The Embroidered Towel

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-31-1997


A young doctor, just graduated, arrives at the country hospital to which he is assigned. He is fraught with anxiety because of his inexperience, especially when he meets the seasoned feldsher and midwives, who sing the praises of his predecessor. During the night his first patient arrives: a girl who was caught in a brake (a machine for threshing flax) and is now mangled and near death. No one expects her to live. The feldsher whispers, “She'll die now.” Yet the doctor feels compelled to try to save her, despite his ignorance. He amputates a leg, he continues treatment, the girl hangs on. Eventually she recovers. The new doctor has established his reputation in the district.


Bulgakov was sent to a country hospital like the one in this story (without having done an internship) after graduating in medicine from Kiev University in 1916. He spent 18 months in this difficult, isolated practice, before returning to Kiev to specialize in venereal diseases. This tale, like his other “doctor stories,” was written in the mid-1920's, after Bulgakov gave up medical practice for a career in writing.

This story presents a gripping portrait of a young doctor being initiated into the rigors and responsibilities of his profession. It shows a young man learning doctoring under difficult circumstances in a simpler (?) era, a tale suggesting the doctor stories of Chekhov or Williams.


First published: 1925-27. Translated by Michael Glenny.

Primary Source

A Country Doctor's Notebook


Collins & Harvill

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