The master

English > Characters > Main characters > The master

Role

The master is a writer working on a book about Pontius Pilate. «У меня нет больше фамилии» - «I have no name,» he says to the poet Ivan when they meet each other at the hospital of doctor Stravinski, where they both are interned. The master tells his story to Ivan. He was once an historian (the same profession that Ivan will start at the end of the story), but when he won hundred-thousand roubles in a lottery connected to a state loan, he quit his job to work on a book. One day he met Margarita, and fell desperately in love with her. When he presented the book to a publisher, he was asked who had incited him to write about such strange subject. The book was rejected and, although it was never published, different critics started to assault it in the newspapers. Especially the critic Latunsky was merciless. In a fit of insanity the master was imagining that an octopus tried to drown him in his ink, and the master burned his book. Margarita saved a piece and kept it, but the master, persuaded that he was incurably sick, had gone to the hospital. He was there now for four months, and had no longer met Margarita again.

In the hospital the master found the keys which could help him to escape, but «he has nowhere to escape to». But Margarita had helped the Devil with his ball and as a reward she can be back together with her master. Woland (the Devil) arranges that they can return to the master's basement, that their bank account is properly functioning again, that the master gets his official documents back and that his burned manuscript returns to its original state.  At the end of the novel Woland takes the master with him. He does this on Jesus' request because he - Jesus - can't take him since «the master does not deserve  the  light, he deserves peace». Margarita can go with the master, and they will never be separated again.

Background

The first prototype for the hero in Bulgakov's novel is, of course, the author himself, while Margarita is inspired by his third wife, Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya. We have to wait for chapter 13 before being introduced to the master, a 38-years old man, the same as Bulgakov's age in 1929, when he started writing the novel.

The master writes a novel which is heavily criticized. It's the story of the inner struggle which Pontius Pilate experienced when he was confronted with the Nazarean Jesus Christ. The criticism on the master's novel  is a reflection of the press campaigns against Bulgakov's own novels like The Fatal Eggs and The White Guard, and his theatre plays, especially The Flight.

The master is a writer working on a book about Pontius Pilate. When he meets the poet Ivan at the hospital of doctor Stravinski, where they are both interned, he says to the poet: «У меня нет больше фамилии» or «I have no name». The master tells his story to Ivan. He was once an historian (the same profession that Ivan will start at the end of the novel), but when he won hundred-thousand roubles in a lottery connected to a state loan, he quit his job to work on his book. One day he met Margarita, and fell desperately in love with her. When he presented the book to a publisher, he was asked who had incited him to write about such strange subject. The book was rejected and, although it was never published, different critics started to assault it in the newspapers. Especially the critic Latunsky was merciless. In a fit of insanity, the master was imagining that an octopus tried to drown him in his ink, and he burned his book. Margarita saved a part of it and kept it. But the master, persuaded that he was incurably sick, had gone to the hospital.

In the hospital the master found the keys which could help him to escape, but «he has nowhere to escape to». Meanwhile, Margarita had helped the Devil Woland with his ball and as a reward she can be back together with her master and they will never be separated again.

Background

The first prototype for the hero in Bulgakov's novel is the author himself, while Margarita is inspired by his third wife, Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya (1893-1970). We have to wait for chapter 13 before being introduced to the master, a 38-years old man, the same as Bulgakov's age when he started writing the novel.

The master writes a novel which is heavily criticized. It's the story of the inner struggle which Pontius Pilate experienced when he was confronted with the Nazarean Jesus Christ. The criticism on the master's novel is a reflection of the press campaigns against Bulgakov's own novels like The Fatal Eggs and The White Guard, and his theatre plays, especially The Flight.

Bulgakov's archive contains articles from the newspaper Rabosjaja Moskva, among which the article «We will strike and fight against Bulgakovism» [Udarim po bulgakovshchine!]. In the novel Lavrovich writes an article in which he proposes «striking, and striking hard at Pilatism» [udarit' po pilatchine]. Bulgakov felt himself, like the master, attacked by the press. In his letter to the government of the Soviet Union on March 28, 1930. he mentioned exactly how many times. He had read 301 articles on him in the soviet press, «Из них: похвальных - было 3, враждебно-ругательных - 298» or «among which: laudatory - 3, hostile-abusive - 298». His theatre plays were all forbidden.

In the novel it is not clearly written why and how the master got into the psychiatric hospital. Did the writer forget to mention it? Or is it due to the lack of a final edition? Probably none of both. We may suppose that Bulgakov wanted to reflect the practices of the Soviet authorities in his days with an intentional lack of clarity. When someone «disappeared», he was often arrested by the secret police, and the authorities always reacted in a vague, impersonal and furtive way.

The description of the master also calls reminiscences to another literary model, the writer  Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852). The master burned his manuscript about Pilate, Bulgakov burned his novel about the master, and Gogol burned the second part of Dead Souls. Bulgakov admired Gogol. He adapted his Dead Souls to a theatre play.

In Bulgakov's early versions of The Master and Margarita, the role of the master was played by a character called Fesiya, a wise man who was interested in the devilry from the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. Fesiya was occupied with demonic powers much more than later the master, he was much closer to the Faust of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Fesiya was probably inspired by the philosopher Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky (1882-1937), who was arrested in 1928 and exiled to Nizhny Novgorod. He was shot dead on the night of December 8, 1937.

The self-willed Ukrainean polemicist Alfred Nikolajevich Barkov (1941-2004) argued that not Bulgakov, but the Russian author Maxim Gorki (1868-1936) was the master's prototype. According to Barkov, Bulgakov himself would heve been the prototype of Ivan Bezdomny.



Share this page |