24. The extraction of the Master

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The Chapter's title

The Extraction of the Master may sound a little weird, but it's the exact translation of the Russian source text: Извлечение мастера [Izvlecheniye mastera]. The master is extracted from the insane asylum, from the clutches of the secret police, and eventually even from his life in Moscow. The verb извлечь [izvletch] or to extract is normally used to indicate, for instance, the pulling out splinters, the extraction of ore, and the derivation of square roots.

Nobless obleege

This is an English transliteration of the French expression noblesse oblige, literally meaning «nobility obliges». In general it means that one must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translated it very well, since in the Russian text, Bulgakov wrote Ноблесс оближ [Nobless obleezh], which is the Russian transliteration of noblesse oblige.

Into a goblet

Since nobility obliges, Bulgakov did not describe an ordinary goblet. He wrote that Behemoth «poured some transparent liquid» in a лафитный стакан [lafitny stakan] or Lafite glass. It's a glass with a capacity of 125-150 ml with a conical shape and a thick bottom, mostly made of dark glass or metal. The word лафитный [lafitny] is the Russian transliteration of Lafite, referring to the famous French wine estate Château Lafite, situated in the wine-producing village of Pauillac in the Médoc region.

The transparant liquid was no vodka, by the way, it was «pure spirit».

He had once wandered in the wilderness for nineteen days

Nineteen days is a rather comic distortion of well-known examples. In general such period of wandering is defined by a round figure - forty days, for example, or forty years. And the usual sustenance is manna or locusts and wild honey, certainly not meat of a tiger.

A tiger

Behemoth's story refers to an incident in the Bible when Jesus is led to the desert «to be tempted by the devil» (Matthew 4:1-11). He fasts for forty days and forty nights and becomes hungry. And then Satan says to him: «If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread». But Jesus refuses to demonstrate his powers. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promises him that they will be his «if you will bow down and worship me» But Jesus refuses and Satan leaves him.

History will judge

The Russian text is literally: «История рассудит нас» or «History will judge us». This phrase literally refers of course jestingly to Behemoth's lying story, but in the Soviet context and in the context of this novel it is more resonant.

The official Soviet ideologues rewrote history regularly. There was even a joke that «in the West it may be hard to predict the future, but in Russia it's even harder to predict the past». And the dissidents' dream was captured in the idea that history would have the last word, and would be on their side. By the way, the novel itself is about variants of historical facts which makes you think of the importance of the reliability of the sources.

In Italian this sentence sounds as «Ai posteri l'ardua sentenza». It's a line from the poem Il cinque maggio or The Fifth of May by the Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). May 5, 1821 was the day Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) died.

Manuscripts don't burn

Рукописи не горят [Rukopisi ne goryat] - this phrase became a popular saying in the Soviet Union immediately after The Master and Margarita was first published. It was used especially in reference to writers whose works were considered dangerous by the government.

Many of these writers never wrote down their stories or poems. They memorized their works so that the secret police would not find copies of the writings. This method helped preserve their stories for years. As a result, «manuscripts don't burn», because no matter what happens to the written copy of the work, it will always exist in the mind of its author.

This scene could also have been inspired by Le Diable au XIXème siècle, the anti-Masonic work published by Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès (1854-1907), better known as Léo Taxil, under the psudonym Docteur Bataille in 1895. Léo Taxil claimed that Albert Pike (1809-1891), Grand Master of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in South Carolina, had received his instructions directly from the devil. According to Taxil, Pike would have got the text of the charter of the Lodge directly from Lucifer, while a pungent smell of sulfur was spread.

The interest of Bulgakov for Freemasonry can be explained by the fact that, in 1903, Afanasy Ivanovich Bulgakov (1859-1907), theologian and church historian, and the father of Mikhail Afanasievich, had written an article about Modern Freemasonry in its Relationship with the Church and the State, which was published in the Acts of the Theological Academy of Kiev. In this article, the father of Bulgakov had referred to Léo Taxil and Le Diable au XIXème siècle.

Click here to read more on Freemasonry in The Master and Margarita

And at night, by moonlight, I have no peace

The master, the hero of the novel, quotes his own hero, Pilate, and repeats his gesture: he addressed «the distant moon and wrung his hands». This is one of the keys to the similarity of the two «heroes». Neither of them is «heroic» in the traditional sense and they both consider themselves as cowards of a sort.

In nothing but his underwear, though with a suitcase in his hand

In the Stalin period many people kept a suitcase with warm clothes ready under their beds in case the secret service NKVD would knock at their doors.

Aloisy Mogarych

When you read The Master and Margarita in English, French or Dutch, you only meet Mogarych in this chapter. In the Russian version however, the master already mentions him in Chapter 13 when he talks to Ivan in doctor Stravinsky's hospital.

This scene is one of the so-called loose ends of The Master and Margarita. Since Bulgakov died before he could finish the authorial text, the novel has got some imperfections. The frequent rewritings, shortenings and extensions of the novel caused some loose ends and even some contradictions in the text. 

When you follow the link hereunder you can read the lost translation. The text in blue is not translated in the English and Dutch editions. When you read it, please consider the fact that it's been translated by someone who is only in his second year of Russian...  :-)

Click here to read this loose end
Click here to read more about Aloisy Mogarych
Click here to watch the meeting of the Master and Mogarych

No cat has ever drunk bruderschaft with anyone

The German word bruderschaft is not translated in Russian here, but phonetically translitterated as брудершафт [bruderschaft].

This is to indicate that we're not talking a usual brotherhood here, but the typical German special pledge of brotherhood drunk with interlaced arms, after which the friends address each other with the familiar form «ty».

No papers, no person

During the Soviet period it was, even more than today, important to citizens to have well-ordered documents to keep out of trouble. The typical documents recorded places of residence, nationality and professional occupation. Seals, dates, and official language were essential, as the discussion on the certificate for Nikolai Ivanovich demonstrates. Being without documents could mean trouble with the police. Documents were literally a matter of life and death in the Soviet period.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question of the passports still leads to discussions and sometimes trouble with the police in the streets. Or to long procedural steps when you need Russian certificates for use abroad.

Some documents which in Belgium are kept by the local authorities in the city hall, and of which a duplicate is issued immediately and on simple request - like birth, mariage or divorce certificates - you have to keep by yourself in Russia. For other documents - like the prove of nationality, the certificate of residence or the prove of your marital status - the Russians use the internal passport, which still is a document containing much more information than in other countries.

When a door banged on the landing above

This sentence shows that The Master and Margarita never had a completed authorial text. A man «in nothing but his underwear», carrying a suitcase and wearing a cap (Mogarych) hurded down the stairs, «bumped into Annushka, flung her aside so that she struck the back of her head against the wall». But some pages earlier was described that Mogarych was «turned upside down by Azazello» and that he left Woland's bedroom «through the open window». So he can't have banged the door on the landing above and then bump into Annushka on the stairs.

And so was the car in the courtyard

And here's another example of the lack of an authorial text. There is written: «The foreigner was long gone. And so was the car in the courtyard», while immediately after that is described how Azazello said goodbye to Margarita - in the car - and asked if she was comfortably seated. Probably Bulgakov added the description of this goodbye in a later version, but did he forget to delete the phrase which was written just before.


We know Annushka from Chapter 3. She had spilled the sunflower oil on which Berlioz slipped.

Annushka is, together with professor Kuzmin, of the few characters to keep her actual name in Bulgakov's novel. Bulgakov's first wife remembered Annushka Goryacheva, who lived across the corridor in apartment number 48. The apartment was a sort of working-class dormitory with 7 rooms off a central corridor. Annushka Goryacheva had a son and beat him often. They used to buy home-brew vodka, get drunk, fight, and make noise.

Boulgakov could get terribely annoyed by the real Annouchka, as we can conclude from the fact that he wrote in his diary on October 29, 1923: «The first day of heating was marked by the fact that the famous Annushka left the window of the big kitchen opened during all night. I resolutely do not know what to do with the scoundrel who lives in this flat».

Click here to read more about Annushka

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