CULTURE

Parallel lives, three centuries apart, bind the worlds of troubled writers

The lives of Moliere and Michail Bulgakov have curious points of similarity, not the least of them being that both died relatively young, disappointed in and deserted by individuals that once held them in high regard. It is hardly coincidental, then, that one of Bulgakov’s most important pieces of work was about the life and work of the great French classical playwright who had preceded the Russian writer by three centuries. Bulgakov wrote a biography of Moliere, as well as a play, during early Soviet times. Both were enthusiastically received and then swiftly banned. Bulgakov’s biography of Moliere was published in Greek in a translation by Irini Levidi. His play about Moliere, «The Cabal of Hypocrites,» is now being staged in Greece for the first time by the National Theater’s Experimental Stage, directed by Stathis Livathinos and featuring the talented young team of actors and actresses he has forged from previous worthy performances. «Moliere’s biography was commissioned to Bulgakov during the 1920s by a team responsible for a splendid series of works published in the 20th century in the Soviet Union,» Livathinos said. «The series is titled ‘Lives of Prominent People’ and consists of dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of volumes, each focused on one personality – from Aeschylus to Livingstone and the Dalai Lama. They asked Bulgakov to write on Moliere. He produced a text that was fascinating, original and written in very personal fashion, a novel which, despite all this, was entirely based on historic sources and Moliere’s biographies, particularly the first one… «Bulgakov had delved deeply into Moliere’s era and had gathered abundant data, even though an intended trip to Paris for the project was banned. But his angle was very personal. When he submitted the text to the people responsible for the series, the head coordinator, Maxim Gorky, remarked, ‘A very gifted piece of writing, but if we start publishing things like this, we’re gone…» Bulgakov’s innovative approach to Moliere troubled the series’ panel. «They were annoyed by both the originality and liberal perception through which Bulgakov saw Moliere. He didn’t see Moliere as an ‘academic writer,’ as they expected, but as an individual with an artistic nature, a free spirit, which was the case with Moliere,» noted Livathinos. «The amazing thing is that everything Bulgakov wrote about Moliere, especially his theatrical works, was repeated in his own life.» The writer died in 1940 at the age of 50, «blind, poor, neglected and outlawed,» said Livathinos. Hailing from a prominent family in Kiev, Bulgakov studied medicine. In 1921, following the Civil War, he moved to Moscow and began to make a living as a writer. Bulgakov’s «White Guard,» one of the first serious works to describe the Civil War based on the writer’s own experiences, revived the Moscow Art Theater. It was banned by Stalin. Documents from the period suggest that Bulgakov had his back against the wall, pressured by literary circles in Moscow and Kiev. Little-gifted colleagues wanted to obliterate this new and original talent that had emerged. It is not coincidental that Bulgakov named his book on Moliere «The Cabal of Hypocrites,» as the Frenchman had suffered in the same fashion. Most of Bulgakov’s other works were to experience, more or less, a similar fate. In a reflection of Moliere’s own career, Bulgakov’s growing disappointment and constant fight for survival were the main factors behind the writer’s premature death. Considering the parallel plights of the two interlinked great writers, it seems somewhat strange that Bulgakov’s play on Moliere is rarely staged. «It’s an extremely difficult play to tackle,» explained Livathinos. «There are lots of aesthetic qualities in his writing, lots of nuances from movements that took place between 1920 and 1930. And he has taken great liberties without changing anything of substance from Moliere’s life – including the alleged marriage to his daughter, without his