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Pope in his grotto
It's clever, but is it art?
(This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.)
The Master and Margarita 
18th-Jan-2007 11:58 pm
Marlowe: "bad revolting stars?"
I finished reading The Master and Margarita about a week ago, but this is the first chance I've had to actually say anything about it. I'm still not sure exactly what I think of it, and this is bound to come out as more of a barely coherent stream of ramblings than an actual discussion of the novel, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

Warning: Spoilers for The Master and Margarita, and probably for Goethe's Faust and Stephen King's Needful Things.

All right, to begin with, I knew nothing at all about this book before reading it except that it had some relationship to the Faust myth, which is apparent enough just from the title. Obviously, then, I should have been prepared for something along supernatural lines – but I must admit that the degree of supernatural goings-on took me very much by surprise. I've never read any Russian fantasy or sci-fi before, and overall, I associate Russia with stark, harsh, utterly unornamented realism. Now, I had no problem seeing the Devil walking around Moscow wearing a gray suit and black gloves... but I've got to say, a hog-sized cat carrying a primus stove in its front paws is something I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around.

The main thing, though, is that I'm not sure I ever grasped what the actual theme was. So let's go into that for a moment.

For the first half of the novel, I thought the plot was a clever, albeit somewhat thinly-veiled attack on the Soviet government. The way people kept "disappearing" – leaving their homes or offices and then just never coming back – called Solzhenitsyn very much to mind. The Devil could make you just disappear. Your papers would disappear; no papers, no person. Threatening phonecalls, terrifying people into silence... "accidents" that conveniently removed people who held unsatisfactory views... well, it seemed very obvious, I thought.

But toward the middle and especially the end, we abandon all of the victims and take up with the villains, and suddenly it seems that the villains aren't really villains, but rather slightly buffoonish and morally questionable persons behaving according to their own strange laws. The Devil even seems to have his own code of honor, which prevents him from refusing Margarita her wish even after she consciously forfeits it out of guilt. The more we get to know the "bad guys," the more it starts to seem as if the "good guys" had it coming to them, or at least weren't interesting enough to be worth feeling sorry for, whereas the demons are an engaging lot, and after all rather likable.

Then there's the matter of the Master and Margarita themselves. The Master was not at all what I'd expected. He certainly didn't live up to his name; he was probably the single most unassuming character in the whole novel, and never really did anything at all. From his last words to Ivan Nikolayevich, I gather that he was supposed to be a kind of Christ parallel – humble and good and intelligent like Christ, but with a sort of postmodern directionlessness and faithlessness. And in that case, the fact that he completely contradicts one's preconceived notion of what a "Master" ought to be is very interesting. But... I'm not sure exactly why.

Margarita, on the other hand, is not humble or good or even, if I may say so, particularly intelligent. She's selfish and stubborn and vengeful and brazen. Because of her, I have a hard time making out who exactly the Devil is here to punish – the good, or the evil? Most of the time, he goes around screwing with anybody greedy or vain or otherwise sinful, but then along comes Margarita, and the Devil seems bent on giving her what she wants. Azazello explains that the Devil needs her because he has to have somebody named Margaret to host his party, and she's simply the only one who'll do – but that's a rather cheap plot device, if it's what Bulgakov really intended, and it really sounds more like an excuse than an honest reason to me.

It was interesting that Margarita got to play the role of Faust. But again, I'm not sure why. And after all, she isn't really a Faust. The Devil had it in for Faust all along, and all the wealth and knowledge and dances with Helen of Troy were just toys for Faust to play with while an eternal fire was being prepared for him in the abyss. But not so for Margarita. The Devil never gets her soul, nor does he seem to desire it; he sends her and the Master off to their dubious reward in the end, a sort of twilight compromise – another postmodernesque little symbol.

In the endnotes of the book, it's mentioned that Bulgakov originally intended for all of Moscow to burn at the end, instead of just a few buildings. I think it would have been a much stronger ending if he had burned the whole city. Just burning down the restaurant, the apartment, etc. was sort of anticlimactic and random, I thought. On the other hand, though, I liked the concluding chapter, which would have had to go if the whole city had burned; and Ivan couldn't have gone on to be a completely futile disciple, either. So maybe it was best as it was.

But what was the deal with Ivan, anyway? He was never the Master's disciple in any genuine sense, and only the Master's calling him a disciple makes the parallel even conceivable at all, as far as I can see. There seems to just be symbology running around everywhere, but none of it seems to be meaningfully connected... all these references and allusions, and they're very clever, but for the life of me I can't see anything behind them.

Now, Pilate is another story. I was fascinated with Pilate, who made the wrong choice and could never take it back, nor ever admit to himself that he had been mistaken; who dreamed of that moonlit path, of an eternity ascending to a light that isn't quite heaven. And Jesus, misunderstood and a little strange, but humble and forgiving. Levi Matvei was interesting too, especially when he appeared at the end, and it was obvious that although he and Satan couldn't even be civil to one another, neither of them was exactly wrong. Nor did either defy the will of his creator, after all.

I don't know. I'm trying to make sense of it, because there must be sense somewhere in there, amid Behemoth's bad jokes and Azazello's fang and Korovyov's cracked pince-nez, and Margarita's naked flailing about, and the Master's emo angsting, and Woland's lying around in his underwear with a promiscuous corpse-maid molesting his knee. I'm just kind of boggled by the whole thing.

As an aside, though, I noticed early on that Woland reminded me of a character from Stephen King's Needful Things. In King's book, this character, who later turns out to be a demon or possibly the Devil, comes into town and opens a shop called "Needful Things," where he sells what appears to be a variety of completely random and largely useless knickknacks. In reality, each of these knickknacks is tailored to irresistibly lure one specific person; there's something in the shop for everybody in town, something he or she simply can't live without. The demon is clever; rather than asking people to sign over their immortal souls in exchange for his items, he makes them a smaller bargain: they must agree to perform some seemingly slight mischief on someone else in the town, and to make it appear that the mischief was done by someone else. Ultimately, of course, this turns nearly everyone in the town against one another, and mischief becomes vengeance becomes crime and murder, and the demon sits back and watches while the town self-destructs. For the first three quarters of Bulgakov's book, Woland struck me as being very like this devil of Stephen King's – whose name, I discovered upon looking it up afterward, was Leland. So, no coincidence, then.

Now, King's book, like so many of his books, had a very intriguing and promising premise, but ended very stupidly. Bulgakov's, on the other hand, had a very... inscrutable premise. And an inscrutable ending, for that matter – but an ending that seems to deserve pondering; an ending with implications that I feel I've almost grasped... but not quite.

Well, anyway. I'll probably think of a million more things I wanted to say right after I hit "post" – something about my random attachment to the pirate restaurant-manager comes to mind, and how his name, Archibald Archibaldovich, strikes me as one of the funniest things in the whole book – but I'm going to stop rambling here, because I'm aware that I've made no point at all. I just wanted to talk about this book, because I've had such unanimous encouragement to read it, and heard so much praise for it... and now that I have read it, while I certainly don't dislike it, I also just don't really understand what it's supposed to... well, do.



So, anyway, if anybody has any insights, or just wants to chat about the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Comments 
19th-Jan-2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I haven't read it personally - I have a policy of reading Russian books in Russian, but that requires time, as I'm very out of practice. But it's one of my sister's favorites.

And there's metric tons of sci-fi/fantasy in Russian lit. Try the Strugatsky brothers. :)
20th-Jan-2007 12:05 am (UTC)
I have a policy of reading Russian books in Russian

Man, sometime I need to take a tally of how many people on my friends-list speak/read Russian. It's starting to look like half of my f-list doesn't know anything about Russia at all, and the other half speaks Russian fluently, and I'm the only person standing here in the middle. o_O

Incidentally, though, a friend linked me to an online copy of the book in Russian, and as Russian books go, it looked less daunting to read than most, I thought. The link is here, if you're curious to check it out.
19th-Jan-2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
I've got "The Master and Margarita" down as one of the books I should read this year, and like you I don't know a thing about it save Faust and everybody said it was a really good book (spoilers don't bother me; I think it actually gives me some incentive to keep reading if I know what's coming). There was a play of it one down in Chichester three years ago, and now I definitely regret not going. I don't have any experience of Russian literature save "The Government Inspector", and that doesn't really count, so I don't know if I'll 'get' it at all.
20th-Jan-2007 12:15 am (UTC)
I'd certainly recommend reading it. It was very engaging, and a pretty quick read. I liked it. I was just a bit confused.

Interesting outlook on spoilers. Myself, I absolutely hate and fear them... the more I know about a story, the more pointless it seems to bother reading it at all; the experience is ruined. But then, I guess it's just a quirk of mine... even when I was little, I was the kind of kid who would take special care to make sure I never got any hints as to what my Christmas/birthday presents were going to be until I opened them, because to me there was almost no point in getting presents at all if they weren't a surprise. And reading books is a lot like unwrapping presents. ;)
19th-Jan-2007 05:27 pm (UTC)
It's one of my favourite books, ever, though I never studied it formally. I dropped the Russian Literature option of my degree round about Dostoevsky. I didn't want to read Tol'stoy (boring old fart).

There are a number of themes - I'm no expert.

1. The Devil and God work in partnership. The Master and Margarita have not been either outstandingly evil or good, but can be rewarded accordingly.

2. Materialism is rife in the HQ of communism: the recurring gag of "hand over your foreign currency"; the dissolving fashion clothes. The system of priviledge - getting into a special restaurant with nice food because you are a hack writer. The foreign currency shops (which still existed in the 1980's when I studied in Moscow).

3. There's a lot of allegory and symbolism, which work better when you know the names: Korov'iev relates slightly to the word for "cow" and can mean "horned one". "Bez'domny" - "homeless".

Here's a useful resource:

http://cr.middlebury.edu/public/russian/Bulgakov/public_html/

and another link:

http://www.lib.ru/BULGAKOW/master97_engl.txt

For my part, my biggest buzz was when Margarita recognised "Malyuta Skuratov with his fiery red beard". Malyuta Skuratov was Ivan IV's senior henchman and hands-on executioner.

I've also sat on the same bench in the Alexandrovsky Sad that Margarita sat on when she was approached by Azazello. Those gardens are in the shadow of the Kremlin walls.
19th-Jan-2007 11:56 pm (UTC)
Ah. I knew Bezdomny, but didn't get the "horned" symbolism. Thanks for the resource links. :) I remember that you used to use the name Azazello on LJ, so I thought you were probably a fan of Bulgakov's. ;)

I did get that the Devil and God worked together, and the materialism thing, of course. I just wasn't sure why those things didn't apply to Margarita. She was no better than many of the other people who suffered far worse fates, I thought. True, she wasn't materialistic... but then, there's no proof that the other girls were, either. Not everybody who picks up a free ten-ruble note falling out of the sky (or accepts a free dress, for that matter) is necessarily a greedy materialist...

"Malyuta Skuratov with his fiery red beard"

Ah! You see, some better knowledge of Russian historical trivia would probably have made the Devil's Ball chapter a little more meaningful. Well, anyhow, I'll probably have to read the book again. I think part of the problem is that it was so different from what I expect from Russian authors... I haven't read Tolstoy, but I've read Chekhov, Gogol, Lermontov, Solzhenitsyn, and a lot of Dostoevsky (whom I simply adore beyond words). But like I said, I've never read any Russian fantasy or sci-fi, and wasn't really expecting to, so it was sort of startling.
19th-Jan-2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
Master and Margarita is a very organic book, in my opinion. I've read just about every other piece of prose Bulgakov wrote before reading "Master" (with the exception of 'White Guard'), so it was easier for me to see how the themes along which his talent developed.

I personally don't think "Master" was nearly as well-planned out as people think it was. And I frankly hate examining literature in terms of "-isms", because who the hell actually writes with that nonsense in mind? I think that book is like the Irish stew from Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat": everything went into it. One can trace back almost every single major aspect of the book to something very specific in his life.

He wanted to write a "novel about Pontius Pilate" - I think that's how he referred to it almost up until the end. But he couldn't write just that, I think - it probably smacked of post-Wildean aestheticism, Silver Age decadence and other things he wasn't really into. He was into sci fi, adventures, aggressive personalities, theatre, all of which made it into "Master and Margarita" one way or another.

As far as Jesus goes… I have this sneaking suspicion that there was a definite sci-fi tint to *that* curiosity as well – could he really do miracles? Could he heal people just by wishing it? Remember, this is a doctor writing – Bulgakov’s career may not have lasted long, but he certainly got a taste of what hard labor it was to heal people, the length of hours and volumes of sweat that went into “playing God.” I think the very idea that someone could heal by *thought* or *desire* alone was endlessly tempting to him. He had a lot of responsibility dumped on him right away after med school – a whole rural clinic to look after, where he was the only doctor, seeing up to 100 patients a day for all complaints. He was a talented young doctor when he practiced, and even acquired a reputation for being a miracle worker among the peasants, but it did not come to him easy at first. And then the whole experience of medicine was totally ruined for him by the war, and he quit it for writing.

The writers' scene is one he knew inside out. Literally - as time went on and his plays got banned continuously, he became this complete pariah in the literary world. So the venom against the "establishment" writers, poets and critics is basically his own, and the rejection of the Master by this establishment is also his own rejection. Ingredient one into the pot.

'Master' is, of course, himself, for three very basic reasons: he was writing a great novel (this one, in fact); he was not allowed to publish it (which was perfectly true), and he had a woman who believed in him, supported him and helped him write, in both inspirational and secretarial ways (also true). The fact that Master is sort of mousy in the novel is an awesome case of Mary Sueism with cognitive dissonance: this is Bulgakov himself saying that he as a person may not amount to much, but because he's writing something *real*, he gets a lot of hate from those of his colleagues who are just in it for the money and the perks; also, this book of his is *totally* going to rock - just you wait and see.

(to be cont.)
19th-Jan-2007 06:07 pm (UTC)
There are basically two kinds of people in the book: the establishment (writers and impresarios who live to make a buck) and the illuminati, like Voland and Margarita, who know and appreciate art when they see it. This wasn't Bulgakov’s first excursion into the theme: he'd written about this conflict of a great Artist with the establishment earlier, in his biography of Moliere and then the play based on it (both of which were eventually banned, as far as I can recall). Into the pot.

Satan and his henchmen are a bit trickier. Azazello is the angel of death. Korovin/purple knight are something medieval, can't recall what. Behemoth is also Biblical, the king of animals, but the answer to "why the hog-sized talking cat with a primus" is probably not in the Bible. It's in one's horse-sense, and it goes something like this: A HUGE TALKING CAT IS FREAKING AWESOME, THAT'S WHY!! Seriously, how much more complicated does Bulgakov’s reasoning need have been? He likes cats; one of his early autobiographical prose pieces describes his living alone and broke in a cold room with a stray kitty, and how they were lonely together. The idea of an animal/person amalgam was already explored in depth in "Heart of a Dog". Everything is already there. So why shouldn't Satan have a huge talking cat? If I were Satan, I would totally have a huge talking cat. Hell, why be Satan at all if you can't have a huge talking cat??

Everything goes into the pot. Satan is cool, because you’re required not to believe in him; the Bible is cool, because it’s taboo; medievalism/renaissance is cool, because no one knows squat about it and it’s considered irrelevant to modern communist concerns; and talking shape-shifting cats are cool, because they just are.

Margarita - a healthy sense of lust combined with his relationship with whatever number wife he was on at the time. Same for Natasha. Can't a guy just want to write about hot lusty women? With lesbian overtones? Into the pot.

The whole Faust angle - again, it pays to have read his earlier stuff. Bulgakov had had the opportunity to play at being Faust first-hand and describes it in his “Notes to a Secret Friend” and also in some other one, can’t recall which. How much of this is fact and how much fantasy can be disputed, but something of this sort once happened to him. He had just finished a novel ("White Guard", as far as I recall). The novel got read by a publisher and rejected. Bulgakov was left penniless and spent his days lying indolently on his back on the floor, a la Greg House. At some point, his only light bulb burned out. Now in the total dark, Bulgakov idly wondered if he might perhaps sell his soul to Satan to have his novel published so that he wouldn't starve. Suddenly someone knocked on his door and was invited in. It was some well-dressed dude. Bulgakov, wondering if he were perhaps asleep, declared that if they were going to negotiate for his soul, he wanted a new light bulb first. And that’s when the guy opened his bag and took out a brand new light bulb. Needless to say, Bulgakov had a gorgeous "so-this-is-what-going-mad-feels-like" moment that stayed with him forever after.

In the end, it turned out they had a common acquaintance; the light bulb thing was a coincidence, etc. etc. – in short, one of those highly odd accidents of fate that make life interesting. The guy was actually coming to see him about the novel and managed to get it published somewhere, although eventually Bulgakov got screwed on the rights to the work. So that's the Faustian angle: that experience plus the sheer desirability of having that happen again. Bulgakov could've really used divine/unholy intervention with his 'Pontius Pilate novel'. Into the pot.
20th-Jan-2007 07:39 am (UTC)
I don't have a whole lot to add to what you said -- and I'd never thought of M & M as being "organic" the way you describe it, although I do agree that fits, as do the "last novel" effects, which is another way I'd never thought about it.

But really I just want to say that this:

A HUGE TALKING CAT IS FREAKING AWESOME, THAT'S WHY!! [...] So why shouldn't Satan have a huge talking cat? If I were Satan, I would totally have a huge talking cat. Hell, why be Satan at all if you can't have a huge talking cat??

is so totally my favorite part of this discussion! Heck, of any discussion about Master and Margarita ever. Of any literature discussion ever, even.

And the lightbulb anecdote is priceless as ever!
19th-Jan-2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
The city. Apartments. Rooms, stairwells, lifts, relocations, constant combat with neighbors, clashes of cultures and classes – the boiling mess that the Revolution, the Civil War, and the urban migrations brought on. Bulgakov was in love with apartments and things that lurked in them. I get the feeling that he saw the city as this immense 3D Advent calendar with a million goodie-filled pockets - all that weirdness to observe and live through and write about. Into the pot, and by now the pot is pretty damned well stocked.

So that's what I think his whole writing process was like. I’m writing a novel right now, and frankly, when I come up with something interesting, I put it on paper and try to work it into the story somehow. And I think he did the same thing: collected a bunch of scenes and episodes and then assembled them into a more-or-less coherent novel. By that point, he'd had plenty of experience writing descriptions and dialogue, sci fi and everyday interactions, inward and outward oddities, so it all turned out rather well, especially after a couple of decades' worth of revisions.

And as for the title and why Master and Margarita are in it and no one else, even though the novel isn't even really about them - the title is a working title, really. He didn't know what he wanted to call the damn thing - he had huge lists of titles, and they all sounded wrong. I forget how he came to "Master and Margarita" but don't read any special meaning into it - there comes a point where you just have to decide on *some* sort of title, you know? I think for him that point came something like a few months before his death, in the frantic labor of last revisions, although I could be wrong.

Anyone, that’s two and a half full comments’ worth of dribble, so I’ll wrap it up.
20th-Jan-2007 12:59 am (UTC)
And I frankly hate examining literature in terms of "-isms"

Well, of course, one doesn't write with them in mind. But I think most great books can, to some degree, be examined that way, because themes and philosophies show up where the authors didn't even intend them to, organically, as you say. The author puts the pieces together, and then sometimes the book says something totally different from what he author intended, and says it very strongly. Even choppy, jumbled books, if well written, tend to have one deep vein that runs all the way through them and holds them together.

He wanted to write a "novel about Pontius Pilate"

Interesting, because that's how it felt to me from the start -- as though the real story was the Pontius Pilate story. It felt like Bulgakov really took the Pilate parts seriously, while the rest of it, at least until the last few chapters, felt more... I don't know. Disconnected, or something.

The fact that Master is sort of mousy in the novel is an awesome case of Mary Sueism with cognitive dissonance

Heh, yes, it looks that way. And the fate he consigns himself to at the end of the book is a curious one. He is great, perhaps, but that doesn't mean he's good. And Margarita, too -- forsaking heaven on his account.

A HUGE TALKING CAT IS FREAKING AWESOME, THAT'S WHY!!

I think this comes back to the thing about looking for "isms" and what have you. Given the amount of praise I'd heard for The Master and Margarita, I think I was expecting something epic, whole, cohesive, complex but solid... and it felt like what I actually got was simply a very entertaining and allusion-heavy fantasy story, with a lot of very awesome things, such as a huge talking cat, but a bit less unity of purpose and structure of ideas than I was expecting. I felt like there were a lot of little meanings and points that Bulgakov was making here and there, but they never really came together or took a definite shape.

I guess I'm not sure where to put it. It's not just trivial fantasy, like Harry Potter or the Amber Chronicles, purely for entertainment. Bulgakov clearly put more into it than that. But enough of it is just fantasy -- requiring no deeper explanation than "it's awesome, it's sexy, it's subversive, that's why!" -- that the effect of the more philosophical bits is sort of muddied.

And that’s when the guy opened his bag and took out a brand new light bulb.

That has to be the coolest author anecdote I've ever heard. I mean, really, to sell your immortal soul for a light bulb. Nice.

I’m writing a novel right now, and frankly, when I come up with something interesting, I put it on paper and try to work it into the story somehow

Yeah, so do I -- but I've always thought of that as a sort of first-novel syndrome. You've got to get everything in, because right now, this is the only novel. Later, though, authors begin to narrow down what they put into the pot, and choose only what actually fits with the recipe. After a while, they stop needing to say everything at once. But then, I guess that first-novel syndrome might also be a last-novel syndrome, too... if you know this is the last thing you'll ever write, then once again it becomes the only novel, and you've just got to squash everything in.

Anyhow, I should say: I liked the book. I just felt like I must be missing something, because so many people recommended it as one of their all-time favorite books ever, and it just... doesn't feel to me like the kind of book that moves people on that level. I'm still curious what it is that makes it so meaningful to so many people. Hence my search for themes and isms, I suppose.
20th-Jan-2007 03:58 am (UTC)
You know, I actually kind of randomly mused this morning that you haven't posted anything in a bit, and whether it was due to you finishing reading one of the books, hating it, and thus avoiding the people who'd rec'd it :) *is semi-prophetic, kinda. Only not.*

I think axmxz has probably provided more insight than I can (some of the historical bits she's mentioned were news to me, or possibly things I'd forgotten), but, my take on M&M, and why it may not work as well outside of its, I'm not sure what to call it, cultural context or something.

First of all, talking about symbolism and stuff... I've never studied Russian Lit formally -- either literature in Russia or specifically Russian Lit anywhere -- but just from reading, I think Russian books are less universally reliant on symbolism (beyond certain eras and movements), and I do think that approaching M&M from a symbolic standpoint is not necessarily the most fulfilling way of reading it.

I do think that, in terms of philosophy, the Pilate "thread" is the deepest one -- the part that made me *think*, even at 10, rather than just sort of revel in the coolness of Woland and his entourage of fanged angels and huge freakin' cats.

As far as the Woland thread... I think both it and the Master/Margarita threads suffer significantly more from displacement, when read in translation / outside the cultural context. So much of Woland's stuff, even for me, who was never a grown-up there, is just cathartic glee at how Woland and company stir shit up, in an environment that's incredibly rigid and limited and freedom-less otherwise. Which is, incidentally, what I like to see my Devils doing. But, like parody, I'm not sure that really works well without the baseline of knowing what stuff is like when the Devil is not rampaging in Moscow. So, I think, a lot of that sharp satire, that subversion, is probably lost in translation -- not linguistic, even, but cultural.

As far as the philosophy of that thread (and largely the book, too), for me it's best summed up by Woland's little monologue at the theater (Chapter 12, around the middle):

-- Ну что же, -- задумчиво отозвался [Woland], -- они -- люди как люди.
Любят деньги, но ведь это всегда было... Человечество любит деньги, из чего
бы те ни были сделаны, из кожи ли, из бумаги ли, из бронзы или из золота.
Ну, легкомысленны... ну, что ж... и милосердие иногда стучится в их
сердца... обыкновенные люди... в общем, напоминают прежних... квартирный
вопрос только испортил их... -- и громко приказал: -- Наденьте голову.

(the part after Begemot tears off Bengalsky's/the MC's head, and Woland muses on whether or not the people have actually changed, and concludes with ordering Begemot to restore Bengalsky's head).

The Master thread was always my least favorite of the three, on its own, although once I learned/realized how much of that was autobiographic, I grew to appreciate it more for that reason. I can't say that I ever much cared for Margarita, but I think it's good, actually, that she is a fairly ordinary kind of person.

I certainly don't thinkt he book is fantasy, though it may fall under "magical realism" if you squint. I think one of the things I like best about it is that... it's not readily categorizable, I don't think, and it mixes its three very different threads into something that... doesn't feel disjointed for me, just having very different components.

I think that's all the coherent thoughts that I have at the moment, but I do want to mention that I also inexplicably adored Archibald Archibaldovich the restaurant pirate.

Oh, and Needful Things sounds very interesting -- especially the idea of it being an homage, on some level. I'm not a huge fan of King, but I may just have to check that out...

I may chime in here and there elsewhere in the thread, but I think that's all I've got for now...
20th-Jan-2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
>квартирный
вопрос только испортил их...

Heh! That's right. That's why any translation is kinda doomed. How does one convey in English the depth of meaning in that little speech? Nothing's changed in the new USSR - the people are not super-men of the glowing new world - they've just got nastier because the living space is so cramped.

As for Archibald Archibaldovich - isn't he awesome!? Probably totally one of the guys Bulgakov saw on semi-regular basis.
20th-Jan-2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
First, I am SO glad you read this book. I've always wondered how it is percieved by non-Russians. During my stay in America our Literature teacher began to read it but then he gave it up saying that there were too many specific Soviet things about it... =/

Like hamsterwoman, I first read it when I was 10, or, maybe, 9. I must admit that I skipped the Pilate parts - they seemed so boring. When my grandma learned that I had read it, she took me to see her friends, and everybody kept asking me if I had understood anything in the novel at all. I said I had understood everything; everyone laughed. I know it must have looked funny, but I was so frustrated...

Anyway, back to the book.
I thought the plot was a[n ...] attack on the Soviet government. [...] The Devil could make you just disappear.
Satan is not associated with the Soviet government. He comes to see how things are; finds that people haven't changed much; together with his helpers shows them that there are some moral laws they should follow, despite they don't believe neither in God nor in devil. To punish is his part of the job, while Jesus' is to forgive.

She's selfish and stubborn and vengeful and brazen.
She's in love. Selfish - where exactly? Vengeful - you mean ruining Latunsky's apartment? No wonder. Brazen - hey, she became a witch, after all (and this is also why she's so vengeful, otherwise she would have done all that she's done plus kill Latunsky much earlier). And, by the way, she became a witch to see - and probably save - the Master.

He was never the Master's disciple in any genuine sense
The Master showed Ivan the way to follow. After meeting the Master, Ivan stopped writing poems because he could not call them real art - he just wrote what he was supposed to write, what Berlioz wanted him to. Before meeting Woland and the Master, questions like "Who rules our life?" didn't matter to him; but he cared to listen to the Master's story about Pilate - and then began to study History, or Philosophy, or, probably, both.

This is just my opinion and I do not pretend that I now understand the novel fully and completely. And yes - A HUGE TALKING CAT IS FREAKING AWESOME!!!
20th-Jan-2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
During my stay in America our Literature teacher began to read it but then he gave it up saying that there were too many specific Soviet things about it...

Really? To me it actually seemed much less Soviet-specific than most of the other Russian books I've read. The more you know about Russia the better, obviously, but at least on the surface, I should think M&M could be understood by pretty much anyone...

I said I had understood everything; everyone laughed. I know it must have looked funny, but I was so frustrated...

Heh, I know how that is. When I was seven or eight, my favorite song was a Civil War song my Dad played sometimes, about two brothers who fought on opposite sides, and one of whom died. I used to request it whenever he played at bars or restaurants, and everyone would give me this look like, "Aww, isn't that cute, she has no idea what the song is about." Which was very irritating.

Of course it's impossible for a ten-year-old to get as much out of a book like The Master and Margarita as an adult. But still, people need to give kids more credit.

Satan is not associated with the Soviet government.

Yeah, I figured that out after a bit. Like I said to axmxz, it took me a while to work out what sort of Devil Woland was: an evil devil hurting good people, or a good devil punishing evil people. At first, I took him for the former, and associated him with the government for that reason. Later, it became clear that he was actually a good devil, punishing the government and the Soviet system. Or, rather, it's representatives and subscribers.

She's in love. Selfish - where exactly? Vengeful - you mean ruining Latunsky's apartment? No wonder. Brazen - hey, she became a witch, after all

Well, ruining Latunsky's apartment was one thing, but knocking out everybody else's windows for no reason was another. And selfish may not have been quite the word I was after, but I can't think of another that fits... Self-centered is more what I'm thinking, I suppose; it's not that she's unkind to others, but that overall her thoughts seem to all be about herself and her relationship with the Master. It's probably just a personal objection. But in any case, my point wasn't that Margarita was a bad person, but simply that she didn't seem like a better person than the rest of the characters, but for some reason Woland took a liking to her.

Your explanation for why Ivan could be considered a disciple of the Master does make sense. It's just that it's hard to know how much of Ivan's change of character was because of the Master, and how much was because of everything that happened to him before he met the Master -- in particular, his encounter with Woland. But the parallel between Christ and the Master begins to make more sense as I think about it, and the only thing that still confuses me is why the Master, unlike Christ, accepted his disciple as such. Christ tells Pilate that Levi Matvei has it all wrong, but the Master obviously feels differently about Ivan. In that way, I suppose the two disciples are directly in contrast to one another; after meeting Christ, Levi Matvei begins writing; after meeting the Master, Ivan stops.
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