came to arrest Dr. Bormenthal and Philippovich for the murder of Sharikov ... but little did they expect to see Sharikov back with the mind of an ordinary dog. 

"...to make an arrest, depending on the results." Philip Philippovich narrowed his eyes and asked: "Arrest whom, if I may ask, and on what charges?" The man scratched his cheek and began to read the paper he had taken from his briefcase: "Preobrazhensky, Bormenthal, Zinaida Bunina and Darya Ivanova, on the charge of murdering the director of the purge section of the Moscow Communal Property Administration, Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov." Zina's sobs almost drowned the last words. There was a movement in the crowd. "I don't understand anything," answered Philip Philippovich, raising his shoulders with a royal air. "What Sharikov? Ah, sorry, you mean my dog ... on whom I operated?" "If you will pardon me, Professor, not the dog, but when he was already a man. That's the point.' "You mean, he spoke?" asked Philip Philippovich. "But this does not yet mean being a man. However, that is unimportant. Sharik is still alive, and no one has killed him." "Professor," the black little man said with aston-ishment, raising his eyebrows, "in that case you will have to produce him. He has been missing ten days, and the indications, if you will excuse me, are quite bad." "Doctor Bormenthal, be kind enough to present Sharik to the investigating officer," commanded Philip Philippovich, appropriating the warrant. Dr. Bormenthal went out with a crooked smile. When he returned, he whistled, and a strange dog jumped out after him from the office." 9

And yet, the novel concludes with Philippovich continuing his experiments ... "The dog witnessed doings. The important man plunged his hands dressed in slippery gloves into jars, pulled out brains, a stubborn man, a persistent one, searching for something all the time, cutting, examining, squinting and singing: 'Toward the sacred banks of the Nile...'". 10

1 - Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Heart of a Dog. (New York. Grove Press, 1987). 104
2 - 33
3 - 63
4 - 92, 93
5 - 105
6 - 110
7 - 113
8 - 115
9 - 120
10 - 123