TheMaster and Margarita is considered by thecritics one of the best novels of the twentieth century. This novel can “bereasonably called the greatest novel to come out of Communist Russia, a work ofmagical realism, a pre-apocalyptic novel, a love story, a biting politicalsatire” (Murdoch) .
The book writtenby Mihail Bulgakov has three main storylines. The first one is about a visit bythe devil to the Soviet Union. He is disguised as “Woland”, a mysteriousmagician.
His appearance is hard to pin-point due to the fact that he isdescribed differently by every witness: “Onesays he was short, had gold teeth, and was lame in his right foot. Another saysthat he was hugely tall, had platinum crowns and was lame in his left foot. Yeta third notes laconically that he had no distinguishing features whatsoever.” (Bulgakov)Woland’s entourageconsists of Behemoth (a giant cat that is able to walk, speak and even takehuman form), Koroiev (Woland’s assistant and a skilled illusionist), Azazello(a demon-assassin) and Hella (Woland’s vampire maid). Together, they playtricks on anyone that stands in their way. Alternatively,Pontious Pilate’s Jerusalem and the fate of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth)are presented in this novel. Even thoughthese different stories don’t seem connected, their relation becomes apparentwhen the third storyline, the love story between Margarita and the Master ispresented and everything fits together.
Thenovel itself is an allegory of good and evil, and could be considered protestliterature, due to its parallels between Woland and Stalin, but also due to itbeing a response to the atheistic propaganda from the Stalinist era. Bulgakovweaves in his book elements of political satire with biblical symbolism,through the double-sided representation of the divine and the demonic. Whiledescribing the events from the Gospel, the narrator focuses more on the humannature of Yeshua (Jesus) rather than the divine one. This description does notinterfere with the soviet communist doctrine, because it does not hint todivine power, thus resulting a pagan version of the Gospel. On the other hand,Yurchenko notes that ‘the novel’s elaborate structure, independence ofevents, mystical characters and historical figures having philosophicalconversations would not have pleased the “new” reader looking for simplicityand practical recommendations in literature’ (Yurchenko).
Similarly, DavidGillespie believes that ‘The novel eschews realism- both critical and socialist– from its very first pages’, making it rather dissimilar from the dictatedrealities portrayed by Socialist Realist literature, which had no room foranything mystical or ‘paranormal’. (Gillespie) The Master and Margarita is also astory within a story. At some point it is revealed that the tale of Yeshua ispart of the Master’s own burnt novel. He wants to liberate himself from thecriticism and the strain of the manuscript, hoping to feel purified through theaction of fire on the manuscript. Woland returns the manuscript to him, saying”Don’t you know that manuscripts don’t burn?” which quickly became one of themost memorable and important quotes from this particular piece ofliterature. The burning of themanuscript also has a biographical meaning, being derived from the author’s ownexperiences.
It took ten years to write the novel, during which severalmanuscripts were burned, because they were considered very dangerous. Thepersecution by the regime didn’t deter him, but instead determined him tofinish the novel and rewrite several chapters from memory, as Bulgakovexplained, ‘I know it by heart.’ During this time, the author started thinkingabout different titles, all still being centred on Satan – The GreatChancellor, Satan, Here I Am, The Black Theologian, He Has Come, The HoofedConsultant.