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It’s not much of a plaque, and, frankly, it’s not much of a reason for one: A “house where M.A. Bulgakov spent time.” Russian cultural bureaucrats haven’t honored many others with memorial plaques for such a skimpy reason. I would hazard to guess that only Pushkin and Lenin get similar treatment. As for the plaque, it’s not one of those nice ones done by some artist getting a cushy commission; just one of those functional things that lets you look the place up on that cool Know Moscow website. (The Russian page is here.) But if you happen upon it – as I did a few months back – you have to take notice, don’t you?
Bulgakov met and befriended the attorney David Kiselgof in 1922 and that is why he occasionally hung out in this house at 25 Skatertny Lane. Kiselgof lived here in Apt. No. 2. It’s possible that Bulgakov would have come here, at least on occasion, with his wife Tatyana Lappa. (She was the first of three.) In September 1922 the couple was reunited in Moscow after a good deal of journeying which had taken them to Tiflis (now Tbilisi), Batumi, Odessa and Kiev. Bulgakov at the time was a military doctor and was being sent wherever he was needed most. Tatyana, whom everyone usually called Tasya, would follow him as best as she could, sometimes falling behind, sometimes catching up. In any case, the couple mostly remained in Moscow after the autumn of 1921 (divorcing in April 1924), so we can imagine the two approaching the door you see in some of the pictures below.
I should add that some sources say Kiselgof and Lappa first met only in 1923 at the home of another lawyer friend of Bulgakov’s, Vladimir Komorsky. But even if that’s true, there would still have been plenty of time for Lappa to visit this location before her break with Bulgakov.
Why is this of particular interest? Because some 25 years later, around 1947, Lappa would marry Kiselgof (he would be her third husband). It is quite obvious that this is not a case of the lawyer and the writer’s wife falling into a passionate affair that they hid until they could hide it no longer. I am guessing it was more a case of two aging people attempting to recapture some special moment from their younger days. Consider it something like Bob Dylan fan Steve Jobs falling in love with Joan Baez, an occurrence that Jobs himself described as “a serious relationship between two accidental friends who became lovers.” Rolling Stone magazine adds that some of Job’s friends “believed that one thing that drew Jobs to Baez was the fact that she used to date Bob Dylan.” Well, I’m thinking the Lappa-Kiselgof relationship had similarities. I’m not saying at all that it wasn’t serious – I have no idea about that one way or the other. I’m just saying it probably grew out of the mutual affection both continued to feel for someone – Bulgakov – who had gone out of their lives long ago, and who died in 1940.
A nice biography of Lappa on the internet Bulgakov encyclopedia contains several observations that suggest my hunch is correct. It gives voice to the general belief that Lappa continued to love Bulgakov to the end of her days, and that, after they parted, Bulgakov occasionally turned to her in difficult moments (such as when he had just asked Stalin in person to let him emigrate, and received a refusal). Much is made of the jealousy of Lappa’s second husband (their marriage was common-law), a certain Alexander Kreshkov. He, too, might have been another Bulgakov substitute for Lappa, since he was the brother of one of Bulgakov’s best friends from his youth. Kreshkov would rifle through Lappa’s possessions, tossing Bulgakov mementos around and accusing her of still loving her first husband. He finally destroyed everything – photos, letters, other items – that Lappa had kept and cherished.
In any case, the connection between the former husband and wife was strong. We are told that, when he lay dying, Bulgakov called out for Lappa.
Indeed, Lappa had saved Bulgakov’s skin more than once. When he was a raging morphine addict in the ‘teens, she is the one who pulled him out of the tailspin – even though he chased her with a gun and threatened to kill her if she didn’t get him more of the drug. (She is the prototype of Anna Kirillovna in his famous story, “Morphine.”) In 1920, when he fell deathly ill with typhus, Lappa stood by him until he recovered.
Many years later, in the 1970s, Lappa reminisced about her third husband, Kiselgof, at precisely the time she might have been visiting him as Bulgakov’s wife: “Davy loved writers very much,” she said. “He had a marvelous room with beautiful easy chairs. He worked as an attorney, but he loved literature, was interested in it, and he would invite various writers to visit him.”
As for Kiselgof, he told the Bulgakov scholar Marietta Chudakova in 1970: ” You see, he [Bulgakov] was never able to make sense of Soviet reality, that’s the thing. That was his tragedy. He wrote like Ilf and Petrov, they were also comic writers, they also saw our deficiencies, but they also could see positive sides! He couldn’t do that. He looked on it all from a remove. I think that tormented him. Even now they’re afraid to publish him. If he had been able to make sense of our reality, his entire life would have been different.”
(See the Bulgakov Museum website for my source for these quotes.)
I’m not so sure we need to take Kiselgof’s conclusion seriously, and I’m not so sure the comparison with Ilf and Petrov is quite right. But, hey, today we’re looking at photos of the home in which Kiselgof received Bulgakov and (perhaps) his wife Tatyana as guests. I think that gives him the right to be heard.
But to wrap things up, let’s go back to Bulgakov and Lappa’s break in 1924. Here is what a Master and Margarita site has to say:
“Bulgakov became famous in Moscow’s literary circles. One day he came home with a champagne bottle and said, ‘What do you say we part?’ These words came down, as if from heaven, breaking over her like a crystal vase. What could Tasya say? ‘All I did was wash and prepare meals and sell things at the market. He went everywhere, I stayed at home.’ They separated in April 1924. Mikhail said, ‘You know, it’s easy for me to say I’m married. Don’t worry. Everything will be as before. We’ll just separate formally.’ ‘You mean I’m Lappa again?’ Tasya asked. ‘Yes. And I’m Bulgakov.’ They continued to live on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street. But in November Mikhail moved out on Tasya.”
P.S. Despite Lappa’s comment that she usually “stayed at home” while Bulgakov was out on the town, I’m not convinced she never visited Kiselgof’s apartment. After all, she did go visiting with Bulgakov to Komorsky’s apartment in 1923, and, in that 1970 interview, she describes the interior of Kiselgof’s “marvelous room with beautiful easy chairs” as she would had she seen it with her own eyes. I think that nice room and lovely chairs were right here, behind these walls.