Никанор Иванович Босой

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Context

Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy is the chairman of the tenants' association of block 302-bis on Bolshaya Sadovaya. Only two hours after the death of the unfortunate Berlioz was known, he's snowed under by thirty-two declarations containing claims to the deceased's living space. They contain «pleas, threats, libels, denunciations, promises to do renovations at their own expense» and much more, even «two vows to end life by suicide and one confession of secret pregnancy». When he tries to escape from the insisting applicants by retiring in the empty apartment number 50, he meets Koroviev. The latter present himself as the interpreter for a foreign individual who has taken up residence in this apartment and he tells him that Styopa is in Yalta. To his utter amazement, Bosoy finds the confirmation of Woland's authorisation to move in into the apartment in his own briefcase. When he calls Intourist for more information they appear to know about it.

But, by devious means, Korovyev suggests that there could be made personal profit from Woland's short stay. So he dares to ask five hundred roubles a day. But Korovyev rasps out: «So it comes to three thousand five hundred for the week?». Nikanor Ivanovitch already regretted his proposition, but to his amazement Korovyev says: «What kind of money is that? Ask five, he'll pay it.» On top of that he receives free tickets for the show in the Variety Theatre and «with his right he put into the chairman's other hand a thick, crackling wad». Back in his own apartment, Bosoy finds out that it contains four hundred roubles, which he hides in his toilet.

When Bosoy leaves the apartment Koroviev dials a number and begins speaking: «Hello! I consider it my duty to inform you that the chairman of our tenants' association at no. 302-bis on Sadovaya, Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy, is speculating in foreign currency. At the present moment, in his apartment no. 35 he has four hundred dollars wrapped up in newspaper in the ventilation of the privy.»

When Bosoy is sitting at the table in his small dining room two men came in, going straigth away to the toilet. They don't find four hundred roubles, but four hundred dollars. Bosoy is sped off under escort. A little later in the hospital the master confides to Ivan that there was a new arrival in room 119 - some fat man with a purple physiognomy, who kept muttering something about currency in the ventilation and swearing that unclean powers were living in their place on Sadovaya.


Background

Bulgakov wrote that Bosoy was «of a somewhat rude nature». And that «Nikanor Ivanovitch had been completely ignorant of the poet Pushkin's works». He even confused the great poet with the actor reciting his poems - «What a type, though, this Kurolesov!». This description is a lash at the intellectual level which often characterized the chairmen of tenants' associations of apartment buidings in that time. Most of them were uneducated, incompetent law-abiding folks who, despite their lack of competencies, had quite some power in their quasi-official function. And they exercised this power unashamedly. There was a permanent shortage of housing accomodation and the chairman was in an ideal position to take bribes in exchange for preferential treatment.


Prototype

Босой [bosoy] means barefoot in Russian, which points to his rural origin. Bulgakov had a low opinion of those «provincials who were being kicked upstairs». In one of the earlier versions of the novel, Bosoy was called Nikodim Grigorevich Porot, of whom the first name would be a direct referral to Nikodemus, the author of the apocryphal gospel known as The Acts of Pilate.

The prototype of Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy was Nikolay Zotikovich Raev (1894-?), who lived with his wife Pelageya Ivanovna (1901-?) In apartment no. 33 of Bolshaya Sadovaya no. 10. It is therefore no coincidence that the first name of Nikanor's wife in the novel is also Pelageya.

In the residents' list of apartment no. 33 we can read that Nikolay Raev was an employee in the warehouse of the Госбанк [Gosbank] or the State Bank of the USSR. In April 1924, he was elected chairman of the Жилищное товарищество [Zjilishshnnoje tovarisjtsjestvo] or the Housing Association of the building. This function offered him a huge advantage: while Mikhail Bulgakov and Tatiana Lappa had to share their apartment no. 50 with 16 other people, Raev and his wife only had to share apartment no. 33 with one other family, which consisted of Mark Ilich Gonikberg. (1880-?), an employee of the publishing company Книга [Kniga] or Book, his wife Esfir Lvovna (1886-?) and their domestic servant Ekaterina Vasilyevna Grishina (1895-?). Gonikberg, incidentally, would leave the apartment in 1925, not with his wife, but together with the domestic servant.

Raev was tried in May 1925 for «random actions» and for the «refusal to follow orders». Initially the charge was blackmail, but that could not be proven. The charge came down to the fact that Raev, a member of the party, had refused to follow a decision of the Нарсуд [Narsud], which is an abbreviation for Народный суд [Narodny sud] or the People's Court. The Court had decided that a citizen named Levchuk could move from the basement to a better room, but Raev had given this better room to another citizen named Vasilevsky. The board of the Housing Association tried to defend its president and adopted a resolution to release him. According to them, the accusation was the result of an intrigue that was directed by a group of dissatisfied residents, but it did not help. Raev was sentenced to 3 months of forced labour and a reduction of his salary. In addition, he was released from office on August 3, 1925.

After Raev had left apartment no. 33, his place was taken by Anna Fyodorovna Goryasheva (1871-?) - the prototype of Annushka in The Master and Margarita - and her son Misha. They came from the notorious apartment no. 50.

Bosoy was arrested because the money he pinched appeared to be foreign currency. Currency speculation was a serious crime in the Soviet Union. Only tourists and priviliged Soviet citizens were, in a limited way, allowed to spend foreign currency in a берёзка [beryozka] or currency store.



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