Mikhail Aleksandrovich Berlioz

English > Characters > Moscow characters > Mikhail Aleksandrovich Berlioz

Role

Mikhaïl Alexandrovitch Berlioz is editor of "a fat literary journal", and chairman of the board of one of the major Moscow literary associations, called MASSOLIT . He's a middle-aged man, a typical representative of the intellectual elite, a good follower of the official policy. So it is clear that he can't follow the dissentient opinions shown off by Woland when they met at Patriarch's Ponds. And certainly not his supernatural gifts. Because this strange foreigner know their names and surnames, and he know that he's having an uncle in Kiev. And he knows much more...

- "Did you come alone or with your wife?"
- "Alone, alone, I'm always alone," the professor replied bitterly.
- "And where are your things, Professor?" Berlioz asked insinuatingly.
- "At the Metropol? Where are you staying?"
- "I? ... Nowhere," the half-witted German answered, his green eye wandering in wild anguish over the Patriarch's Ponds.
- "How's that? But... where are you going to live?"
- "In your apartment," the madman suddenly said brashly, and winked.
- "I... I'm very glad ..." Berlioz began muttering, "but, really, you won't be comfortable at my place ... and they have wonderful rooms at the Metropol, it's a first-class hotel..."

During this dialogue Berlioz couldn't obviously know yet that he would never return to his apartment at Bolshaya Sadovaya 302-bis and that Woland would soon move in there.

Berlioz is the prototype of the faithful adherent who makes his career by his devotion to the policy, rather than by his own intellectual capacities. As long as he sees Woland as a strange historian, an ignorant tourist, he declaims the official policy that Jesus never existed. But when he understands that the professor out-classes him intellectually, he gets more cautious. But he doesn't accept the logics of the different opinion, and he no longer argues with it. On the contrary, the more the opinions of the strange visitor differ from what is officially proclaimed, the more he's convinced that he's confronted with a madman. Someone from whom you should take distance and, above all: someone who should be reported.

At that moment arouses in Berlioz the sly telitale who keeps his mouth shut, waiting for the right moment. Woland asks him whether there's no devil either. When Berlioz notices that young Ivan is ready to reply "no" to this question, he whispers: "'Don't contradict him", and he did this, as Bulgakov described it, "with his lips only, dropping behind the professor's back and making faces". But, alas, when he runs to the nearest public telephone to inform the foreigners' bureau, thus and so, that "there's some consultant from abroad sitting at the Patriarch's Ponds in an obviously abnormal state" he is decapitated by a tram.

Background

MASSOLIT is an abbreviation. There's no explanation given for it in the book, but it could be Мастери Социалистической литературы or Masters for Socialist Literature, by analogy with MASTKOMDRAM, which was short for Мастери Коммунистической Драмы or Masters for Communist Drama, an association which really existed in the 20's.

Like some other characters in the book (Rimsky and Stravinsky), Mikhail Aleksandrovich shares his name with a composer: Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), who wrote La Damnation de Faust (The Damnation of Faust, 1846), a concert opera based on Goethe's Faust. In this opera there are four characters: Faust (tenor), de devil Méphistophélès (bariton), Marguerite (mezzosopraan) and Brander (bas).

Hector Berlioz wrote also the well-known Symphonie Fantastique (1830), one of the most famous examples of programme music. In the fourth movement of this symphony - Marche au supplice (March to the scaffold) - the main character is seeing his own decapitation in his dream, and in the fifth movement - Songe d'une nuit du sabbat (Dream of a witches' sabbath) - he sees himself at a witches' sabbath in a giant orgy.

For the lovers of trivia: composer Hector Berlioz studied, like Bulgakov, medicine before he focussed totally on art.

The decapitation of Berlioz could have been inspired by a story that was told in relation with Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852), author of Dead Souls. It was told that the Soviets, when they wanted to exhume Gogol to bury him elsewhere, found his body without its head. There were stubborn rumours that Aleksey Aleksandrovich Bakhrushin (1865–1929) had stolen the skull. Bakhrushin, a successful business man and member of the Moscow city council, honorary member of the Royal Academy for Sciences and one of the founding fathers of the Russian Theatre Association, was collector of theatre memorabilia, and he would have ordered to steal Gogol's skull in 1909.

It has never been proved whether this story was true. But it is a fact that Bakhrushin had an impressive theatre collection. It is still permanently exhibited in the famous A. A. Bakhrushin National Central Theatre Museum in Bakhrushin ulitsa 31, in the Zamoskvoreshe district, one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods in Moscow.

According to Georgy Lesskis, who wrote the comments to the 1990 edition of the novel, Berlioz' character is based on the People's Commissar for Education, Enlightenment and Sciences Anatoly Vasilyevich Lunacharsky (1875-1933).

Another Bulgakov expert however, the self-willed Ukrainean polemicist Alfred Nikolayevich Barkov, is convinced that Lunacharsky was the prototype for the critic Latunsky.



Share this page |