The Master and Margarita
First edition
AuthorMikhail Bulgakov
Original titleМастер и Маргарита
CountrySoviet Union
GenreFantasy, farce, supernatural, romance, satire, Modernist literature
PublisherYMCA Press
Publication date
1966–67 (in serial form), 1967 (in single volume), 1973 (uncensored version)
Published in English
Media typePrint (hard & paperback)
ISBN0-14-118014-5 (Penguin paperback)

The Master and Margarita (Russian: Мастер и Маргарита) is a novel by Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov, written in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1940.[1] A censored version, with several chapters cut by editors, was published in Moscow magazine in 1966–1967, after the writer's death on March 10, 1940, by his widow Elena Bulgakova (Russian: Елена Булгакова). The manuscript was not published as a book until 1967, in Paris. A samizdat version circulated that included parts cut out by official censors, and these were incorporated in a 1969 version published in Frankfurt. The novel has since been published in several languages and editions.

The story concerns a visit by the devil and his entourage to the officially atheistic Soviet Union. The devil, manifested as one Professor Woland, challenges the Soviet citizens' beliefs towards religion and condemns their behavior throughout the book. The Master and Margarita combines supernatural elements with satirical dark comedy and Christian philosophy, defying categorization within a single genre. It exhibits autobiographical elements, but is also dominated by many aspects of fiction. Many critics consider it to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, as well as the foremost of Soviet satires.[2][3]


Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kyiv on May 15th, 1891. He would move to Moscow in 1921. It was in Moscow that he would begin work on "The Master and Margarita". Bulgakov was first trained as a doctor, which influenced his subsequent works. This is especially evident in "Master and Margarita" when the body is described or when characters receive certain injuries. Only later did Bulgakov became a playwright and author. He started writing "The Master and Margarita" in 1928, but burned the first manuscript in 1930 (just as his character The Master did) as he could not see a future as a writer in the Soviet Union at a time of widespread political repression.[4] He restarted the novel in 1931. In the early 1920s, Bulgakov had visited an editorial meeting of an atheist journal. He is believed to have drawn from this to create the Walpurgis Night ball of the novel.[5] He completed his second draft in 1936, by which point he had devised the major plot lines of the final version. He wrote another four versions. When Bulgakov stopped writing four weeks before his death in 1940, the novel had some unfinished sentences and loose ends. His novel was also written amidst heavy criticism for his other works and plays. During this time, he wrote to Stalin asking to be allowed to leave Russia because he felt the literature critics at the time were proving that Bulgakov's writing did not belong in Russia. This was not approved, which greatly affected the writing of the piece including the descriptions of the Master and his works.

A censored version, with about 12 percent of the text removed and more changed, was first published in Moskva magazine (no. 11, 1966 and no. 1, 1967).[6] A manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union to Paris, where the YMCA Press, celebrated for publishing the banned work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, published the first book edition in 1967.[7] The text, as published in the magazine Moskva, was swiftly translated into Estonian and printed in 1967 by the company Eesti Raamat. This version included many scenes and themes that had been previously censored, for example, Bulgakov's commentary on Soviet moral and governmental corruption. The Italian publisher Einaudi published the book in Russian in 1967 as well. For decades it remained the only printed edition of the novel in book form in the Soviet Union.[8] The original text of all the omitted and changed parts, with indications of the places of modification, was printed and distributed by hand in the Soviet Union (in the dissident practice known as samizdat). In 1969, the publisher Posev printed a version produced with the aid of these inserts.

The first complete version, prepared by Anna Sahakyants, was published in Russian by Khudozhestvennaya Literatura in 1973. This was based on Bulgakov's last 1940 version, as proofread by the publisher. This version remained the canonical edition until 1989. It is unknown how much of this version was influenced by Elena Shilovskaya, Bulgakov's third and final wife, as she had been in possession of the remaining manuscript notes. Due to the high quantity of manuscripts and drafts, it is near impossible to state which, if any, version of the novel is truly canonical. The last version, based on all available manuscripts, was prepared by Lidiya Yanovskaya.


The novel has two settings. The first is Moscow during the 1930s, where Satan appears at Patriarch's Ponds as Professor Woland. He is accompanied by Koroviev, a grotesquely dressed valet; Behemoth, a black cat; Azazello, a hitman; and Hella, a female vampire. They target the literary elite and Massolit, their trade union,[note 1] whose headquarters is Griboyedov House. Massolit consists of corrupt social climbers: bureaucrats, profiteers, and cynics. The second setting is the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate: Pilate's trial of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth), his recognition of an affinity with (and spiritual need for) Yeshua, and his reluctant acquiescence to Yeshua's execution. The Jerusalem plot of the novel is later revealed to be the novel written by the Master.

Part one opens with a confrontation between Berlioz (the head of Massolit) and Woland, who prophesies that Berlioz will die later that evening. This interaction between Woland and Berlioz is mirrored by the trial of Yeshua by Pontius Pilate. Woland entrances Berlioz in the story that leads up to Yeshua's execution. In the story, Yeshua is presented as having inhuman characteristics. Woland tells this story to convince his audience of God's existence, but the two Soviet authors refuse to believe him. The Professor also predicts the way Berlioz will die, saying that his head will be cut off by a Russian woman, and that it must happen, because 'Annushka has already brought the sunflower oil.' Although Berlioz dismisses his death prophecy as insane raving, he slips on the spilled oil and has his head decapitated by a tram car driven by a Russian woman, dying in the same way that the professor predicted. In fact, shortly before Berlioz's accident, Woland informs the two writers that "there exists a seventh proof" of the devil's existence, so in this way the predetermined nature of Berlioz's death is framed as proof of both God's and the devil's existence. The fulfillment of his death prophecy is witnessed by Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyrev, a young, enthusiastic, modern poet who uses the pen name Bezdomny ("homeless"). His nom de plume alludes to Maxim Gorky (Maxim the Bitter), Demyan Bedny (Demyan the Poor), and Michail Golodny (Michail the Hungry). His futile attempts to capture the "gang" (Woland and his entourage) and his warnings about their evil nature land Ivan in a lunatic psychiatric clinic, where he is treated by Stravinsky, a local doctor. The care he receives in the clinic is very good, especially by the standards of the time. It thus serves as an important place in the novel for many characters whom Woland confronts, and derives special importance from its bringing together of Ivan and the Master, an embittered author whose name connects to the title of the text. Master explains to Ivan that the rejection of his novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ led the Master to burn his manuscript in despair and turn his back on Margarita, his devoted lover.

In Moscow, Woland and his retinue put on a show at the Variety theater. During the show master of ceremonies Bengalsky's head is ripped off then reattached at the urging of the audience. The audience is amazed when Koroviev makes money rain down and when Woland's retinue gives out luxury fashion items to the women of the audience. Later the money and clothes disappear, causing chaos and embarrassment. Here, Bulgakov portrays women's and men's sins very differently. The women of Moscow are condemned for accepting free clothing, while the men are condemned for adultery, excessive greed, etc., and the two are portrayed as equivalent transgressions. During this performance, Woland notes the lack of moral progress made in Soviet society, remarking that despite their technological advancements such as "buses, telephones, and other [apparatuses]," Muscovites remain "people like any other people... they love money, but that has always been so." The key difference between the Muscovites Woland observes now and the Muscovites of the past is believed, by Woland, to be due to the housing crisis in Moscow. Woland cites the "housing problem" as what has corrupted these Muscovites to an even further level than what Woland has noted in the past. This scene is a key moment in Bulgakov's societal criticism.

The story returns to Jerusalem, where Ivan dreams of the execution of Yeshua as witnessed by Matthew Levi. The dream opens with Yeshua and two other prisoners, who are making their way to Bald Mountain, where they will be executed by being hung on wooden posts. In an attempt to save Yeshua from a torturous death, Levi steals a knife to kill him quickly, but he is too late to reach Yeshua. Yeshua hangs on the cross and suffers in the excruciating heat for hours until an executioner offers him some water and kills him, by stabbing him in the heart with a spear. As he dies, a great storm appears, filling the sky with thunder and lightning and raining heavily down on the people below. Levi cuts down the three bodies of the dead prisoners, before putting the body of Yeshua on his shoulder, and carrying it away.

Back in Moscow, after Woland's performance, the city is thrown into confusion. At the Variety Theatre, the highest-ranking employee left is Vassily Stepanovich, the bookkeeper. His attempt to make sense of the show's aftermath reveals a trail of chaos left by Woland and his retinue. Rubles are transforming into insects, bureaucrats have been replaced by animate suits, and entire offices have been cursed to break into song against their will. As a result of this chaos, truckloads of Muscovites are shipped off to Stravinsky's clinic. Similarly, Berlioz's uncle's attempt to claim his late nephew's apartment is thwarted by Behemoth and Azezello, who send him violently off. Immediately thereafter, Andrei Sokov, barman at the Variety Theatre, visits the apartment. Woland welcomes him in, offering fine food and drink, though Sokov declines these niceties. After some conversation, Woland reveals to Sokov that he will soon die of liver cancer and suggests that he spend his savings to enjoy a short life of hedonism.

Part two introduces Margarita, the Master's mistress, who refuses to despair of her lover and his work. Azazello gives her a magical skin ointment, which turns her invisible, and invites her to the Devil's midnight Good Friday ball, where Woland gives her the chance to become a witch.

Margarita enters the realm of night and learns to fly and control her unleashed passions. Natasha, her maid, accompanies her, riding on their neighbor Nikolai Ivanovich who has taken the form of a pig, as they fly over the Soviet Union's deep forests and rivers. Margarita bathes and returns to Moscow with Azazello as the hostess of Satan's spring ball. At Koroviev's side, she welcomes dark historical figures as they arrive from Hell.

Margarita survives the ordeal, and Satan offers to grant her deepest wish. She chooses to ask to free a woman she met at the ball from eternal punishment. The woman, who had been raped, murdered her child; her punishment was to wake each morning next to the handkerchief she used to smother it. Satan tells Margarita that she liberated the woman, and still has a wish to claim from him. She asks for the Master to be delivered to her and he appears, dazed and thinking he is still in the lunatic asylum. They are returned to the basement apartment which had been their love nest.

Matthew Levi delivers the verdict to Woland: the reunited couple will be sent to the afterlife. Azazello brings them a gift from Woland: a bottle of Pontius Pilate's (poisoned) wine. The Master and Margarita die; Azazello brings their souls to Satan and his retinue (awaiting them on horseback on a Moscow rooftop), and they fly away into the unknown, as cupolas and windows burn in the setting sun, leaving Earth behind and traveling into dark cosmic space. The Master and Margarita will spend eternity together in a shady, pleasant region resembling Dante Alighieri's Limbo, in a house under flowering cherry trees.

Woland and his retinue, including the Master and Margarita, become pure spirits. Moscow's authorities attribute its strange events to hysteria and mass hypnosis. In the final chapter, Woland tells the Master to finish his novel about Pontius Pilate – condemned by cowardice to limbo for eternity. The Master shouts "You are free! He is waiting for you!"; Pontius Pilate is freed, walking and talking with the Yeshua whose spirit and philosophy he had secretly admired. Moscow is now peaceful, although some experience great disquiet every May full moon. Ivan Ponyrev becomes a professor of philosophy, but he does not write poetry anymore.


There are several interpretations of the novel:

Some critics suggest that Bulgakov was responding to poets and writers who he believed were spreading atheist propaganda in the Soviet Union, and denying Jesus Christ as a historical person. He particularly objected to the anti-religious poems of Demyan Bedny. The novel can be seen as a rebuke to the aggressively "godless people." There is justification in both the Moscow and Judaea sections of the novel for the entire image of the devil. Bulgakov uses characters from Jewish demonology as a retort to the denial of God in the USSR.[citation needed]

Literary critic and assistant professor at the Russian State Institute of Performing Arts Nadezhda Dozhdikova notes that the image of Jesus as a harmless madman presented in ″Master and Margarita″ has its source in the literature of the USSR of the 1920s, which, following the tradition of the demythologization of Jesus in the works of Strauss, Renan, Nietzsche and Binet-Sanglé, put forward two main themes – mental illness and deception. The mythological option, namely the denial of the historical existence of Jesus, only prevailed in the Soviet propaganda at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s.[9]

Commentators often note autobiographical elements in the novel.[10] Beyond parallels between fictional characters and Bulgakov's acquaintances, the work has been examined as a reflection of Bulgakov's own psychological troubles[11] spurred by the oppression he faced in his creative career. Some also interpret Ivan and the Master as prototypes of the extremities of Soviet attitudes towards writers. Whereas Ivan is a celebrated rising star supported by MASSOLIT, the Master is a literary outsider who is at once denounced and cast away after submitting his novel for publishing. As a Soviet writer, Bulgakov walked a fine line between the two. Professor of religion and peace studies Alexandra Carroll analyzes Woland through the lens of Jungian psychology, suggesting that Woland serves as a "shadow archetype",[11] which she defined as a "paradoxical figure of evil that appears malevolent, yet works towards an individual's psychological renewal".[11] Other commentators note that Bulgakov's life experiences have also likely influenced the Yershalaim narrative of the novel; Haber and Weeks argue that it is Bulgakov's father's academic work that influenced the narrative,[12] rather than Bulgakov's own view of evil. Weeks interprets this as "Bulgakov's return to elements of his own childhood."[11]

Bulgakov portrays evil as being as inseparable from our world as light is from darkness. Both Satan and Jesus Christ dwell mostly inside people. Jesus was unable to see Judas' treachery, despite Pilate's hints, because he saw only good in people. He couldn't protect himself, because he didn't know how, nor from whom. This interpretation presumes that Bulgakov had his own vision of Tolstoy's idea of resistance to evil through non-violence, by creating this image of Yeshua.[citation needed]

The Spring Festival Ball at Spaso House

Spaso House

On 24 April 1935, Bulgakov was among the invited guests who attended the Spring Festival at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, hosted by Ambassador William Bullitt. Critics believe Bulgakov drew from this extravagant event for his novel. In the middle of the Great Depression and Stalinist repression, Bullitt had instructed his staff to create an event that would surpass every other Embassy party in Moscow's history. The decorations included a forest of ten young birch trees in the chandelier room; a dining room table covered with Finnish tulips; a lawn made of chicory grown on wet felt; a fishnet aviary filled with pheasants, parakeets, and one hundred zebra finches, on loan from the Moscow Zoo; and a menagerie including several mountain goats, a dozen white roosters, and a baby bear.[13]

Although Joseph Stalin didn't attend, the 400 elite guests at the festival included Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, Defense Minister Kliment Voroshilov, Communist Party heavyweights Nikolai Bukharin, Lazar Kaganovich, and Karl Radek, Soviet Marshals Aleksandr Yegorov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Semyon Budyonny, and other high-ranking guests.[citation needed]

The festival lasted until the early hours of the morning. The bear became drunk on champagne given to him by Karl Radek. In the early morning hours, the zebra finches escaped from the aviary and perched below the ceilings around the house.

In his novel, Bulgakov featured the Spring Ball of the Full Moon, considered to be one of the most memorable episodes.[14] On 29 October 2010, seventy-five years after the original ball, John Beyrle, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, hosted an Enchanted Ball at Spaso House, recreating the spirit of the original ball as a tribute to Ambassador Bullitt and Bulgakov.[15]

Major characters

Contemporary Russians

The Master
An author who wrote a novel about the meeting of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth), which was rejected by the Soviet literary bureaucracy, ruining his career. He is "detained for questioning" for three months by the secret police because of a false report by an unscrupulous neighbor. Later, having been driven to the point of insanity by the critics (as the Master describes in Chapter 13), he is committed to a psychiatric clinic, where Bezdomny meets him. Little else is given about this character's past other than his belief that his life began to have meaning when he met Margarita. Underscoring this point, the Master wears a hat with an "M" on it, made for and given to him by Margarita. The Master claims that he renounced his own name, further demonstrating his symbolic identity. The Master is an author surrogate for Bulgakov himself, as he represents Bulgakov's own struggles with censorship, criticism and stifled creativity in the Soviet Union. Further underscoring The Master's role as Bulgakov's shadow, The Master's title allegedly stems from a nickname that the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Bullitt coined for Bulgakov.
The Master's lover. Trapped in a passionless marriage, she devotes herself to the Master. She is invited by Azazello to serve as the hostess of Satan's Grand Ball on Walpurgis Night. Margarita agrees as she believes this step may save her love. Her character is believed to have been inspired by Bulgakov's last wife, Elena Bulgakova, whom he called "my Margarita".[16] He may also have been influenced by Faust's Gretchen, whose full name is Margarita, as well as by Queen Marguerite de Valois. The latter is featured as the main character of the opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer, which Bulgakov particularly enjoyed, and Alexandre Dumas' novel, La Reine Margot. In these accounts, the queen is portrayed as daring and passionate.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz
The Chairman of the literary bureaucracy MASSOLIT. He bears the last name (Берлиоз) of French composer Hector Berlioz, who wrote the opera The Damnation of Faust. Berlioz is a loyal supporter of the Stalinist regime and the ideology it purports. Following Soviet atheism, he insists to Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov that the Gospel Jesus was a mythical figure with no historical basis. Woland intervenes in this conversation, and later predicts that Berlioz will be decapitated by a young Soviet woman, which comes to pass when he slips on oil spilled by "Annushka" and is subsequently run over (and beheaded) by a tram.
Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov (Bezdomny)
A young, aspiring poet. His pen name, Bezdomny (Иван Бездомный), means "homeless". Initially a willing tool of the MASSOLIT apparatus, he is transformed by the events of the novel. After witnessing the unfolding of Woland's prediction--Berlioz's death, he embarks on a wild chase around Moscow in search of Woland and his entourage. However, he leads himself to a communal apartment and later to the Moscow River, where he engages in a symbolic self-baptism. Unable to rationalize the events he has witnessed, Ivan’s psychological distress mounts and his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. His seemingly irrational claims about Woland lead him to be taken to Doctor Stravinsky’s psychiatric clinic, where he is diagnosed with schizophrenia and meets the Master. He eventually decides to stop writing poetry and comes to terms with the tragedy. Before settling on Bezdomny, Bulgakov tried many other names in earlier versions of the novel, including Bezrodny ("the lonely"), Besprizorny ("the stray kid"), Bezbrezhny ("the boundless") and many others.[17] Proletarian writers often used similar pseudonyms; a notable example is Maxim Gorky ("the bitter").[17]
Stephan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev
The Director of the Variety Theatre and Berlioz's roommate, often called by the diminutive name Styopa (Stepa). His surname is derived from the Russian word for "malfeasant". For his wicked deeds (denouncing at least five innocent people as spies so that he and Berlioz could grab their multi-bedroom apartment), he is magically teleported to Yalta, thereby freeing up the stolen apartment for Woland and his retinue.
Grigory Danilovich Rimsky
The Treasurer of the Variety Theatre. Rimsky is the only character to escape from an attack by Woland's entourage. Despite trying to find logical explanations for Styopa's disappearance and other odd phenomena, he realizes that Varenukha is lying to him when he outlines a seemingly reasonable explanation for where Styopa had gone, and correctly identifies that Varenukha has no shadow, which is impossible under normal circumstances. On the night of Woland's performance, Rimsky is ambushed by Varenukha (who has been turned into a vampire by Woland's gang) and Hella. He barely escapes the encounter and flees to the train station to get out of the city.
Ivan Savelyevich Varenukha
The administrator of the Variety Theatre, whose surname refers to a traditional Ukrainian spiced vodka resembling mulled wine. He is turned into a creature of darkness when Hella ambushes him in his attempt to report the odd circumstances surrounding Styopa's disappearance to the authorities. He is forgiven by the end of Walpurgis Night, restoring his humanity.
Alexander Riukhin
A poet who brings Ivan to Dr. Stravinsky's psychiatric clinic. He is tormented by Ivan's insults of the integrity of his poetry and acknowledges his poetry is bad because he doesn't believe in anything he writes. As the night ends, he mourns the loss of the night of fun and feasting he could've had at Griboedov's.
Natasha (Natalia Prokofyevna)
Margarita's young maid, later turned into a witch after using Azazello's magic cream on herself.
Nikolai Ivanovich
Margarita's downstairs neighbor, who rubs Azazello's magic cream on himself and turns into a hog. Natasha rides Nikolai (as a hog) to Woland's Ball. He receives a certificate from Woland that confirms his activity of attending the ball and turning into a hog on the night of the ball.
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy
The Chairman of the House Committee at 302A Sadovaya Street (the former residence of Berlioz). Unlike regular Moscow citizens, who generally live in communal apartments, Bosoy shares an entire apartment with only his wife. After Bosoy accepts a bribe from Koroviev for allowing Woland to stay in the Berlioz's apartment, Woland swiftly punishes his crookedness. The bribe from Koroviev magically turns into foreign money, and Bosoy is arrested by the secret police. Bosoy's character is loosely based on one of Bulgakov's own landlords, Nikolay Zotkiovitch Raev, who similarly abused his power.[18]
Maximilian Andreevich Poplavsky
An uncle of Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz. He is a highly educated man who comes to Moscow from Kyiv in an attempt to claim Berlioz's Moscow apartment. When he arrives, he is mocked by Koroviev for trying to take advantage of Berlioz's death while not feeling any genuine grief for the deceased. Ultimately, he is sent home by Woland's retinue.
Andrei Fokich Sokov
Sokov, the barman at the Variety Theater, is a short, bald, and outwardly-humble character. In an apartment commandeered by Woland and his retinue, Sokov is interrogated and ultimately it is revealed that, behind his humble and well-behaved veil, the barman has amassed an enormous fortune. He is then told by Woland that he will die of liver cancer in nine months time, and finds himself in Professor Kuzmin's office desperately begging to be cured.
Doctor Stravinsky
The head of the clinic in which The Master, "Homeless," and other characters reside, Stravinsky plays an important role in the novel. When Ivan arrives in the clinic after witnessing Berlioz's decapitation, Stravinsky diagnoses him with Schizophrenia and Alcoholism, and insists he remains in the clinic because he believes Ivan's story is a sign of mental illness. Ivan insists upon leaving the clinic, but Stravinsky manipulates Ivan in discussion and convinces Ivan that he must remain there.
George Bengalsky
The master of ceremonies at the Variety Theater. Bengalsky, after commenting on black magic at Woland's performance, is beheaded by Woland's retinue. His head is returned after the audience forgives him. Later, it is implied that he is in Stravinsky's clinic. Bengalsky is meant to represent the Soviet public and their refusal to believe in magic and religion; he makes sure to describe the "rational" explanations behind all of Woland's tricks and becomes irritated when Woland refuses to admit that there are explanations for his magic. Woland becomes angry with Bengalsky because Woland sees him as a symbol of Soviet brainwashing; the citizens only believe what they are told and cannot think for themselves even when the simple truth is right in front of them.
Vassily Stepanovich Lastochkin
The bookkeeper at the Variety Theater. Described by Bulgakov as "precise and efficient," Lastochkin is not present for Woland's séance and is left to make sense of the event's aftermath for the police as the theater's most senior remaining member. After being questioned by the police, Lastochkin heads to the Commission on Spectacles and Entertainment of the Lighter Type to explain the prior day's events but is greeted by pandemonium as the chairman has been turned into a talking suit. Unable to file his report there, Lastochkin continues on his way to the commission's affiliate, where he encounters further havoc as the staff has been forced to sing uncontrollably. His final stop of the day takes him to the bank to deposit the Variety's earnings from Woland's performance. There, upon discovering that the fares have turned into thousands in various foreign currencies, Lastochkin is promptly and unceremoniously arrested.

Woland and his entourage

Woland (Воланд, also spelled as Voland) is Satan in the disguise of a "foreign professor" who is "in Moscow to present a performance of 'black magic' and then expose its machinations". Woland instead exposes the greed and bourgeois behaviour of the spectators themselves. Woland is described as having platinum crowns on the left side of his teeth and gold on the right, with his right eye black and his left eye green. The contrasts in his appearance reflect the complexity of his character and moral positioning within the novel. Woland is also mentioned in Faust when Mephistopheles announces to the witches to beware because 'Squire Voland is here'. Along with that, it is highly implied throughout the novel that he is present as the devil in the form of a sparrow (such as in the Pilate narrative). In the previous versions of The Master and Margarita, Woland's name changed multiple times. In the second version from 1929, his name was Dr Theodor Voland. The name was written down and given to Ivan Bezdomniy in Greek letters as opposed to the Cyrillic letters. In a subsequent version of the novel, Woland's name changed to господин [gospodin] or seigneur Azazello Woland. The demon we now know as Azazello was called Fiello. Only in 1934, the definitive names of Woland and Azazello got their final meaning.[19]
An enormous demonic black cat (said to be as big as a hog) who speaks, walks on two legs, and can transform into human shape for brief periods of time. He has a penchant for chess, vodka, pistols, and obnoxious sarcasm. He is evidently the least-respected member of Woland's team – Margarita boldly takes to slapping Behemoth on the head after one of his many ill-timed jokes, without fear of retaliation. In the last chapters, it appears that Behemoth is a demon pageboy, the best clown in the world. His name (Бегемот) refers to both the Biblical monster and the Russian word for hippopotamus. Behemoth is a well-known character from The Master and Margarita, and he is frequently depicted. However, in the original version of the novel from 1928 to 1929, which was titled The Black Magician, there was a sentence mentioning the presence of a second cat on the curtain rod when the theatre's buffet master visits Woland. Bulgakov later abandoned the idea of having two cats in the story.[19]
Also known as Fagotto (Фагот, meaning "bassoon" in Russian and other languages), he's described as an "ex-choirmaster", perhaps implying that he was once a member of an angelic choir. Korovyev's name is also based on the Russian word for "cow" (Корова), a reference to Charles Gounod's Faust, where Mephistopheles praises a "Calf of Gold". Being the only member of Woland and his entourage with a Russian name, he is Woland's assistant and translator, and is capable of creating any illusion. Unlike Behemoth and Azazello, he doesn't use violence at any point. Like Behemoth, his true form is revealed at the end: a never-smiling dark knight. In penance for a poorly made joke he was forced to assume the role of a jester; he paid off his debt by serving Satan on his Moscow journey. Vasily Ivanovich Shverubovich (1875-1948), an actor at the Moscow Art Theatre (MkhAT) who performed under the name Vasily Ivanovich Katshalov, is a possible inspiration for Koroviev. Katshalov hailed from Vilnius, Lithuania, and had a distinctive accent when he sang. He was tall and thin, standing at 1.85 meters, and wore pince-nez glasses due to his nearsightedness. Kachalov possessed an irresistible charm on stage with his eloquent speaking, pleasant voice, and a great sense of humor.[19] Another MkhAT actor and director, Grigory Grigoryevich Konsky (1911-1972), also shared some characteristics with Bulgakov's portrayal of Koroviev. He was a close friend of the Bulgakov family and known as a "master of irony and humor".[19]
Azazello (Азазелло) is a menacing, fanged, and wall-eyed member of Woland's retinue who acts as a messenger and assassin. His name may be a reference to Azazel, the fallen angel who taught people to make weapons and jewelry, and taught women the "sinful art" of painting their faces (mentioned in the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch 8:1–3). He gives a magical cream to Margarita. He transforms into his real shape in the end: a pale-faced demon with black empty eyes. Bulgakov appends an Italian suffix to the Hebrew name עֲזָאזֵל [Azazel]. The name Azazel is frequently associated with Satan in various religious texts and beliefs. In Bulgakov's archives, a book called Azazel and Dionysus was discovered, authored by Nikolai Evreinov (1879-1953), who was a director, dramatist, historian, philosopher, and psychologist, and published in 1924.[19]
Hella (Гелла) is a beautiful, redheaded succubus. Her name may be a reference to the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (the Soviet equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica), underneath the section of "witchcraft," where "Hella" was one of the names of premature girls who became vampires after death on the island of Lesbos. She serves as maid to Woland and his retinue. She is described as being "perfect, were it not for a purple scar on her neck", suggesting that she has been executed by hanging. In the earlier version of the book, she was named Marta.[20] According to Valery Konstantinovich Mershavka, a Russian psychologist and translator, Hella was inspired by Sophia Perovskaya. Perovskaya was a member of the socialist revolutionary organization named The Will of the People and participated in three attempts to assassinate Tsar Alexander II, the last of which was successful, leading to her execution by hanging. The purple scar on Hella's necks could be explained by this method of execution.[19]

Characters from Judaea subplot

Pontius Pilate
The Roman Procurator of Judaea (a governor of a small province). The historical Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judaea, not the procurator. This fact was not widely known until after Bulgakov's death. In the novel, Pontius Pilate is a central character in the subplot set in ancient Jerusalem. Pilate suffers terribly from migraines, has suicidal thoughts, and loves only his dog, Banga. He is tasked with determining Yeshua Ha-Notsri's guilt and ultimately is responsible for his death sentence. Nevertheless, after this sentencing, Pilate experiences feelings of guilt and doubt: "it seemed vaguely to the procurator that there was something he had not finished saying to the condemned man, and perhaps something he had not finished hearing."[21] Thus, overall, Bulgakov's portrayal of Pontius Pilate offers a nuanced exploration of human nature and the consequences of moral choices.
Yeshua Ha-Notsri
Jesus the Nazarene (Иешуа га-Ноцри), a wanderer or "mad philosopher", as Pilate calls him. His name in Hebrew is said to mean either "Jesus who belongs to the Nazarene sect" or "Jesus who is from a place called Nazareth", though some commentators dispute the latter interpretation.[22] In the Master's version, Yeshua describes himself as an orphan (he says "some say that my father was a Syrian"), calls everybody (even a torturer) "kind man", denies doing miracles, and has one full-time "Apostle", not twelve, among other departures from the Gospels and mainstream Christian tradition. In the Master's novel there is not a hint of the cleansing of the Temple or cursing the fig tree. The atheist regime of the novel still considers this Jesus to be offensive.
(or Afranius). Head of the Roman Secret Service in Judaea. That character was later an inspiration for the 1995 novel The Gospel of Afranius by Kirill Eskov.
Aphranius's henchwoman, who entices Judas to his death.
Levi Matvei
Levite, former tax collector, follower of Yeshua. Levi attempts to save Yeshua with a bread knife, and after failing, he is the only spectator, except for the executioners, of Yeshua's death and cuts Yeshua's body down from the cross. Levi is introduced as a semi-fictionalized character in the Master's novel, but toward the end of The Master and Margarita, the "historical" Matthew of the Gospel appears in Moscow to deliver a message from Yeshua to Woland.
Politically savvy High Priest of Judaea. Caiaphas supports the execution of Yeshua in order to "protect" the status quo ante religion, and his own status as the Chief of the Sanhedrin, from the influence of Yeshua's preachings and followers. He is considerably more aggressive towards Pilate than most accounts, and seems unconcerned by the other man's senior status.
Mark the Ratslayer
The centurion in Yershalaim. Tall, strong, and physically intimidating, the Ratslayer is an agent of the state and a symbol of its brutality. Mark the Ratslayer also illustrates Yeshua's argument about humanity's inherent goodness. Despite his cruelty, Yeshua claims that the Ratslayer is not a bad person; he has simply "become cruel and hard" after being disfigured by others and subjected to violence himself.
Pilate's loyal dog. He provides Pilate with comfort and Pilate feels comfortable complaining to him about his headaches. Banga is the only "being" Pilate is attached to, and therefore fosters a humanization of the procurator, characterizing him as profoundly lonely.
Judas Iscariot
A spy/informant hired by Caiaphas to assist the authorities in finding and arresting Yeshua. In contrast to the Gospels' version, in which Judas is a long-time member of Jesus's "inner circle" of Apostles, Bulgakov's Judas (of Karioth) meets Yeshua for the first time less than 48 hours before betraying him. He is paid off by Caiaphas, but is later assassinated on Pilate's orders for his role in Yeshua's death.

Themes and imagery

The novel deals with the interplay of good and evil, innocence and guilt, courage and cowardice, exploring such issues as the responsibility towards truth when authority would deny it, and freedom of the spirit in an unfree world. Love and sensuality are also dominant themes in the novel.[23]


Margarita's devotional love for the Master leads her to leave her husband, but she emerges victorious. Her spiritual union with the Master is also a sexual one. The novel is a riot of sensual impressions, but the emptiness of sensual gratification without love is emphasized in the satirical passages. Rejecting sensuality for the sake of empty respectability is pilloried in the figure of Nikolai Ivanovich, who becomes Natasha's hog-broomstick. Love is not only relevant in the Master's relationship with Margarita, but also his relationship with writing as a whole. After he wins the lottery and leaves his job at the museum, he decides to purchase a flat where he can hide out and write. It is here that he begins his novel on Pilate. This novel takes him through many ups and downs, culminating in his capture and internment in the mental hospital, but only after he destroys his novel.


The interplay of fire, water, destruction, and other natural forces provides a constant accompaniment to the events of the novel, as do light and darkness, noise and silence, sun and moon, storms and tranquility, and other powerful polarities. There is a complex relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow throughout the novel, sometimes polyphony, sometimes counterpoint. Though the two parts of the novel are set centuries apart, the action in both unfolds in parallel over the course of five days (Wednesday to Sunday). The chapters consisting of the Jerusalem story (chapters 2, 16, 25, and 26) are woven into the lives of the Moscow characters, and there are several characters that even bridge the two narratives. Woland, who visits Berlioz and Bezdomny in Moscow, claims to have been present during Yeshua's trial in Jerusalem. And Matthew Levi, Yeshua's disciple, appears in Moscow at the end of the novel. The overlap between the two plot lines is further complicated by the fact that the Jerusalem story is presented as the novel written by the master, raising questions of authorship and muddling the distinction between fiction and reality.

Critique of Soviet Regime

Bulgakov employs Aesopian language in order to criticize the hypocrisy of Soviet society. He makes a commentary on the flaws of Soviet society by referencing distinct issues such as the housing crisis, corruption and the secret police. His methodology of introducing characters that benefit from the new regime, and then punishing them for their sins through Woland displays his condemnation of the conditions in the 1930s Soviet Union. An issue that is particularly emphasized in the novel is censorship, literary repression and suppression of creativity. Bulgakov's portrayal of Massolit writers and their luxurious, extravagant lifestyles is a mockery of their real-life counterparts such as Vladimir Mayakovsky.[24] The novel is a satirical critique of the Soviet regime that condemns the decline of humanity's virtues, through its portrayal of secondary characters. Bulgakov implores a tone of satirical dark comedy when describing neighbors’ random “disappearances,” Stepan’s mysterious teleportation to Yalta, and the magical memory erasure that occurs after state-sanctioned interrogations. Bulgakov obscures the tragedy of violence by adding a fantastical element to these overtly dark forms of torture carried out by the Soviet State. This layer of fantasy in turn provided protection for himself, as he was not able to state the atrocities of the government without risking his own safety.


The novel is deeply influenced by Goethe's Faust,[25] and its themes of cowardice, trust, intellectual curiosity, and redemption are prominent. It can be read on many different levels, as slapstick, philosophical allegory, and socio-political satire critical of not just the Soviet system but also the superficiality and vanity of modern life in general.[26] Jazz is presented with an ambivalent fascination and revulsion. But the novel is full of modern elements, such as the model asylum, radio, street and shopping lights, cars, lorries, trams, and air travel. There is little evident nostalgia for any "good old days" – the only figures who mention Tsarist Russia are Satan and the Narrator, who directly addresses characters in the novel and the reader multiple times. It also has strong elements of what in the later 20th century was called magic realism.

Allusions and references to other works

The novel is influenced by the Faust legend, particularly the first part of the Goethe interpretation, The Devil's Pact, which goes back to the 4th century; Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus (where in the last act the hero cannot burn his manuscript or receive forgiveness from a loving God); and the libretto of the opera whose music was composed by Charles Gounod. Also of influence is Louis Hector Berlioz who wrote the opera La damnation de Faust. In this opera there are four characters: Faust (tenor), the devil Méphistophélès (baritone), Marguerite (mezzo-soprano) and Brander (bass). And also the Symphonie Fantastique where the hero dreams of his own decapitation and attending a witches' sabbath. In addition, allusions are made to the work of Igor Stravinsky numerous times: prominent character and clinic head Doctor Stravinsky shares the composer's name, and references to specific compositions are made in the novel.[27]

Satirical poetics of Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin are seen as an influence, as is the case in other Bulgakov novels. Bulgakov perceived and embodied the principles of Gogol's and Saltykov-Shchedrin's world perception through the comic mixing of absurd, ghostly and real. Technical progress and the rapid development of mechanized production in the 20th century, combined with the satirical motive of primitivism, characteristic of Russian literature, left an imprint on the nature of Bulgakov's grotesque.[citation needed]

The dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri is strongly influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's parable "The Grand Inquisitor" from The Brothers Karamazov.[28] The "luckless visitors chapter" refers to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "everything became jumbled in the Oblonsky household". The theme of the Devil exposing society as an apartment block, as it could be seen if the entire façade would be removed, has some precedents in El diablo cojuelo (1641, The Lame Devil or The Crippled Devil) by the Spaniard Luís Vélez de Guevara. (This was adapted to 18th-century France by Alain-René Lesage's 1707 Le Diable boiteux.)[citation needed]

English translations

The novel has been translated several times into English:

The early translation by Glenny runs more smoothly than that of the modern translations; some Russian-speaking readers consider it to be the only one creating the desired effect, though it may take liberties with the text.[citation needed] The modern translators pay for their attempted closeness by losing idiomatic flow.[citation needed] Literary writer Kevin Moss considers the early translations by Ginsburg and Glenny to be hurried, and lacking much critical depth.[36] As an example, he claims that the more idiomatic translations miss Bulgakov's "crucial" reference to the devil in Berlioz's thoughts (original: "Пожалуй, пора бросить все к черту и в Кисловодск…"[37]):

Several literary critics hailed the Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor translation as the most accurate and complete English translation, particularly when read in tandem with the matching annotations by Bulgakov's biographer, Ellendea Proffer.[38] However, these judgements predate translations by Pevear & Volokhonsky, Karpelson, Aplin, and Dougherty. The Karpelson translation, even when republished in the UK by Wordsworth, has not been Anglicised, and retains North American spellings and idioms.

Cultural influence

The book was listed in Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century. Also, when asked by Tyler Cowen, "What's your favorite novel?" the technologist Peter Thiel answered, "If you want something a little more intellectual, it's probably the Bulgakov novel The Master and Margarita where the devil shows up in Stalinist Russia, and succeeds, and gives everybody what they want, and everything goes haywire. It's hard, because no one believes he's real."[39]

"Manuscripts don't burn"

A memorable and much-quoted line in The Master and Margarita is "manuscripts don't burn" (рукописи не горят). The Master is a writer who is plagued both by his own mental problems and the harsh political criticism faced by most Soviet writers in 1930s Moscow in the Stalinist Soviet Union.[citation needed] He burns his treasured manuscript in an effort to cleanse his mind from the troubles the work has brought him. When they finally meet, Woland asks to see the Master's novel; the Master apologizes for not being able to do so, as he had burnt it. Woland replies, "You can't have done. Manuscripts don't burn." There is a deeply autobiographical element reflected in this passage. Bulgakov burned an early copy of The Master and Margarita for much the same reasons as he expresses in the novel. Also this may refer to Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus where the hero, deviating from previous tales of 'The Devil's Pact', is unable to burn his books or repent to a merciful God.

Bulgakov museums in Moscow

In Moscow, two museums honor the memory of Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita. Both are located in Bulgakov's former apartment building on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, No. 10. Since the late 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union, the building has become a gathering spot for Bulgakov fans, as well as Moscow-based Satanist groups. Over the years they have filled the walls with graffiti. The best drawings were usually kept as the walls were repainted, so that several layers of different colored paints could be seen around them. In 2003, all of the numerous paintings, quips, and drawings were completely whitewashed.[40]

The two museums are rivals: the official Museum M.A. Bulgakov, although established second, identifies as "the first and only Memorial Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov in Moscow".[41]

Main article: Bulgakov House (Moscow)

The Bulgakov House (Музей – театр "Булгаковский Дом") is situated on the ground floor of the building. This museum was established as a private initiative on 15 May 2004. It contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held. The museum organises tours of Bulgakov's Moscow, some of which have re-enactors playing characters of The Master and Margarita. The Bulgakov House also operates the Theatre M.A. Bulgakov and the Café 302-bis.

Main article: Bulgakov Museum in Moscow

In apartment number 50 on the fourth floor is the Museum M.A. Bulgakov (Музей М А. Булгаков). This facility is a government initiative, founded on 26 March 2007. It contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held here.

Allusions and references

Various authors and musicians have credited The Master and Margarita as inspiration for certain works.


Live action films


Ennio Morricone, Alfred Schnittke and Igor Kornelyuk have composed soundtracks for films of The Master and Margarita.[77]

Animated films

Many students of art schools found inspiration in The Master and Margarita to make short animated movies. A full list is available on the Master & Margarita website.[86]



The novel has been adapted by Lucy Catherine, with music by Stephen Warbeck, for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 15 March 2015.

Comic strips and graphic novels

Several graphic novels have been adapted from this work, by the following:

Poster for a stage adaptation of The Master and Margarita in Perm, Russia


The Master and Margarita has been adapted on stage by more than 500 theatre companies all over the world. A full list of all versions and languages is published on the Master & Margarita website.[97]

Ballet and dance


Hundreds of composers, bands, singers and songwriters were inspired by The Master and Margarita in their work. Some 250 songs or musical pieces have been counted about it.[124]

Rock music

More than 35 rock bands and artists, including The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Franz Ferdinand and Pearl Jam, have been inspired by the novel.[125]

Pop music

In pop music, more than 15 popular bands and artists, including Igor Nikolayev, Valery Leontiev, Zsuzsa Koncz, Larisa Dolina and Linda, have been inspired by the novel. Valery Leontiev's song "Margarita" was the basis of the first Russian music video, produced in 1989.[126]

Russian bards

Many Russian bards, including Alexander Rosenbaum, have been inspired by the novel to write songs about it. They have based more than 200 songs on themes and characters from The Master and Margarita.[127]

Classical music

A dozen classical composers, including Dmitri Smirnov and Andrey Petrov, have been inspired by the novel to write symphonies and musical phantasies about it.[128]

2011: Australian composer and domra (Russian mandolin) player Stephen Lalor presented his "Master & Margarita Suite" of instrumental pieces in concert at the Bulgakov Museum Moscow in July 2011, performed on the Russian instruments domra, cimbalom, bass balalaika, and bayan.[129]

Opera and musical theatre

More than 15 composers, including York Höller, Alexander Gradsky and Sergei Slonimsky, have made operas and musicals on the theme of The Master and Margarita.[130]

Other music

Five alternative composers and performers, including Simon Nabatov, have been inspired by the novel to present various adaptations.

In 2009, Portuguese new media artists Video Jack premiered an audiovisual art performance inspired by the novel at Kiasma, Helsinki, as part of the PixelAche Festival. Since then, it has been shown in festivals in different countries, having won an honorable mention award at Future Places Festival, Porto. The project was released as a net art version later that year.[138]

See also


  1. ^ MASSOLIT may be a Soviet-style abbreviation for "Moscow Association of Writers" (Московская ассоциация литераторов), or "Literature for the Masses". According to one translation, it may be a play on words in Russian, translatable into English as "Lotsalit".


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  2. ^ Sollars, Michael (2008). The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 508. ISBN 978-0-81606-233-1.
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  6. ^ Moss, Kevin. "Master: Russian Editions". Middlebury College. Archived from the original on 20 January 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2007.
  7. ^ "Bulgakov, Mikhail: 'Master I Margarita' and other Books". Russian Art & Books. Archived from the original on 29 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  8. ^ Bulgakov, Mihhail (1968). Meister ja Margarita (in Estonian). Tallinn: Kirjastus Eesti Raamat.
  9. ^ Дождикова, Надежда (2009). "Чем был недоволен Берлиоз? О романе М. А. Булгакова "Мастер и Маргарита" и "проблеме Христа"" [Why was Berlioz dissatisfied? About the novel by M. A. Bulgakov "The Master and Margarita" and "the problem of Christ"]. Нева (in Russian) (7). Retrieved 17 May 2019.
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