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Mikhail Bulgakov might have been
executed should the true content of
his novel The Master and Margarita
be revealed in the thirties.


MIKHAIL BULGAKOV'S THE MASTER AND MARGARITA: A LITERARY MYSTIFICATION

by
Alfred Barkov
In Russian       To the Contents       Search within my materials       Your question      Other works

There has been developed a new Literary Theory incorporating Mikhail Bakhtin's concepts. Based on the principles of philosophical aesthetics, semiotics and narratology, the theory made it possible to address the problem of revealing the hidden content of Mikhail Bulgakov's works including his famous novel The Master and Margarita. The theoretical aspects and their practical implementation in decoding the inner structure (i.e., the hidden content) of similar works created by W. Shakespeare and A. Pushkin are discussed elsewhere on the WEB (see the index below).

This page contains the text of my book M. Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita: an everlasting love or a literary mystification? Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of The Master and Margarita A short version of the work was published in 1996 (The Novels Eugene Onegin and The Master and Margarita: a Tradition of Literary Mystification: 1996, Kiev, Stanitsa.) However short, it contains the first ever description of the sophisticated multiple-plot inner structure of such class of fiction (the menippeah).

As the texts published on the Mikhail Bulgakov page are in Russian, the table of contents of the book is in Russian as well. To enable the readers who do not read Russian to get an idea of the content intended by Bulgakov, I will attempt to present a brief description with some links to corresponding documents.

It should be noted that the traditional interpretation of The Master and Margarita ignores the facts delineating the true Bulgakov's intention. The novel turned out to be a bitter satire aimed at the Soviet repressive regime. It depicts V. Lenin as devil Woland who brought disaster to Russia. The satirical characters of Master and Margarita do not depict Bulgakov and his third wife as it is traditionally believed. The Master represents the odious figure of M. Gorky, whom the Soviet regime officially endowed with the functions of supervising the whole literary process in the Soviet Russia. Back to Top

The image of Margarita reflects the odious figure of unofficial Gorky's wife Maria Andreyeva, a myrmidon of V. Lenin. It was on Lenin's demand that Maria Andreyeva involved gifted writer M. Gorky into the Bolshevik's activities. That very situation has been satirically described in the Master and Margarita.

A more detailed analysis of the multiple reflections pointing to Lenin, Gorky and Andreyeva as being depicted as Woland, the Master, and Margarita has been presented in my earlier book Mikhail Bulgakov's Novel The Master and Margarita: a New Approach.

Should the true content of The Master and Margarita be disclosed in the thirties, Mikhail Bulgakov most certainly would have been executed.

On this page I render the content of my next work on The Master and Margarita. In it, the emphasis has been made on the aspects characterizing the inner structure of the novel. Actually, this is the very first work containing an attempt to reveal the 'secret key' to the inner structure of the masterpieces created by Shakespeare, Pushkin, and Bulgakov. A more detailed description of the menippeah class of fiction was published two years later (see the text of the book on the novel Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin). In 2000 there was published the paper describing the decoded content of Hamlet (see on the WEB a rendering in English: Hamlet: a Tragedy of errors or the Tragical Fate of the Author?). Back to Top

A very important feature should be stressed. In all menippeahs created by Shakespeare, Pushkin, and Bulgakov the principal compositional 'secret' is the role of the Narrator whose biased narrative is deliberately aimed at the indoctrinating the readers with a false perception of the 'real' content. Among other composition means, this strictly psychological method involves intense wordplay. Due to the inflicted impression, we are apt to perceive the meaning of the words and expressions according to what the Narrator implants, thus neglecting the appropriate interpretations. This phenomenon takes place even when we read such works written in our native language. The situation becomes especially grave when we read a translation. Of the multiple meanings of words in the original text, the interpreter would certainly choose in his language a word magnifying the Narrator's intention but stripped of the alternative original meanings. Therefore, any attempt to perceive the true content of a menippeah translated without considering the true author's intention is futile. Factually, the readers of such translations are deprived of any chance to approach the text from a different position. To a foreign reader without a command in Russian, The Master and Margarita must seem even more cryptic than to a Russian. Back to Top

Unfortunately, all that is true with the translations of The Master and Margarita into English. With the real content in mind, it becomes only too evident that many of the key words and expressions should be translated differently so as to preserve the alternative meaning intended by Bulgakov. One of the latest translations, namely:

THE MASTER & MARGARITA By Mikhail Bulgakov. Translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor. Annotations and afterword by Ellendea Proffer. 367 pp. Dana Point, Calif.: Ardis Publishers. $35. (The New York Times, October 22, 1995, p. 32).
is no exception. Besides, based on the standard pro-Soviet interpretation, Dr. Ellendea Proffer's annotations lead the readers still further away from what Mikhail Bulgakov intended. I would like to warn the readers against trusting the black PR type marketing inventions:
Its author, Mikhail Bulgakov, had written two versions, one he had worked on at home and another he wrote while he was living with a mistress and did not have the original one in front of him before he died in 1940. In 1989 a version different from the 1973 one was published in Bulgakov's native Kiev, and it is on that edition that Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor rely for their new translation. (ibid.)

Mikhail Bulgakov never lived at his mistress place. The mistress in question was his would be third wife Yelena Sergeyevna Bulgakova. Before Bulgakov married her in 1932, she peacefully lived with her husband and their son, and there was no room for a lover be him Mikhail Bulgakov or somebody else. After having moved to Bulgakov's place in 1932, they never separated till March 1940 when Bulgakov died. The two allegedly controversial versions were created after 1936 well after Bulgakov officially married Yelena Sergeyevna. These versions reflect different stages of work on the text, and there are no drastic differences between them. What was published by Ellendea Proffer is merely an earlier and less accurate version than the canonized ultimate one. Back to Top

The content of the beautifully designed US based WEB sites featuring the issues of The Master and Margarita is grounded on the same misleading translations and erroneous interpretations. Maybe I will be able to publish sometime a description in English of the key elements which still remain unnoticed by the scholars and commentators of The Master and Margarita. As there are plenty of such elements in its text, re-editing the comments contained in two books (more than fifty chapters all in all) let alone the process of translating is going to be a bulky job. And again, there still remains the lingual problem: the existing translations are useless because they were performed without the consideration of Bulgakov's intention and the significance of the key elements. Back to Top

* * *

I believe it would have been more proper if I began the job with the rendering the content of my first 300 p. book. Yet I can offer now only a very brief description of the second one devoted to the revealing of the content of The Master and Margarita.

Besides the Preface, the book consists of 23 chapters comprising six sections:

Section I consists of 4 chapters devoted to the issues of the Literary Theory. Among other things, a possibility of strict syllogistic proofs in philological studies is discussed in Chapter III. A description of the unique multi-plot multi-subject menippeah inner structure is presented in Chapter IV. (A more elaborated description of the theory can be found in my other book: The Promenades with Eugene Onegin, as well as in the articles published on the Literary Theory page.) Back to Top

Section II (Chapters V through IX) is devoted to the description of the complicated inner structure of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita. This was the very first time when the issue of the Narrator as the main means of the composition in menippeahs is discussed. Maybe the most striking thing for the scholars engaged in the studies concerning Mikhail Bulgakov's works is the identity of the Narrator and his specific role in the comprehension of the true content of The Master and Margarita. The complete text of the novel is narrated by Koroviev-Fagot, a character from Dr. Woland's gang. Yes, it's not Master or Margarita but Koroviev who happens to be the principal character of The Master and Margarita novel. This compositional significance of the Narrator is the key feature of any menippeah. (I am in a position to assert that the scholars engaged in the Shakespearean studies will have to admit the fact that prince Hamlet is not the central character within the true plot intended by Shakespeare). Back to Top

In Section III containing Chapters X XII the content of multiple plots and subjects of The Master and Margarita is analyzed. It is argued that the novel itself parodies the Faust and the City, a procommunist drama by A. Lunacharsky, the head of the department of Culture of the Soviet Union. Being one of the most principal ideologists of totalitarian rule, Lunacharsky was the very person who organized the anti-Bulgakov campaign in the twenties. Unfortunately, even in the post-Soviet studies, the odious Lunacharsky's policy still remains shadowed. (See Chapter XI. The Godfather of the Socialist Realism.)

In the novel The Master and Margarita, A. Lunacharsky is depicted as two different characters: as Latunsky one of the leading figures in the anti-Master campaign (see how accurately the Latunsky name fits into that of Bulgakov's antagonist), and as Sempleyarov, the Director of Theatres and Shows (which exactly specifies the official position of A. Lunacharsky). Back to Top

As far as I know, no other study devoted to The Master and Margarita mentions Lunacharsky as a satirical object let alone the fact that Bulgakov's novel parodies his drama Faust and the City. Traditionally, the attitude to Lunacharsky in the Soviet studies has always been respectful. The study of the text of Faust and the City has made it only too obvious that while creating The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov incorporated the text of Lunacharsky's drama very extensively. When the book was completed, I was still wondering why Bulgakov constructed the main plot of The Master and Margarita in such a way that multiple details and situations of Faust and the City became objects of parody.

It was only recently that P. Maslak having decoded the hidden content of the very first Bulgakov's novel The White Guard 1 discovered that its plot also parodies Lunacharsky's Faust and the City. In this case the parody is even more obvious because in Bulgakov's novel the symbolical notion of the City parodies that employed by Lunacharsky in his drama (in both cases the word City is capitalized, and Bulgakov stressed that feature.) Back to Top

Section IV (Chapters XII XVI) is devoted to the ethical issues covered in The Master and Margarita as well as to some aspects of Mikhail Bulgakov's biography reflected in the novel. It was disclosed that in the twenties and in the thirties Bulgakov remained to be a drug addict, that his third wife Yelena Bulgakova assisted him in obtaining the drugs (see Chapter XV.) This very situation with the drug injection has been depicted in the Epilogue to The Master and Margarita where Bulgakov portrayed himself as Ivan Bezdomny (Ponyryev). Back to Top

In Chapter XVI the situation connected with the famous 1930 Bulgakov's Letter to the Government is analyzed. As a result, there has been disclosed the identity of the secret police contact who had been reporting on Bulgakov. The text of the contact's April 1930 secret report concerning the letter in question was published recently in mass media. That secret police contact happened to be Bulgakov's third wife Yelena Bulgakova who was then still the spouse of a high standing Red Army officer (Bulgakov married her in 1932).

In the Chapters XVII XX comprising Section V, the multiple references in The Master and Margarita to A. Pushkin's versed novel Eugene Onegin are analyzed. It was established that the content of Pushkin's novel had been interpreted incorrectly. Eugene Onegin happens to be a menippeah as well, and it was intended by Alexander Pushkin as a satirical mystification. It has become obvious that Bulgakov was aware of the real content of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin and signaled about that in The Master and Margarita. Back to Top

The XXIst, XXIInd and XXIIIrd Chapters comprising Section VI are devoted to structural features which are common in the menippeahs created by Pushkin, Bulgakov and Alexei Tolstoy. The XXIVth chapter describing the hidden content of Shakespeare's Hamlet was withdrawn because it has become a separate paper (see the text of Hamlet: A Tragedy of Errors or the Tragical Fate of the Author?). It should be mentioned that at least one of Bulgakov's dramas (The Cabala of the Devotees) is factually a novel belonging to the menippeah class with the hidden content much differing from the traditional interpretation (see Chapter XXII.) That feature makes its inner structure very much alike that of Shakespeare's Hamlet. (In the paper on Hamlet mentioned above I dare to assert that considering the true inner structure and the hidden content, Hamlet appears to be a prosaic novel rather than a pentametre drama, the later being an inner drama within the main prosaic text. The content intended by Shakespeare also differs very much from the traditional interpretation). Back to Top


1. Mr. Maslak's work has been published along with my paper on inner structure of Hamlet. Its text can be found on the WEB as well: www.ussr.to/World/menippei (Back)



Many thanks for having visited this site. The issues discussed on this Bulgakov page are given some more scrutiny on the pages listed below you are welcome to visit them. As the materials published there are in Russian, you are welcome to visit a short Introduction in English to another site where among other things, some issues of the hidden content in Hamlet are tackled as well. Short introductions in English may be found also on A. Pushkin, Christopher Marlowe W. Shakespeare, and Literary Theory pages:

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: the Tradition of Literary Mystification a short version of the book (published in 1996).

The text of the 300 p. book Mikhail Bulgakov's Novel The Master and Margarita: a New Approach (published in 1994). The Mysteries of M. Bulgakov's Novel The Master and Margarita (the article rendering the text of the book).

The Christopher Marlowe W. Shakespeare page

The A. Pushkin page

The Literary Theory page.

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The contents

Preface

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Any comments or questions will be appreciated. You are welcome to use e-mail: alfred@ham.kiev.ua
or the outmoded postal service:
Alfred Barkov P.O. Box 236 Kiev Ukraine 01103

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Last updated: Aug. 09, 2002
A. Barkov 2001-2002

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