“The Master and Margarita”

Background

The Master and Margarita was written by Mikhail Bulgakov (mee-ha-EEL bool-GA-kov). He finished writing it in 1940 and it was first published in 1966.

Outline

  1. Berlioz and Homeless discuss Jesus’ existence with a stranger
  2. The stranger recalls Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate
  3. Berlioz slips and is decapitated by a tram car
  4. Homeless chases then searches for the stranger; he losses is cloths
  5. Massolit members wait for Berlioz; Homeless barges in and is arrested
  6. Enraged Homeless is sedated at the clinic, and sent to the country
  7. Styopa wakes hungover, and Wooland takes his theater and apartment
  8. Homeless wakes at the country hospital, and is convinced to stay
  9. Bosoy is vanished by Wooland, after checking Berlioz’s apartment

Characters

Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz is the short, dark-haired, plump, bald editor of a literary journal and chairman of the board of Massolit.

Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyrev is a young, broad-shouldered poet who writes under the pseudonym Homeless.

Koroviev, or the choirmaster, is Wooland’s henchman; seven feet tall and unbelievably thin, he has a jeering face.

Wooland is the devil. His left teeth have platinum crowns, his right have gold, his right eye is black, his left green, he has dark hair and appears to be a little over 40.

Yeshua Ha-Nozri, Wooland’s depiction of Jesus. Yeshua is Aramaic for “Lord of Salvation” and Ha-Nozri means “of Nazareth.”

The Giant Cat is Wooland’s companion.

Riukhin is Homeless’s friend and a phony poet, who tries to help him at the clinic but is rejected.

Stepan Bogdanovich Likhodeev, or Styopa for short, is the director of the Variety Theatre, and Berlioz’s roommate.

The Redhead is a wooland companion; he is short but extraordinarily broad-shouldered; he wears a bowler hat, has flaming red hair, a fang, and is quite ugly.

Doctor Stravinksy is the friendly psychiatrist at the country hospital.

Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy is the chairman of the tenants’ association where Berlioz and Styopa lived.

Quotes

Our two writers drink a soda:

“Give us seltzer,” Berlioz asked.

“There is no seltzer,” the woman in the stand said, and for some reason became offended.

“Is there beer?” Homeless inquired in a rasping voice.

“Beer’ll be delivered towards evening,” the woman replied.

“Then what is there?” asked Berlioz.

“Apricot soda, only warm,” said the woman.

“Well, let’s have it, let’s have it! …”

The soda produced an abundance of yellow foam, and the air began to smell of a barber-shop. Having finished drinking, the writers immediately started to hiccup, paid, and sat down on a bench face to the pond and back to Bronnaya. (p. 3)

The foreigner describes the process of getting lung-cancer:

“You are no longer interested in anyone’s fate but your own. Your family starts lying to you. Feeling that something is wrong, you rush to learned doctors, then to quacks, and sometimes to fortune-tellers as well. Like the first, so the second and third are completely senseless, as you understand. And it all ends tragically: a man who still recently thought he was governing something, suddenly winds up lying motionless in a wooden box, and the people around him, seeing that the man lying there is no longer good for anything, burn him in an oven.” (p. 10)

Yeshua, explaining to Pontius Pilate that he did not incite the Jews to destroy the temple:

“These good people … haven’t any learning and have confused everything I told them. Generally, I’m beginning to be afraid that this confusion may go on for a very long time. And all because he writes down the things I say incorrectly.” (p. 19)

Bulgakov’s interpolation of John 18:38, when Pilate asks Jesus “What is Truth?”:

“And why did you stir up the people in the bazaar, you vagrant, talking about the truth, of which you have no notion? What is truth?”

And here the procurator thought: “Oh, my gods! I’m asking him about something unnecessary at a trial … my reason no longer serves me …” And again he pictured a cup of dark liquid. “Poison, bring me poison…”

And again he heard the voice:

“The truth is, first of all, that your head aches, and aches so badly that you’re having faint-hearted thoughts of death. You’re not only unable to speak to me, but it is even hard for you to look at me. And I am now your unwilling torturer, which upsets me. You can’t even think about anything and only dream that your dog should come, apparently the one being you are attached to. But your suffering will soon be over, your headache will go away.” (p. 21)

Bulgakov’s disdain for the mystics:

But no, no! The seductive mystics are lying, there are no Caribbean Seas in the world, no desperate freebooters sail them, no corvette chases after them, no cannon smoke drifts across the waves. There is nothing, and there was nothing! There is that sickly linden over there, there is the cast-iron fence, and the boulevard beyond it … And the ice is melting in the bowl, and at the next table you see someone’s bloodshot, bovine eyes, and you’re afraid, afraid … Oh, gods, my gods, poison, bring me poison! … (p. 58)

Bulgakov’s describes how Berlioz’s death is received:

Yes, he’s dead, dead … But, we, we’re alive!

Yes, a wave of grief billowed up, held out for a while, but then began to subside, and somebody went back to his table and—sneakily at first, then openly—drank a little vodka and ate a bite. And, really, can one let chicken cutlets de volaille perish? How can we help Mikhail Alexandrovich? By going hungry? But, after all, we’re alive! (p. 59)

The various schemes to get Berlioz’s living space:

The news of Berlioz’s death spread through the whole house with a sort of supernatural speed, and as of seven o’clock Thursday morning, Bosoy began to receive telephone calls and then personal visits with declarations containing claims to the deceased’s living space. In the period of two hours, Nikanor Ivanovich received thirty-two such declarations.

They contained pleas, threats, libels, denunciations, promises to do renovations at their expense, references to unbearable over-crowding and the impossibility of living in the same apartment with bandits. Among others there were a description, staggering in its artistic power, of the theft from the apartment no. 31 of some meat dumplings, tucked directly into the pocket of a suit jacket, two vows to end life by suicide and one confession of secret pregnancy. (p. 92)

All quotes are from the 1997 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.