Lingering Scholarly Questions: The Double Novel and its Source

Previous series of posts outlined three areas of scholarly investigation into The Master and Margarita:

  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.

In addition to these three areas, the narrative’s Moscow and Yershalaim sections have led to two questions:

  1. Does the novel have one or two (or more) narratives?
  2. Who is telling the whole story?

The Double Novel

To address the whether the novel one or two narratives, scholars break the novel down along the plot lines of Moscow and Yershalaim, and discuss The Master and Margarita as a double novel.[1] A benefit of the double novel perspective is its view of a novel connected through symbols, time, weather, imagery and architecture.[2] At the same time, J.A.E. Curtis finds, the double novel perspective tends to overstate these links, and result in attempts to balance the sections along “too compact a form.”[3] Edward E. Ericson suggests a further division of the novel into three parts based on the distinct narratives of

  1. Ivan, Woland, and Woland’s retinue in Moscow,
  2. Yershalaim, and
  3. the Master and Margarita.

Regardless of the plot, Ericson ultimately sees the central division within the novel as occurring between natural and supernatural elements.[4]


Despite attempt to divide the novel according to setting and plot, the double novel approach leads to questions of authority: who or what is the source of the Moscow and the Yershalaim sections? Laura D. Weeks suggests we give The Master and Margarita a single source, such as Woland or Ivan Bezdomny, both of whom are privy to information unavailable to other characters. Weeks also identifies the Master as a possible source. However, because the Master narrates his own death, Weeks notes that seeing the Master as an authorial source makes interpreting events following his death a bit tricky.[5]


The discussion throughout these series of posts on scholarly approaches to The Master and Margarita suggest:

  1. A central concern for critics has been Bulgakov’s exterior reflection on life in the Stalinist Soviet Union,
  2. The Master and Margarita may show concerns Bulgakov had throughout his writing life,
  3. The Master and Margarita demonstrates Bulgakov’s desire to remain true to pre-Soviet literary traditions,
  4. Bulgakov’s reflection on humanity and living under persecution has been more on the objective side,
  5. The various narratives of the novel (i.e., Moscow/Yershalaim, Ivan and Woland/the Master and Margarita, natural/supernatural) may be considered as separate threads, and
  6. The source for the narrative(s) is a character within the novel.

Next time: I present an overview of an alternate (yet complementary) interpretation of The Master and Margarita.



[1] See Susan Amert, “The Dialectics of Closure in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita,” Russian Review 61, no. 4 (Oct., 2002): 599-617; Andrew Barratt, Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to The Master and Margarita (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987); Edward E. Ericson, The Apocalyptic Vision of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1991); Svetlana Filiukhina, “Dva romana Bulgakova: avtor vybiraet litso,” Voprosy Literatury 2 (2010): 63-82;W.J. Leatherbarrow, “The Devil and the Creative Visionary in Bulgakov’s ‘Master i Margarita’.” New Zealand Slavonic Journal, no. 1 (1975): 32-45.

[2] 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), 30. See also: Ericson, The Apocalyptic Vision; Barratt, Between Two Worlds, 11-18; A. Colin Wright, Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1978).

[3]  J. A. E. Curtis, Bulgakov’s Last Decade: The Writer as Hero (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 136.

[4] Ericson, The Apocalyptic Vision, 10.

[5] Weeks in Weeks, Critical Companion, 28.

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