Having read and reread “The Master and Margarita” by the great Russian writer Mihail Bulgakov – a blend of fantasy and reality (known also as magical realism) – you might glean that my heart is seduced by this diabolical novel ‘par excellence’.
Here we have two interacting plots: one of passionate love and the other a strained encounter between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. In one storyline Devil, who presents as a middle-aged man named Voland (transliterated also as Woland) with his grotesque entourage of demons-in-disguise visit Moscow and instigate a form of organised chaos. Voland ends up punishing the bad Muscovites while rewarding the good, echoing his most famous literary counterpart who’s “part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works well.”
Bulgakov was active during the rise of the artistically wild Russian avant-garde movement that peaked between 1917 (Russian Revolution) and 1930s (beginning of Stalin’s tyranny). It flourished in all art forms. In visual arts think Malevich, Kandinsky, Chagall, Goncharova, Larionov; in music – Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Scriabin; in theatre – Meyerhold and Eisenstein; then Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes famous export in dance… Literature followed suit.
Bulgakov was also a practising doctor, who cured himself of morphine addiction, served in the military and contributed to medical advances in treating syphilis. His medical pursuits later informed much of his writing, which he started in 1919.
Stalin took an interest in Bulgakov, granting him a strange immunity, despite his daring novels and theatre plays. The bizarre relationship between Bulgakov and the tyrant is still not easy to understand. Stalin allegedly loved Bulgakov’s “The Day of the Turbins” play and had seen it at least a dozen times, but had banned most of Bulgakov’s other writing. Notwithstanding the ban, Bulgakov was still allowed to pursue some theatrical career while many others in a similar position proclaimed “enemies of the nation” and persecuted to death.
This book was published by the Russian publisher Vita Nova in 2015, following its first and very successful edition of 2005. Vita Nova operates on the principle of never reprinting its editions (which quickly sell out). But in this instance, so sorrowful was the lament from Russian bibliophiles and so persistently have the lovers of Bulgakov and Traugot lobbied for another edition that the publisher agreed. The 2015 edition includes 330 Traugot drawings (the 2005 edition had 256). There exist 200+ more of “Master” drawings by Traugot that are unpublished.
G.A.V. in the artist’s name is a collective initiative of Georgy (father) and Alexandr and Valery (two of his sons). Georgy Traugot and his wife Vera Ianova were accomplished artists and brought their children up with keeping art and hard work in high regard. Traugot family practised in a variety of visual artforms – sculpture, painting, etching and, most prominently, book illustration. They are the only artistic group I know of that worked and signed illustrations as a collective.
Traugots illustrated more than 200 books by Homer, Shakespeare, Hoffman, Gauff, Chekhov, Nabokov, Gogol, Kuprin, Pushkin, Perrault, Brothers Grimm, Andersen. The latter (Andersen’s Tales) have been reprinted 17 times with an aggregated print run of 3 million+ copies. Traugot’s works are in collections of Tretyakov Gallery, The Hermitage, Museum of Andersen in Odense and many other museums and private collections around the world. Alexandr Traugot is the only surviving member of this talented trio. In 2014 he has been the recipient of Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Award for contribution to literature and arts.
The last image below shows examples of the first letters of each chapter. They are sentient and each has a character! For example, the different B”s (pronounced in Russian as “V”) reflect each chapter’s theme and spirit: the scowling B on the left for chapter 1 “Never talk to a stranger” (where Voland makes his first appearance), the noble Roman profile middle B is for chapter 2 “Pontius Pilate” and the right sinister B is for chapter 8 “Unlucky apartment” (which Voland and his demons have taken over as their Moscow base). Cool, aren’t they?
To read more about G.A.V. Traugot click here.
Below is some of “The Master and Margarita” wisdom, which will make you or young adults around you want to read it.
“If you ask me, something sinister lurks in men who avoid wine, games, the company of lovely women, and dinnertime conversation. Such people are either gravely ill or secretly detest everyone around them.”
“There is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason.”
“What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people”
“Who told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar’s vile tongue be cut out!”
“Love leaped out in front of us like a murderer in an alley leaping out of nowhere, and struck us both at once. As lightning strikes, as a Finnish knife strikes!”
“Manuscripts don’t burn.”
“You should never ask anyone for anything. Never and especially from those who are more powerful than yourself.”
“You’re not Dostoevsky,’ said the citizeness, who was getting muddled by Koroviev. Well, who knows, who knows,’ he replied. ‘Dostoevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently. ‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoevsky is immortal!”
“The tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes never! You’re asked an unexpected question, you don’t even flinch, it takes just a second to get yourself under control, you know just what you have to say to hide the truth, and you speak very convincingly, and nothing in your face twitches to give you away. But the truth, alas, has been disturbed by the question, and it rises up from the depths of your soul to flicker in your eyes and all is lost.”
“And a fact is the most stubborn thing in the world.”
“Why try to pursue what is completed?”
Such an interesting novel!
Compare how many illustrations you get in this Russian edition compared to the new Folio Society one 😉
Had a closer look at the Folio’s “Master” – 13 Peter Suart’s illustrations vs 330 in this edition from Vita Nova! I must say those 13 by Peter Suart are intriguing. Clever Folio only shows 6 on their website, aren’t you curious what other 6 episodes he has chosen to illustrate (Behemoth ripping the concertmaster’s head is brilliantly blunt and farcical).