Master and Margarita Master i Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov - Essay

Mikhail Bulgakov


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Major Themes

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 Moskva. The uncut edition was published in 1969.

Joan Delaney (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 Simonov, head of the Commission on the Literary Legacy of Mikhail Bulgakov, wrote that Bulgakov had actually finished the book, but had returned to it again and again to add and revise.3 Simonov's commission was responsible for the form in which the novel appeared in Moskva (and was translated into English by Mirra Ginsburg). The additions—passages scattered throughout the text—reached the West just slightly later and were incorporated into the Michael Glenny translation. Yet other passages may conceivably exist. The whole situation to some extent relieves the author of final responsibility in matters of both form and content. It also raises fascinating questions in both areas.

Interpretation of this novel has not been a simple matter for the critics. The first review articles in this country were understandably tentative and—one must admit—faintly puzzled. The reviews fell roughly into two classes—those that were confined to a brief description of content with some background comment on Bulgakov's literary-political significance, and those that ventured also into interpretation and literary judgment. The most frequent conclusion was that there was, indeed, much more here to be unraveled—material for analysis and exegesis for years to come. Within a few months Western critics were distracted by the appearance of Solzhenitsyn's novels—a distraction Soviet commentators did not have to contend with. Unfortunately, the most substantial Soviet article on Bulgakov—the one by V. Lakshin in Novyi mir (June 1968)—appeared too late to be included in the first round of comment, and seems to have elicited little response so far in English.

None of the major questions about the novel have been completely resolved. Negative criticism has centered on the three levels of narrative and their interrelation. At the first level, the devil comes to Moscow and chaos ensues. These diabolical pranks account for over half of the book and almost all of the first half. Early in the novel another narrative begins, which later develops into a novel-within-a-novel; it is the retelling and reinterpretation of the New Testament account of Pilate and Jesus. The story of the author of the Pilate novel and his beloved—the Master and Margarita—is interwoven with the other two themes. Bulgakov set himself a tricky problem in integrating these three stories, and few critics will maintain that he has completely succeeded. Donald Fanger, for example, says that the characters are “out of different operas” (The Nation, January 22, 1968), and Simonov has admitted that rich though the fabric is, the seams still show. But the main problem is the very size of the task attempted. Once this is acknowledged, the critic must move on to explore other questions, both aesthetic and philosophical, about Bulgakov's novel.

The crux of the puzzlement, I believe, lies in the character of the Master himself. It was common at first to assume without much examination that he is some kind of twentieth-century Faust figure. Gleb Struve's article in the Russian Review (July 1968) suggests other interpretations. Is the Master, he asks, “Bulgakov himself? or a synthetic image of a creative artist?” I should like to pursue this line of questioning, leaving aside the matter of structural unity. Light thrown on the one problem may indeed help illuminate the other.

Who is the Master then? To what extent, if any, is he a Faust figure? One critic not long ago minutely examined The Master and Margarita for its Faustian motifs. Elisabeth Stenbock-Fermor, writing in the Slavic and East European Journal (Fall 1969), painstakingly established parallels and sources on every level, from the various devils' names to the witches' sabbath, and finally to the whole moral ambience of both works. This much is certainly a useful piece of work. But I find completely unacceptable her conclusion that the Master is a weakling whom Bulgakov punishes by making him share the fate of Pontius Pilate. At any rate, in cases of literary parallels one must proceed with care. The Faust theme is used intermittently and with extreme freedom, even whimsy, in The Master and Margarita. At times it seems rather the Mephistopheles theme that is being emphasized. Since this novel was in progress for over a decade, it would be very helpful to have access to the early drafts and notes. Without this help, however, one must work from other printed sources and certain known facts. On this basis it is possible to guess that Mephistopheles entered the plan of the novel well before the Master did. In an afterword to the first installment in Moskva, A. Vulis states that even before the novel was conceived in 1928 there were sketches for a satirical tale involving a “Consultant with a hoof.” A variant title was “The Black Magician.” The first conception may have followed the pattern of other Bulgakov works from that period. In the play Ivan Vasilievich, Ivan the Terrible and a house manager also named Ivan Vasilievich exchange places for an afternoon, to their mutual dismay. And in the story “The Adventures of Chichikov,” Gogol's hero appears in twentieth-century Russia and finds himself at home in the same old skullduggery. Very likely the question occurred to Bulgakov, What would happen if the devil himself came to Moscow? The thought had obvious satirical possibilities. Nor was the approach unique in its time.4

We recall that this novel did, after all, have its genesis in the late twenties, when the picaro was having a comeback in Russian fiction for very good, extraliterary reasons. The NEP period (1921-28), with its temporary return to private industry, was meant to allow the country to regain its balance economically. It turned out also to be a glorious season for profiteering, swindles, and fraud. Evidently the Revolution had not greatly affected human nature, except possibly to stir some of its lower instincts. Writers of the period, as we know, responded with a spate of satire which reached its glittering best in Olesha, Zoshchenko, Ilf and Petrov, Valentin Kataev, and one or two of Bulgakov's early stories. Together these writers turned loose an uproarious mockery, which in some cases barely covered a profound alienation from the present.

There were certain devices and approaches which they found particularly adaptable. Grotesquery came easily to writers in this vein and of this period. The reinterpretation of Gogol begun by the Symbolist generation was proceeding apace. The Gogolian blend of fantastic and grotesque lay ready to hand for experimentation. E. T. A. Hoffmann also enjoyed renewed vogue among those attracted to the fantastic mode. Recurrent in both writers' works, of course, is the intrusion of diabolical powers into human life. Gogol had seen the devil at work—first the puppet-show devil of his Ukrainian tales, later the more sinister and powerful devil who lurked behind the façades of Petersburg, mocking and torturing mankind with the lure of false appearances. Bulgakov early used the same image as a device to explore the infernal mess left by the revolutionary whirlwind. His collection of short stories published in 1926 was entitled D'iavoliada. The title story has many Gogolian reminiscences, including its protagonist—a lineal descendant of Gogol's poor bedeviled clerks.

When Bulgakov began work on The Master and Margarita in 1928, he put to use once again the concept of laughter employed to exorcise evil. But in this case the device is reversed: the devil does the exorcising. The novel's epigraph offers the key: “Say at last—who art thou? / That Power I serve / Which wills forever evil / Yet does forever good.” The Faust legend is thus announced. Mephistopheles enters the novel on the first pages as Professor Woland (one of the names he used in Goethe's Faust). He has come to Moscow as a special consultant in black magic. Pretending to entertain the city, Woland and his picaresque cohort trick it into a display of greed and credulity. Some of their pranks are reminiscent of Faust and Mephistopheles at the emperor's court.

But this is still not the story of Faust. So far it reads more like a later chapter in the adventures of Mephistopheles among humans. In his previous visitation the devil had been given permission to lead astray, if he could, a certain man who stood above his fellows by reason of his questing spirit. Mephistopheles's dim view of human nature was pitted against the Lord's confidence in his servant. Faust was the devil's target, like Job of old. On this later visit Woland seems to have a slightly different mission—investigation, not temptation. Indeed, temptation is unnecessary. In a passage excluded from the Moskva version, Woland indicates that he has come to see if the Muscovites have changed inwardly for the better.5 He quickly concludes that they have not. In fact, the progress of Woland and his retinue through Moscow turns willy-nilly into a search for an honest man. Disgust with the state of affairs apparently converts even Satan to supporting good where and if he can find it. The only man in Moscow who positively benefits from Woland's visit is the Master. He, too, is the exception, the lonely searcher after truth—though in a different sense than Faust was. Perhaps a twentieth-century Faust knows that all mysteries are not unraveled through knowledge—nor does happiness lie in touching the distant star. At any rate, the Master's striving is of a different nature. He is the Artist. His search is contained in his book.

Bulgakov's novel is in a basic way a book about a book, a work about art and the artist. This is a feature that it shares with several important representatives of that growing Russian-language genre—works “written for the drawer.” Doctor Zhivago is a prime example. Siniavsky's Makepeace Experiment takes the form of a chronicle, which is consigned by its author to the floorboards on the last page. And of course there are Nerzhin's precious notes in The First Circle. It is not surprising that men writing under these circumstances would turn to such devices and themes. The efforts of the literary artist to strive for and transmit some measure of human truth, and his right to search in whatever direction his inspiration takes him—these themes are perennial in art. They flowered with Romanticism. Certainly they have been prominent in Russian literature since the time of Pushkin. Nowhere in twentieth-century Russian literature are they more central than in Bulgakov's novel.

In The Master and Margarita the theme of the artist's experience takes a universalized mythological form, but there seems no doubt that it has deep roots in Bulgakov's own immediate circumstances. Vulis remarks that the burning of the Master's manuscripts refers to a “fact from the history” of Bulgakov's own novel.6 Again, access to all of the papers would be helpful. However, the link between Bulgakov and his hero can also be studied through certain events in his life during the thirties which are now publicly known. Furthermore, we can throw light both on the conception of the Master and on Bulgakov's technique of sublimating his own experience by making use of another method—by examining the other novel about an artist on which he worked during the later thirties, Black Snow (Teatral'nyi roman). This novel, which was probably begun in 1936 and was never finished, was published in Novyi mir in August 1965, and in Michael Glenny's translation in 1967. At one time the author had given it the title “Notes of a Dead Man.” It is a novel of much slighter scope, but it has the special advantage for our present inquiry of reflecting some of Bulgakov's own tribulations as a writer in a much less sublimated form. The hero, Maksudov, is Bulgakov in thin disguise. The book's keen satire impales Stanislavsky, his method, and various members of the august Moscow Art Theater. Ostensibly Black Snow deals with the staging of Bulgakov's first novel, The White Guard. Actually his frustration and anger were directly related to the fate of his tragedy Molière, the vehicle for his rage...

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Edythe C. Haber (essay date October 1975)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Vladimir Lakshin (essay date 1975)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.



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Donald B. Pruitt (essay date 1977)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Richard W. F. Pope (essay date 1977)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michael Glenny (essay date summer-fall 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Margot K. Frank (essay date summer-fall 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Carol Arenberg (essay date spring 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Carol Avins (essay date summer 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Laura D. Weeks (essay date January 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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B. V. Sokolov (essay date July-August 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Judith M. Mills (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Carlo Testa (essay date fall 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Goethe, Faust1


The first half of the nineteenth century was characterized by a high degree of epistemological optimism. The systems of philosophical...

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Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Ursula Reidel Schrewe (essay date April 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Zina Gimpelevich (essay date 1995-1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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David M. Bethea (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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J. A. E. Curtis (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Susan Amert (essay date October 2002)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


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...

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