07 April 2009
Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
Bulgakov's classic was the first book of our club: A Confederacy of Dunces. It's a quarterly book club for the ambitious and egotistical reader. Amongst the onslaught of tempting reading material, the follow titles emerge as likely subjects: The Magus by John Fowles, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, Labyrinths by Jorge Louis Borges, Goethe's Faust, Maupassant and Solzhenitsyn.
With a view to directing and stimulating the evening's discourse, my sister put together some questions that we discussed and added to the great success of the evening.
1. Do you think the book is written as allegory and political satire, rather than just magic realism? Do you think that Bulgakov motived by something beyond the desire to create an entertaining novel? Do you think the use of magic realism by Bulgakov was a reaction against the hard realism Stalin demanded in his condemnation of artists?
2. If so, what was the primary message that Bulgakov was trying to communicate with this novel?
3. “The havoc wreaked by this group targets the literary elite, along with its trade union, MASSOLIT (a Soviet-style abbreviation for "Moscow Society of Literature", but possibly interpretable as "Literature for the Masses"; one translation of the book also mentions that this could be a play on words in Russian, which could be translated into English as something like "LOTTALIT"), its privileged HQ-restaurant Griboyedov's House, corrupt social-climbers and their women (wives and mistresses alike) – bureaucrats and profiteers – and, more generally, sceptical unbelievers in the human spirit.” - (wikipedia). Why did Bulgakov select these groups as Woland’s targets?
4. Additionally, the ‘greedy’ bourgeoisie are presented rather poorly when they scramble for clothes, stockings, perfume and shoes in the Variety Theatre. What social comment do you think Bulgakov was making in that scene in the context of the novel?
5. From the first scene on Patriarch’s Ponds, there is an entertaining pattern of characters who either are atheists or are disposed to explain away the phenomena with which they are presented as scientifically explicable, particularly figures in authority. Few characters recognise the true source of the macabre events or are prepared to accept the “reality”. Why do you think Bulgakov does this? Is it for entertainment, to cement the realism within the magical realism style, or is it a comment on something else?
6. Why do you think Bulgakov was so interested in Yeshua Ha-Nozri and Pontius Pilate, in using them as a central source of drama in the novel?
7. “The Master and Margarita leave and as a reward for not having lost their faith they are granted "peace" but are denied "light", i.e. salvation.” – (wikipedia). What does this gesture mean, if anything? Why does Margarita become a witch? How does that place her in reference to the themes of the novel? What is the significance of her deal with the devil? Do you think that the master and Margarita represent something, and if so, what?
8. Do you think Bulgakov is an atheist?
9. Do you think Bulgakov agrees with the version of history he puts forward with regard to Yeshua Ha-Nozri and Pontius Pilate? Or was he presenting this version for some ulterior purpose?
10. "The Master is so unacknowledged that he feels more at home in a lunatic asylum than in society, where he is subject to the whims of the actual legislators of the world, such as the bureaucrats of Massolit and their political masters" - (wikipedia). Is Bulgakov saying that the master and margarita are the only 'sane' people in Moscow?