Scholarly Interest in The Master and Margarita: Overview

Twenty-six years after Bulgakov’s death, the literary journal Moskva (known for publishing writers suppressed during the Stalinist era) published The Master and Margarita in two installments, the first in November 1966 and the second in January 1967.[1] “‘[U]nlike’” anything published during the four previous decades of Soviet Literature, and “unlike” any contemporary literature as well, The Master and Margarita began “an urgent search for ‘likeness,’”[2] according to Lesley Milne, and inspired forty-five years of literary criticism. Since its publication, Laura D. Weeks observes, Western scholarship on The Master and Margarita “has become a major industry,” that includes several biographies, special issue periodicals on Bulgakov and the novel,[3] along with more than one hundred and fifty academic works on The Master and Margarita in the 1990s alone.[4] In the words of A. Colin Wright, The Master and Margarita “seems to demand interpretation.”[5]

The central question that seems to surround critical interpretation of the novel is: Why did Bulgakov write a novel that describes of the devil’s escapades in Moscow over Easter weekend, retells the story of Yeshua’s Passion in Yershalaim from the view of Pontius Pilate, and concerns itself with the fate of Ivan Bezdomny, the Master, and his lover, Margarita? To answer this question, scholars have largely explored variations on three themes:[6]

  1. the novel as Bulgakov’s view on life as an author within the Stalinist Soviet Union;
  2. the novel as Bulgakov’s effort to keep continuity with non-Soviet literary influences;
  3. the novel as Bulgakov’s philosophical and theological exploration of the human condition.

Next timeThe Master and Margarita as Bulgakov’s view on life as an author in the Stalinist Soviet Union.

_____________

CITATIONS:

[1] See Laura D. Weeks, “‘What I Have Written, I Have Written’,” in The Master & Margarita: A Critical Companion, ed. Laura D. Weeks (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 6; Stephen Lovell, “Bulgakov as Soviet Culture,” The Slavonic and East European Review 76, no. 1 (Jan, 1998): 30; Andrew Barratt, Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to The Master and Margarita (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 11.

[2] Lesley Milne, Mikhail Bulgakov: A Critical Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 228.

[3] Weeks, in Weeks, Critical Companion, 10.

[4] Ari Belenkiy, “Master and Margarita: A Literary Autobiography?” Literature & Theology 20, no. 2 (June, 2006): 127-8.

[5] A. Colin Wright, “Satan in Moscow: An Approach to Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita,” PMLA 88, no. 5 (Oct., 1973): 261.

[6] Due to the amount of scholarship on The Master and Margarita, I limited my survey to Western scholarship of 1980s-2000s, and include notable studies from the 1970s.

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2 thoughts on “Scholarly Interest in The Master and Margarita: Overview

  1. This is the perfect blog for everyone who hopes to find
    out about this topic. You know so much its almost tough to
    argue with you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a fresh spin on a subject that has been discussed for decades.
    Great stuff, just great!

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