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Classics Corner

The Master and Margarita
by Mikhail Bulgakov


Surely no stranger work exists in the annals of protest literature than The Master and Margarita. Written during the Soviet crackdown of the 1930s, when Mikhail Bulgakov's works were effectively banned, it wraps its anti-Stalinist message in a complex allegory of good and evil. Or would that be the other way around? The book's chief character is Satan, who appears in the guise of a foreigner and self-proclaimed black magician named Woland. Accompanied by a talking black tomcat and a "translator" wearing a jockey's cap and cracked pince-nez, Woland wreaks havoc throughout literary Moscow. First he predicts that the head of noted editor Berlioz will be cut off; when it is, he appropriates Berlioz's apartment. (A puzzled relative receives the following telegram: "Have just been run over by streetcar at Patriarch's Ponds funeral Friday three afternoon come Berlioz.") Woland and his minions transport one bureaucrat to Yalta, make another one disappear entirely except for his suit, and frighten several others so badly that they end up in a psychiatric hospital. In fact, it seems half of Moscow shows up in the bin, demanding to be placed in a locked cell for protection.
      Meanwhile, a few doors down in the hospital lives the true object of Woland's visit: the author of an unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate. This Master--as he calls himself--has been driven mad by rejection, broken not only by editors' harsh criticism of his novel but, Bulgakov suggests, by political persecution as well. Yet Pilate's story becomes a kind of parallel narrative, appearing in different forms throughout Bulgakov's novel: as a manuscript read by the Master's indefatigable love, Margarita, as a scene dreamed by the poet--and fellow lunatic--Ivan Homeless, and even as a story told by Woland himself. Since we see this narrative from so many different points of view, who is truly its author? Given that the Master's novel and this one end the same way, are they in fact the same book? These are only a few of the many questions Bulgakov provokes, in a novel that reads like a set of infinitely nested Russian dolls: inside one narrative there is another, and then another, and yet another. His devil is not only entertaining, he is necessary: "What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?"
      Unsurprisingly--in view of its frequent, scarcely disguised references to interrogation and terror--Bulgakov's masterwork was not published until 1967, almost three decades after his death. Yet one wonders if the world was really ready for this book in the late 1930s, if, indeed, we are ready for it now. Shocking, touching, and scathingly funny, it is a novel like no other. Woland may reattach heads or produce 10-ruble notes from the air, but Bulgakov proves the true magician here. The Master and Margarita is a different book each time it is opened. --Mary Park


From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 12:31 PM Today is the official start of the discussion of The Master and Margarita. I'm over half done and hope to finish in the next couple of days. This book is like nothing else I have ever read, perhaps because I generally don't do fantasy. I'm not sure where Bulgakov is going with this one, but I'm enjoying the ride. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (2 of 15), Read 69 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 05:49 PM I too am over half done, but will not be finishing it in two more days. Is one allowed to discuss before having read completely? (Incidentally, do December's Despair readers see a similarity between Nabokov and Bulgakov? I feel they share a sort of tragic whimsicality.)
Topic: The Master and Margarita (3 of 15), Read 65 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernest Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 07:04 PM I am getting there. So far my impression is that of a most unusual (strange) book. Ernie
Topic: The Master and Margarita (4 of 15), Read 56 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 12:41 AM Martin, Of course, you can discuss anything you want before you have finished. Once I got going with this novel, I had a hard time putting it down and I finished it tonight. For me the scenes involving Pilate were by far the most compelling because they were the most "realistic" and involved such a wonderful character study. The Moscow scenes, on the other hand, had a hectic, phantasmagoric nature which seemed more designed to amaze and amuse the reader. At the same time, I really liked the way the two parts of the novel were intertwined. When others have finished, I would like to discuss the fate of the Master and Margarita. For me, it was totally unexpected. Good point, Martin, about the shared whimsicality of Bulgakov and Nabokov. This is decidedly present in Bulgakov's picture of Satan and his cohorts, which is very inventive and constantly changing. They really don't seem all that evil -- do you think? Ernie, I'm glad you are joining us on this one. It is without doubt one of the most original novels I have ever read. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (5 of 15), Read 54 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 08:33 AM I have about 50 pages more to go and am amazed at how much I like this novel. Like you, Ann, I'm not usually a reader of fantasy because I don't care for it much. However, I am just delighted by this. The cat had me laughing out loud in bed last night. The editor of the annotations in my edition says that the whole Satan's Ball scene is very Gogol-like. I had no idea that Gogol wrote like that. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (6 of 15), Read 54 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 08:41 AM Does anyone else find the introduction of the Master and of Margarita so far into the book odd? Somehow, it works for me but I would not have expected to wait so long to meet main characters. Also, I have a hard time understanding Margarita. We are left to just assume that it is logical that she have the behavior characteristics that she has, but it's not logical to me. That is probably the only major criticism I have of the book. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (7 of 15), Read 52 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 09:32 AM Barb, Yes, I definitely found it strange that the Master and Margarita were introduced so far into the book, and I also thought Margarita was really undeveloped as a character. However, in the whole Moscow segment, the only character that seems fully human and real is the Master. From the notes in my book, the Master was based on Bulgakov himself and Margarita was based on his third wife, Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaia-Bulgakova. Like Tolstoy's and Nabokov's wives, Elena was totally dedicated to her husband's writing. (These Russian authors knew how to pick them). It is largely due to her that Bulgakov's work was preserved and published. Like Margarita, she also left a perfectly nice husband for her writer;unlike Margarita, she had two children, which must have complicated things greatly. From what I have read of Russian history, the 1930's under Stalin were a nightmare period of political denunciations, show trials, disappearances, and so on. Bulgakov personally suffered a great deal. I keep remembering how frightened the Master was and how this fear must reflect Bulgakov's own feelings. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (8 of 15), Read 48 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 08:23 PM From Jody Richael: I finished this book a while ago and have been waiting to begin discussing it. I have never read anything quite like it. I wish I had the annotated version as some further insights into Stalin's Russia would likely be helpful. Ann - I also was surprised at the fate of the Master and Margarita. I also don't understand why Woland was given instructions from Matthew to carry it out. The Pontius Pilate narratives were very interesting but carried far beyond anything that is in the Bible. I did find the surprise ending with Pontius and Judas very interesting. I'm looking forward to some further discussions. Jody
Topic: The Master and Margarita (9 of 15), Read 48 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Jody Richael jodyrichael@cs.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 08:43 PM Thanks Ann! I inadvertently hit Post instead of Reply and didn't notice until just now. Jody
Topic: The Master and Margarita (10 of 15), Read 47 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003 09:20 PM Jody, I'm so glad you will be joining us. Martin posted the address of a wonderful site with all kinds of notes on The Master and Margarita: http://cr.middlebury.edu/public/russian/bulgakov/public_html/. There are some interesting notes there under the chapter and character headings which give some very helpful information about Soviet life during this period. ****WARNING PLOT SPOILER************** The following discusses the fate of the Master and Margarita. I fully expected Margarita to have to pay for her bargain with the devil. Isn't that the way these Faustian tales generally turn out? Instead, even though she and the Master must die, they get to spend the rest of eternity together in an idyllic country cottage. Not a bad fate at all. It makes me think that Woland is not such a bad sort after all, or at least not such a powerful one. He tells Margarita: "Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that." Good wins out in the end, which is a most comforting thought. More specifically, Bulgakov tells us that the fate of the Master and Margarita has been decided by Yeshua (Jesus). Mathew Levi tells Woland that Yeshua has decided to give the Master the gift of peace, after reading the Pilate manuscript. When Woland asks why Levi doesn't "take him with you into the light", which I interpreted to mean "heaven", " Levi replies: "He does not deserve the light, he deserves peace." This peace seems to be a very wonderful and longed for gift. According to the Middlebury internet site mentioned above, Bulgakov knew that he was dying of a disease called nephrosclerosis when he wrote Chapter 32. "Forgiveness and Eternal Refuge." The Master is generally identified with Bulgakov, so the words at the opening to this chapter struck me as particularly poignant, although they seem to refer to the fate of the Master: Gods, my gods! How sad the evening earth! How mysterious the mists over the swamps! He who has wandered in these mists, he who has suffered much before death, he who has flown over this earth bearing on himself too heavy a burden, knows it. The weary man knows it. And without regret he leaves the mists of the earth, its swamps and rivers, with a light heart he gives himself into the hands of death knowing that she alone can bring him peace. I am not conventionally religious, so Bulgakov's rewriting of some of the details in the execution of Jesus did not bother me in the least. I find Pilate to be an absolutely haunting figure, and I love the way he also was granted peace in the end.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (11 of 15), Read 24 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Jody Richael jodyrichael@cs.com Date: Friday, January 03, 2003 03:47 PM SPOILERS I was just flipping through the book trying to remember some of my thoughts when I was actually reading it and I came upon an interesting sentence. At the ball, Woland is speaking to Mikhail Alexandrovich (or rather just his head) and he says the following: "You have always been a fervent proponent of the theory that when a man's head is cut off his life stops, he turns to dust and he ceases to exist. I am glad to be able to tell you...that your theory is intelligent and sound. Now, one theory deserves another. Among them there is one which maintains that a man will receive his desserts in accordance with his beliefs. So be it! You shall depart into the void..." It appears that one theme of the book is that each man's ultimate fate is what he most expects or desires to happen to him. Each character receives what they each most wanted. Alexandrovich may not have wanted to disappear but if he didn't believe in any life after death he couldn't really have wanted anything else. The master and Margarita get what they most desired. Even Pontius Pilate first got what he most expected would happen to him (he suffered from the guilt of what he considered to be his worst sin - cowardice) and then he ultimately received what he wanted. Perhaps this is what Woland means when he says all will end as it should. Eternity doesn't necessarily hold suffering or reward but rather you get whatever you most desire. Perhaps in this view heaven still is better than hell but those in hell don't necessarily perceive that since they are happy where they are. Certainly I don't think I would say that any of Woland's group or the persons at the ball seemed miserable although they are what traditional interpretations would view as 'damned'. Jody
Topic: The Master and Margarita (12 of 15), Read 23 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 04, 2003 12:16 PM Jody, SPOILERS I agree with much of what you wrote, but I think that it is fairer to say that people in this book get what they deserve, rather than what they desire. Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz did not believe in God or an afterlife, so he his fate was nothingness after he died. Margarita and the master were basically good people who deserved to be together, so they got the magical cottage. Margarita calls this his "eternal home which you have been given as a reward." However, the master does not "deserve the light" so he cannot follow Mathew Levi to heaven. The other people who really get what they deserve are the Moscow critics and literary establishment, and Bulgakov must have had great fun writing these parts of the novel. In the Soviet Union, writers could not publish unless they were part of the Writer's Union, which is represented in the novel by Massolit. The officially approved writing style was "socialist realism," a very preachy and unimaginative style exalting the common workers and the revolution - the complete antithesis of Bulgakov's creative flights of fancy. As a result, the approved writers were mostly hacks. Bulgakov himself was repeatedly denied the opportunity to publish or perform his plays and he was ruthlessly criticized as being anti-Soviet. But he has his revenge in the novel with the beheading of Berlioz, Chairman of the Board of Massolit, Margarita's violent destruction of the critic Latunsky's apartment, and the setting on fire of Griboedov House, the Massolit headquarters, by Koroviev and Behemoth as they prepare to leave Moscow. I agree completely with your observation that hell, as described in this book, doesn't seem to be all that terrible. The only two people who really seem to be suffering at Satan's ball are the woman who killed her infant son (for whom Margarita wins a respite) and the spy Baron Meigal who is shot at the ball, but was doomed to die within a month anyway. The devils in the book often operate as agents of good by shaking people up, revealing the dangers of their greed, and wrecking havoc on the literary establishment. The quotation at the beginning of the book underscores the fact that Satan is part of the divine plan and causes no irreparable harm. This is from Goethe's Faust: '...who are you, then?' 'I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.' Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (13 of 15), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Jody Richael jodyrichael@cs.com Date: Saturday, January 04, 2003 12:56 PM Ann, SPOILERS Even as I was writing that post I was feeling somewhat that deserved was a better term but I still don’t think it is exactly ‘deserved’ in the sense traditionally religious people view eternities. It seems that there is still an element of expectation or desire that influences one’s fate. For example, Berlioz’s fate of nothingness isn’t usually even considered an option - he would traditionally deserve hell. Rather than getting what he deserved, he gets what he expected. And as you mentioned before, in a traditional sense I don’t know how Margarita deserves a life of bliss after selling her soul to Woland but she gets it nonetheless. There is so much symbolism in this book I need to start reading it again! Jody
Topic: The Master and Margarita (14 of 15), Read 19 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Saturday, January 04, 2003 01:14 PM I sincerely hope in the next world people don't get merely what they expect, or heaven will be full of complacent rogues, and hell of saints who have suffered from feelings of guilt. I am now onto part two and am reading the chapters backwards. That way I can read the spoiler posts without feeling anything is being spoilt! Post | Reply | Reply/Quote | Email Reply | Delete | Edit | Move Previous | Next | Previous Topic | Next Topic | Entire Topic Topic: The Master and Margarita (15 of 15), Read 14 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 04, 2003 05:05 PM Jody, Could we perhaps agree that the characters in this book get an "appropriate" punishment? Martin, Well that's a novel approach. :) Let us know how it works out. Since this is your second reading of the novel, it might not make much difference. I found the whole character of Margarita a bit confusing. When the master was arrested, I initially suspected that she had turned him into the authorities, as Niza betrayed Judas, but that doesn't seem to have been the case. She definitely enjoys being a witch and flying around naked on her broomstick while she destroys the critic's apartment. Of course, having access to the magic cream which made her perfectly young and beautiful was definitely a bonus. She never regrets aligning herself with Satan since it will allow her to see her beloved master again, and the master justifies their relationship by saying "when people have been robbed of everything, like you [Margarita] and me, they seek salvation from other-worldly powers." While Margarita destroys physical things,she never hurts people, and when she is offered a reward for her participation in the ball, she uses it to help Frieda, the mother who smothered her baby. And yet, there is a rather chilling description of Margarita's witch's face when she dies: ... with his iron hands, Azazello turned her over like a doll, face to him, and peered at her. The face of the dead woman was changing before his eyes. Even in the gathering dusk of the storm, one could see the temporary witch's cast in her eyes and the cruelty and violence of her features disappear. The face of the dead woman brightened and finally softened, and the look of her bared teeth was no longer predatory but simply that of a suffering woman. What did you all think of her? Ann
From: Jody Richael jodyrichael@cs.com Date: Monday, January 06, 2003 02:31 PM Ann - I think we can agree that in Bulgakov's view the characters all received the appropriate punishment. I'm not sure if I personally would say it is appropriate but we are probably belaboring the point. It is interesting to think about. Margarita is the most difficult character in the book for me to understand. Someone mentioned it before but I also found it odd that I was half way through the book and still had no idea who the Master or Margarita were. Why was there so much focus on Woland's other acts? I probably don't have as much sympathy for Margarita as others do. She obviously was very miserable in her marriage but by all descriptions she had no reason to be. I can't completely forget that both the Master and Margarita apparently didn't think much of their marriage promises. In most literature I read that is the case - one's own personal happiness supercedes anyone else's happiness or any prior promises you may have made. Although, Margarita did put the woman who killed her baby and the Masters' happiness above her own. Jody
Topic: The Master and Margarita (17 of 27), Read 28 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, January 06, 2003 07:25 PM If everyone did the right thing, there would be nothing to write about I suppose. I think it was Barb who also mentioned that she had some trouble with the character of Margarita. Margarita never seemed too real to me, probably because most of the time she was cavorting around Moscow on that broomstick. Barb, are you still reading? Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (18 of 27), Read 27 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Monday, January 06, 2003 08:11 PM Nothing to read in Heaven? pres There comes a time to stop trying to become and just go ahead and be.(Bavetta)
Topic: The Master and Margarita (19 of 27), Read 25 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, January 06, 2003 10:14 PM Ah, Pres - then it wouldn't be heaven. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (20 of 27), Read 31 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, January 06, 2003 11:58 PM I finished the book last night, Ann, then read the fairly complicated, but very thought provoking, Afterward by the editor of my edition and I've been thinking about it and the questions raised here ever since. One of the points raised by the editor was that though Bulgakov felt great kinship to the Romantics and a great debt to the Russian writers who went before him, this is not traditional Russian literature. We are never shown why any of the characters develop the personalities that they have. We know nothing about their childhoods or formative influences. I'm giving her viewpoint from memory because I can't find the book right now. However, I think that's close. My problem with Margarita was that I didn't understand her. However, when I think about it, no character in the book was truly developed in a traditional sense. And, I think that's because they were symbols (not exactly the word I want, but i can't think of another) to further philosophical points. One of the wonders about this is that Bulgakov was writing this in the 1930's. We take this approach for granted now, but this was only 30 years or so after Tolstoy died. But, specifically about Margarita, I still have trouble figuring out her motivation. Even without any character development, I understood that the Master's drive was to create his novel. There really wasn't much else to him, but that drive to create made sense to me. And, at whatever level they were presented, I understood some of what was driving the other characters. But, Margarita didn't make sense to me personally or philosophically. People who live solely to preserve and promote another's genius, without anything of their own, are difficult for me to understand. And, I'm not sure how she furthers the philosophical points. The editor also made some interesting points about Bulgakov's feelings about religion. Hopefully, I can figure out where I put the book down and write a note about them today or tomorrow. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (21 of 27), Read 30 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2003 06:52 AM Are you not all perhaps being a little hard on Margarita? She seems to me to be presented less as a complete character than as the object of the Master's love, and, through Bulgakov's skilful writing, an object of desire for the male reader. She spends a lot of time kissing, dancing and cavorting, and is usually considerably less than half-dressed. Morally, you have to remember that -- **SPOILER! SPOILER!** -- she dies only hours after finally leaving her husband. (I rather like crying 'spoiler': it gives a sense of power. Can we do that when we come on to read Genesis?) As Ann says, Jerusalem is realistic and Moscow is 'phantasmagorical'. What you could say is that Bulgakov had stripped away the supernatural and mythological from the Easter story (although the demythologising is far from complete by modern theological standards), and given us a contemporary story full of the supernatural and myth. What he is inviting us to do I think is to strip away the myth from the modern story and find the raw tale underneath. And then Chapter 30 is just the death of the couple in a suicide pact. I have been doing much better with this novel since I began reading part 2 backwards ... Some more thoughts on Margarita: Bulgakov's Yeshua is a lonely figure. There are no disciples or women followers. He has one disciple, Mathew Levi, who I take it is supposed to be quite distinct from the author of the first Gospel. There is no Joseph of Arimathea to buy the body from Pilate, no two Marys and Salome (Mark 15:40) watching the crucifixion from afar. Yeshua tells Pilate he is not married, and says that Mathew misunderstands what he says. There is no resurrection. Bulgakov's Master reveals certain other aspects of the Jesus story. He is called Master, which is how Jesus is frequently referred to in the Gospels (Matthew 8:19, 9:11, 12:38, 17:24 etc etc). He too has a disciple, finally, in Ivan the poet. He is persecuted and destroyed for what he has to say. His novel is miraculously resurrected after having been burnt. Margarita is a bit like Mary Magdalen. Mary M has a reputation that is entirely of the Church's inventing, and there is of course no hint in the Gospels that she was a 'fallen woman'. And Margarita is not the witch she seems to be. Both women seem to go in for anointing, although Margarita attends to her own body rather than the Master's. But is not Margarita also rather like the Virgin, addressed as 'Queen' and 'Madonna' after the Devil's ball? When asked to make a wish by Woland, she intercedes for another tortured soul (the women who killed her baby), and doesn't think to ask for anything for herself.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (22 of 27), Read 29 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Mary Anne Papale papcons@earthlink.net Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2003 09:42 AM I was not so worried about the late arrival of the title characters, but rather taken along by the fantastic events of the novel. For the first third of the novel, I kept thinking that it reminded me of something, and finally it hit me: Saramago's Blindness. I don't know if this is worth elaborating on, but I thought I would note it anyway. There were several characters who bear the same names as famous composers: Berlioz, Rimsky, Stravinsky. In the web site posted by Martin, there is a section on the characters and the possible reasons for the choice of names. Also on that site, it mentions that Pushkin is as familiar to Russian readers as Shakespeare is to English readers. Bulgakov was heavily influenced by Pushkin, and wrote a play in the midst of writing this book called “The Last Days”, in which Pushkin was the central character, but never actually appears on stage. That sort of reminds me of Woland, who quietly disappears during the performance at the Variety. MAP
Topic: The Master and Margarita (23 of 27), Read 26 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Jody Richael jodyrichael@cs.com Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2003 11:52 AM Martin - I really enjoyed your post. I would respond to it now but I need to think about it for a while. Barb - The more I think about Margarita the more difficulty I have with her. Your comment about people who live solely to preserve and promote another’s genius, without anything of their own reminded me of an ethics course I took in college. We had read David Norton’s, Personal Destinies, in which he speaks of a person’s daimon, which is somewhat similar to their purpose in life. The professor asked us what Mozart’s daimon was and it was obviously something about creating music but then he said that Salieri’s daimon was appreciating Mozart. That has always rubbed me the wrong way just as something about Margarita does as well. Jody
Topic: The Master and Margarita (24 of 27), Read 30 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2003 12:07 PM Yes, Mary Anne, and of course Berlioz and Stravinsky are what you might call theatrical composers, which may have been their particular appeal to Bulgakov. I am very struck by the theatre as a theme of the book. Woland is a stage conjurer, as well as a devil. Many of the minor characters work in the theatre. Woland and his minions talk, and behave, like professinal thespians, all florid gestures and grand phrases. The gaudy costumes also suggest a stage setting. The other things I've read by Bulgakov give the same feeling. In The White Guard, a snow-bound novel of the Civil War period - the same world as Zhivago, there are family scenes with a Chekhovian feel to them of 'enter left' or 'exit right'. Black Snow is richly comic, and is about putting on (or failing to put on) a play in Moscow, as told by the play's author. I must admit The White Guard I did not finish. Still, Bulgakov did not finish Black Snow either. The other thing that strikes me is the 'city as hero'. In The White Guard he uses Kiev. In the Master and Margarita it is Moscow and Jerusalem. I find his Jerusalem much more vividly presented than his Moscow. Do other readers feel this?
Topic: The Master and Margarita (25 of 27), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2003 06:17 PM Barb, You wrote: "People who live solely to preserve and promote another's genius, without anything of their own, are difficult for me to understand." Although I would never be unselfish enough to do that, such people really do exist. I am thinking in particular of Vera Nabokov. There is an excellent biography of her called Vera which I have half finished. She recognized her husband's genius and totally dedicated her life to it. Yet she was herself an extremely intelligent and capable person. I also recall that Tolstoy's wife spent hours and hours copying out War and Peace by hand. As I understand from the site Martin posted, Bulgakov's third wife (at least partially the model for Margarita) was also responsible for preserving his work and making sure it was finally published. The Master and Margarita could never, of course, be published in his lifetime because of the political satire. I am very interested in Bulgakov's attitude towards religion because his father was a professor at a Theological Academy. Was he a true believer? I spent a summer in Russia in 1970 and remember being shocked that the main cathedral in Leningrad (now once more St. Petersburg) had been turned into a museum of atheism. The Soviet attitude towards religion was militantly atheistic, as is shown in the introduction to the M&M where Berlioz insists that the poet's poem must state that Jesus never existed. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (26 of 27), Read 8 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2003 06:36 PM Mary Anne, Thanks for sharing that information on Bulgakov's play about Pushkin. Martin, Great notes. I agree that this book is very theatrical. I think I said someplace else that it would make a good movie, but the theater would be much better because it can accommodate fantasy and exaggeration so much better than the more realistic medium of film. (I can just see all those naked women flying around. I think it would be a hit- :) I agree that the Yershaliam and Moscow segments were written in a completely different style, and I really liked the contrast. Some of us have pointed out that there was very little character development in the Moscow segments, but, in contrast, Yeshua and Pilate were both completely real to me in the Yershaliam chapters. For me, Yeshua was much more "human" in this book than Jesus was in the Bible. You pointed out how alone Yeshua was. Bulgakov also describes the master as being alone, without family, which is one of the many parallels in this book. I loved the part about Mathew Levi being his most dedicated disciple, but writing down everything wrong. What delicious irony. What do you all think about Yeshua's belief that all people are "good?" Simplistic? Accurate? It did remind me that in Russian culture there is a tradition of what is called a "holy fool." Maybe reading backwards is the way to go. This method certainly seems to have provided you with a lot of great insights. Ann
From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 06:29 AM What do you all think about Yeshua's belief that all people are "good?" I'm not sure, but I have got very interested in "The Gospel according to Woland" (although of course it is equally written by The Master, and by Bulgakov himself.) Cupitt, in his short book Who was Jesus has a chapter on Jesus's existence. It begins, "About the year 1910, in avant-garde circles in Germany, a few writers seriously put forward the view that Jesus had never lived at all. The idea influenced the young Lenin, and so passed into Soviet Communist orthodoxy." So that was how it started. Woland's Gospel, being the devil's Gospel, challenges Soviet orthodoxy by stating Jesus's existence, as much as Christian orthodoxy by presenting such an unorthodox Jesus. Cupitt develops convincing arguments for Jesus's existence, a strong one being that an invented Jesus would not have said so many things that went counter to the practice of the early church - and he then gives examples. I don't think Woland's gospel would disturb modern protestant theologians too much (or even Catholic ones like Kung or Schillebeeckx). They have been down these roads many times before. For example: - The Gospels present Pilate as a decent and rather detached magistrate, and place the responsibility for Jesus's crucifixion with the Jewish people. But is this plausible? As Cupitt says, "Jesus was a troublemaker, and the Romans knew how to deal with troublemakers." Pilate is unusual in the Gospel story, in that a lot is known about him from another source, namely Josephus's Jewish History, in which he appears as a very hard man indeed, not someone who would have had scruples about executing a holy man. Bulgakov sees this as a Roman affair, controlled from above, so the releasing of Barabbas is not a choice of the mob, but an announcement made to it. - The hasty burial. Modern theologians are prepared to accept that the experience of the risen Christ came first, and the story of the empty tomb was created later as a rationalisation of these experiences. On the other hand Bulgakov follows the Gospels where he might have rejected their authority. For example, the "darkness at noon" of Mark, which Bulgakov explains as a coming storm. This is a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy. The drink on the sponge similarly. Even the idea of the crucifixion taking place at Passover time, which has a clear theological meaning. Incidentally, in one important respect he follows St John, against St Matthew, Mark and Luke. In St John, Jesus is crucified on the day of the Passover, 14 Nisan, whereas Mark makes the last supper a passover meal, and Jesus is crucified the next day. Bulgakov describes the passover preparations as Judas is lured to his death, and is careful to begin chapter 2 with a reference to 14 Nisan. The chronology problem is discussed in Conzelmann's Primitive Christianity. Sorry, I must be boring you to death with all this. Something more pertinent: what do you make of the death of Judas? Here I found the 'middlebury' notes useful in explaining that Pilate was instructing his agent to kill Judas, while apparently asking for the man's protection, which I didn't understand at all to begin with. Even then, I found the whole thing hard to understand. You can see Pilate representing the Great Terror, and Jesus the Russian people, but I'm not sure what message we are meant to derive from Bulgakov's story of Judas.
From: Mary Anne Papale papcons@earthlink.net Date: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 10:21 AM No, Martin, please keep up these wonderful posts. The religious themes in this book are fascinating. I'm sure it would be quite difficult to depict the politically correct views on religion in Soviet Russia, historically a very religious country. What is the right punishment for Margarita, who has entered into a bargain with the devil? Surely not the traditional Faustian punishment. What group keeps a moral order in this society? It must be the state, but much is made of the fact that for all their well-meaning and hard work, the police just can't keep up with solving all the disorder. Also, I love what Bulgakov does to those who refuse to publish writers' works: Berlioz gets his head cut off, Latunsky's flat is obliterated. It seems like Bulgakov gets his revenge for every rejection he ever got. MAP
Topic: The Master and Margarita (29 of 59), Read 57 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 01:46 PM Martin, Keep those notes coming. I was very much interested in your comments about the controversy regarding the historical Jesus. As I remember, however, in the novel it was the head of the Jewish Sanhedrin, not the Roman authorities, who decided to release Barabbas instead of Jesus, so I think that Bulgakov agrees with the Gospels in placing the responsibility on at least some of the Jews. In M&M Pilate very much wanted them to release Yeshua because he recognized he was innocent and because he could cure those horrible headaches. I agree that the part about Judas's murder by the Romans was difficult to understand. In the Gospels, he commits suicide, doesn't he? I thought Pilate was ordering his death, but I wasn't completely sure until I read the notes on the internet site (thanks for that address!). There were many Judases in Russian society. The 1930's was the time of the Great Purges when Stalin eliminated all of his opposition in the Communist Party and decimated the military leadership (one reason why the Soviet Union was so badly prepared when Hitler attacked). Rich farmers (kulaks) and intellectuals were also hurt by the purges, and many people turned others into the secret police. A lot of people simply disappeared, just as there are references to people disappearing regularly in M&M. I can understand why Bulgakov wanted to write about Judas. Do you think there is any significance to the fact that he had Judas's mistress betray him? Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (30 of 59), Read 57 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 03:26 PM You are quite right Anne, it was the Sanhedrin not Pilate -- cancel what I said. I was impressed by your idea of the 'the holy fool', and realise that Yeshua reminded me of someone but I could not think think who -- but it is Dostoyevsky's Myshkin. I suppose neither were fools, but it was their fate to be treated as fools.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (31 of 59), Read 55 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 05:59 PM Martin, The master reminds me of Myshkin too in that both have a kind of childlike innocence, but also a very basic goodness. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (32 of 59), Read 65 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Candy Minx candyminx@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 06:11 PM This thread has been as fascinating as the book...........
Topic: The Master and Margarita (33 of 59), Read 44 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Thursday, January 09, 2003 07:51 PM I haven't read this book. I pouted when I wasn't able to get the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and decided if I couldn't get the translation I wanted, I wasn't going to read it. Obviously, after reading this thread, I realize that was a real dumb decision. This is a great discussion, guys. I really regret missing out on it. Beej
Topic: The Master and Margarita (34 of 59), Read 46 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, January 09, 2003 09:54 PM Beej, It's never too late. I ordered the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation from Amazon and have been very satisfied with it. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (35 of 59), Read 47 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Friday, January 10, 2003 01:31 AM Ann is right and Powell's also has it because the one I bought there is this translation. AND as may be gathered I've not begun yet -- can't get untangled from the angels, ants and bees. I've had little reading time to finish the Byatt but it has a strangle-hold on my attention none-the-less. Get your hands on it and we should both be ready to talk before this thread totally winds down, Beej. Dottie "...every good war needs the occasional amnesty." Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
Topic: The Master and Margarita (36 of 59), Read 44 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Friday, January 10, 2003 02:09 PM Dottie, Knowing your interest in religious themes, I think you would be really intrigued by the 4 chapters involving Pilate and the Bulgakov version of the death of Christ. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (37 of 59), Read 38 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, January 11, 2003 10:08 PM Heh -- I'm in the first Pilate chapter right now, Ann. Very interesting. I'm finding some of what I've read in the opening chapter highly amusing in tone -- maybe I'm truly losing it. {G} While I've not had enough concentrated time to get truly hooked into this yet -- I can see it will take hold without too much effort. Dottie "...every good war needs the occasional amnesty." Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
Topic: The Master and Margarita (38 of 59), Read 40 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, January 11, 2003 10:23 PM Beej -- did you get this one yet? I do think you will like the P & V translation. Dottie "...every good war needs the occasional amnesty." Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
Topic: The Master and Margarita (39 of 59), Read 40 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, January 11, 2003 10:44 PM Nope..but I will. I'm not sure I'll get it in time for the discussion. I've been doing a lot of yard work and so not spending as much time reading. The notes here are wonderful, tho. On second thought, maybe I'll give yard work a rest for a little while! Beej
Topic: The Master and Margarita (40 of 59), Read 40 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, January 11, 2003 10:53 PM On 1/11/2003 10:44:00 PM, Beej Connor wrote: On second thought, maybe >I'll give yard work a rest for >a little while! > >Beej THAT'S more like it, Beej {G} Dottie "...every good war needs the occasional amnesty." Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
Topic: The Master and Margarita (41 of 59), Read 37 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 11, 2003 11:30 PM Dottie, Good, I'm glad you've started this. For the most part, this is an amusing satire, although there are some poignant parts - especially the chapters about Yeshua (Jesus). I was curious about Bulgakov's own religious beliefs since I knew his father was a professor at a theological academy in Kiev. It turns out that his father taught religions from an academic, rather than a theological perspective. I found a very well-written biography by Ellendea Proffer, which was, unfortunately, written before many of Bulgakov's papers became available. Proffer said that Bulgakov had a real distaste for organized religion, stemming from his experiences in the Russian Civil War when the clergy took political sides. I guess I should have been able to figure that out from the fact that according to Yeshua, gospel writer Mathew Levi wrote down everything he said wrong. That doesn't leave a very solid basis to build a church on, does it? She also points out that there is no resurrection scene in Bulgakov's account, although at the end Yeshua is identified with the "light", which seems to be heaven. Proffer also argues that Satan is presented in a rather favorable light. His henchmen do the naughty work, and even that is not too bad. She sees the Moscow scenes as mostly a show of magic, rather than evil. Beej, you're in Florida now, right? You can do lawn work any old time. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (42 of 59), Read 42 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 02:24 AM I too have started this. I am at Chapter 15 of book One. I am reading it here: http://www.klassika.ru:8014/proza/bulgakov/master97_engl.txt My impression so far is that Bulgakov is saying that a society can deny the existence of Jesus but it can't deny the existence of the devil. The things which happened to people which they attributed to the devil were all from within themselves, their own greed and corruption. The amazing events which Bulgakov describes in his contemporary Moscow are a great satire of Russian society and gives me great admiration of his spirit. Every society has its follies worthy of satire but to write of them under Stalin took courage of the highest order. In addition these events are somewhat like parables. Bulgakov's story about Jesus presents him as a more real person than the Gospels. (Incidentally, I was surprised to learn recently that the Gospels were written after the Epistles.)This real Jesus, then, is the image of the good person which was thrown away when the Russians denied his existence. Bulgakov shows us a society with no image of goodness to emulate but rife with ineluctable devilish predilections. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (43 of 59), Read 40 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 07:35 AM I just finished this the other day. I read the Glenny translation, which is what the library had, so I wasn't privy to any of the notes or explanations. Even without those, the book is much more playful and easier to read than I had imagined. I wish I had looked at the website that someone posted, though. Those chapter explanations would have been helpful and even reading them after the fact gives me more insight into the goings-on. One trivial matter has to do with the translation. I wondered why, at the beer kiosk, when all they had was "apricot juice" they were so disappointed. I thought, boy, apricot juice must be incredibly rich and full. You'd have to sacrifice a lot of apricots to get much juice. Turns out, the other translations said "apricot water" which is a fizzy water with a little flavor in it. So I wonder what other, more important differences there might have been. Sherry
Topic: The Master and Margarita (44 of 59), Read 39 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 11:49 AM I threw in the towel pretty early on this one, but I remember having that same thought about the apricot juice, Sherry. Ruth
Topic: The Master and Margarita (45 of 59), Read 41 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 12:28 PM Sherry and Ruth, the Glenny translation does not look very good. It also is on the internet. Here is the site: http://www.klassika.ru:8014/cgi-bin/read.pl?text=proza/bulgakov/master_engl.txt Here is the first paragraph from Glenny: At the sunset hour of one warm spring day two men were to be seen at Patriarch's Ponds. The first of them–aged about forty, dressed in a greyish summer suit–was short, dark-haired, well-fed and bald. He carried his decorous pork-pie hat by the brim and his neatly shaven face was embellished by black hornrimmed spectacles of preternatural dimensions. The other, a broad-shouldered young man with curly reddish hair and a check cap pushed back to the nape of his neck, was wearing a tartan shirt, chewed white trousers and black sneakers. Chewed white trousers?? This is the first paragraph of the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the Patriarch's Ponds. One of them, approximately forty years old, dressed in a grey summer suit, was short, dark-haired, plump, bald, and carried his respectable fedora hat in his hand. His neatly shaven face was adorned with black horn-rimmed glasses of a supernatural size. The other, a broad-shouldered young man with tousled reddish hair, his checkered cap cocked back on his head, was wearing a cowboy shirt, wrinkled white trousers and black sneakers. In addition to being a translator, Pevear is also a poet, and his wife Larissa Volokhonsky is a native Russian. The first paragraph isn't a particularly good example, but most of the text is very lyrical and a pleasure to read. Because Volokhonsky is also a native Russian, I have a greater trust in its accuracy. I have read several translations by this pair and feel it is well worth buying the paperbacks to get their translation. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (46 of 59), Read 41 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 12:33 PM Dean, Thank you so much for that internet site. The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation is copyrighted 1997. I don't see how it can be legal to post it on the web, but there it is. There are typographical errors, but otherwise it seems to be the exact text. I'm glad you are joining us for this one. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (47 of 59), Read 38 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 01:13 PM Anne, The internet site and the issue of the Glenny translation came up in the earlier "January reminder" thread don't forget. I'd agree with your judgement on the Glenny translation (this being the one I've now read twice!), but I would add that it is very lively. You said earlier that you thought M&M was very filmable, and I've read in one or two places now that filming it was one of Fellini's unrealised ambitions. See for example, http://www.tinhouse.com/Back_Issues/Issue_6/feature2.html By the way, did anyone look at http://grigam.narod.ru/bulgak/i2.htm ? It's a bit silly, I know, but the little bit of music it invites you play seems to me to fit very well with the book.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (48 of 59), Read 38 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 01:39 PM Ann, it seems that that internet site may have a garbled translation, or maybe Glenny updated it. Here's the first paragraph of the book I have: At the sunset hour of one warm spring day two men were to be seen at Patriarch's Ponds. The first of them -- aged about forty, dressed in a grayish summer suit -- was short, dark-haired, well-fed and bald. He carried his decorous hat by the brim as though it were a cake, and his neatly shaven face was embellished by black horn-rimmed spectacles of preternatural dimensions. The other, a broad-shouldered young man with curly reddish hair and a check cap pushed back to the nape of his neck, was wearing a tartan shirt, wrinkled white trousers and black sneakers. So, there is no "chewed" pants, and I rather like the image of him holding his hat by the brim like a cake (but "decorous" does seem a little non-descriptive). Everything else (except the apricot juice) read quite naturally and didn't draw attention to the fact that this was a translation. Sherry
Topic: The Master and Margarita (49 of 59), Read 32 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 03:32 PM Martin, I checked the M&M illustration site, but I couldn't figure out how to play the music. Can you give me a hint? I know if I click on the picture, it gets bigger. Fellini would have been a good person to film this book. Sherry, What is the copyright on your translation? I don't think the internet site garbled the Glenny translation, because I also found the same introductory paragraph I posted at Amazon.com, together with some other sample pages from Glenny's Everyman's edition of M&M. However, it says that book is no longer available, so perhaps the translation was updated. The version you posted is definitely more readable. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (50 of 59), Read 30 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 05:02 PM Here's the first paragraph from the Biergan/O'Connor translation: One hot spring evening, just as the sun was going down, two men appeared at Patriarch's Ponds. One of them--fortyish, wearing a gray summer suit--was short, dark-haired, bald on top, paunchy, and held his proper fedora in his hand; black horn rimmed glasses of supernatural proportions adorned his well-shaven face. The other one--a broad-shouldered, reddish-haired, shaggy young man with checked cap cocked on the back of his head--was wearing a cowboy shirt, crumpled white trousers, and black sneakers. Similar, and I like it fine but I think that the P/V translation has a more natural English flow to it. In the annotations to my edition, the editor makes these comments about the first paragraph: Bulgakov rewrote the opening of the novel many times. The variant of the opening paragraph used in previous editions (based on the drafted typed by Elena Sergeevna Bulgakov) is found nowhere in the notebook containing Bulgakov's different versions. This translation uses what Yanovskaya deems to be his final version, which differs in minor ways from previously published texts. She is referring to Lidiya Yanovskaya who prepared a text of the novel that was published in 1989 in Kiev. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (51 of 59), Read 27 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 05:05 PM I've started wondering why Woland came to Moscow. Was the point of his trip to get the Master's book published? Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (52 of 59), Read 31 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 06:30 PM Ann, my library book is a Meridian paperback. The copyright is 1967 by Harvill Press, London. The first Meridian printing was in 1993. Sherry
Topic: The Master and Margarita (53 of 59), Read 31 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 06:41 PM My Glenny translation matches the one at klassika.ru, complete with chewed trousers and pork-pie hat. How many different versions of this book are there? More than versions of the Gospel it would seem. Mine is "first published in Great Britain by The Harvill Press 1967. This edition first published by Collins Harvill 1988. Reprinted ... 1991." Perhaps, Sherry, the translation was adapted for the British/American markets. There's nothing wrong with trousers being chewed over here (a common English habit!), and pork pies are the staple diet of all working class men from the Midlands northward - as "beauty queen from mars" might inform us. I was struck in reading Glenny by the mid-Atlantic vocabulary. If pork-pie hats are English, sneakers are certainly American. I can't believe I'm explaining to Anne how to play a tune on the internet - she'll be asking me the rules of baseball next. But there's a rectangle with the buttons of a conventional tape deck: play, stop, pause, fast forward, rewind. So you click on the play button. Of course it depends on having a browser of suitable maturity. Barbara, that is a good question. I'd assumed Woland's visit was because he saw the spread of atheism as the ideal climate for his activities - "Yes we're atheists," replied Berlioz ... "Oh, how delightful!" exclaimed the astonishing foreigner. - but that hardly explains his subsequent activities.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (54 of 59), Read 31 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 07:01 PM I'm so glad you found us, Martin. I'm always delighted by your posts. "Sneakers" does sound a bit contemporary, doesn't it? I wonder when that word first came into usage. Is it an Americanism? Sherry
Topic: The Master and Margarita (55 of 59), Read 29 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 07:27 PM Colloquial, originally and chiefly American. First cited 1895, Funk's Standard Dictionary. pres There comes a time to stop trying to become and just go ahead and be.(Bavetta)
Topic: The Master and Margarita (56 of 59), Read 28 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Mary Anne Papale papcons@earthlink.net Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 07:33 PM I had no trouble reading the Everyman edition of M&M. And I'm glad I did it before all this fuss about the translation. MAP
Topic: The Master and Margarita (57 of 59), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 08:14 PM Martin, I can see a bar at the illustration site with the word Beatnik written on one end and with a megaphone at the far end, but I don't see the usual play, stop buttons. When I click on it, nothing happens. It must be my browser. That's an interesting picture of Margarita naked at the ball by the way. (That should encourage a few more hits on the site: http://grigam.narod.ru/bulgak/i2.htm) Barb, I think the devil probably spent a lot of time in Moscow, considering all the disappearances and awful things going on there in the thirties. In the text, he seems to have shown up to refute Berlioz's contention that Jesus did not exist. His logic seems to be, in part, if the devil exists than God exists. He also claims he was present when Pilate judged Jesus. I liked the show that the devils put on at the theater, when the audience grabbed at the free money and the women took the free clothes, only to find out later that they had been tricked. It was a good commentary on human greed. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (58 of 59), Read 42 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Sunday, January 12, 2003 10:18 PM Wow, what a great thread you have going so far! Barb, I think that the major purpose of Woland’s visit to Moscow is to determine if there have been any significant changes in the values/ ideology of the people of Moscow as a result of life after so many years of the Revolution. In the chapter entitled “Black Magic and Its Exposure,” he asks Koroviev, “what do you think, the Moscow populace has changed significantly, hasn’t it? […] The city folk have changed greatly … externally, that is … […] Of course, I’m not so much interested in buses, telephones […] as in a question of much grater importance: have the city folk changed inwardly?” And later on he says, “they’re people like any other people … They love money, but that has always been so … […] In general, reminiscent of the former ones … only the housing problem has corrupted them…” Not only do the former faults of human nature persist, but they are brought out even more due to the new system –most people would do anything in their power out of greed or fear. -Marcy
From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Monday, January 13, 2003 03:09 AM Mmmm, well for me the play control comes after the text (ending predloshenaya or whatever) and the first picture, but perhaps whether you see it depends on the browser you have. The page source is full of javascript doing all sorts of clever things ...
Topic: The Master and Margarita (60 of 69), Read 41 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Monday, January 13, 2003 07:00 PM Thanks, Ann, Incidentally, The web site for the translation text was posted a long time ago. I think that it was in the pre-discussion thread. I can't remember by whom. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (61 of 69), Read 40 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, January 13, 2003 08:04 PM Marcy, I'm so glad you're joining us on this one. I reread the chapter “Black Magic and Its Exposure” after reading your note. Woland (Satan) does indeed give the desire to see if people have changed as a motive for his visit. Dean, Looking back on the prediscussion notes, I think it was Martin who first mentioned that site. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (62 of 69), Read 35 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, January 13, 2003 08:59 PM Thanks, Marcy, I'm going to go back and reread that one too. I keep trying to work through the reason for Woland's partiality for, patience with (or whatever you want to call it) the Master and Margarita. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (63 of 69), Read 33 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, January 13, 2003 09:42 PM Barb, That bothered me too, but I finally decided that Woland is not your traditional kind of devil. If I remember correctly, only two people end up permanently dead. One is Berlioz, and Woland predicts his death, rather than causes it. The other is the spy who is shot at the ball, and he was due to die very soon anyway. Of course, it is true that a couple of characters end up almost scared to death and the master of ceremonies at the magic show has his head removed and reattached -- but, all and all, Woland and his henchman Koroviev and Behemoth don't seem to really be much of an axis of evil in the traditional sense. Furthermore, Woland's power is quite limited. He seems to be part of the larger good. For example, Yeshua sends Mathew Levi at the end to tell Woland that he wants the master and Margarita to be rewarded with peace, and Woland doesn't even protest. The text also suggest that Woland and evil are a necessary part of this world. Woland asks Mathew, "What would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? Shadows are cast by objects and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. Trees and living beings also have shadows. Do you want to skin the whole earth, tearing all the trees and living things off it, because of your fantasy of enjoying bare light? You're a fool." Later, the master excuses his and Margarita's involvement with Woland by saying, "Of course, when people have been robbed of everything, like you and me, they seek salvation from other-worldly powers!" This is a very different version of Satan than that found in most literature. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (64 of 69), Read 35 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 04:13 AM Ann, I think your quote of Woland talking to Mathew is extremely well chosen, and is one of the central statements in the novel. One could actually go a bit further than you went, and claim that Woland's thinking is entirely Christian. Compare St Augustine: "And in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil." for the source, see http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/augenchiridion/enchiridion01-23.html So who is the real Devil? Stalin perhaps. Has anyone seen the film The Inner Circle, which I thought was immensely interesting for being a joint American-Russian production? Stalin is played brilliantly by a Russian lookalike actor, and Tom Hulse is the projectionist in his private cinema. At one point Tom Hulce assaults an old man, who says that Stalin is the Devil, and has taken over the Kremlin. I wonder if that idea has a wider currency in Russia? But I think Bulgakov's point is that the true source of evil is man, compared to whom the Devil is but a harmless trickster.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (65 of 69), Read 28 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 02:19 PM Martin, I had never heard of The Inner Circle. It sounds fascinating. I agree with you that Stalin was the real Satan during this period in Russian history. I wonder what this book would have been like if Bulgakov had been free to write everything he wanted. At one point, he even burned the manuscript because he was worried about the political repercussions. Of course, he knew that it could never be published in his lifetime, but merely writing it could have gotten him in some very serious trouble. I am thinking of the repeated references to people mysteriously disappearing, the scene describing the trial of foreign currency speculators, and the questioning of the militant atheism policy. Did you ever read any of Solzhenitsyn books about the labor camps set up during the Stalinist era? I don't know if anyone reads them anymore, but they are really chilling. During the Soviet period, political dissidents were sent to mental hospitals where they were given psychiatric drugs to "cure" them. I thought about this a lot while reading M&M because most of the characters ended up in a mental hospital. I don't know, however, if the Soviets had actually started dealing with dissidents in this way during Bulgakov's time. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (66 of 69), Read 29 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 04:33 PM Anne, Actually I first came to Bulgakov after Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle and Cancer Ward and (dare I confess it?) was disappointed with Bulgakov by contrast. But this I see was a mistaken reaction. I don't think Bulgakov would have written a sombre novel about the oppression of the 30s, even if he had felt safe to do so. His style is altogether different. I know that in the later Soviet period dissidents could find their way into mental hospitals, as if being anti-Soviet was a kind of illness, but have no idea when that started. I was surprised in reading M&M to find that the foreign currency stores already existed in Moscow in the 20s - I imagined they were a much later innovation. I've heard accounts from tourists who used them: often being ushered in with a joke from the Intourist guide about the much needed foreign dollar ... Solzhenitsyn and Bulgakov are of course totally different, but I've found that all 20th century Russian authors are highly individual and equally different from each other, in contrast to the 19th century, where the contributions of the many great writers somehow seems to build up into a uniform body of writing. Of the 20th century ones I've tried: Bulgakov - magical Solzhenitsyn - grimly realistic Erofeyev - anarchic Bely - surreal and symbolist (perhaps not unlike Bulgakov) Krotkov - hilariously satirical Georgy Vladimov - political fabulist (like 'Animal Farm') Victor Serge - dream-like realism - somewhat Latin American Vassily Aksyonov - incomprehensible Ouspensky - ? I cannot classify Ouspensky. But interestingly he too wrote about the devil. Again one thinks of Nabokov. If Bulgakov had managed to get out at the same time you wonder if he might not have had a writing career a bit like Nabokov's in the West. The Inner Circle is not a great film, but enormously interesting. Hulce is Samshin, a simple-minded Stalin worshipper. Lolita Davidovich his wife. Bob Hoskins is Beria. Various Russian actors play Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Kalinin ... all just as in the photographs and instantly recognisable.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (67 of 69), Read 23 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 06:22 PM MARTIN Should Lem be on your list ? pres There comes a time to stop trying to become and just go ahead and be.(Bavetta)
Topic: The Master and Margarita (68 of 69), Read 19 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 08:05 PM Martin, You are much better read in 20th century Russian literature than I am. I have read all the Solzhenitsyn books you mentioned, but it was a long time ago. I have not read the other authors. Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn are, of course, entirely different. I prefer Solzhenitsyn as an historian, but Bulgakov as a creative writer. Bulgakov considered emigrating, as his brothers did, but even if that had been possible, he was afraid he would not be able to write away from his native country. Nabokov, in addition to being an incredibly gifted writer, was lucky in that he was raised to be trilingual, with both English and French governesses. As a result, he could eventually write beautiful prose in another language. Very few people can do that. But it is interesting to speculate what kind of literature both Bulgakov and Nabokov could have produced if they had been free to write whatever they wanted in their native country. I spent a summer in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1970 and I encountered the foreign currency stores. They were great for tourists because there were really nice things in them - in stark contrast to the regular department stores. I too was surprised to find out that they originated at such an early date. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (69 of 69), Read 14 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Marcy Vaughan vaughan@yahoo.com Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 09:52 PM It struck me that far more evil than Woland in the novel is the literary establishment, or should I say members of the MASSOLIT. Perhaps they are the Devil in the novel? (I agree with you, Ann and Martin, that Stalin was the real Satan during this period in Russian history, so perhaps I should say that the members of MASSOLIT were the devil’s agents?) But it is the literary establishment that ruined the Master –his reaction to their persecution of him is why he “does not deserve the light;” Woland had nothing to do with it. The Master tells Ivan, “I no longer have a name. I renounced it, as I generally did everything in life.” Bulgakov decries this loss of faith in men as well as in life, this surrender and cowardice for not being able to face the world. The Master recognizes shortly before his death that he, like Pilate, was guilty of cowardice, which is described as “the most terrible sin of all.” (And I think there was definitely a link between the grotesque dancing exhibited at the Griboedov restaurant and what occurred at Woland’s ball.) -Marcy
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 07:34 PM Really interesting notes here, everyone. Ann, that certainly is a key speech to Matthew. When I first read it, I was a bit disappointed in Bulgakov because it sounded like my mother's simplistic answer to my question about why God made mosquitos: If there were no bad, how would we appreciate the good? However, shadows may speak to much more subtle distinctions than that. And, there didn't seem to be much subtlety in Stalinist Russia, did there? All good and bad have absolute definitions, according to the party line. You also make a good point that there are actually only two deaths. In the first part of the novel, it feels like people are dying right and left with all of the disappearances but Bulgakov does resolve all this in the end. And, that brings me to another question. What did you all think of the Epilogue? I found myself being a bit irritated by it as I read. It was such a change of mood from the Absolution and Eternal Refuge chapter. I felt like I had come back to earth with a thunk. I wondered if Bulgakov felt that this update was essential to the understanding of Woland that he intended. However, I think I might have liked it better if it had ended with the prior chapter. Here is what the editor of my edition says: ...the narrator who has been in and out of the novel is back with a vengeance and echoes many famous nineteenth-century narrators--especially those of Dostoyevsky and Gogol. The final version of the epilogue was written not long before Bulgakov's death and was pasted in on the last page of the bound manuscript. Many have objected to the jarring dissonance of tone here, and wonder if Bulgkov would have kept the epilogue if he had lived. Since the epilogue brings the total number of chapters to the meaningful number of 33 (Christ's age at his death), it is very likely that Bulgakov would have kept it. The epilogue suddenly expands the time frame of the novel--some eight years have passed, judging by Ivan's age. And Ivan is very much the point--the novel must come back to its beginning, and to the one person who could learn something of importance from the story of the Master and Margarita. I think this point about Ivan is excellent and the update on him is the one part about the epilogue that I enjoyed. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (71 of 89), Read 55 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 08:33 PM Marcy, I liked the part about cowardice being the worst sin of all. The master really gives up, doesn't he? He becomes too afraid to function. At one point during the 1930's Bulgakov became so fearful that he was afraid to leave his house, but he overcame his fear and continued to write. Barb, The epilogue is rather cynical, isn't it? Ivan is supposed to be the master's disciple, but he forgets all about him except for once a year. It's good that Ivan is no longer writing bad poetry, but I'm not so sure about his switch to being an historian. In Stalin's Russia, historians rewrote the history books regularly in order to eliminate people who had fallen from favor and the history books were generally just propaganda. That's really interesting about there being 33 chapters. I hadn't noticed that, but I'm sure it has significance. You mentioned once that the author of your introduction commented on Bulgakov's attitude towards religion. I am very interested in that. Can you tell us what s/he said? Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (72 of 89), Read 53 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Thursday, January 16, 2003 04:04 AM PRES You asked if Lem should be included in Martin's list. If you are referring to Stanislaw Lem, the answer is no. Stanislaw Lem is Polish, not Russian. I first heard of Lem from NASA engineers, who were turned on to him by the Astronauts. The astronauts in turn had heard of him through the Cosmonauts. This, of course, was in the days when we were first involved in the Apollo/Soyuz mission. As I understand it, in those days the Soviets did not permit their writers to extrapolate more than 5 years into the future; very limiting for science fiction writers. And from a practical point of view, eliminating science fiction from Russian writers. But through some sort of legalist loop-hole, the books of non-Russian writers were allowed in the country. The Cosmonauts, being hungry for good science fiction, other than American, became fans of Stanislaw Lem and passed the word along. I personally like his work, because it varies so much; somewhat reminiscent of Italo Calvino. EDD
Topic: The Master and Margarita (73 of 89), Read 53 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Thursday, January 16, 2003 04:21 AM Fascinating posts, and I very much liked reading Marcy's. A few further thoughts: I wonder if Berlioz's foreign name makes him a doomed character? Any hint of the foreign was suspect in Stalin's Russia, and liable to lead to arrest. I too found the last chapter a bit incongruous. It seems to give the surviving characters a rather provincial setting, where you see small-town life going on after some major upheaval. Bulgakov, we are always being told, has affinities to Gogol, and Gogol's two best known works are about provincial society being turned upside down by the appearance of a dangerous stranger (Chichikov in Dead Souls, Khlyestakov (what a name!) in The Government Inspector. Perhaps in the last chapter Bulgakov was trying to create a provincial life-goes-on feeling. (If you haven't read Dead Souls don't let the gloomy title put you off: it's a laugh riot.) I'm not sure about Bulgakov using this 33 = age of Jesus thing. Is that really a traditional age of death? I've also seen 30 given. Jesus's year of birth is not in any case known, and Bulgakov's Yeshua seems to be much younger: little more than a youth.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (74 of 89), Read 47 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Thursday, January 16, 2003 02:50 PM EDD Yes, I meant Stanislaw Lem; feel foolish that I didn't know he was Polish. The story about astronauts and cosmonaughts is fascinating. And I wonder if Lem has ever been nominated for our reading lists. pres I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don't give a damn.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (75 of 89), Read 47 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, January 16, 2003 03:29 PM Martin, When I was a good Catholic child, the nuns told us that Jesus died at the age of 33. They seemed quite certain of this, although they could have been completely off base. We read DEAD SOULS here on Classics Corner, but it was not exactly a rousing success. I wish you would have been here. Although I finished, I think I missed out on a lot of the humor just because of the cultural differences. I know how important this book is in Russian literature, but some books are harder to translate than others. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (76 of 89), Read 43 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, January 16, 2003 08:30 PM Ann, here is some of what I found in her article which she did as an "Afterword", by the way, which I much prefer to a "Forward." Bulgakov's works as a whole, and what we know of his biography reveal him to be a believer in the need for religious feeling, but not necessarily an admirer of organized religion itself. Kaifa is a typical religious figure for this author, who portrayed worldly, politicized priests in many of his works. It is not surprising that many Russian Orthodox readers consider this novel blasphemous. But Bulgakov, like Tolstoy, Mandelstam and many other artists of his time, was more interested in Christ than in the religion created in his name. And, later: In an early draft of The Master and Margarita Bulgakov planned to have a major scholarly character write a work about the 'secularization of ethics'. This was an essential concern of Bulgakov's generation, including those who were committed Marxists. Bulgakov's much-loved step-father was an atheist, who demonstrated that such beliefs were not incompatible with the highest ethics. To Bulgakov's mind, however, the Soviet era seemed to abound in disturbing examples of what happens when ethics are divorced from the religious impulse and attached to the vagaries of political expediency. Pilate, as he struggles with his conscience and his fear, solidly based in what he knows awaits him if he allows a man who talked against the emperor to go free, in this way seemed quite contemporary. Bulgakov's entire novel is in a sense a polemic with the dominant force of his time, the belief in enlightened rationalism which in his country ended in a totalitarian structure. After copying so much here, I must credit the author once again. She is Ellendea Proffer. She is also the author of Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Work. The first excerpt got me thinking of how caught between forces Bulgakov was in his time. Everything I've read of the Russian Orthodox Church gives the sense of one more institution promoting its own interests, mired in its own rigidity and doing little good for anyone. I should say that I get the same impression of the Catholic Church during this same period of time. And, I may be wrong about both. In any case, Bulgakov's religious feelings would be condemned by the one religious institution in his country. But, any religious feelings at all were condemned by his government. He wasn't pleasing either side. And, I've been pondering the second excerpt ever since I've read it and haven't come up with anything rational in response. "Secularization of ethics" and "enlightened rationalism" rate very highly on my system of beliefs. I reject the idea that the situation in Stalinist Russia was a direct result of those belief systems, but it certainly gives me pause. What do you all think? Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (77 of 89), Read 43 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernest Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Friday, January 17, 2003 12:48 AM Reading this book turned into a strange experience for me. Let me confess my feelings after reading the first 50 or so pages. I thought it gruesome and decided that it would leave me only with very negative feelings. The initial encounter had a nightmarish quality which I did not need in my life. Let me admit I "live" a book, I don't just read it. At this point I started to read the postings which convinced me that there was more to the book as someone's morbid imagination - and I am glad I did continue to read on. What was of special interest to me were the traces of russian thinking and literature as it adjusted to the Stalinist area. Also, I noted B's struggle with the "Stalinist" monster so to speak. I felt that this book would translate somehow into the author's life and experiences. Like some of you I felt that the two main stories were not successfully integrated. Margarita and the Master are late in entering the novel. It seems that the author had two or more stories to tell. His own, his eventual destiny and his philosophy of life and religious feeling. Initially Satan could not evoke any kind of sympathy, nor did he fit in. So Satan essence did not appear until the end of the story. I too like the Jerusalem story with Pilat, since it combines history and religion. But the story turns out to contain both beauty and spirituality and is more cohesive than other parts of the book that deal with the characters and events in modern Russia. By contrast present existence appears as irrational and horrifying. Finally there is the fantastic version of the Walpurgisnacht am Brocken (Goethe's Faust) put into the form of Satan's ball. All of a sudden the strange aspect of Satan reveals itself. He has remained God's servant to help mankind and give them whatever they deserved. This resembles Goethe's Faust. B. is a fine writer and makes for rather easy reading. My only criticism is that various segments could have been put into a more logical sequence. But reading this book turned into an unforgettable experience. Ernie
Topic: The Master and Margarita (78 of 89), Read 35 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 18, 2003 09:45 AM Barb, Thank you so much for the Proffer comments you posted on Bulgakov's feelings about religion. I have a library copy of her biography of Bulgakov. It is very well-written, but the index is poor, which makes it hard for someone like me who only has time to explore particular aspects of Bulgakov's life and ideas. I have some problems with this statement: Bulgakov's entire novel is in a sense a polemic with the dominant force of his time, the belief in enlightened rationalism which in his country ended in a totalitarian structure. I find it difficult to see a connection between "enlightened rationalism" and Stalin's totalitarian state. I suppose one could see in Marxist theory an attempt to substitute a utopian vision of humanistic ethics for religion, called by Marx the "opiate of the people." But Marxism wasn't really implemented in Russia. In fact, the Stalinist state, an old-fashioned dictatorship totally dominated by one man who had all the resources of modern technology and communication at his disposal, was in many ways a perversion of Marxism. Theoretical Marxism posited the withering away of the state which would no longer be necessary in a utopian workers' paradise. I see little rationalism in Stalin's Russia, and even less enlightenment. But what about the larger question? Is morality possible, without religion? As a formerly religious person, I certainly think so, although there have been times when I have wondered if my sons (who were raised completely without religion) have the same strong feelings about right and wrong that I (who had religion crammed down my throat) do. What do you think? Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (79 of 89), Read 35 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 18, 2003 09:56 AM Ernie, I'm glad you have joined us on this book. I'm sure you picked up on a lot of the connections to Goethe's Faust, which I missed because I haven't read it. Is the woman who smothered her baby a character from Goethe's book? Many people have commented on their surprise that the master and Margarita appeared so late in the book. Do you think it would have mattered so much if he had chosen another title? In other words, are they really the central characters? Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (80 of 89), Read 30 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, January 18, 2003 03:09 PM Ann, I definitely think that morality is possible without religion, but I don't think that Bulgakov was sure of it. I also don't think that Stalinist Russia had much to do with Marxism. However, I think the point of that quote was that Bulgakov worried that when ethics become tied to political expediency the end product can be very different than the original ethic, such as the difference between Marxism and Stalin. However, I don't think that a religous structure necessarily prevents that either. Some pretty ghastly things have been done in the name of religion as well. Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (81 of 89), Read 31 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, January 18, 2003 03:44 PM Some pretty ghastly things have been done in the name of religion as well. Amen.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (82 of 89), Read 22 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Katharine Higgins katharinehiggins@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, January 18, 2003 10:53 PM Barb, You are exactly right and the question you pose goes to the heart of the matter. As you suggest, and as Bulgakov worried: when political expediency decides ethical questions, moral considerations go out the window, and what we are left with is complete moral equivalence: your morality is as good as my morality. In short, as Dale used to say, "the tragedy of human existence is that we all have our reasons." Katy H.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (83 of 89), Read 24 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernest Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Sunday, January 19, 2003 12:19 AM Here is the paragraph quoted by Ann or Barb as I have some problems with this statement: Bulgakov's entire novel is in a sense a polemic with the dominant force of his time, the belief in enlightened rationalism which in his country ended in a totalitarian structure. I am tempted to say: "...Bulgakove's entire novel, in a sense is a polemic AGAINST the dominant forces of his time." Whatever happened to the people who dominate author's society? Did he not struggle to publish books or articles which were unacceptable to the Stalinist regime? What is the symbolism of burning the Master's novel. Bulgakov, in this novel, attacks the regime in an indirect fashion. Incidentally I wonder if this particular book was ever published during the Communist regime. Now, I don't quite know how to interpret the spiritual aspects of the novel. I sense a deep religious undercurrent, but I may be wrong. I see three dominant aspects of this book: The first is the arrival of "evil" spirits. The second consists of the love between the Master and Margarita in conjunction with his wish to express his spirituality in a published novel. Finally I see a more personal and intimate symbolic presentation of illness and anticipation of death leading to the fantasy of an idyllic afterlife for both the Master and his love. There are aspects of the novel that remind the reader of the Russian literary tradition. Ernie
Topic: The Master and Margarita (84 of 89), Read 23 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 19, 2003 01:15 AM "...Bulgakov's entire novel, in a sense is a polemic AGAINST the dominant forces of his time." I agree, Ernie. I also liked what you said about the novel revealing an anticipation of death rationalized as an idyllic afterlife. Bulgakov wrote the finishing touches when he knew that he was dying of sclerosis of the kidney, a disease which had also killed his father at a young age. The novel was published in the Soviet Union in 1966, but about 60 pages were cut. The complete text was published in the Soviet Union in 1973.
Topic: The Master and Margarita (85 of 89), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, January 19, 2003 08:55 AM That use of "with" instead of "against" has bothered me since I first read the quoted sentence, Ernie and Ann. So, just now I looked it up in the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary and here are the two definitions they give: 1 a : an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another b : the art or practice of disputation or controversy — usually used in plural but sing. or plural in constr. Perhaps, Proffer is using it in the sense of the b definition? Katy, I agree that the question of ethics based on political expediency probably is at the heart of this book. What a timeless question it is! Barb
Topic: The Master and Margarita (86 of 89), Read 18 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 19, 2003 10:18 AM I think you're right, Barb. Ernie also said "a polemic AGAINST the dominant forces of his time" rather than "force", and that's what I picked up on. Bulgakov was an artist who was really out of sync with the events of his time. Not only did he lack the political freedom to write openly and have his works published and performed, but his whole style of writing was in contrast to the officially sanctioned socialist realism. I suppose it was this conflict that gave his work so much creative energy; the reader benefits, although personally, he suffered greatly. Proffer points out that the master gave up his struggle to write, but Bulgakov never did. Another major theme of this book is the role of the artist in a repressive society. Ann
Topic: The Master and Margarita (87 of 89), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Sunday, January 19, 2003 05:18 PM Finished this earlier today -- I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual novel and laughed out loud heartily at many points in the Moscow scenes. I absolutely picture this as a highly film worthy book -- one scene which struck me in particular was the Koroviev and Behemoth rising to the ceiling and popping like children's balloons. The Pilate story was highly interesting -- I particularly found the connection between Pilate and Yeshua intriguing -- this is a story which I have read elsewhere -- though at the moment I cannot say in what book -- but the idea of Pilate and Jesus having things to talk about is not a new one. More later but I can't say anything of great substance which you haven't all mentioned and explored in this great discussion. Oh yes -- connections to the ball scene in Eyes Wide Shut with the Satan Ball and the witches and demons night of Faust -- as I may have said here or elsewhere I was listening to my Faust highlights CD while finishing this book as it seemed the right accompaniment. Dottie "...every good war needs the occasional amnesty." Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
Topic: The Master and Margarita (88 of 89), Read 7 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Monday, January 20, 2003 07:17 AM Ah yes, that ball does bring up some of the visuals, doesn't it, Dottie? And, I kept seeing a movie made of this too. I wonder if anyone has ever tried. Barb
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, January 20, 2003 08:41 AM Dottie, I'm glad you got a chance to read this. I know how busy you have been! Ann
From: Ernest Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Monday, January 20, 2003 11:51 PM I hope that one of our CC readers comes up with a detailed comparison between Goethe's Faust and The Master and Margarita. I note a number os similarities and B. actually uses Faustian names and symbols. The Ball scene would call for such comparison. I will quote some of the content of the Walpurgis Night: (As Gretchen's suffering reaches its climax, Mephisto keeps her fate from Faust and tries to direct him with what Faust afterwards calls "insipid diversions." In this scene, Goethe breaks through all current norms of decency and division of styles and merges magnificent nature poetry with satire and raw humor, while intellectualism and sensuality reach a concurrent climax) Walter Kaufmann's Faust, Anchor Books 1990. Ernie
From: Martin Porter martin@tartarus.org Date: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 04:59 AM I'm a bit confused by all this Faust stuff. The "Faust highlights CD". Is that Gounod's opera? Was there not more than one operatic version? Is the Gounod opera based on Goethe? To me Faust comes from Christopher Marlowe ...
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 10:30 AM There are many operas based on the Faust story and Gounod's is based on Goethe. It is one I first acquired (on Bob's recommendation) back when we read Faust and I was lagging a bit behind finishing the book. The highlights CD led me to pick up the full opera and if you haven't heard this one, I highly recommend it, Martin. The most recent Faust opera which I sampled was the Boito version, Mefistofele, which Catherine Hill mentioned here. I'm just sampling various versions and comparing them -- sort of a side-track from having read Goethe's Faust with the CC group. Dottie "...every good war needs the occasional amnesty." Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 07:48 AM The Afterword in my edition has some interesting discussion of this Faust issue, Ernie. I promise to get back with some quotes by the weekend. Had been meaning to introduce a bit of it anyway. Barb
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, January 26, 2003 01:21 PM As I read this book, I kept wondering about the connections between it and Faust, how much they were parallel and definitely not parallel. Here is the paragraph in Proffer's Afterword to my edition of the book which is in reference to this question: Unlike virtually everyone else in the novel, the Master guesses right away that Woland is the devil, but he nevertheless demonstrates little understanding of Woland's function, or of what is taking place. And what is taking place? A drama of identity, a recognition plot. When the novel opens, we read the epigraph from Faust and we make at least two assumptions: first, that there will be something Faust-like in this novel; second, that the epigraph is meant seriously. As we read on, we are barraged by allusions to Faust, sometimes the opera (which Bulgakov saw over forty times), sometimes to Goethe's poem, sometimes to the original sources. Bulgakov has gone to a lot of trouble to lead us to the conclusion that Woland's role is identical to that of Mephistopheles. By this time a fellow magician would know the main trick is being readied. These allusions are so distracting that we forget to ask: is Woland really Mephistopheles, is he really the embodiment of the force opposed to good? As the novel continues, we see that his role is quite dissimilar. The exact comparisons ends there, but this further discussion relates and keeps my brain buzzing a bit: Woland gives everyone, especially Margarita, the same test, and to pass it, one must show compassion even to the worst humanity has to offer, from the hell of the dance at Griboyedov, to the hell of the criminals at the ball, to Pilate suffering torture in the relentless sun. Yeshua teaches by example, Woland by provocation, but they are both teaching that compassion is preferable to revenge. Read in this light, the barbed conversation between Woland and Levi Matvei about the need for shadows assumes new significance, as does the way in which the Master comes to regard his neighbor, the betrayer Aloisy. The very process of reading the novel is meant to educate the reader, to lead him to a state of enlightenment in which the division of humanity into good and evil is no longer useful and the transcendence of the need for retribution is the goal. I love that last sentence. In a kernel, it is what fascinated me most about this book. Barb
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, January 26, 2003 08:04 PM Barb, Thanks for posting that. Proffer really sheds some interesting light on the true role of Woland in this novel - which is not what I had expected. I love the idea in that last sentence too, but for some reason it is difficult for me to accept that Bulgakov was quite as forgiving as Proffer implies. He had suffered too much. At the end of the book, it seems to me that the master's will has been broken and that is the reason that he seems to be reconciled to his fate. Margarita, at least, doesn't seem too forgiving of Aloisy, the neighbor who turned the master into the authorities in order to get his apartment. She sinks her nails into his face when she sees him again, although it is true that the master tells her that her behavior is disgraceful. Ann
From: Ernest Belden drernest@pacbell.net Date: Sunday, January 26, 2003 10:56 PM Barb, You were able to find the key to this profound work. I sensed that a better interpretation of The Master was needed and sure enough you did find it. The relationship to Faust is crucial and the interpretation that both god and satan have the same goals but go about it in different ways. Now we achieved a deeper understanding of what the book is all about. Ernie

 

 
The Master & Margarita: A Critical Companion (Northwestern/Aatseel Critical Companions to Russian Literature) by Laura D. Weeks (Editor)

 


Manuscripts Don't Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov: A Life in Letters and Diaries by J. A. E. Curtis (Hardcover - November 1992)

From Publishers Weekly Brilliant satirist of life under Stalin, Soviet novelist-playwright Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) struggled to make a career as a ``conservative'' writer in the 1920s and 1930s. His household was rife with informers and snoops, and though Stalin made him a director of the Moscow Arts Theatre, his plays were banned in 1929 and most of his writings were neither published nor performed during his lifetime. By the time of his death, Bulgakov had suffered nervous collapse and was afraid to be on the street alone. In this documentary biography, Oxford scholar Curtis ( Bulgakov's Last Decade ) splices together the writer's letters and diary entries, correspondence with friends and family, and interpretive commentary as a way to reveal Bulgakov's frustrations, his revulsion at his early medical career and at Soviet tyranny, his struggle through three marriages and his involvement in Moscow's theatrical-literary circles. Bulgakov's prickly, emotionally charged writings--which are excerpted here--flash with irony and wit. Photos.


 
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