Master i Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
Master i Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
Russian novelist, playwright, biographer, and short story writer.
The following entry provides criticism on Bulgakov's novel Master i Margarita (1966-67; The Master and Margarita). See also Mikhail Bulgakov Criticism.
Master i Margarita (1966-67; The Master and Margarita), composed by one of the foremost writers of post-revolutionary Russia, is a complex narrative that weaves together several stories that, taken as a whole, argue against bureaucratic society's oppression of the artist. Bulgakov recognized the work as his highest achievement, and after burning an early draft of the manuscript, resumed work on the piece late in his life, dictating final revisions on his deathbed. Often likened to Goethe's Faust, The Master and Margarita is widely considered one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century Russian literature.
Plot and Major Characters
The Master and Margarita intertwines three stories: one concerning the character Woland; one revolving around the Master, a novelist, and his muse, Margarita; and the third retelling the last days of Jesus. Woland is often considered a devil figure and is generally compared to Goethe's Mephistopheles in his tragedy Faust. Woland creates havoc in the lives of the stupid, the scheming, and the avaricious of modern Moscow. The Master and Margarita share a comfortable home in a basement apartment in Moscow, but when the Master's novel is censured and a neighbor covetous of the apartment denounces him as ideologically unsound, their peace is disrupted. Margarita appeals to Woland for aid, and he eventually restores both the home and the manuscript to the Master. Within this narrative Bulgakov embeds the story of the Passion of Christ, which is the subject of the Master's novel. The work, based on a poem by Ivan Bezdomnyi, a schizophrenic, chronicles the last days before the execution of the soft-spoken philosopher Ieshua, depicting the decision of Pontius Pilate, the betrayal and murder of Judas of Iscariot, and the anguish of Matthew Levi. The novel is condemned, partially because of its treatment of Ieshua's death as historical fact rather than myth. Through his interweaving of these three stories Bulgakov creates a network of thematic parallels.
Although separated by more than a thousand years, the events occurring in Moscow and those set in ancient Jerusalem take place during Passover. This temporal relationship creates an overarching context for the philosophical issues at play in Bulgakov's work: the rational versus the irrational, good versus evil, illusion versus truth, the natural versus the supernatural. In Moscow's positivistic society such oppositions lead to the kind of schizophrenia that plagues Bezdomnyi and renders Muscovites unable to distinguish between black magic and political subterfuge. Bulgakov suggests a thematic link between the transcendence of these oppositions and the idea of home portrayed in the Master's apartment. Like Bulgakov's portrayal of the devil in Woland, his depiction of Jesus is equally unorthodox; although the character asserts the fundamental beliefs of orthodox Christianity, he complains that Matthew's writings about him are inaccurate. The main theme of The Master and Margarita, as presented in the story of the Master, is that of the artist's role in society. Despite Bulgakov's assertion in the novel that “manuscripts don't burn,” which affirms his belief that art will endure the vicissitudes of political repression, the novel's metaphysical ending seems to point to Bulgakov's own fears about the artist's ability to survive.
Bulgakov gave copies of The Master and Margarita to his wife and a close friend, and they remained closely guarded until Bulgakov's literary rehabilitation during Nikita Khrushchev's cultural thaw of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Master and Margarita was finally published in a heavily censored form in two installments in the journal Moskva in 1966 and 1967. It caused an immediate sensation and has sustained critical interest through out its history. Much attention has been given to the nature of Woland, Bulgakov's devil figure, who appears less an evil being in opposition to God than as God's counterpart whose task it is to punish the corrupt. Woland's relationship with the Master has been seen as a Faustian pact; indeed, references to Goethe's Faust permeate the novel. Two versions of the novel exist: the censored edition printed in Moskva, which eliminates much of the anti-Soviet satire, and the complete text. While there has been some controversy regarding their relative merits, both are considered valuable to a reader's understanding of Bulgakov's masterpiece.
Diavoliada (short stories) 1925
Dni Turbinykh [Days of the Turbins] (play) 1926
Zoikina kvartira [Zoya's Apartment] (play) 1926
Belaia gvardiia: Dni Turbinykh [The White Guard] (novel) 1927
Bagrovyi ostrov [The Crimson Island] (play) 1928
Kabala sviatosh [A Cabal of Hypocrites; also published as Molière] (play) 1936
Zhizn gospodina de Molera [The Life of Monsieur de Molière] (biography) 1962
Zapiski iunogo vracha [A Country Doctor's Notebooks] (short stories) 1963
Ivan Vasilevich (play) 1964
Teatral'nyi roman [unfinished; Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel] (novel) 1965
Sobache serdtse [The Heart of a Dog] (novel) 1969
*Master i Margarita [The Master and Margarita] (novel) 1966-7
The Early Plays of Mikhail Bulgakov (plays) 1972; second edition, 1994
Manuscripts Don't Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov, A Life in Letters and Diaries [edited by J. A. E. Curtis] (letters and diaries) 1992
Notes on the Cuff and Other Stories (short stories) 1992
*This work was initially published serially, in censored form, in the journal...
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SOURCE: Delaney, Joan. “The Master and Margarita: The Reach Exceeds the Grasp.” Slavic Review 31 (1972): 89-100.
[In the following essay, Delaney questions the meaning of the Master figure in Bulgakov's novel, arguing against a Faustian interpretation.]
When The Master and Margarita first appeared some five years ago in the journal Moskva and soon after in the English translations, it caused the sensation appropriate to long-withheld Russian literary works.1 On all sides it was hailed as a literary event of broad implications. American and British reviewers, introducing Bulgakov to their reading public, stressed the significance of this thirty-year-old novel in relation to progressive tendencies in contemporary Soviet literature. The novel was also generally assessed as a work of major literary importance in its own right. But there were reservations. Rich in conception and striking in form, The Master and Margarita seemed to many somehow flawed in the execution. These readers found the book extremely attractive on various levels, yet felt, along with the novel's British translator, Michael Glenny, that the keystone had just missed being slipped into place.2
An explanation was ready to hand in the fact that the author, who labored on this work from 1928 until his death in 1940, left variant chapters and some loose ends. Konstantin...
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SOURCE: Haber, Edythe C. “The Mythic Structure of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.” The Russian Review 34, no. 4 (October 1975): 382-409.
[In this essay, Haber finds that Bulgakov's use of the mythic stories of Faust and Christ does not follow strict, linear interpretation but rather diffuses elements throughout to create a new mythic structure.]
The first appearance of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita in 1966 and 19671 bestowed upon Russian literature one of its most beguiling yet puzzling works. From the first the novel was recognized both for its literary merit and for its enigmatic quality, and numerous literary scholars and critics took upon themselves the demanding yet exhilarating task of wending their way through the maze of plot and subplot, literary, religious, and socio-historical allusions. Some have explored the novel's genre, associating it with Menippean satire;2 others have investigated its relation to the Faust legend, to devil lore, to the Bible and Biblical history.3 Perhaps not surprisingly, all the industry and cogitation devoted to The Master and Margarita, while resulting in some interesting and valuable articles, have not thus far produced a consensus either as to its structural principles or its meaning.
A fundamental task in dealing with both of these questions has been to explore the...
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SOURCE: Lakshin, Vladimir. “Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.” In Twentieth-Century Russian Literary Criticism, edited by Victor Erlich, pp. 247-83. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975.
[In the essay that follows, Lakshin presents an overview of The Master and Margarita and the novel's place in modern Russian literature.]
Where there is no love of art, there is no criticism either. “Do you want to be a connoisseur of the arts?” Winckelmann says. “Try to love the artist, look for beauty in his creations.”
On a strange, fantastic moonlit night after Satan's Ball when Margarita is united with her beloved by the power of magic charms, the omnipotent Woland asks the Master to show him his novel about Pontius Pilate. The Master is in no position to do this. He has burned his novel in the stove. “This cannot be,” retorts Woland. “Manuscripts don't burn.” And at that moment the cat, holding in his paws a thick manuscript, offers Messire with a bow a neat copy of the destroyed book.
“Manuscripts don't burn …” Mikhail Bulgakov died with this belief in the stubborn, indestructible power of art, at the time when all his major works lay unpublished in his desk drawers only to reach the reader one at a time after a quarter...
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SOURCE: Pruitt, Donald B. “St. John and Bulgakov: The Model of a Parody of Christ.” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 15, nos. 2-3 (summer-fall 1981): 312-20.
[In this essay, first presented in 1977, Pruitt argues that Bulgakov's treatment of the story of Christ is based on the version by St. John.]
Mikhail Bulgakov's account of the trial of Jesus of Nazareth (“Ieshua ha-Notsri”) before Pontius Pilate is considerably better-organized and more logical than any of the accounts of that event in the New Testament. The four gospel versions—those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—show a kangaroo court and a vacillating viceroy who yields to the pressure of the mob and then disposes of his own guilt by the cynical act of washing his hands in public. Bulgakov shows an orderly legal procedure conducted by a clear-sighted, cold blooded viceroy whose primary shortcoming is his cowardice, yet who is sufficiently human to realize—too late—that he has committed an injustice for which he must eternally suffer.
The victim of that injustice is a poor itinerant against whom the written testimony of a would-be follower—testimony which the itinerant, Ieshua, claims is erroneous—is used as evidence. The victim of persecution in the gospels is the omnipotent Son of God who voluntarily surrenders his life to redeem man, and whose acts are recorded by four men, none of whom probably witnessed...
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SOURCE: Pope, Richard W. F. “Ambiguity and Meaning in The Master and Margarita: The Role of Afranius.” Slavic Review 36 (1977): 1-24.
[In the following essay, Pope argues that the ambiguity of the Afranius figure is essential to the meaning and structure of The Master and Margarita.]
Perhaps the most mysterious and elusive figure in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita1 is Afranius, a man who has been in Judea for fifteen years working in the Roman imperial service as chief of the procurator of Judea's secret police. He is present in all four Judean chapters of the novel (chapters 2, 16, 25, 26) as one of the myriad connecting links, though we really do not know who he is for certain until near the end of the third of these chapters, “How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Karioth.” We first meet him in chapter 2 (which is related by Woland and entitled “Pontius Pilate”) simply as “some man” (kakoi-to chelovek), face half-covered by a hood, in a darkened room in the palace of Herod the Great, having a brief whispered conversation with Pilate, who has just finished his fateful talk with Caiaphas (E, [Michael Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, trans. Michael Glenny (New York: New American Library, 1967)] p. 39; R [Mikhail Bulgakov, Master i Margarita: Roman (Frankfurt am Main: Possev-Verlag, 1969)], pp. 50-51). Fourteen chapters...
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SOURCE: Glenny, Michael. “Existential Thought in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 15, nos. 2-3 (summer-fall 1981): 238-49.
[In this essay, Glenny explores possible neo-Platonist influences on The Master and Margarita.]
Reading Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita superficially, and leaving aside for the moment any attempt to answer the many riddles posed by the novel, its structural divisions are reasonably clear. It is as if two (perhaps three) distinct yet related narratives, differing in length and genre, have been stitched together within one set of covers. The shorter one is an original, fictive version of the trial and crucifixion of Christ, based partly on St. Matthew's gospel1 but with a number of striking changes, additions and substractions; for convenience this narrative will be referred to as “Jerusalem.”
The other main narrative, longer and more complex, is set in the Moscow of Bulgakov's own time, but with his characteristically ironic realism enlivened by the presence of grotesque, supernatural figures (a device also used in several of Bulgakov's satirical short stories and novellas of the mid-twenties).2 In this strange tale a character known only as “The Master” is persecuted for the heterodox ideas contained in the “Jerusalem” story, of which he is the author: he destroys the...
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SOURCE: Frank, Margot K. “The Mystery of the Master's Final Destination.” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 15, nos. 2-3 (summer-fall 1981): 287-94.
[In the essay below, Frank discusses possible reasons for the Master's position in limbo at the conclusion of The Master and Margarita.]
The Master's role and purpose within the general scheme of The Master and Margarita is still an unsolved question, although various approaches to this figure are extant.1 The fact that he appears relatively late in the novel (Chapter 13) indicates that he may not be the most important character, an honor which probably belongs to Woland. Bulgakov considered at least ten other titles, most of them headlining Woland (i.e., “The Black Magician,” “Satan,” “Prince of Darkness,” “The Consultant with a Hoof,” “He's Appeared,” “The Foreigner's Horseshoe,” “The Great Chancellor,” “The Black Theologian,”) and not until a 1934 version does the Master appear by name.2 Moreover, on the level of plot development and space assignment, Pilate and Ieshua share equal billing with the Master. Yet the Master, together with Margarita, is the definitive title figure, and any evaluation of the novel calls for ascertaining his relevance to the major theme(s).
In most analyses, the Master comes across as a positive figure, although the ambiguities attending his nature...
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SOURCE: Arenberg, Carol. “Mythic and Daimonic Paradigms in Bulgakov's Master i Margarita.” Essays in Literature IX, no. 1 (spring 1982): 107-25.
[In the following essay, Arenberg examines Bulgakov's views of history and the artist, and considers the ways in which these views led to the thematic structure of The Master and Margarita.]
The underlying thematic structure of Bulgakov's Master i Margarita (1940) has proved to be elusive, for it contains elements that seem to contradict every theory. Since 1966-67, when Soviet Authorities allowed the novel to be published (and it was immediately acclaimed a literary masterpiece), it has produced a spate of literary analyses and explorations from various points of view, ranging from Proffer's early study of the novel as a form of Manippean satire1 to Lesley Milne's monograph examining the similarities between the structure of the novel and the Medieval carnival.2 These studies have shed valuable light on certain aspects of the Master i Margarita, but none has done justice to the full range of Bulgakov's vision. Because of the apparent fact that it operates on so many different levels and brings together such vast areas of knowledge, the one point on which most scholars agree is that more work is needed.
I would like to attempt a synthesis of the thematic structure of the novel by defining...
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SOURCE: Avins, Carol. “Reaching a Reader: The Master's Audience in The Master and Margarita.” Slavic Review 45, no. 2 (summer 1986): 272-85.
[In this essay, Avins addresses the role of the unseen readers of the Master's text, arguing that the readers function “not only as interpreters but also as preservers and potential communicators of the text.”]
At the end of Dr. Zhivago, Zhivago's old friends sit overlooking Moscow and read together a collection of his writings, compiled through the efforts of his devoted and somewhat mysterious half-brother. For all the dark times depicted in the novel, it ends with a dual affirmation of the power of art and of the spirit to survive. Zhivago's writings endure not only by virtue of having been created and not only in the minds of those who know them, but on paper as well. In this respect Boris Pasternak's novel offers an intriguing contrast to one completed in a bleaker period, The Master and Margarita. In Mikhail Bulgakov's novel the problem of preserving the protagonist's writing and conveying it to readers is neither as simple nor as successfully resolved, despite intervention of a more mysterious, even supernatural, sort.
The issue of how an unpublished text makes its way to an audience is more central to this novel than to Pasternak's, and my comparison between them will therefore go no further. The comparison is...
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SOURCE: Weeks, Laura D. “In Defense of the Homeless: On the Uses of History and the Role of Bezdomnyi in The Master and Margarita.” Russian Review 48, no. 1 (January 1989): 45-65.
[In the following essay, Weeks considers images and influences related to the character of Ivan “the homeless” in Bulgakov's novel.]
From his first appearance at Patriarchs' Ponds to his final moonlit stroll along the side streets off the Arbat, Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyrev, alias “John the Homeless,” remains one of Bulgakov's most controversial characters. He has been identified variously as the “Ivanushka Durachok” of Russian fairy tales,1 a type of iurodivyi or “holy fool,”2 a parody of Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov,3 and an ironic allusion to the proletarian poet Bezymenskii.4 His moral integrity and his relationship to the Master have been subject to radically different interpretations, with such critics as Proffer, Milne, and Avins on the negative end of the scale, and Bolen, Wright, and Hart on the positive end. Proffer, for example, sees Ivan as a largely negative figure, a failed disciple of a failed Master:
Ivan, instead of continuing the work the Master left, i.e., the novel about Pilate, becomes a professor at the Institute which did indeed interest the Master. However, Bezdomnyi has renounced his belief in...
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SOURCE: Sokolov, B. V. “The Sources for Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.” Soviet Review 30, no. 4 (July-August 1989): 76-96.
[In the essay below, Sokolov examines the philosophical underpinnings of The Master and Margarita.]
Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita was written between 1929 and 1940. Although delayed for a quarter of a century, it quickly found a stable place in our life as soon as it was published [for the first publication of the novel see: Moskva, 1966, no. 11; 1967, no. 1]. It is usually classified as a satirical philosophical novel. The satirical element puts it in the same family as such well-known works of the end of the '20s as the novels of I. Il'f and E. Petrov, Twelve Chairs [Dvenadtsat' stul'ev] and The Golden Calf [Zolotoi telenok], but its emphatically philosophical orientation makes it all but a unique phenomenon in the history of Soviet literature. The novel's philosophical aspects have already been examined in a number of essays. Thus, for example, N. P. Utekhin analyzes the reflection of certain general philosophical categories in the novel.1 G. Chernikova and I. L. Galinskaia have endeavored to determine the concrete literary sources of the novel's philosophy [Chernikova 1971, pp. 213-219; Galinskaia 1986].
In our view, to determine the philosophical sources of The Master and...
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SOURCE: Mills, Judith M. “Of Dreams, Devils, Irrationality, and The Master and Margarita.” In Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, edited by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, pp. 303-27. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989.
[In this essay, Mills explores traditional Russian literary elements as well as modern psychoanalytic dream theory in The Master and Margarita.]
A literary work establishes its place within a tradition and assumes its unique character when traditional devices or motifs are put to new or idiosyncratic use. The Master and Margarita1 is both traditional and highly unique. It draws copiously from the Russian literary tradition: the title story reiterates the strong woman/weak or superfluous hero theme that was so fully developed in the nineteenth century; the first person narrator intrudes repeatedly, recalling the novel's beginnings and Pushkin's style; in unmistakably Gogolian fashion bureaucrats' foibles are unmasked; and, the double rears its heads once again.
Bulgakov uses the dreams and hallucinations that have fulfilled a variety of narrative objectives throughout Russian and world literature. Lermontov's Demon reappears as obvious master of earthly matters. In one or another of their guises, Russian literature has had an abiding interest in the irrational and the fantastic. Both are central to this novel. Like the...
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SOURCE: Testa, Carlo. “Bulgakov's Master i Margarita: Post-Romantic Devil Pacts.” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 24, no. 3 (fall 1990): 257-78.
[In the following essay, Testa traces the development of the devil figure in post-Romantic European literature and Bulgakov's use of the devil in The Master and Margarita.]
The Evil One is gone, the evil ones remain. Den Bösen sind sie los, die Bösen sind geblieben.
I. THE DIFFRACTION OF EVIL
The first half of the nineteenth century was characterized by a high degree of epistemological optimism. The systems of philosophical idealism (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel), which placed the self at the center of material reality, not only played an influential role as cultural vehicles of a certain centripetal view of the world, but, even more importantly, were in and of themselves the expression of an atmosphere in which ontological primacy went to a self-founding—and thereby necessarily world-founding—concept of the self. So, for example, Novalis could write that Nature “is an encyclopedic systematical index or plan of our spirit.”2
In spite of its often politically conservative, at times even outright reactionary political implications and interpretations, the philosophical anthropocentrism of the Romantic period in a sense relayed and...
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SOURCE: Ericson, Jr., Edward E. “Overview.” In The Apocalyptic Vision of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, pp. 9-24. Lewiston, Australia: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
[In this excerpt, Ericson posits that Russian Orthodox Christian doctrine is the fundamental context in which The Master and Margarita must be understood.]
The premise of this book [The Apocalyptic Vision] is that the key clue to discerning the pattern which runs through The Master and Margarita is orthodox Christian doctrine, particularly as it is expressed by Eastern (specifically, Russian) Orthodoxy. That theological context will be discussed in Chapter Three. This chapter sticks to the novel. However, for all of their apparent differences, these two chapters fit together as a unit and should be read as such.
It must be understood that all of orthodox Christian theology, whether Western (Catholic and Protestant) or Eastern, agrees on central doctrines. The Apostles' Creed is a fair summary applying to both. Both belong to the Occident, not to the Orient—that is, to Europe and its Christianity, not to Asia and its distinctive religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, and others). But it must also be understood that there are some not insignificant variations between the branches of Christendom. When these differences surface, it is to the Eastern, not to the Western, part of Christendom that we...
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SOURCE: Schrewe, Ursula Reidel. “Key and Tripod in Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.” Neophilologus 79, no. 2 (April 1995): 273-82.
[In the essay which follows, Schrewe examines the significance of items which figure in both Goethe's Faust and Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.]
The connection between Goethe's Faust and Bulgakov's Master and Margarita suggests itself in the title of the novel: The Master referring to Faust and Margarita referring to Margarete or Gretchen from the first part of Goethe's tragedy. Another obvious reference to Faust is the novel's epigraph; it quotes the famous dialogue between Mephistopheles and Faust when they first meet. Faust asks “Who art thou—then?” and Mephistopheles introduces himself as the “Part of that power which eternally wills evil and yet creates the good”. Granting the entire novel to be a comment on this quote, we are led to believe that Bulgakov adopted Goethe's concept of the devil as being part of a world in which the good will prevail and which ultimately is harmonious.1
Numerous critical studies have dealt with the analogies between Goethe's Faust and Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Most often they agree that the Master is not a very convincing Faust character, but that Faustian characteristics are dispersed and could be found in the novel's various other...
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SOURCE: Gimpelevich, Zina. “Cases of Schizophrenia in The Master and Margarita.” Germano-Slavica IX, no. 1-2 (1995-1996): 65-77.
[In the following essay, Gimpelevich examines Bulgakov's use of schizophrenia as a literary device in The Master and Margarita.]
Sigmund Freud, the famous German psychologist, often attributed his discoveries in psychoanalysis to great literary works and their authors.1 His sources ranged from folklore and drama to Shakespeare, and from Dostoevsky to Thomas Mann and Romain Rolland. At the present time psychoanalysis continues its interaction with literature, often using it as its working ground. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is considered in the present study as a typical case of such interraction because it contains so many instances of mental disorder. In the novel almost all cases of mental disease are either generally labeled as schizophrenia or have its typical features. Matt Oja also has noticed the significant role of scizophrenia for the plot of The Master and Margarita. In his paper given for the Bulgakov Centenary symposium in Nottingham, 1991, he argues that the Master is just a splinter personality within Ivan Bezdomnyi's mind.2 As much as this argument could be applicable to one part of the plot, it does not cover the whole actuality of the phenomenon of scizophrenia in the novel. Riita Pittman continues...
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SOURCE: Bethea, David M. “History as Hippodrome: The Apocalyptic Horse and Rider in The Master and Margarita.” In The Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion, edited by Laura D. Weeks, pp. 122-42. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996.
[In this essay, Bethea discusses Bulgakov's use of the image of the horseman from the Book of Revelations in The Master and Margarita.]
Although The Master and Margarita has been called “an apocalyptic fiction, one whose referential focus is, within its defined context, ‘the end of all things,’”1 little has been said beyond this.2 Only Edward Ericson has ventured further than casual allusion to claim, in the closing of his article, that “the ending of the novel is an elaborate parody of the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse of St. John.”3 We need have no doubt of Bulgakov's knowledge of the text of Revelation and of his willingness to use that text as an artistic point of departure: son of a professor of divinity at the Kiev Theological Academy, one schooled in both the sacred texts and the works of Russian religious philosophers (the writings of Father Pavel Florensky, in particular, as Chudakova and others have demonstrated,4 had a profound impact on the conception of The Master and Margarita), Bulgakov was later to take a passage from Revelation as epigraph to his...
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SOURCE: Curtis, J. A. E. “Mikhail Bulgakov and the Red Army's Polo Instructor: Political Satire in The Master and Margarita.” In The Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion, edited by Laura D. Weeks, pp. 211-26. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Curtis provides a biographical account of Bulgakov's involvement with American diplomats in Russia and argues that the author satirized his experience in The Master and Margarita.]
In the mid-1930s the aristocratic game of polo was introduced to Stalin's Red Army. The man responsible for this improbable feat was Charles Thayer, a young diplomat at the new U.S. Embassy in Moscow. For many years after the 1917 Revolution no formal diplomatic ties existed between the USSR and the United States. In 1932, however, Franklin Roosevelt made it a plank of his presidential campaign that diplomatic relations should be restored, not least because of the need to coordinate resistance to the Nazi threat in Germany and to the apparently imperialist aspirations of Japan. Dialogue was officially resumed at the end of 1933, and arrangements were made to open an American Embassy in Moscow. A spectacular building on Spaso-Peskovskaia Square, known by the Americans as Spaso House, was allocated to the ambassador for his official residence. Everyone admired its imposing staircase and the domed ballroom with its white marble...
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Amert, Susan. “The Dialectics of Closure in Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.” The Russian Review 61, no. 4 (October 2002): 599-617.
[In the essay below, Amert explores the notion of endings—particularly death, but also narrative endings—in The Master and Margarita.]
Some of it Pilate could read: “There is no death ….”
The Master and Margarita, chapter 26
The beginning of The Master and Margarita features a transparent allusion to Tolstoy's “Death of Ivan Il'ich.” It comes as Woland is disputing Ivan Bezdomnyi's claim that human beings control their own lives:
Imagine that you, for example, begin to rule, to be in charge of both others and yourself … and suddenly you get … heh-heh … lung cancer … and your rule is finished! No one's fate interests you any more but your own. Your kinfolk begin lying to you. Sensing that something is wrong, you rush to see learned physicians, then quacks, perhaps even fortune-tellers. … But it all ends tragically: he who not long before had assumed he was in charge of something turns out to be suddenly lying motionless (vdrug lezhashchim nepodvizhno) in a wooden box, and those surrounding him, understanding that there's no more use to be gotten out of the one lying there (tolku ot lezhashchego net), burn...
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Balasubramanian, Radha. “The Similarities between Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.” The International Fiction Review 22, nos. 1-2 (1995): 37-46.
Discusses Rushdie's claim that Bulgakov's novel served as one of his greatest models for The Satanic Verses.
Blank, Ksana. “Bulgakov's Master and Margarita and the Music of Igor Stravinskii.” Slavonica 6, no. 2 (2000): 28-43.
Analyzes Bulgakov's allusions to composer Igor Stravinskii in his novel.
Bolen, Val. “Theme and Coherence in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.” Slavic and East European Journal 16, no. 4 (winter 1972): 427-37.
Argues against critical opinion of Bulgakov's novel as lacking in thematic unity.
Davies, J. M. Q. “Bulgakov: Atheist or ‘Militant Old Believer’? The Master and Margarita Reconsidered.” Australian Slavonic and East European Studies 6, no. 1 (1992): 125-34.
Considers the role of the characters Yeshua and Woland in The Master and Margarita.
Elbaum, Henry. “The Evolution of The Master and Margarita.” Canadian Slavonic Papers XXXVII, nos. 1-2 (March-June 1995): 59-87.
Traces the history of the writing,...
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