To the delight of those who are not necessarily interested in the latest award-winning novel, but love the good smell of a dusty library — a tiny gem of world literature.
“It was May” is a short text by Mikhail Bulgakov, (1891–1940) the author of “The Master and Margarita”, “Dog’s Heart” and “Fatal Eggs”. A doctor, he left the profession, too subject to government pressure, to devote himself to writing, but ended up shredded in the Soviet machinery. Alive perhaps only thanks to Stalin’s personal sympathy, he was always disliked by the regime, all his works opposed and many forced to be published posthumously. From his death until 1961 none of his works were published in Russia, then, for five or six years, the Bulgakov phenomenon broke out, renewed later in the 1980s. “The Master and Margarita”, the famous novel of the Devil and Pontius Pilate, inspired by Goethe’s “Faust”, was the phantasmagoric work of all his life, with numerous drafts also based on memory, after having personally burned the manuscript.
“It was May” was composed in 1934, conceived as the first chapter of a travel diary, it was never continued because the authorities denied Bulgakov an expatriation visa.
It is spring, the narrator, a playwright easily identifiable with the author, crosses a Moscow, poised between progress and revolutionary conservatism.
“It was May, the beautiful month of May. I walked along the alley, the very one where the Theater is located. It was a nice, smooth, lovely alley where cars passed incessantly. “
Progress is frightening, the machines “scream” in an unpleasant way and frighten the protagonist who is even afraid of dying. This is probably a metaphor for the fear of disappearing, of not existing professionally as well as physically. Confirming his concerns, he runs into a young man, who has just returned from abroad, who criticizes his work and recommends a makeover. It almost seems like the early twentieth-century parody of modern editors armed with scissors:
“The third act has to be done again. The second scene of the third act is to be eliminated, while the first is to be moved to the fourth. That will be fine. “
Let us consider, however, that in addition to artistic censorship, Bulgakov was a victim, throughout his life, of the much more dangerous and oppressive one of the Soviet regime. Always opposed and rejected in every initiative, he affirms “and every day I was dying”. And again, “the cycle ended on the scene”, meaning an eternal circle in which things seem about to change, to renew themselves (May, the promise of spring) but they never do, everything remains unfulfilled, the manuscripts remain in the drawer, the autumn rain takes possession of the alley again, hopes remain a dead letter, “my soul sank, after which something began to tremble in my chest.”
It is a vicious circle of disappointed hopes, seasons that run after each other, acts that follow one another on a stage that is always the same and ends up resembling a cage.
“And May disappeared. Then there was June, July. Then autumn came. And all the rains watered that alley, the sky closed on the scene. “