The Master and Margarita kept yearning for my attention because one of my favorite characters, the devil, is a big player in the book. Once I started reading this master piece, with its clever satire and elaborate allusions, I couldn’t stop until I got to the end!
“She looked at me with surprise, and I suddenly and completely unexpectedly realized that this was the woman I had loved my whole life! Amazing, isn’t it? Naturally, you’ll say I’m a madman, right?”
What an amazing, passionate quote that encapsulates so much of what this novel is about coming from the Master, while locked up in an insane asylum, professing his love at first sight with Margarita. Love, passion, pain, and many other motifs run through this seminal classic that defies and remains impervious to any one type of genre classification. In many ways this novel is an autobiography where Bulgakov vicariously uses the Master to express his anguish of rejection from the literary circle he once flourished in.
Bulgakov wrote the novel, on and off, subsequent to critics destroying his career because they viewed him as an anti-Soviet, between the years 1928 and 1940. The incredible thing was he wrote the work with full awareness it would not be published in his lifetime. Not only was this period marked by Stalin’s repressive regime, it also marked an era in the former Soviet Union where atheism was in and religion was out.
One of the many things that make this book great is Burgin/O’Connor’s enlightening, dense, and in depth commentary. It distinguishes, for example, when Bulgakov’s allusions to Faust are inspired by Gounod’s opera or Goethe’s poem. We also learn the numerous sources the author used in creating his disturbing Pontius Pilate scene.
With religion being attacked in the Soviet Union on all fronts, it is only satirically fitting that the novel begins with the devil, posing as professor Woland, meeting two literary elites and advocating the existence of Jesus Christ. Shortly thereafter, the devil’s retinue including, among others, a chess loving, talking cat and a beautiful, naked woman wreak havoc in a faithless Moscow.
Before this, though, the devil reminisces with his new acquaintances the day Pontius Pilate authorized the crucifixion of Jesus. The imagination and intricate detail the author provides in this historical event makes the reader feel like he’s there, like this is how it actually went down. The novel alternates scenes between the Master and Margarita’s Moscow and the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate.
There’s a dramatic mood shift, some hope, when in part 2 of the novel the narrator claims, “Who ever told you there is no such thing in the world as real, true, everlasting love? May the despicable liar have his despicable tongue cut out!” Margarita wakes up in the morning with a premonition that something is going happen, no matter what, that day. She is right and soon flies off naked on a broom to meet the devil at his midnight ball. Eventually, the devil obliges to Margarita’s wish to be reunited with the Master, the latter is freed after he frees Pontius Pilate, and the two lovers walk off in the dawn to their eternal home. The rebellious nature, unorthodox style, and unique circumstances Bulgakov was under while writing this work, makes this novel a one of a kind, must read love story.