Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Mikhail Bulgakov "The Master and Margarita"

Master and Margarita (Wordsworth Classics)

"She was carrying repulsive, alarming yellow flowers." In this unexpected way begins the acquaintance with Margarita, the key character of this novel. These spring flowers represented ugliness contrasting with her beauty to the Master.

I am not a Bulgakovphile and so much has been said about the book, that all I can do is to present a summary of events and opinions. I can also add my little voice to the one of The London Times, who called “The Master and Margarita” one of the most brilliant works of the 20th century. It is difficult to determine what the genre of the novel is. It is a satire, mystery, romance and philosophical parable.

This is the story of how the devil appeared in the post-revolutionary Moscow. The devil introduces himself to people as Professor Woland and he is accompanied by his charming retinue (whatever comes from the devil must be charming). All people who got in contact with Woland and his companions receive punishment for their big and little sins.

The Soviet government does an excellent job for the devil - Moscow of thirties is a place where people do not believe neither in Devil nor in God. In Moscow, however, lives a man, the Master, who wrote a book about the last days of Yeshua (the prototype of which is Jesus Christ) and a Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, the one who sent Joshua to the execution. The Master burned the novel about Joshua and Pontius Pilate and now resides in a psychiatric clinic.

Margarita, wife of a “known” engineer, Master's mistress, who lost track of him after he got into a mad house, wants only one thing, which is to find and return the Master. Azazello (retinue of Woland) gives hopes to Margarita but for that she must fulfill a service to Woland. Margarita agrees, not immediately though, and becomes acquainted with Woland and his entire entourage. Woland asks her to become a queen of the ball, which he gives in the night from Friday to Saturday (Good Friday). The guests at the ball are not just sinners; they are only true, ideological villains.

Another storyline of the novel, which develops in parallel, is the novel about Pontius Pilate, the one that was written by the Master. It tells the story of Pontius Pilate, who did not dare to speak out against the Sanhedrim (Council) and was not able to save Yeshua.


At the end of the novel the two lines intersect: Master frees the hero of his novel, and Pontius Pilate desiring all this time to finish the interrupted conversation with Joshua, finally gets peace and goes into an infinite journey in a stream of moonlight with Joshua. The Master and Margarita gain "rest" in a version of the afterlife granted by Woland.

Now let’s talk a little bit about Margarita. Some elevate her on a pedestal - Bulgakov emphasizes the exclusivity of Margarita and her feelings that reach the complete self-sacrifice. Margarita enters into a contract with the devil to save the Master. She is a romantic heroine, clearly delineated: the yellow flowers, a black coat, the loneliness in her eyes. At the same time, Margarita is a down to earth, sinful woman. She can swear, flirt, she's a woman without complexes. So, she is a link to the three worlds: the Master’s, the Devil’s and the God’s. She made the talk of the three worlds possible.

There are opinions that contrast with the above. Hypertrophy of all the characters of this love story suggests that it is just a satire on the endless sugary love stories so popular in all ages.

According to them, Bulgakov is not so much a mystic as a satirist and in this story the most powerful side is a satirical one. The image of the Master does not explain the feelings which Margarita has for him. Completely devoid of masculine traits, weak and weak-willed, he could not be a hero of the novel about love. Margarita, bored rich woman, far from the surrounding Soviet reality and thirsty for strong emotions, has a stronger character than the Master. Bulgakov shows so clearly the happiness which she has from communication with the devil and from her sacrifice, that it is ridiculous to talk about a classic love heroine.

Voila. Read it for yourselves. It is really a good book. I strongly recommend avoiding any theatre plays or movies based on the novel before reading the book.

More about women characters, beauty and style in my blog Notes about styling

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