“The Heart of a Dog”, Chapter VII – Weekly Reads

Dear friends!

Mr. Sharikov, like any ordinary Muscovite, drinks vodka, reads literature and goes to the circus. Little can be said about the fact that Sharikov used to lead a dog’s life in the truest sense of the word. But will everything go smoothly for Mr. Sharikov? You can find out in Chapter VII. Happy reading!

Chapter VII

“No, no and no!” said Bormental insistently. “Be so good as to tuck in your napkin.” 

“What’s wrong now, for God’s sake,” growled Sharikov crossly.

“Thank you, Doctor,” said Philip Philipovich gratefully. “I’m tired of making critical remarks.”

“I will not allow you to eat till you tuck it in. Zina, take the mayonnaise from Sharikov.”

“What do you mean ‘take’?” Sharikov was upset. “I’m tucking it in.”

With his left hand he hid the dish from Zina and with his right put the napkin into his collar which at once made him look like a client at the barber’s.

“And please use your fork,” added Bormental.

Sharikov gave a long sigh and began to fish for pieces of sturgeon in the thick sauce.

“Another glass of vodka?” he announced on a tentative note.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” asked Bormental. “You’ve been making rather free with the vodka lately.”

“Do you grudge it?” Sharikov inquired, darting a glance at him from under his brows.

“Nonsense…” declared the austere Philip Philipovich, but Bormental interrupted.

“Don’t trouble yourself, Philip Philipovich. Leave it to me. You, Sharikov, are talking rubbish and what is particularly tiresome is that you do so with complete assurance, as though what you say admitted no argument. Of course I don’t grudge the vodka, all the more as it belongs to Philip Philipovich. Simply — it’s bad for you. That’s in the first place and, in the second, your behaviour leaves much to be desired even without vodka.” Bormental pointed to the strips glued over the glass of the sideboard.

“Zina, give me some more fish, please,” pronounced the Professor. Sharikov, in the meantime, had stretched out for the decanter and, casting a sidelong look at Bormental, had poured himself a small glass.

“And then you should offer it to other people,” said Bormental. “And in this order. First Philip Philipovich, then me, then yourself.”

Sharikov’s mouth curved into a scarcely distinguishable satirical smile and he poured out a glass of vodka all round.

“Everything here’s like on parade,” he said, “the napkin here, the tie there, and ‘excuse me’, and ‘please-merci’, and nothing natural, you torment yourselves as though you were still under the tsar.”

“And what is ‘natural’, may I ask?”

Sharikov did not volunteer any answer to Philip Philipovich but raised his glass and pronounced:

“Well, I wish you all…”

“And the same to you,” responded Bormental, not without irony.

Sharikov downed the content of his glass, made a face, raised a piece of bread to his nose, sniffed it, then swallowed it, during which procedure his eyes filled with tears.

“An old hand,” remarked Philip Philipovich, apropos of nothing in particular, as if in a deep revery.

Bormental glanced at him in surprise.

“I beg your pardon…”

“An old hand!” repeated Philip Philipovich and shook his head bitterly. “There’s nothing to be done about it — Klim.”

Bormental’s eyes met Philip Philipovich’s with acute interest.

“You think, Philip Philipovich?”

“I don’t think, I am quite convinced.” “Surely,” began Bormental and checked himself, glancing at Sharikov, who was frowning suspiciously.

“Spater, ” said Philip Philipovich quietly in German. “Gut, ” replied the assistant.

Zina brought in the turkey. Bormental poured Philip Philipovich some red wine and offered it to Sharikov.

“I don’t want that. I’d rather have another vodka.” His face had become shiny, there was sweat on his forehead and he seemed in better spirits. Even Philip Philipovich was rather more kindly disposed after the wine. His eyes cleared, he looked upon Sharikov, whose black head sat squatly on the napkin like a fly in sour-cream, with more benevolence. Bormental, however, having taken refreshment, felt a desire for action.

“Well now, what shall you and I do this evening?” he asked Sharikov.

The latter blinked and said:

“Go to the circus, I like that best.”

“Every day to the circus,” remarked Philip Philipovich good-naturedly. “That must be rather boring, I should think. In your place I would go to the theatre at least once.”

“I won’t go to the theatre,” snarled Sharikov with animosity and made the sign of the cross over his mouth.

“Belching at table spoils other people’s appetite,” remarked Bormental automatically. “But forgive me … why, in fact, do you dislike the theatre?”

Sharikov put his empty vodka glass to his eye as though it were a pair of binoculars, thought and pouted.

“Well, it’s all a lot of playing the fool… talk, talk, talk … pure counter-revolution.”

Philip Philipovich tilted back his gothic chair and laughed so much that the golden stockade in his mouth gleamed and sparkled. Bormental only shook his head.

“You really ought to read something,” he said, “or else, don’t you know…”

“I do read, I read a lot,” replied Sharikov and suddenly, with predatory speed poured himself half a glass of vodka.

“Zina,” called Philip Philipovich anxiously. “Clear away the vodka, child. We won’t be needing it any more. What are you reading?”

Before his mind’s eye arose a picture of a desert island, a palm tree, a man in skins and a cap. “You should try Robinson…”

“That … what do they call it … correspondence between Engels and … what’s the blighter’s name … Kautsky.”

Bormental’s fork stopped half way to his mouth with a piece of white meat on the end of it. Philip Philipovich spilt some wine. Sharikov, meanwhile, took advantage of the situation to knock back his vodka. Philip Philipovich, elbows on table, gazed at Sharikov attentively and asked:

“I would be interested to hear what you have to say about what you have read?” Sharikov shrugged his shoulders.

“I disagree.”

“With whom? With Engels or with Kautsky?”

“With both.”

“This is quite remarkable, by God. Everyone who says that another … and what would you suggest for your part?”

“What’s the use of suggesting? As it is they write and they write … congress, various Germans… Fills your head with a lot of wind. The thing to do is to take everything, then divide it equally.”

“That’s just what I thought!” exclaimed Philip Philipovich, slapping the table with the palm of his hand. “That’s just what I supposed.”

“How would you set about it?” asked Bormental, intrigued.

“How I’d set about it?” Sharikov was eager to talk after the vodka. “That’s easy. What you’ve got now, for instance: one person has settled into seven rooms and has forty pairs of trousers while another is a homeless tramp looking for his food in rubbish bins.”

“When you speak of seven rooms you are, of course, referring to me?” Philip Philipovich narrowed his eyes proudly. Sharikov drew his head in between his shoulders and said nothing.

“Well, that’s fine then, I’m not against a fair division. How many people did you turn away yesterday, Doctor?”

“39,” answered Bormental promptly.

“Hm, 390 roubles. Well, if the three men take the sin on themselves (we won’t count the ladies: Zina and Darya Petrovna) that will be 130 roubles from you, Sharikov. Be so good as to make your contribution.”

“That’s a fast one,” replied Sharikov, taking fright. “What’s that for?”

“For the tap and for the cat,” snapped Philip Philipovich, emerging from his state of ironic detachment.

“Philip Philipovich!” exclaimed Bormental anxiously.

“Wait. For the chaos you created and for making it impossible for me to attend to my reception. It is intolerable. A human being goes leaping round the flat like something just down from the trees, tearing out taps. Who killed Madame Polasukher’s cat? Who…”

“And, Sharikov, two days ago you bit a lady on the stairs,” added Bormental.

“You stand…” roared Philip Philipovich.

“But she slapped my face,” squealed Sharikov. “My face isn’t public property.”

“Because you had pinched her bosom!” cried Bormental, upsetting his glass.

“You stand…”

“You stand on the lowest rung of evolution!” Philip Philipovich outshouted him. “You are a being just beginning to take form, still weak from the intellectual point of view, all your actions are purely bestial, and in the presence of two people with university education you dare to let yourself go in the most unforgivable manner and offer advice of a positively cosmic nature with positively cosmic stupidity about how everything should be divided up … and at the same time you do things like eating the tooth powder…”

“The day before yesterday,” Bormental backed him up.

“So, Sir, I am forced to rub your nose (and why, by the way, have you rubbed the zinc ointment off it?), I am forced to rub your nose in the fact that your business is to keep quiet and listen to what you’re told, to learn and try to become a reasonably acceptable member of the community. Besides which, what scoundrel was it who gave you that book?”

“Everyone’s a scoundrel to you,” answered Sharikov nervously, confounded by the attack from both flanks.

“I can guess!” exclaimed Philip Philipovich red with anger.

“Well, and what if he did? Well, Shvonder gave it to me. He’s not a scoundrel … it’s to develop my mind…”

“I can see how it’s been developing after Kautsky!” Philip Philipovich cried shrilly, turning yellow. At this point he furiously pressed the bell on the wall.

“What happened today is the best possible proof of that. Zina!”

“Zina!” called Bormental.

“Zina!” yelled the frightened Sharikov.

Zina came running palefaced.

“Zina, in the reception room, there … is it in the reception room?”

“In the reception room,” answered Sharikov meekly. “Green as venom.”

“A green book…”

“Now you’ll go and burn it!” Sharikov exclaimed in despair. “It’s public property, from the library.”

“The Correspondence, it’s called, between what’s his name … er … Engels and that other devil… into the fire with it!”  Zina sped away.

“I would hang that Shvonder from the first dry branch, I give you my word!” cried Philip Philipovich, attacking the wing of his turkey. “The poisonous fellow sits in the house like a boil. Quite apart from the fact that he writes all kinds of libellous gossip for the newspapers…”

Sharik began to steal the odd malicious, ironic glances at the Professor. Philip Philipovich glanced across at him in his turn and fell silent.

Oh, nothing good will come of us three being in this flat, thought Bormental prophetically.

Zina brought in on a round plate a rum-baba, russet on the right side and rosy on the left, and the coffee pot.

“I’ll not eat that,” announced Sharikov with defiant repulsion.

“Nobody’s asking you. Behave. Doctor, may I?”

The meal was finished in silence. Sharikov produced a squashed cigarette from his pocket and began puffing smoke. Having finished his coffee, Philip Philipovich looked at his watch, pressed the repeater, and it tenderly chimed quarter past eight. Philip Philipovich tilted back his gothic chair and reached for the newspaper on the side-table.

“Doctor, I beg you, go to the circus with him. Only check carefully through the programme and make sure there are no cats.”

“How can they let such trash into a circus?” remarked Sharikov darkly, shaking his head.

“They let in all sorts,” retorted Philip Philipovich ambiguously. “What’s on there tonight?”

“Solomonsky has four … things called Yussems ,Hl and a spinning man,” Bormental began to read out.

“What are Yussems?” inquired Philip Philipovich suspiciously.

“Goodness knows. I’ve never met the word before.”

“In that case you’d better look through the Nikitins’. One must have things clear.”

“The Nikitins, the Nikitins … hm … have elephants and the ultimate in human dexterity.”

“Right. What have you to say to elephants, dear Sharikov?” Philip Philipovich asked Sharikov mistrustfully.

He took offence.

“You may think I don’t understand, but I do,” Sharikov replied. “Cats are different. Elephants are useful animals.”

“Well then, that’s settled. If they are useful, then go and take a look at them. Do as Ivan Arnoldovich tells you. And don’t get talking with strangers in the buffet. Ivan Arnoldovich, please do not treat Sharikov to beer.”

Ten minutes later Ivan Arnoldovich and Sharikov, dressed in a cap with a duck-bill peak and a cloth coat with raised collar, left for the circus. In the flat there was silence. Philip Philipovich was in his study. He lit the lamp under the heavy green shade, from which it immediately became very peaceful in the huge study, and began to pace the room. The end of his cigar glowed long and hot with a pale green fire. The Professor’s hands were thrust deep into his trouser pockets and unhappy thoughts tormented his learned brow with the smoothly combed sparse hair. He made little chucking sounds, singing between his teeth: “To the sacred shores of the Nile…” and muttering something. Finally, he laid the cigar across the ash-tray, went to a cupboard entirely made of glass and lit the whole study with three extremely powerful projector lamps on the ceiling. From the cupboard, from the third glass shelf, Philip Philipovich pulled out a narrow jar and began to examine it, frowning in the light of the lamps. In the transparent, viscose liquid swam suspended, not touching the bottom, a small white lump — extracted from the depth of Sharik’s brain. Shrugging his shoulders, his lips twisted in an ironic smile, Philip Philipovich devoured it with his eyes, as though he wanted to discover from the unsinkable white lump the mainspring of the startling events which had turned upside down the whole course of life in the Prechistenka flat.

It is quite possible that the great scholar did in fact make such a discovery. At least, having looked his fill at the brain appendage, he put the jar away in the cupboard, locked it with a key, slipped the key into his waistcoat pocket and flung himself, hunching his shoulders and thrusting his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket, onto the leather sofa. For a long time he puffed away at his second cigar, chewing the end quite to pieces and finally, in total solitude, glowing green like a silver-haired Faust, he exclaimed:

“As God is my witness, I believe I’ll take the risk.”

To that, no one made any reply. All sound ceased in the flat. In Obukhov Alley, as everyone knows, all traffic falls silent after 1 1 o’clock. Very occasionally came the sound of the distant footsteps of some belated passer-by, they pattered past somewhere behind the thick curtains and died away. In the study Philip Philipovich’s repeater watch chimed softly beneath his finger from the small pocket… The Professor impatiently awaited the return of Dr. Bormental and Sharikov.


    1. Yussems — a family of Spanish acrobats who gave guest performances at the Moscow circus during this period.

Source: The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov Translated by Avril Pyman Mikhail Bulgakov 1925 English translation copyright Raduga Publishers Moscow 1990