Literature: Heart of a Dog
"The whole horror of the situation is that he now has a human heart, not a dog's heart
. And about the rottenest heart in all creation!"
A 1925 novella by Mikhail Bulgakov, about a dog turned by Russian scientists into a human and back
. As it was typical of blatantly anti-Soviet works, it was not published in the Soviet Union until the Perestroika
, in 1987.
The narration begins from the perspective of a sickly stray dog freezing to death on the streets of Moscow. The dog is adopted by Professor Filipp Preobrazhensky, a brilliant surgeon who specializes in rejuvenation operations, for an impending experiment, and gradually heals in his absurdly spacious (by Soviet standards) seven-room apartment that also serves as his clinic. However, just as the dog, nicknamed Sharik (a common Russian dog name), begins to acclimate, it is taken to an unexpected operation by Preobrashenzky and his assistant Dr. Bormental, who implant it the pituitary gland and testicles of a recently deceased criminal.
While it is meant to be a rejuvenation experiment, unexpectedly to the doctors, Sharik's dog features gradually fade away and he transforms into a man, who, with the encouragement of local bureaucrat Shvonder, adopts the nonsensical name Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov, paralleling absurd "revolutionary" names that were popular in the first few years after the October. Sharikov's rudeness and simple-mindedness, in stark contrast to the gentlemanly professor, make him an ideal leverage in Shvonder's hands to force Preobrazhensky out of his luxurious apartment. Dealing with Sharikov's whims and transgressions, evidently inherited from the previous owner of the transplanted organs, eventually occupies so much of Preobrazhensky's attention that he is forced to practically abandon his surgeries. In the end, after Sharikov's attempt to sic secret police on him, Preobrazhensky turns Sharikov back into a dog.
Critics usually interpret Heart of a Dog
as a Take That
against the "New Soviet Man
" archetype that the Bolsheviks were quick to invoke, depicting Sharikov (and Shvonder, who parallels him in many aspects) as a realistic result
of the revolution, embodying its worst qualities; the kind of uncultured collaborationist simpleton that Bulgakov detested.
The book was adapted in 1988 by Vladimir Bortko into a highly successful film, which followed the original text very closely. Bortko later went to direct a TV miniseries adaptation of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
Provides examples of:
- Ambiguous Gender: One of Shvonder's subordinates. The second thing Preobrazhensky asks (after calmly telling them all to take their shoes off) is, "Are you a man or a woman?", to which he receives a proud response, "What's the difference, comrade?" Turns out one of them is a woman dressed as a man, and blushes when admitting that fact.
- One should note that she wasn't specifically cross-dressing, it's just that revolutionary fashion was extremely uniform and unisex at that time. And when the professor asks her if she's a man or woman, she takes it as an insult, part of his disgraceful reactionist ideas of an "Old world" where men and women were unequal (or just, you know, to him being a jerkass).
- Author Tract: Preobrazhensky's "counter-revolutionary" speeches. Bulgakov was not a big fan of the regime, and this trait often bled into his protagonists. In particular, he blames the ruin and decay that plagues the country on the Soviet citizens themselves.
"I'll tell you what it is: if instead of operating every evening I were to start a glee club in my apartment, that would mean that I was on the road to ruin. If when I go to the lavatory I don't pee, if you'll excuse the expression, into the bowl but on to the floor instead and if Zina and Darya Petrovna were to do the same thing, the lavatory would be ruined. Ruin, therefore, is not caused by lavatories but it's something that starts in people's heads. So when these clowns start shouting 'Stop the ruin!' — I laugh! I swear to you, I find it laughable! Every one of them needs to hit himself on the back of the head and then when he has knocked all the hallucinations out of himself and gets on with sweeping out backyards — which is his real job — all this ruin will automatically disappear. You can't serve two gods! You can't sweep the dirt out of the tram tracks and settle the fate of the Spanish beggars at the same time! No one can ever manage it, doctor — and above all it can't be done by people who are two hundred years behind the rest of Europe and who so far can't even manage to do up their own fly-buttons properly
- Body Horror: Sharikov's dog-to-human transformation is described in disturbing detail.
- Dirty Old Man: One of Preobrazhensky's clients is one.
"Would you believe it, professor - hordes of naked girls every night. I am absolutely entranced. You're a magician.'"
- Disproportionate Retribution: Sharikov's ultimate fate may look like this. At the end of the book he gets "downgraded" to a dog—effectively murdered. He was a thoroughly nasty piece of work, he lied, sexually harassed women, and sadistically killed cats, but all that doesn't exactly warrant death, right? But that's not the whole story. The deed that leads to his "downgrading" is his letter to the secret police about Preobrazhensky's anti-Soviet views—which, then and there, was tantamount to murder attempt (and misfired only because Preobrazhensky had some grateful patients in high places).
- Dr. Jerk: Preobrazhensky is brilliant surgeon, but he's also an arrogant and self-indulgent hedonist, who holds the surrounding "vulgar" world in utter contempt.
- Eccentric Exterminator: Sharikov, once he gets assigned to rid Moscow of stray cats.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Sharikov clearly was on that way. Thankfully, he was stopped half-way.
- Genre Blind: Preobrazhensky, using the "spare parts" from an unemployed drunkard and bully in his experiment.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: Preobrazhensky and Bormental.
- German Russians: Doctor Bormental.
- Gone Horribly Right
- Homage: To Frankenstein (scientist creates a new humanoid entity who is embittered toward his creator for not giving him affection) and to The Island of Doctor Moreau (scientist uplifts at least one animal, but the creations are still ruled by their animal instincts).
- Humanity Ensues
- Insufferable Genius: Preobrazhensky is a very arrogant man.
- Jerk Ass: Protagonist (Preobrazhensky) and his antagonists (Sharikov and Shvonder) are jerks.
- Manchild: Literally. Sharikov is technically several months old.
- Meaningful Name:
- Preobrazhensky stems from the Russian word from "transfiguration", which is what the professor does to his patients and to Sharik.
- "Poligraf Poligrafovich" means "Rotogravure, son of Rotogravure". The name is a parody of similarly nonsensical revolution-themed names that were popular for naming Soviet children around that time.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Schvonder. He's only obstructive to Preobrazhensky, though. To Sharikov, he's downright helpful, albeit for his own selfish reasons. (And Preobrazhensky predicts that eventually Shvonder would outlive his usefulness to Sharikov...)
- The Professor: Preobrazhensky, obviously.
- Parental Neglect: Let's face it, Probrazhensky never shows an ounce of love or care for his own creation, but only scorn and sarcasm, which, surprisingly for nobody except him, leads to:
- Turned Against Their Masters
- Ultimate Job Security: Preobrazhensky gets away with regularly flipping off the house committee, lives technically alone in seven rooms while most of his contemporaries barely get one, spits out blatantly anti-Soviet views and nostalgically longs for the cultured old times. He can afford it because not only is he really good at his job, the authorities use his surgery services as well.
"You know, professor," said the girl with a deep sigh, "if you weren't world-famous and if you weren't being protected by certain people in the most disgusting way," (the fair youth tugged at the hem of her jerkin, but she brushed him away), "which we propose to investigate, you should be arrested."
- While Rome Burns: Despite Preobrazhenskiy's seething diatrabe about "ruin in the heads" the undeniable fact is that he does live in times of post-war ruin and turmoil, and the attempts to denude a couple rooms out of his obscenely huge appartement are made not out of greed or for profit, but out of pure neccessity. He doesn't care.
- Your Cheating Heart: One of Preobrazhensky's clients is a middle-aged woman whose husband is cheating on her with a younger girl. The client came for one of Preobrazhensky's "rejuvenation" treatments under the assumption that an improved libido would discourage her husband from seeking satisfaction elsewhere.
The Bortko film adaptation provides the above tropes, plus: