Frieda enters the novel at Satan's ball. She's young, about twenty, of remarkably beautiful figure, but with somehow restless and importunate eyes. She adores balls and keeps dreaming, according to Korovyev «of complaining about her handkerchief». There would be a chambermaid assigned to her «who for thirty years has been putting a handkerchief - a blue-bordered one - on her night table during the night. She wakes up and the handkerchief is there. She's tried burning it in the stove and drowning it in the river, but nothing helps».
The ceremony with the handkerchief appears to be a punishment for something she did thirty year before. She worked in a cafe. The owner once invited her to the pantry, and nine months later she gave birth to a boy, took him to the forest, stuffed the handkerchief into his mouth, and then buried the boy in the ground. At the trial she said she had no way of feeding the child.
When, after the ball, Woland wants to reward Margarita for having been his hostess, she is still thinking of her meeting with Frieda. She's still excited by the fact that the woman was punished while the real responsible person - the father of the child - wasn't. So the first thing she wishes is «them to stop giving Frieda that handkerchief with which she smothered her baby». Woland doesn't want to do this, because «each department must look after its own affairs». «I will not do it», he says, «but you will do it yourself». Margarita calls in Frieda, who appears immediately, and says to her: «You are forgiven. The handkerchief will no longer be brought to you». And so it happens...
Then Woland says: «So, that does not count, I did nothing. What do you want for yourself?». And then the real wish follows: «'I want my beloved master to be returned to me right now, this second...».
In Bulgakov's archives was found an excerpt from the book Die sexuelle Frage written by the Swiss neurologist and psychiatrist Auguste Forel (1848-1931). Forel got some conflicts with the Catholic church because he believed that the soul and the brains were connected inseparably.
Forel didn't just take care of his patients, he was also concerned about social reforms. He worked with alcoholics and an active member of the Swiss movement against alcohol abuse. He was a teetotallar himself. In Die sexuelle Frage he described the sexual problems he had observed in his practice. One of his study objects was a Fried Keller - who had killed a little boy, and a certain Koniecko - who had strangled a baby with a handkerchief.
Fried Keller worked in a café in the Swiss canton Sankt Gallen. The married owner of the place had a crush on her and when she was 19 years old he lured her into the cellar. In May 1899 she gave birth to a boy in the Sankt Gallen hospital. Her child was placed in a relief center but had to go out of there after 5 years. Forel described in detail her emotional state of mind during the period preceding Easter Monday 1904, when she would see her child again. But she heard that the nuns of the relief center had decided to send her child to her sister in Zürich. She took her child with her and brought it to the wood. She digged a grave with her hands, strangled the child with a piece of lace and went back home. But the child was found by gypsies after a heavy shower of rain, and Fried Keller was arrested on July 14.
Koniecko was a 19 years old worker from Silesia. She got pregnant in a similar situation, and strangled her newly born child with a handkerchief on February 25, 1908. She was sentenced to 2 years in jail. This court order was heavily criticized in Switzerland because the real guilty - the father of the child who abandonned her - was not punished.
Bulgakov combined the biographies of both women in the character Frieda, which may be a reference to the Faust of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), in which Gretchen also kills her newly-born child.
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.