No authorial text

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A textual chaos

The Master and Margarita was first published 26 years after Bulgakov's death - the text was heavily mutilated however. Book One was published in November 1966 in the magazine Moskva. Later it appeared that 21 passages had been censored. Book Two did not follow in December, as expected, but in January 1967. Even more excerpts had been deleted: 138 to be exact. Politically sensitive passages, all passages with female nudity, and the passages with the sometimes smutty language of Margarita when she became a witch... it was all left out. In Paris was published a samizdat version the same year. The first complete Russian text was published in 1969 in Frankfurt. And then it became clear that the novel was not completely finished. Bulgakov could never finish the definitive authorial text, probably because of his untimely death..

The frequent rewritings, shortenings and extensions of the novel caused some loose ends and even some contradictions in the text. Bulgakov worked on his novel from 1928 until just before his death in 1940 with intervals. It started as a story of the devil in 1928, but he destroyed his unfinished manuscript in 1930, disillusioned by the fact that he could not publish anything anymore since 1925. In 1926 the secret police had seized Bulgakov's diaries and a manuscript of his book Heart of a Dog. After long palavering he got it back in 1929, and burned it. But Bulgakov didn't know that the secret police had made copies of the diaries.

Only in 1932 he started working on The Master and Margarita again. He got married inbetween to Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya (1893-1970), who had divorced a high military officer for him. A strong resemblance to the situation of Margarita, who enters the novel in Book Two. In 1937, the novel gets its final title and in 1938 the first hand-written version is ready. But while dictating the first typescript version Bulgakov constantly makes more changes. Passages are deleted, new ones added. One year later - when he's almost blind - he dictates the Epilogue to his wife. But even after that he goes on making changes on typescripts and copies, while Elena tries to keep track of it. Some notes of the changes to be made could not been executed anymore by the writer's death. Some passages could not be related anymore to the ones they referred to.

Loose ends

So Bulgakov left to his widow a textual chaos, out of which she tried to produce order. It wasn't easy - also because of security reasons - but since she had been involved actively in all phases of the novel's development, just like Margarita, she was able to complete quite many missing punctuations.

Not all though. During the many re-writings, Bulgakov had introduced additional themes to which he did not refer anymore later. One example is the witch Hella. Satan had introduced her to Margarita as an important member of his retinue but, when de diabolic gang leaves Moscow from Sparrow Hills, Hella is not with them. And where the further adventures of all other characters are explained in the Epilogue, we don't read anything anymore about what happened to her. According to Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya (1893-1970), Bulgakov's third wife, it was because the author could never finish his novel properly. The literary critic and novelist Vasili Yakovlevich Lakshin (1933-1993) remembers what happened when he draw her attention to the fact that Hella was not at the flight: «Elena Sergeevna looked at me with confused eyes and suddenly she cried out with an unforgettable expression: 'Миша забыл Геллу!' or 'Misha forgot Hella!'»

The dream of Nikanor Ivanovich - chapter 15 - is another part of the novel which feels compositionally strange. The description of this dream is Bulgakov's reaction to the confiscation of gold and valuables from the population in 1928-1929 and 1931-1933. These confiscations were associated with merciless repressions. The dream is a long diabolic joke about the secret police in search of people who kept foreign currency at home - «Turn over your currency voluntarily, or you will regret». It's a rather cheerful dialogue between an anonymous prosecutor and an audience of would-be criminals. But, unlike other passages, this dream has no function in the novel. Nothing follows from it, and there are no further referrals to it.

Something which is mentioned in the Russian version of the novel, but not in the Dutch, English or French translations, is the story told by the master to Ivan in the hospital about his «friend» Aloisi Mogarych. In the Dutch, French and English translations we get acquainted to Mogarych when the master and Margarita are reunited, and Margarita wishes to be together again with her lover in the basement, where Mogarych had moved into. The Russian reader already knows that Mogarych is a schemer who had pushed himself as a friend to the master - and who knew quite a lot about the internal deliberations of the editorial board which had to decide on the possible publication of the master's novel. In the description of the conversation between the master and Ivan is written in English: «Joyless autumn days set in, the guest went on». But the original version is different from the translations after the word «on». Which follows in Russian is a description of 420 words of the friendship between the master and Mogarych, and the disdain that Margarita felt towards this «obnoxious person». A qualification which the English reader doesn't know when reading that Margarita «sank her nails into Aloisy Mogarych's face» in chapter 24.

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Click here to watch the missing part in Vladimir Bortko's film

A real loose end can be found at the beginning of chapter 32. The sentence «...with a light heart he gives himself into the hands of death, knowing that...» is not finished. Although most of the people reading the novel in English will never know about this loose end, because the English translators completed the sentence with their own interpretation.

This paragraph was written when Bulgakov knew that he was dying of nephrosclerosis. According to some sources the last line of the paragraph was intentionally left unfinished. «And without regret he leaves the mists of the earth, its swamps and  rivers, with a light heart he gives himself into the hands of death, knowing that she alone...»

Bulgakov's wife Elena Sergeevna would have insisted to finish this sentence and in some versions of the novel it ended with «…can bring him peace.» In the Russian edition there is written at the end, but between clear brackets: … <успокоит его.>. In the English translations the sentence is simply finished with «…can comfort you» (Glenny) or «…can bring him peace» (Pevear and Volokhonsky). And the French can’t stand neither to see a sentence with no end, because the French reader sees a nicely finished phrase «…lui apportera la paix».


The missing definitive authorial text also causes contradictions in the story itself. In chapter 24 for instance, when Annushka leaves her house, she hears a door banging on the landing above. A man in nothing but his underwear, carrying a suitcase and wearing a cap (Mogarych) hurded down the stairs and, bumping into Annushka, flung her aside so that she struck the back of her head against the wall. But, a little before, we read how «Mogarych was turned upside down [by Azazello] and left Woland's bedroom through the open window...» So, if he left through the open window, he can not have banged the door and bumped into Annushka on the stairway.

In the same chapter is written: «But the foreigner was long gone. And so was the car in the courtyard». But immediately after this sentence Bulgakov describes how Azazello and Hella say goodbye to Margarita in that very same car in the courtyard. Probably Bulgakov has added this goodbye scene in a later version of the novel, but did he forget to delete the phrase that was written just before.


The loose ends and the contradictions are probably the result of the fact that Bulgakov could not ensure a proper definitive authorial text in the last year before his death. But they are also partly due to the numerous efforts to censor the text. Sentences were torn into pieces and mangled. In 1967, a book was published in Bern with a collection of excerpts that were deleted in the first Russian publications. But there were no references to the places where they belonged. So it must have been a complicated job for the editors to publish the first complete Russian text in 1969. Elena Sergeevna had no complete copy of the - more or less - definitive redaction at her disposal, and the publisher sometimes acted on his own authority to complete it.

Only in 1989, literature expert Lidya Markovna Yanovskaya (1926-2011) could publish a version based on all available manuscripts. In 1990, her version was used for a publication in Moscow in a series of Collected works, and this text is still used by most publishers and translators as the final basic text.

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