Source: Marianne Gourg (°1944) revised the French translation of the novel made by Claude Ligny and wrote a comprehensive introduction to it.
The circumstances in which the novel was written
Bulgakov starts writing The Master and Margarita in 1929, the Year of the Big Turn, and ends it for the bulk in 1937, the Year of Terror, two dates which sum up symbolically the Stalinist revolution. The years of the NEP compromise are ended, the USSR becomes a collectivist and totalitarian State.
Bulgakov conceives the first draft of his masterpiece in an instant of crisis. One may remember that in 1929 his plays are withdrawn from the stages and that he becomes the target of a press campaign aiming at ruining him as a writer. From this point of view (these are the borders of the safe-conduct granted by Stalin in which we could see an "invitation of suffering"), nothing changes basically between 1930 and 1937, since no one of his books is published for this period and, except for his adaptation of Dead Souls and some presentations of Molière, his plays do not arrive up to the stage.
The novel is therefore written in a particularly dark political context, a discouraging professional and human situation. Nevertheless, nothing is less sad than this work written in misfortune and déréliction. Facing deadly heaviness, bullying, humiliations, rampant fright, the triumphant writing of The Master and Margarita proclaims the power of the forces of life, the sensuousness to create, the force of love. There is no trace of intellectual affectation, of fear for the ridiculous, of fear for the censors in this text composed night after night in a state of paradoxical freedom which confers perfect despair.
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Marianne Gourg (°1944) is a French specialist in Russian literature. In 1987 she got a Doctorat d’État with a thesis on Le maître et Marguerite, une œuvre univers. Later, she would publish Un maître et son destin. Une biographie de Boulgakov en images (1992) and Étude sur Le maître et Marguerite (1999), and supervise various translations of Bulgakov's works.
Your guide through the novel
In this section are explained, per chapter, all typical notions, names of people and places, quotations and expressions from the novel with a description of the political, social, economical and cultural context.
Have a look at the most important places from the novel at a single glance on a clickable map of Moscow.