Ivan Splits In Two

The former Ivan and the new Ivan

In this chapter, Mikhail Bulgakov describes the split of Ivan’s personality. Somewhere else in the book is made the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Today we know that people with schizophrenia have no split personalities or no multiple personality disorder, but it used to be a widely spread idea, certainly in the 30’s, which is understandable, since the word comes from the Greek words σχίζειν [skhizein] or to split and φρένα [frena] or mind. Schizophrenia was one of the most popular diagnoses when dissidents or «saboteurs» were arrested by the secret policein the Soviet Union.

In the first version of The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov used the term mania furibunda or raving madness to describe the condition of Bezdomny. This mental illness has been described by Franciscus Adalbertus Lux (1805-?) of the Faculty of Medicine at the Königliche Friedrich Wilhelms Universität in Berlin, Germany, in 1827.

It’s interesting to see which words Bulgakov is using in Russian to describe the «old Ivan» and the «new Ivan». The most common word in Russian to describe «old» is старый [stary], but Bulgakov describes the «old Ivan» as ветхий (vetkhy), which also means «old», but only used in the biblical term Ветхий Завет [Vetkhy Zavyet], or Old Testament.

He was already picturing a palm tree on its elephant's leg

In a previous version of the novel Ivan already dreamed of palm trees in the scene at Patriarchs’ Ponds. But there he was told sternly not to sing under the palms, because «that's not what they were planted for»!


The splitting process of Ivan is also shown in the four-part TV-series Mistrz i Małgorzata by director Maciej Wojtyszko from 1990.

Your webmaster subtitled this TV-series in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Dutch. The DVD with those subtitles is available in our webshop. Click on the following link to order the DVD with the complete series.

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