“The Heart of a Dog”, Chapter VIII – Weekly Reads
One of the difficult questions for residents in Moscow is the issue of housing. As you can find out from Chapter VIII, Mr. Sharikov is already applying for his own housing, and this is not a doghouse, but about Professor Preobrazhensky’s apartment. Unfortunately, this is not the only difficult situation that arises in the course of the plot between Professor Preobrazhensky and Sharikov. Details are given below! Enjoy reading!
There is no telling precisely what risk Philip Philipovich had decided to take. He took no further action for the rest of the week and, possibly as a result of this passivity, life in the flat became excessively eventful. About six days after the business with the water and the cat, the young man who had turned out to be a woman from the house committee came to see Sharikov and presented him with his documents. Sharikov promptly pocketed them and immediately thereafter called Dr. Bormental: “Bormental!”
“Oh, no, you don’t. Please address me by my name and patronymic!” replied Bormental, his face changing. It must be said that, in the course of the six days that had elapsed, the surgeon had quarrelled at least eight times with his protege. The atmosphere in the Obukhov rooms was tense.
“In that case you call me by my name and patronymic!” replied Sharikov with every justification.
“No!” roared Philip Philipovich from the doorway. “I cannot have you called by a name and patronymic like that in my flat. If you wish that we should address you with less familiarity and stop calling you Sharikov, we will call you ‘Mister Sharikov’.”
“I’m no mister, all the misters are in Paris!” Sharikov barked.
“Shvonder’s work!” cried Philip Philipovich. “All right then, I’ll get even with that villain. There will be no one but misters and masters in my flat for as long as I live here! If not — either I shall leave this place, or you will, and most probably it will be you. I shall put a notice in the newspaper today and I am sure we shall soon find a room for you.”
“I’m not such a fool as to leave this place,” Sharikov answered quite distinctly.
“What!” Philip Philipovich gasped and his face changed to such a degree that Bormental flew to his side and tenderly and anxiously took him by the sleeve.
“None of your cheek now, Monsieur Sharikov!” Bormental raised his voice threateningly. Sharikov stepped back and pulled from his pocket three papers: one green, one yellow and one white and, poking his fingers at them, said:
“There you are. I am a member of the accommodation cooperative and I have the indisputable right to 13 square yards of space in flat No. 5, the tenant responsible for which is Professor Preobrazhensky.” Sharikov thought for a moment and added a phrase which Bormental’s mind mechanically registered as new:
“With your kind permission.”
Philip Philipovich caught his lip in his teeth and uncautiously remarked through it:
“I swear I’ll shoot that Shvonder before I’ve finished with him.”
Sharikov was onto the words most attentively and it was clear from his eyes that they had made a sharp impact.
“Philip Philipovich, vorsichtig… ” Bormental began wamingly.
“Well, but you know… Such a dirty trick!” cried Philip Philipovich. “You bear in mind, Sharikov … mister, that I, if you permit yourself one more impertinence, I shall give you no more dinners or any other food in my house. 13 square yards — that is charming, but after all there is nothing in that frog-coloured paper that obliges me to feed you.”
Here Sharikov took fright and his mouth fell open.
“I can’t do without proper nourishment,” he mumbled. “Where’ll I get my grub?”
“In that case behave yourself!” chorused the two esculapians in one voice.
Sharikov became significantly quieter and on that particular day did no further harm to anyone other than himself: making full use of the short space of time Bormental had to leave the house, he got hold of his razor and cut open his own cheekbone so effectively that Philip Philipovich and Dr. Bormental had to sew him up, after which Sharikov continued to howl and weep for a long time. The following night in the green semi-darkness of the study two men were sitting: Philip Philipovich and his faithful, devoted assistant Bormental. Everyone in the house was asleep. Philip Philipovich was in his azure dressing-gown and red slippers, Bormental in his shirt-sleeves and blue braces. On the round table between the doctors next to a plump album stood a bottle of cognac, a saucer with slices of lemon and a cigar-box. The scholars, having filled the room with smoke, were hotly discussing the latest event: that evening Sharikov had appropriated two ten-rouble notes that had been lying under a paper-weight, disappeared from the flat and returned late and stone-drunk. But this was not all. With him had appeared two persons unknown who had made an unseemly din on the front stairs and declared their intention of spending the night as Sharikov’s guests. The aforesaid persons had only taken their departure after Fyodor, who had been present at the spectacle in a light autumn coat thrown over his underwear, had rung up the forty-fifth department of the militia. The two persons took their departure instantly, as soon as Fyodor had put down the telephone. After they had gone it was discovered that the malachite ash-tray from the shelf beneath the mirror in the hall had vanished, no one knew where, and likewise Philip Philipovich’s beaver hat and his cane, on which was inscribed in flowing gold letters: “To dear and respected Philip Philipovich from his grateful graduates on the day…” and then, in Roman figures, the number XXV.
“Who are they?” Philip Philipovich advanced on Sharikov with clenched fists. Swaying and shrinking back amongst the fur coats, Sharikov declared that the persons were unknown to him, that they were not just any old sons of bitches, but good people.
“The most extraordinary thing is that they were both drunk. How did they manage it?” asked Philip Philipovich in amazement, gazing at the place on the rack where the souvenir of the anniversary had once stood.
“Professionals,” explained Fyodor, heading back to bed with a rouble in his pocket.
Sharikov categorically denied taking the two ten-rouble notes and in doing so dropped dark hints as to the fact that he was not the only one in the flat.
“Aha, then possibly it was Doctor Bormental who pinched the notes?” inquired Philip Philipovich in a quiet voice tinged with menace.
Sharikov rocked on his feet, opened totally glazed eyes and suggested:
“Perhaps that slut Zina took them…”
“What’s that?” screamed Zina, materialising in the doorway like an apparition, and clasping her unbuttoned blouse to her breast with the palm of her hand. “How could he…”
Philip Philipovich’s neck was suffused with crimson.
“Calm yourself, Zina dear,” he pronounced, holding out his hand to her. “Don’t worry, we will deal with this.”
Zina promptly burst into tears, her mouth going right down at the comers, and the little hand jumping on her collar bone.
“There, there, Zina, you should be ashamed of yourself! Who could possibly think such a thing! Fie, what a disgrace!” Bormental broke out, at a loss.
“Well, Zina, you are a fool, God forgive me,” Philip Philipovich began saying. But at that moment Zina’s lament stopped of its own accord and they all fell silent. Sharikov was clearly unwell. Knocking his head against the wall he emitted a sound, something between “ee” and “eh” — something like “eh-ee-eh!” — his face turned pale, and his jaw began to work in spasms.
“A bucket, bring the scoundrel the bucket from the consulting room.” And they all rushed round ministering to Sharikov in his sickness. When he was led off to bed, staggering along, supported by Bormental, he cursed very tenderly and melodiously, struggling to get his tongue round the ugly words.
All this had happened in the small hours at about one o’clock and now it was around three, but the two in the study were still wide awake, stimulated by the cognac and lemon. They had so filled the room with smoke that it rose and fell in slow layers, not even wavering.
Doctor Bormental, pale-faced, the light of purpose in his eyes, raised his wasp-waisted glass.
“Philip Philipovich!” he exclaimed warmly. “I shall never forget how I first came to make your acquaintance as a half-starved student and how you gave me a place at the faculty. Believe me, Philip Philipovich, you are much more to me than a professor, a teacher… My respect for you is unbounded… Permit me to embrace you, dear Philip Philipovich.”
“Yes, my dear fellow,” Philip Philipovich murmured in embarrassment and rose to meet him. Bormental embraced him and planted a kiss on the downy moustaches, now thoroughly impregnated with cigar smoke.
“Honestly, Philip Phili…”
“So touched, so touched — thank you,” said Philip Philipovich. “Dear boy, I shout at you sometimes during operations. Y ou must forgive an old man’s peppery nature. In fact, I am very lonely, you see… From Seville to Granada… “
“Philip Philipovich, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! ” cried out the fiery Bormental. “If you don’t want to offend me, never say such things to me again.”
“Well, thank you… To the sacred shores of the Nile… Thank you … and I have come to love you as a most capable doctor.”
“Philip Philipovich, let me tell you!” exclaimed Bormental with passion, leapt up from his chair and tightly closed the door leading into the corridor, then, having returned to his place, continued in a whisper: “That is — the only way out! It is not for me, of course, give you advice, Philip Philipovich, but just take a look at yourself. You are completely exhausted, you can’t continue to work in these circumstances!”
“Quite impossible,” admitted Philip Philipovich with a sigh.
“Well, and that is unthinkable,” whispered Bormental. “Last time you said youwere afraid for my sake, and I was so touched, if only you knew how touched, dear Professor. But I am not a child, after all, and I am well aware what terrible consequences there could be. But it is my firm opinion that there is no other way out.”
Philip Philipovich rose, made a gesture of rejection and exclaimed: “Do not tempt me, do not even talk about it!” The Professor took a turn about the room, emitting waves of smoke. “I won’t even listen. You must understand what would happen if we were discovered. Neither you nor I’ given our social origins’ will have the least chance of getting away with it, in spite of the fact that we should be first offenders. At least, I suppose your origins are not of the right sort, are they, dear boy?”
“What a hope! My father was a police investigator in Vilnius,” replied Bormental bitterly, finishing off his cognac.
“Well, there you are then, what more could you ask? That is a bad heredity. Hard to imagine anything more damaging. By the way, though, I’m wrong, mine is worse still. My father was a cathedral archpriest. Merci. From Seville to Granada… in the still of the night … there it is, damn it.”
“Philip Philipovich, you are a great man, world famous, and just because of some son-of-a-bitch, if you’ll excuse the expression… Surely they can’t touch you, what are you saying?”
“All the more reason not to do it,” retorted Philip Philipovich thoughtfully, pausing and looking round at the glass cupboard.
“Because you are not world famous.”
“Well, of course.”
“There you are, you see. And to desert a colleague in such a fix while remaining high and dry oneself on the pinnacle of one’s own world fame, forgive me… I am a Moscow student, not a Sharikov.”
Philip Philipovich raised his shoulders proudly which made him look like an ancient French king.
“Heigh-ho, Philip Philipovich,” sighed Bormental sadly. “That means you will wait until we manage to make a ‘ real’ human being out of this hooligan? Is that it?”
Philip Philipovich stopped him with a gesture, poured himself some cognac, sipped, sucked a section of lemon and said:
“Ivan Arnoldovich, I would like your opinion: do I understand anything in the anatomy and physiology of, let us say, the hypophysis of the human brain. What do you think?”
“Philip Philipovich, how could you ask?” replied Bormental ardently, throwing out his hands.
“All right then. Without false modesty. I also consider that I am not the last specialist in that field here in Moscow.”
“And I consider that you are the first — not only in Moscow but in London or Oxford!” Bormental broke in with ardour.
“Well, all right, let us assume that is so. Well then, future Professor Bormental: that is something no one could perform successfully. And there’s an end to it. It’s not worth considering. You can quote me. Preobrazhensky said:
“Finita. Klim!” Philip Philipovich cried out solemnly and the cupboard answered him with a clink. “Klim,” he repeated. “There it is, Bormental, you are the first follower of my school and, apart from that, as I realised today, you are my friend. And so I will tell you in secret and as a friend — of course, I know that you won’t hold me up to ridicule — that Preobrazhensky, the old donkey, went into that operation as irresponsibly as a third-year student. It’s true we made a discovery and you yourself are aware of what significance,” here Philip Philipovich made a tragic gesture with both hands towards the window curtain as if embracing the whole of Moscow, “but just keep in mind, Ivan Arnoldovich, that the only result of this discovery will be that we shall all be fed up with this Sharikov to here,” Preobrazhensky slapped his own full, apoplectic neck. “You may rest assured of that! If only someone,” continued Philip Philipovich in an ecstasy of self-reproach, “would fling me down on the floor here and flog me, I’d pay him fifty roubles, I swear I could. From Seville to Granada… The devil take me… I sat there for five years digging the pituitaries out of brains. You know how much work I got through — I can hardly believe it myself. And now the question arises — why? In order one fine day to transform a most likeable dog into such a nasty piece of work it makes the hair stand on end.”
“I quite agree with you. There you see, Doctor, what happens when a scholar, instead of advancing parallel to and feeling his way in step with nature, decides to force a question and raise the curtain: out pops a Sharikov and there you are, like him or lump him.”
“Philip Philipovich, and if it had been Spinoza’s brain?”
“Yes!” Philip Philipovich snapped. “Yes! If only the poor unfortunate dog doesn’t die under the knife, and you’ve seen what kind of an operation it is. In a word, I, Philip Preobrazhensky, have never done anything more difficult in my life. It’s possible to take the hypophysis of a Spinoza or any other creature you care to name and make a dog into something extremely high-standing. But why, why the hell? That’s the question. Explain to me, please, why we should set about manufacturing artificial Spinozas, when any simple peasant woman can give birth to one at the drop of a hat. After all, Madame Lomonosova bore that famous son of hers in Kholmogory (9)” Doctor, humanity-takes care of all that for us in her own good time and according to the order of evolution, and by distinguishing from the mass of the low and the lowly, she creates a few dozen exceptional geniuses to grace this earth of ours. Now you see, Doctor, why I faulted your conclusions on the case history of Sharik. My discovery, devil take it and swallow it whole, is of as much use as a sick headache. Don’t argue with me, Ivan Arnoldovich. I’ve understood it all now. I never talk hot air, you know that. Theoretically it’s interesting. All right, then! Physiologists will be in ecstasy. Moscow will go crazy… But, practically speaking, what will happen? Who do you see before you now?” Preobrazhensky pointed in the direction of the consulting room, where Sharikov was taking his rest.
“An exceptionally nasty bit of work.”
“But who is he? Klim!” cried the professor. “Klim Chugunov. (Bormental’s mouth fell open.) That’s who he is: two criminal convictions, alcoholism, ‘ share out everything’, the fur hat and two ten-rouble notes gone. (At this point Philip Philipovich remembered the anniversary cane and turned crimson.) A lewd fellow and a swine … well, I’ll find that cane. In a word, the hypophysis is a closed chamber which contains the blueprint for the individual human personality. The individual personality! From Seville to Granada…” Philip Philipovich cried out, his eyes flashing fiercely, “and not just general human traits. It is a miniature of the brain itself. And I have no use for it whatsoever, the devil take it. I was on the look-out for something absolutely different, for eugenics, for a way to improve human nature. And then I got on to rejuvenation. Surely you don’t think that I just do these operations for money? I am a scholar, after all.”
“You are a great scholar, and that’s the truth!” uttered Bormental, sipping at his cognac. His eyes were bloodshot.
“I wanted to make a small experiment after I first obtained the extraction of the sexual hormone from the hypophysis two years ago. And what happened instead of that? Oh, my God! These hormones in the hypophysis, oh Lord… Doctor, all I see before me is dull despair and, I must confess, I have lost my way.”
Bormental suddenly rolled up his sleeves and pronounced, squinting down his nose:
“Very well, then, dear teacher, if you don’t want to I will feed him arsenic myself at my own risk. I don’t care if Papa was a police investigator. After all, in the final analysis it is your own experimental creature.”
Philip Philipovich had lost his fire, softened up, fallen back in the armchair, and said:
“No, I can’t allow you to do that, dear boy. I am 60 years old and can give you some advice. Never commit a crime against anybody whatsoever. That’s how you’ll grow old with clean hands.”
“But Philip Philipovich, for goodness sake. If that Shvonder gets working on him again, what will become of him! My God, I’m only just beginning to realise the potential of that Sharikov!”
“Aha! So you’ve understood now, have you? I understood it ten days after the operation. Shvonder, of course, is the biggest fool of all. He doesn’t understand that Sharikov represents a greater threat to him than to me. At this stage he’ll make every effort to sick him onto me not realising that, if someone in their turn decides to sick Sharikov onto Shvonder, there’ll be nothing left of him but a few flying feathers.”
“Yes indeed. The cats alone are proof enough of that. A man with the heart of a dog.”
“Ah no, no,” Philip Philipovich said slowly in answer. “You, Doctor, are making a very great mistake, pray do not libel the dog. The cats are temporary… That is just a matter of discipline and two or three weeks. I assure you. In a month or two he will have stopped chasing them.”
“And why not now?”
“Elementary, Ivan Arnoldovich… How .can you ask? The hypophysis is not suspended in thin air. It is attached to the brain of a dog, after all. Give it time to adapt. At this stage Sharikov is exhibiting only residuary canine behavioural traits and, understand this, chasing cats is quite the best thing he does. You have to realise that the whole horror of the thing is that he already has not the heart of a dog but the heart of a man. And one of the most rotten in nature!”
Bormental, worked up to the last degree, clenched his strong thin hands into fists, twitched his shoulders and announced firmly:
“That’s it. I’ll kill him!”
“I forbid it!” categorically replied Philip Philipovich.
“But for heaven’s sake…”
Philip Philipovich suddenly raised his finger and listened tensely.
“Just a moment. I thought I heard footsteps.”
Both listened but all was silent in the corridor.
“Must have imagined it,” pronounced Philip Philipovich and went off into a tirade in German, punctuated by one Russian word ugolovshchina (criminal offence), pronounced more than once.
“Just a moment.” It was Bormental this time, who gave the alert and moved towards the door. This time the steps were clearly to be heard approaching the study. Apart from this, there was a voice, muttering something. Bormental flung open the door and sprang back in amazement. Thunderstruck, Philip Philipovich froze in his armchair.
In the lighted quadrangle of the corridor, Darya Petrovna stood before them clad only in her nightslip, her face flaming and militant. Both the doctor and theProfessor were blinded by the abundance of her mighty and, as it seemed to them both from their first fright, totally naked body. In her powerful arms Darya Petrovna was dragging something, and that “something” was struggling and sitting on its rump and trying to dig its small legs covered with down into the parquet.
The “something”, of course, turned out to be Sharikov, totally confused, still rather drunk, unkempt and dressed only in his night-shirt.
Darya Petrovna, grandiose and naked, shook Sharikov like a sack of potatoes and pronounced the following words:
“Take a good look at him, Professor, Sir, at our visitor — Telegraph Telegraphovich. I’m a married woman, but Zina is an innocent girl. It’s a good thing I was the one to wake up.”
Having concluded this speech, Darya Petrovna was overcome by confusion, squealed, covered her breasts with her arms and ran.
“Darya Petrovna, pardon us, for goodness sake,” the blushing Philip Philipovich called after her, coming to himself.
Bormental rolled up his shirt-sleeves and advanced on Sharikov. Philip Philipovich took one look at his eyes and was horrified by what he saw there.
“Doctor, what are you doing? I forbid…”
Bormental took Sharikov by the collar and shook him so violently that the shirt front split.
Philip Philipovich waded in to separate them and began to extract skinny little Sharikov from those strong surgeon’s hands.
“You have no right to hit me!” shouted the half-strangled Sharikov, sitting down and sobering up rapidly.
“Doctor!” thundered Philip Philipovich. Bormental came to himself somewhat and let go of Sharikov.
“All right then,” hissed Bormental, “we’ll wait till morning. I’ll deal with him when he’s sober.” He then tucked Sharikov under one arm and hauled him off to the consulting room to sleep. Sharikov made some attempt to resist but his legs would not obey him. Philip Philipovich stood legs astride so that his azure dressing gown fell open, raised hands and eyes to the ceiling light in the corridor and remarked:
9. “After all, Madame Lomonosova bore that famous son of hers in Kholmogory…” M. V. Lomonosov (1711-1765), the first Russian natural scientist of world standing, also a poet, artist and historian. Kholmogory — a village in Archangel Province.
Source: The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov Translated by Avril Pyman Mikhail Bulgakov 1925 English translation copyright Raduga Publishers Moscow 1990