Rereading the legendary Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” after seven years of the first reading, I caught myself thinking that I’m looking at the thoughts embedded in it quite differently. Of course, the backpack of life and literary experience affects, but also (and to a greater extent) the linguistic and philological education that I managed to get during these years. Thanks to the freshly received philological view and the ability to analyze literature as a true philologist (the golden rule of a philologist: be sure to read literary criticism), I noted for myself a few moments in the novel, which I might not have previously suspected.
Disclaimer: These quotes were translated by me from the Russian source.
Voland is the main character of the novel
From reliable sources, literary scholars know, Mikhail Bulgakov himself sees the main character of the whole novel in Voland. In an appeal to the “Government of the USSR” on March 28, 1930, he calls his work “a novel about the devil”. However, even an inexperienced reader can pay attention to the constant return to Voland and the devil things: these are various hints of other characters, talks about Voland and his personal appearance in the plot. A sense of the omnipresence of Satan is created; the feeling that even in lines where there is not a word about him, he is still present.
Voland is stalin’s prototype
Actually, that is why, in my opinion, Voland is the main character of the novel. Then there was the real cult of Stalin, he was idolized, people were afraid to say a word against him or a word that He would not like.
In the first chapter, the enigmatic foreign professor foreshadows (or miraculously organizes?) The death of Berlioz, in Chapter 7 he says with “a low, heavy voice and with a foreign accent” and sends Likhodeyev to Yalta, and these are just the little things that Voland turns up. Reminds of Stalin’s repressions, is not it?
But why is the leader of the USSR represented in the role of the devil? The answer to this question lies in Bulgakov’s complex relations with Stalin. They were not friends. Never.
Taking into account the following point, you can see another feature of this character, which brings him closer to Stalin. The exploitation of creative personalities for the “good” of society, that is, the use of talents to promote the Party and its ideals.
The author of the novel about Pontius Pilate is Voland
Firstly, the author is Voland, not Master. This is evidenced by Voland’s famous phrase “manuscripts do not burn” (Chapter 24), a real reminiscence referring to religious traditions, according to which everything created by God is preserved. In the case of “The Master and Margarita” in this role is Voland himself. Again, how many times did the Master try to get rid of the manuscript, but he could not do it? Voland saved the manuscripts, because the Gospel should have glorified him, no one else.
The fire roared in the stove, rain was falling in the windows. Then the last happened. I took the heavy lists of the novel and the rough notebooks out of the drawer and began to burn them. It’s terribly difficult to do, because the paper is burning reluctantly. Breaking my nails, I ripped apart the notebooks, standing steadily putting them between logs and a poker rattling the sheets. Ashes at times overpowered me, strangled the flame, but I fought it, and the novel, stubbornly resisting, still perished. The familiar words flashed before me, the yellowness rose uncontrollably from the bottom up the pages, but the words still appeared on it. They disappeared only when the paper was black and I pounded them fiercely. […] Quietly screaming, she threw the last of the left from the stove to the floor with her bare hands, which was left from the bottom. Smoke filled the room now. I kicked the fire with my feet, and she fell on the sofa and burst into tears, uncontrollably and convulsively
— Chapter 13.
The cat instantly jumped from his chair, and everyone saw that he was sitting on a thick bundle of manuscripts
— Chapter 24.
Secondly, why is not Master an author? Yes, the book is written by the Master, but he does not set the plot, but only deals with the design of the contents of the book. What Voland tells him about writing in an attempt to make the anti-Gospel, or “his Gospel”, finding a new Faust for this task. The master himself admits this to Ivan Bezdomny in the house of Stravinsky:
“Ah, no, no,” the guest replied with a painful twitch, “I can not remember without a shudder my novel. And your acquaintance from the Patriarchs would have done it better than I
— Chapter 13.
Master is an alter-ego of Bulgakov
Once the Master appeared in the novel, knowing some facts of the biography of Mikhail Bulgakov, we can build the parallel immediately. The large fragment above from Chapter 13 on the burning of the novel about Pilate copies the burning of the first edition of the “Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov himself. The novel was badly burnt, but it was saved, and later Bulgakov began to restore it. From memory, almost word for word, as the Master remembered his novel (Chapter 30).
Moreover, Bulgakov, like his literary incarnation in the person of the Master, was heavily dependent on Stalin-Voland. The writer asked permission to go abroad, his works were not staged in the theater.
The solely positive character of the novel is nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy
Nikanor was not a “Saint”, he encroached on big money for renting an apartment for a week for Voland. Nevertheless, he is really the only positive character in the novel: unlike the others, he did no harm to anyone, he himself acknowledged and resigned himself to his punishment for the committed sin.
“God is true, God Almighty”, Nikanor Ivanovich began to talk, “He sees everything, and that is my way. The Lord punishes me for my filth, “Nikanor Ivanovich went on with feeling, then buttoning his shirt, unbuttoning, then crossed himself,” Yes, I took it!”
— Chapter 15.
Sources used in the russian language:
- Audio-lectures by Marietta Chudakova on Arzamas
- Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev “The Master and Margarita: for or against the Christ?, 2017.