Absurdism, Books

A trivial comedy for serious people

The great Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) studied medicine at university, and after graduating in 1916 was sent to be the sole doctor at an isolated hospital in the depths of the remote countryside. In the early part of the war, instead of conscripting them into the army, young civilian doctors were assigned to small provincial hospitals all over Russia. In his virgin white coat, he single-handedly administered to the local peasants. He treated gout, delivered babies, carried out rudimentary amputations and tried in vain to stop the spread of syphilis. His highly suspicious agricultural patients, of little education, mistrusted his techniques and ignored his advice. His first stories (A Young Doctor’s Notebook) were set in this outpost. They are tales of a modest, modern man of science fighting back archaic superstition. The educated doctor fighting an elemental force of unreason, ignorance and prejudice. They were written in the first person using the realistic narrative prose style of a late nineteenth century liberal. Continue reading