Script error

The Master and Margarita (Russian: Ма́стер и Маргари́та) is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, woven around the premise of a visit by the Devil to the fervently atheistic Soviet Union. Many critics[1] consider the book to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, as well as one of the foremost Soviet satires, directed against a suffocatingly bureaucratic social order.


Bulgakov started writing the novel in 1928. He burnt the first manuscript of the novel in 1930, seeing no future as a writer in the Soviet Union.[2] The work was restarted in 1931. In 1935 Bulgakov went to Spaso House, the residence of U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Bullitt. which was transformed by Bulgakov into the ball of the novel.[3] The second draft was completed in 1936 by which point all the major plot lines of the final version were in place. The third draft was finished in 1937. Bulgakov continued to polish the work with the aid of his wife, but was forced to stop work on the fourth version four weeks before his death in 1940.

A censored version (12% of the text removed and still more changed) of the book was first published in Moscow magazine (no. 11, 1966 and no. 1, 1967).[4] The text of all the omitted and changed parts, with indications of the places of modification, was published on a samizdat basis. In 1967 the publisher Posev (Frankfurt) printed a version produced with the aid of these inserts.

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

Plot summary

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

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

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

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

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

She survives this ordeal without breaking, and for her pains and her integrity she is rewarded; Satan offers to grant Margarita her deepest wish. She selflessly chooses to liberate a woman she has met from her torment, instead of asking for anything for herself. The woman had suffocated her child by stuffing a handkerchief in its mouth, and now she must wake up every morning to find the same handkerchief lying on her nightstand. This characterizes Margarita very nicely—though we fully expect her to ask to be reunited with the Master, something we crave to happen, she instead asks for someone she has just met to be liberated from their eternal torment. Satan offers her another wish after he fulfills the first, showing a compassionate and decidedly non-manipulative devil that is at odds with what we perhaps expect. For her second wish, she chooses to liberate the Master and live in poverty and love with him. However, neither Woland nor Yeshua thinks this is a kind of life for good people, and the couple leaves Moscow with the Devil, as its cupolas and windows burn in the setting sun of Easter Saturday. The Master and Margarita leave and as a reward for not having lost their faith they are granted "peace" but are denied "light" -- that is, they will spend eternity together in a shadowy yet pleasant region similar to Dante's depiction of Limbo, having not earned the glories of Heaven, but not deserving the punishments of Hell.

The Spring Festival Ball at Spaso House and the Master and Margarita

One historical event which Bulgakov attended had an important influence on the novel- the Spring Fesitval hosted by Ambassador William Bullitt on April 24, 1935. Bullitt instructed his staff to create an event that would surpass every other Embassy party in Moscow's history. The decorations included a forest of ten young birch trees in the chandelier room, a dining room table covered with Finnish tulips, a lawn made of chicory grown on wet felt; an aviary made from fishnet filled with pheasants, parakeets, and one hundred zebra finches, on loan from the Moscow Zoo; and a menagerie of several mountain goats, a dozen white roosters, and a baby bear.

Although Stalin did not attend, the four hundred guests at the festival included Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, Defense Minister Kliment Voroshilov, Communist Party luminaries Nikolai Bukharin, Lazar Kaganovich, and Karl Radek, and Soviet Marshals Alexsandr Yegerov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Semyon Budyonny, and the writer Mikhail Bulgakov.

The festival lasted until the early hours of the morning. The bear became drunk on champagne given to him by Karl Radek, and in the early morning hours the zebra finches escaped from the aviary and perched below the ceilings around the house.

Mikhail Bulgakov transformed the Spring Festival into The Spring Ball of the Full Moon, which became one of the most memorable episodes of the novel. [5] On October 29, 2010, seventy-five years after the original ball. as a tribute to Ambassador Bullitt, Bulgakov and the Master and Margarita, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Beyrle hosted an Enchanted Ball at Spaso House, recreating the spirit of the original ball. [6]

The Bulgakov Museum in Moscow


Bulgakov's old flat, in which parts of The Master and Margarita are set, has since the 1980s become a gathering spot for Bulgakov's fans, as well as Moscow-based Satanist groups, and had various kinds of graffiti scrawled on the walls. The numerous paintings, quips, and drawings were completely whitewashed in 2003. Previously the best drawings were kept as the walls were repainted, so that several layers of different colored paints could be seen around the best drawings. The building's residents, in an attempt to deter loitering, have turned the flat into a museum of Bulgakov's life and works.[7]

On December 22, 2006, the museum in Bulgakov's flat was damaged by an anti-satanist protester and disgruntled neighbor, Alexander Morozov.[8][9]The Bulgakov museum in Moscow remains open and contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. There is a museum and different poetic and literary events are often held in the flat. The museum's web site is only available in Russian but the entrance is 50 Rubles for adults, 30 Rubles for students and 20 for seniors and others in special financial circumstances. Its operating hours are Wed. 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thurs. to Sunday 1 p.m. - 7 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The flat is located close to Mayakovskaya metro station on the Sadovaya street, 10.

Major characters in The Master and Margarita

Contemporary Russians

The Master
An author who had written a novel about the meeting of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus of Nazareth). Put away in a psychiatric clinic, where Bezdomny meets him. Very little is known about this character's past other than that he had no point in his life until he finally met Margarita.
The Master's lover. Trapped in a passionless marriage; devoted herself to The Master, who she believes is dead. Does not appear until the second half of the novel, where she serves as the hostess of Satan's Grand Ball on Walpurgis Night. She is named after Goethe's Faust's Gretchen – whose real name is Margarita – as well as Marguerite de Valois. Marguerite was the main character in an opera, Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer which Bulgakov particularly enjoyed, and a novel by Alexandre Dumas, père, La Reine Margot. In these accounts the queen is portrayed as daring and passionate. The character was also inspired by Bulgakov's last two wives, the first of whom loved action and was physically daring, while the last was devoted to his work in the same way as Margarita is to the Master.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz
Head of the literary bureaucracy MASSOLIT, sentenced by Woland to death for his atheistic sentiment. He bears the last name of the French composer, Hector Berlioz who wrote the opera the Damnation of Faust. Fell under a streetcar and, as Woland predicted, got his head severed by a young Soviet woman (the streetcar operator).
Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov (Bezdomny)
A young, aspiring poet. His pen name Bezdomny means "homeless". Initially a willing tool of the MASSOLIT apparatus, he is transformed by the events of the novel. Witnesses Berlioz's death and nearly goes mad, but later meets The Master in asylum and decides to stop writing poetry once and for all.
Stephan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev
Director of the Variety Theatre and Berlioz's roommate. Often called by diminutive name Styopa. For his dishonorable deeds was thrown to Yalta by Behemoth wearing not much more than his underwear freeing up the apartment for Woland and his retinue.
Grigory Danilovich Rimsky
Treasurer of the Variety Theatre. On the night of Woland's performance Rimsky is ambushed by Varenukha (who has been turned into a vampire by Woland's gang) and Hella. He barely escapes the encounter and flees to the train station to get out of the city.
Ivan Savelyevich Varenukha
House-manager of the Variety Theatre. He is turned into a creature of darkness but is forgiven by the end of Walpurgisnacht - restoring his humanity.
Margarita's young maid, later turned into a witch.
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy
Chairman of the House Committee at 302B Sadovaya Street (former residence of Berlioz). For his greed and trickery, was deceived by Koroviev and later arrested.

Woland and his retinue

A "foreign professor" who is "in Moscow to present a performance of 'black magic' and then expose its machinations". The exposure (as one could guess) never occurs, instead Woland exposes the greed and bourgeois behaviour of the spectators themselves. Satan in disguise.
An enormous (said to be as large as a hog) black cat, capable of standing on two legs and talking. He has a penchant for chess, vodka and pistols. In Russian, "Begemot". The word itself means hippopotamus in Russian as well as the Biblical creature. A demon in disguise, able to take human form for short time.
A purported "ex-choirmaster"; this may imply that Koroviev was once a member of an angelic choir. Woland's assistant, capable of creating any illusions. Unlike Behemoth and Azazello, does not use violence at any point.
A menacing, fanged and wall-eyed member of Woland's retinue, a messenger and assassin, may be one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. Possible reference to Azazel. In the Old Testament apocryphal Book of Enoch 8:1-3, Azazel is the fallen angel who taught people to make weapons and jewelry, and taught women the "sinful art" of painting their faces. This explains Azazello giving Margarita the magical cream.
Beautiful, redheaded succubus. Serves as maid to Woland and his retinue. Remarked as being "perfect, were it not for a purple scar on her neck" – the scar suggesting that she is also a vampiress.
The pale-faced, black-goggled angel of death.

Characters from The Master's novel

Pontius Pilate
The Roman Procurator of Judaea, a procurator in this case being a governor of a small province.
Yeshua Ha-Nozri
Wanderer, "mad philosopher", as Pilate calls him, whose name means Jesus the Christian in Hebrew, or alternatively "Jesus of Nazareth", though some commentators dispute the "of Nazareth" interpretation.[10]
Head Of the Roman Secret Service in Judaea.
Levi Matvei
A Levite, former tax collector, follower of Yeshua, and author of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Although introduced as a semi-fictionalized character in the Master's novel, towards the end of The Master and Margarita the "real" Matthew makes a personal appearance in Moscow to deliver a message from Yeshua to Woland.
Joseph Kaifa
The High Priest of Judaea
Judah of Kiriaf
The Biblical informant. Sets up Yeshua to be arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for his words against the rule of the Roman Emperor and is paid off by Kaifa for it. Kaifa is interested in Yeshua's death in order to "protect" the status quo religion and his own status as the High Priest from the influence of Yeshua's preachings and followers. Judah is later killed on Pilate's orders for his role in Yeshua's death.

Themes and imagery

Ultimately, the novel deals with the interplay of good and evil, innocence and guilt, courage and cowardice, exploring such issues as the responsibility towards truth when authority would deny it, and the freedom of the spirit in an unfree world. Love and sensuality are also dominant themes in the novel. Margarita's devotional love for the Master leads her to leave her husband, but she emerges victorious. Her spiritual union with the Master is also a sexual one. The novel is a riot of sensual impressions, but the emptiness of sensual gratification without love is emphatically illustrated in the satirical passages. However, the stupidity of rejecting sensuality for the sake of empty respectability is also pilloried in the figure of the neighbour who becomes Natasha's hog-broomstick. The interplay of fire, water, destruction and other natural forces provides a constant accompaniment to the events of the novel, as do light and darkness, noise and silence, sun and moon, storms and tranquility, and other powerful polarities. There is a complex relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow throughout the novel, sometimes polyphony, sometimes counterpoint.

The novel is heavily influenced by Goethe's Faust, and its themes of cowardice, trust, intellectual curiosity, and redemption are prominent. Part of its literary brilliance lies in the different levels on which it can be read, as hilarious slapstick, deep philosophical allegory, and biting socio-political satire critical of not just the Soviet system but also the superficiality and vanity of modern life in general – jazz is a favourite target, ambivalent like so much else in the book in the fascination and revulsion with which it is presented. But the novel is also full of modern amenities like the model asylum, radio, street and shopping lights, cars, lorries, trams, and air travel. There is little evident nostalgia for any "good old days" – in fact, the only figure in the book to even mention Tsarist Russia is Satan himself. In another of its facets, perhaps showing a different aspect of Goethe's influence, the book is a Bildungsroman with Ivan as its focus. Furthermore, there are strong elements of Magical Realism in the novel.

A memorable and much-quoted line in The Master and Margarita is: "manuscripts don't burn" (Russian: рукописи не горят). The Master is a writer who is plagued by both his own mental problems and the oppression of Stalin's regime in the Moscow of the 1930s. He burns his treasured manuscript in an effort to hide it from the Soviet authorities and cleanse his own mind from the troubles the work has brought him. Woland later gives the manuscript back to him saying, "Didn't you know that manuscripts don't burn?" There is an autobiographical element reflected in the Master's character here, as Bulgakov in fact burned an early copy of 'The Master and Margarita' for much the same reasons.

Allusions and references to other works

The novel is influenced by the Faust legend, particularly the first part of the Goethe interpretation and the opera by Charles Gounod. The work of Nikolai Gogol is also a heavy influence, as is the case with many of Bulgakov's novels. The dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Nozri is strongly influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's parable "The Grand Inquisitor" from The Brothers Karamazov. [11] The novel references Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in the luckless visitors chapter "everything became jumbled in the Oblonsky household". The theme of the Devil exposing society as an apartment block, as it could be seen if the entire facade would be removed, has some precedents in El Diablo cojuelo (1641, "The Lame Devil" or "The Crippled Devil") by the Spaniard Luís Vélez de Guevara (famously adapted to 18th century France by Lesage's 1707 Template:Link-interwiki).

Textual note

The final chapters are late drafts that Bulgakov pasted to the back of his manuscript; he died before he could incorporate these chapters into a completed fourth draft.

English translations

There are quite a few published English translations of The Master and Margarita, including but not limited to the following:

  • Mirra Ginsburg, New York: Grove Press, 1967.
  • Michael Glenny, New York: Harper & Row, 1967; London: Harvill, 1967; with introduction by Simon Franklin, New York: Knopf, 1992; London: Everyman's Library, 1992.
  • Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor, annotations and afterword by Ellendea Proffer, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1993, 1995.
  • Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, London: Penguin, 1997.
  • Michael Karpelson, Lulu Press, 2006.
  • Hugh Aplin, One World Classics, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84749-014-8

Ginsburg's translation was from a censored Soviet text and is therefore incomplete.

The early translation by Glenny runs more smoothly than that of the modern translations; some Russian-speaking readers consider it to be the only one creating the desired effect, though it may be somewhat at liberty with the text.[12] The modern translators pay for their attempted closeness by losing idiomatic flow.

However, according to Kevin Moss, who has at least two published papers on the book in literary journals, the early translations by Ginsburg and Glenny are quite hurried and lack much critical depth.[13] As an example, he claims that the more idiomatic translations miss Bulgakov's "crucial" reference to the devil in Berlioz's thought:

  • "I ought to drop everything and run down to Kislovodsk." (Glenny)
  • "It's time to throw everything to the Devil and go to Kislovodsk." (Burgin, Tiernan O'Connor)
  • "It's time to send it all to the devil and go to Kislovodsk." (Pevear, Volokhonsky)
  • "To hell with everything, it's time to take that Kislovodsk vacation." (Karpelson)

Several literary critics have hailed the Burgin/Tiernan O’Connor translation as the most accurate and complete English translation, particularly when read in tandem with the matching annotations by Bulgakov's biographer, Ellendea Proffer.[14] Note that these judgements predate the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

Limited information is available, at the time of this writing, regarding the 2006 Karpelson translation.

The new graphic novel published by British publishing house Self Made Hero, adapted by Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal, provides a fresh visual translation/interpretation of the original.

Allusions and references from other works

Various authors and musicians have credited The Master and Margarita as inspiration for certain works.

Film, TV, theatrical, and graphic novel adaptations


  1. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB
  2. Neil Cornwell, Nicole Christian (1998). Reference guide to Russian literature. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781884964107. 
  3. Spaso House: 75 Years of History, U.S. Embassy Moscow website
  4. "Master: Russian Editions". Archived from the original on 2007-01-20. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  5. Spaso House; 75 years: A Short History. (pg. 18-20).
  6. *Watch video by Vitaly Mendeleev of Ambassador Beyrle's Enchanted Ball at Spaso House, October 29, 2010
  7. Stephen, Chris. "Devil-worshippers target famous writer's Moscow flat". The Irish Times, Saturday, February 5, 2005. Page 9.
  8. Bulgakov house destroyed, 2006-12-24
  9. Alexander Alexandrovich Morozov
  10. Yeshua Ha-Notsri, Kevin Moss
  11. Susan Amert (2002). "The Dialectics of Closure in Bulgakov's Master and Margarita" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  12. Sarvas, Mark. "The Elegant Variation: A Literary Weblog". Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  13. Moss, Kevin. "Published English Translations". Archived from the original on 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  14. Weeks, Laura D. (1996). Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion. Northwestern University Press. p. 244. ISBN 0-8101-1212-4. 
  15. Cruickshank, Douglas. "Sympathy for the Devil"
  16. Garbarini, Vic. "All For One: Pearl Jam Yield to the Notion That United They Stand and Divided They Fall". Guitar World. March 1998.
  18. Pilatus und andere – Ein Film für Karfreitag at the Internet Movie Database
  19. Il maestro e Margherita (1972) at the Internet Movie Database
  20. The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre, edited by Martin Banham (CUP 1988)
  21. Romania on Line - Cătălina Buzoianu
  22. Ştefan Iordache
  23. Valeria Seciu
  24. Dan Condurache
  25. Mitică Popescu.
  26. Gheorghe Visu
  27. Sorin Medeleni
  28. "Mistrz i Malgorzata" (1990) at the Internet Movie Database
  29. Theatre Record Index 1992
  30. Master i Margarita (1994) at the Internet Movie Database
  31. [1] (Use the Archive link on the left at the above site to access information for 2002 issues.)
  32. Review by John Thaxter for What's On (London, 11 August 2004)
  33. Minogue, Kenneth (August 23, 2004). "Bulgakov's Master and Margarita at the Chichester Festival". Social Affairs Unit. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  34. Theatre Record Index 2004
  35. Andrew Lloyd Webber (2006-08-25). "Revealed: My next project!". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  36. "United state Copyright Office. Kouliev Alim. Master and Margarita. K.PAu003336612". USA copyright office f. Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
  37. "The Master and Margarita Project.". Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
  38. Script error
  39. Script error
  40. Mukherjee, Neel (2008-05-09). "The Master and Margarita: A graphic novel by Mikhail Bulakov". London: The Times Online. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  41. "Master and Margarita - Pixelache 09". Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  42. "...and the winner is...". Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  43. "Video Jack - Master and Margarita". Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  44. "Master and Margarita: An opera in two acts and four scenes". 
  45. "OUDS do Bulgakov Website". 
  46. "The master and Margarita, chapter 1, film by Terentij Oslyabya". 


  • G. Lukács, Studies in European Realism, (Merlin, 1973)
  • G. Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, (Merlin, 1974)

Further reading

  • Reidel-Schrewe, Ursula, "Key and Tripod in Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita", Neophilologus journal, v.79, n.2, April 1995, p. 273-282.
  • Tumanov, Vladimir. "Diabolus ex Machina - Bulgakov's Modernist Devil." Scando-Slavica 35: 49-61.[2]

External links

bg:Майстора и Маргарита cs:Mistr a Markétkaet:Meister ja Margarita el:Ο Μαιτρ και η Μαργαρίταfa:مرشد و مارگاریتاhy:Վարպետն ու Մարգարիտան hr:Majstor i Margarita (roman) it:Il maestro e Margherita he:האמן ומרגריטה ka:ოსტატი და მარგარიტა lv:Meistars un Margarita lt:Meistras ir Margarita hu:A Mester és Margarita nl:De Meester en Margaritano:Mesteren og Margarita nn:Mesteren og Margarita pl:Mistrz i Małgorzataro:Maestrul și Margareta ru:Мастер и Маргарита scn:Lu Maistru e Margarita sk:Majster a Margaréta sl:Mojster in Margareta sr:Мајстор и Маргарита fi:Saatana saapuu Moskovaan sv:Mästaren och Margarita tr:Usta ile Margarita uk:Майстер і Маргарита

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