Inspiration is the key!
As Paris celebrates the Journées européennes du Livre russe et des Littératures russophones (literally, “The European Days for the Russian Book and Russophone Literatures“), why not dedicate a post to one of the most loved books in Russian Literature? “The Master and Margarita” by Michail Bulgakov is not only considered as the masterpiece of Russian Literature but probably the best novel of the XX Century. Its draft was completed in 1937, but since its content was clearly dealing with the state of things in Russia in the 1930s, it started being published in the 1960s and its complete version only saw the light of day in the 1970s (although, can we really know for sure that that version is complete since it was published posthumously?)
There is no doubt that “The Master And Margarita” was highly influenced by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust“, the tragic play (which constituted of two parts and appeared in its complete version in 1832, posthumously): Faust’s love’s name was Gretchen, short for Margaret, a way for Bulgakov to pay homage to the female character of “Faust” but not the only way. Another character, Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz bears the same last name as the French composer Hector Berlioz, who translated and adapted Goethe’s “Faust” into the opera play “The Damnation of Faust“. If that was not enough, Bulgakov seemed to almost have named one of his main male characters after Faust, but maybe that would have been too much. By the time Bulgakov writes “The Master and Margarita” the psychological architecture of characters was way over: gone were the times of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy and that is why this novel is to be seen as a symbolic characterisations of characters in a surreal, unreal light.
Sarcasm and irony were hiding a well-constructed criticism of Soviet Russia in the 1930s: Woland, the man who turns out to be the devil in disguise, bears many hidden connections to Stalin and what Woland does or say is often, if not always a metaphor of how Stalin and his system trick the Russians, the common people. At the same time, Woland seems to be willing to help the Master, who is a victim of censorship as he writes about Christianity in a country where this is strictly forbidden. Under many levels, Bulgakov’s work seeks to portray the condition of Russia in the 1920s and 1930s and criticises the political system by means of a simple, easy to read prose. However, how do the main temptations compare? We know that both “Faust” and “The Master And Margarita” revolve around the choice of a willing human to submit to a pact with a demon. Whereas Faust is a good man and seeks nothing, Margarita is already in a state of despair: in Bulgakov’s novel, Margarita accepts the deal out of desperation and is consumed, tormented by her love for the Master (and ends up becoming a witch). In both cases, temptation is the main focus of both stories. The wire connecting these two literary works is called human weaknesses, as both of them, despite being set in different places and periods, inquire in the human mind and condition, unravel the desires of men and their inability to control themselves and their emotions. Both works highlight the constant, continuous struggle between moral and immoral, good things turning out to be bad, bad things turning out to be good. Struggle was already the main focus of the greatest works of Literature in Russia in the XIX Century: it was only a matter of decades before it could find a new form and this is what “The Master And Margarita“ stands for.