History of Literature

Mikhail Bulgakov

"The Master and Margarita"


Mikhail Bulgakov



Mikhail Bulgakov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (Russian: Михаил Афанасьевич Булгаков, May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1891, Kiev – March 10, 1940, Moscow) was a Russian novelist and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for the novel The Master and Margarita, which The Times has called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.


Mikhail Bulgakov was born to Russian parents on May 15, 1891 in Kiev, Ukraine (which at the time was part of the Russian Empire). He was the oldest son of Afanasiy Bulgakov, an assistant professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. He was the grandson of priests on both sides of the family. From 1901 to 1904, Mikhail attended the First Kiev Gymnasium, where he developed an interest in Russian and European literature, theatre, opera.

In 1913 Bulgakov married Tatiana Lappa. At the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered with the Red Cross as a medical doctor. In 1916, he graduated from the Medical School of Kiev University and then served in the White Army. He briefly served in the Ukrainian People's Army. His brothers also served in the White Army. After the Civil War and rise of the Soviets, they emigrated to exile in Paris. Mikhail, who had enlisted in the White Army as a field doctor, ended up in the Caucasus. There he began to work as a journalist. Bulgakov couldn't follow his brothers because of typhus.

Though his first fiction efforts were made in Kiev, he only decided to leave medicine to pursue his love of literature in 1919. In 1921, he moved with Tatiana to Moscow where he began his career as a writer. Three years later, divorced from his first wife, he married Lyubov' Belozerskaya. He published a number of works through the early and mid 1920s, but by 1927 his career began to suffer from criticism that he was too anti-Soviet. By 1929 his career was ruined, and government censorship prevented publication of any of his work and staging of any of his play.

In 1931, Bulgakov married for the third time, to Yelena Shilovskaya, who would prove to be inspiration for the character Margarita in his most famous novel. They settled at Patriarch's Ponds. During the last decade of his life, Bulgakov continued to work on The Master and Margarita, wrote plays, critical works, stories, and made several translations and dramatisations of novels, librettos. Many of them were not published, other ones were "torn to pieces" by critics.

Bulgakov never supported the Soviet regime, and mocked it in many of his works. Therefore, most of his work stayed in his desk drawer for several decades. In 1930 he wrote a letter to the Soviet government, requesting permission to emigrate if the Soviet Union could not find use for him as a writer. He spoke directly to Stalin on the phone asking to leave the Soviet Union. Stalin replied that a Soviet writer cannot live outside of his homeland, implying that if Bulgakov tried to leave, he would be killed.

Stalin had enjoyed Bulgakov's work, The Days of the Turbins and found work for him at a small Moscow theatre, and then the Moscow Art Theatre. In Bulgakov's autobiography, he claimed that he wrote to Stalin out of desperation and mental anguish, never intending to post the letter. Bulgakov wrote letters to Stalin during the 1930s again requesting to emigrate, to which Stalin did not reply.

The refusal of the authorities to let him work in the theatre and his desire to see his family living abroad, whom he had not seen for many years, led him to seek drastic measures. Despite his new work, the projects he worked on at the theatre were often prohibited and he was stressed and unhappy. He also worked briefly at the Bolshoi Theatre as a librettist but left when his works were not produced.

Bulgakov died from nephrosclerosis (an inherited kidney disorder) on March 10, 1940. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His father had died of the same disease, and from his youth Bulgakov guessed of his future mortal diagnosis.

Early works

During his life, Bulgakov was best known for the plays he contributed to Konstantin Stanislavsky's and Nemirovich-Danchenko's Moscow Art Theatre. Stalin was known to be fond of the play Days of the Turbins (Дни Турбиных) (1926), which was based on Bulgakov's novel The White Guard. His dramatization of Molière's life in The Cabal of Hypocrites (Кабала святош) is still performed by the Moscow Art Theatre. Even after his plays were banned from the theatres, Bulgakov wrote a comedy about Ivan the Terrible's visit into 1930s Moscow and a play about the early years of Stalin (1939), which was prohibited by Stalin himself.

Bulgakov began writing prose with The White Guard (Белая гвардия) (1924, partly published in 1925, first full edition 1927—1929, Paris) - a novel about a life of a White Army officer's family in Civil war Kiev. In the mid-1920s, he came to admire the works of H. G. Wells and wrote several stories with elements of science fiction, notably The Fatal Eggs (Роковые яйца) (1924) and the Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце) (1925). He intended to compile his stories of the mid-twenties (published mostly in medical journals) that were based on his work as a country doctor in 1916–1918 into a collection titled Notes of a Young Doctor (Записки юного врача), but he died before he could publish it

The Fatal Eggs tells of the events of a Professor Persikov, who in experimentation with eggs, discovers a red ray that accelerates growth in living organisms. At the time, an illness passes through the chickens of Moscow, killing most of them and, to remedy the situation, the Soviet government puts the ray into use at a farm. Unfortunately there is a mix up in egg shipments and the Professor ends up with chicken eggs, while the government-run farm receives the shipment of ostrich, snake and crocodile eggs that were meant to go to the Professor. The mistake is not discovered until the eggs produce giant monstrosities that wreak havoc in the suburbs of Moscow and kill most of the workers on the farm. The propaganda machine then turns on Persikov, distorting his nature in the same way his "innocent" tampering created the monsters. This tale of a bungling government earned Bulgakov his label of a counter-revolutionary.

Heart of a Dog features a professor who implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a dog named Sharik (means "Little Balloon" or "Little Ball" - popular Russian nickname for a male dog). The dog then proceeds to become more and more human as time passes, resulting in all manner of chaos. The tale can be read as a critical satire of the Soviet Union; it contains few bold hints to communist leadership (e.g. the name of donor drunkard of human implants is Chugunkin ("chugun" is a cast iron) which can be seen as parody on the name of Stalin ("stal'" is steel). It was turned into a comic opera called The Murder of Comrade Sharik by William Bergsma in 1973. In 1988 an award-winning movie version Sobachye Serdtse was produced by Lenfilm, starring Yevgeniy Yevstigneyev, Roman Kartsev and Vladimir Tolokonnikov.

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита), which Bulgakov began writing in 1928, is a fantasy satirical novel published by his wife in 1966, twenty-six years after his death, that has led to an international appreciation of his work. The book was available underground as samizdat for many years in the Soviet Union, before the serialization of a censored version in the journal Moskva. It contributed a number of sayings to the Russian language, for example, "Manuscripts don't burn" and "second-grade freshness". A destroyed manuscript of the Master is an important element of the plot, and in fact Bulgakov had to rewrite the novel from memory after he burned the draft manuscript of this novel.

The novel is not only a critique of Soviet society and its literary establishment. This work is appreciated for its philosophical layer and for its high artistic level thanks to its bright picturesque descriptions (especially of old Yershalaim), lyrical fragments and perfect author's style. It is a frame narrative involving two characteristically related time periods and/or plot lines; the retelling of the gospels, and describing contemporary Moscow.

The novel begins with Satan's visiting Moscow in the 1920s or 30s, joining a conversation of a critic and a poet, busily debating the existence of Jesus Christ and the Devil. It then evolves into an all-embracing indictment of the corruption, greed, narrow-mindedness, and widespread paranoia of Soviet Russia. Published more than 25 years after Bulgakov's death, and more than ten years after Stalin's, the novel firmly secured Bulgakov's place among the pantheon of great Russian writers.

There is a story-within-the-story: A short historical fiction narrative about the interrogation of Yeshua by Pontius Pilate and the Crucifixion.

Anatoliy Smelyanskiy, a Russian doctor of art, called "The Master and Margarita" arrival of The Bible from an unexpected side



Mikhail Bulgakov

Elena Bulgakova











The Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov

In 1966, almost thirty years after the author's death, the monthly magazine Moskva published the first part of The Master and Margarita in its November issue.The book had circulated underground for many years before surfacing into the public arena. Had it been discovered during Bulgakov's lifetime, there is little doubt that the author would have "disappeared" like so many others—despite the dubious honor of being named as Stalin's favorite playwright for a short period. The Master and Margarita has survived against the odds and is now recognized as one of the finest achievements in twentieth-century Russian fiction. Sentences from the novel have become proverbs in Russian; "Manuscripts don't burn" and "Cowardice is the most terrible of vices" are words with a special resonance for the generations who endured Soviet totalitarianism's worst excesses. Its influence can be detected further afield—from Latin American magic realism to Rushdie, Pynchon, and even the Rolling Stones ("Sympathy for the Devil" is said to be inspired by Bulgakov).The novel is composed of two distinct but interconnected narratives. One is set in modern Moscow; the other in ancient Jerusalem. Into these Bulgakov inserts a cast of strange and other¬worldly characters that includes Woland (Satan) and his demonic entourage, an unnamed writer known as "the master," and his adulterous lover, Margarita. Each is a complex, morally ambiguous figure whose motivations fluctuate as the tale twists and turns in unexpected directions. The novel pulsates with mischievous energy and invention. By turns a searing satire of Soviet life, a religious allegory to rival Goethe's Faust, and an untamed burlesque fantasy, this is a novel of laughter and terror, of freedom and bondage—a novel that blasts open "official truths" with the force of a carnival out of control.




The Master and Margarita

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Master and Margarita (Russian: Мастер и Маргарита) is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, woven around the premise of a visit by the Devil to the fervently atheistic Soviet Union. Many critics consider the book to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, as well as one of the foremost Soviet satires, directed against a suffocatingly bureaucratic social order.

Bulgakov started writing the novel in 1928. The first version of the novel was destroyed (according to Bulgakov, burned in a stove) in March 1930 when he was notified that his play The Cabal of Hypocrites (Кабала святош) was banned.[citation needed] The work was restarted in 1931 and in 1935 Bulgakov attended the Spring Festival at Spaso House, a party said to have inspired the ball of the novel. The second draft was completed in 1936 by which point all the major plot lines of the final version were in place. The third draft was finished in 1937. Bulgakov continued to polish the work with the aid of his wife, but was forced to stop work on the fourth version four weeks before his death in 1940. The work was completed by his wife during 1940–1941.

A censored version (12% of the text removed and still more changed) of the book was first published in Moscow magazine (no. 11, 1966 and no. 1, 1967). The text of all the omitted and changed parts, with indications of the places of modification, was published on a samizdat basis. In 1967 the publisher Posev (Frankfurt) printed a version produced with the aid of these inserts.

In Russia, the first complete version, prepared by Anna Saakyants, was published by Khudozhestvennaya Literatura in 1973, based on the version of the beginning of 1940 proofread by the publisher. This version remained the canonical edition until 1989, when the last version was prepared by literature expert Lidiya Yanovskaya based on all available manuscripts.

The Mikhail Bulgakov Museum in Moscow was vandalized on December 22, 2006, allegedly by a religious fanatic who denounced The Master and Margarita as being satanic propaganda.

The novel alternates among three settings. The first is 1930s Moscow, which is visited by Satan in the guise of Woland or Voland (Воланд), a mysterious gentleman "magician" of uncertain origin, who arrives with a retinue that includes the grotesquely dressed "ex-choirmaster" valet Koroviev (Fagotto) (Фагот, the name means "bassoon" in Russian and some other languages), a mischievous, gun-happy, fast-talking black cat Behemoth (Бегемот, a subversive Puss in Boots, the name referring at once to the Biblical monster and the Russian word for Hippopotamus), the fanged hitman Azazello (Азазелло, hinting of Azazel), the pale-faced Abadonna (Абадонна, a reference to Abaddon) with a death-inflicting stare, and the witch Hella (Гелла). The havoc wreaked by this group targets the literary elite, along with its trade union, MASSOLIT (a Soviet-style abbreviation for "Moscow Society of Literature", but possibly interpretable as "Literature for the Masses"; one translation of the book also mentions that this could be a play on words in Russian, which could be translated into English as something like "LOTTALIT"), its privileged HQ-restaurant Griboyedov's House, corrupt social-climbers and their women (wives and mistresses alike) – bureaucrats and profiteers – and, more generally, skeptical unbelievers in the human spirit.

The opening sequence of the book presents a direct confrontation between the unbelieving head of the literary bureaucracy, Berlioz (Берлиоз), and an urbane foreign gentleman who defends belief and reveals his prophetic powers (Woland). This is witnessed by a young and enthusiastically modern poet, Ivan Bezdomniy (Иван Бездомный – the name means "Homeless"). His futile attempt to chase and capture the "gang" and warn of their evil and mysterious nature lands Ivan in a lunatic asylum. Here we are introduced to The Master, an embittered author, the petty-minded rejection of whose historical novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ has led him to such despair that he burns his manuscript and turns his back on the "real" world, including his devoted lover, Margarita (Маргарита). Major episodes in the first part of the novel include Satan's magic show at the Variety Theatre, satirizing the vanity, greed and gullibility of the new rich; and the capture and occupation of Berlioz's apartment by Woland and his gang.

Part 2 introduces Margarita, the Master's mistress, who refuses to despair of her lover or his work. She is (invited to the Devil's midnight ball) then made an offer by Satan (Woland), and accepts it, becoming a witch with supernatural powers on the night of his Midnight Ball, or Walpurgis Night, which coincides with the night of Good Friday, linking all three elements of the book together, since the Master's novel also deals with this same spring full moon when Christ's fate is sealed by Pontius Pilate and he is crucified in Jerusalem.

The second setting is the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate, described by Woland talking to Berlioz and echoed in the pages of the Master's rejected novel, which concerns Pontius Pilate's meeting with Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Иешуа га-Ноцри, Jesus the Nazarene), his recognition of an affinity with and spiritual need for him, and his reluctant but resigned and passive handing over of him to those who wanted to kill him.

The third setting is the one to which Margarita provides a bridge. Learning to fly and control her unleashed passions (not without exacting violent retribution on the literary bureaucrats who condemned her beloved to despair), and taking her enthusiastic maid Natasha with her, she enters naked into the world of the night, flies over the deep forests and rivers of Mother Russia; bathes, and, cleansed, returns to Moscow as the anointed hostess for Satan's great Spring Ball. Standing by his side, she welcomes the dark celebrities of human history as they pour up from the opened maw of Hell.

She survives this ordeal without breaking, and for her pains and her integrity she is rewarded: Satan offers to grant Margarita her deepest wish. She chooses to liberate the Master and live in poverty and love with him. However, neither Woland nor Yeshua thinks this is a kind of life for good people, and the couple leaves Moscow with the Devil, as its cupolas and windows burn in the setting sun of Easter Saturday. The Master and Margarita leave and as a reward for not having lost their faith they are granted "peace" but are denied "light", i.e. salvation.



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