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The origins of The Master and Margarita: Why Bulgakov is accused of borrowing, and in which novels there are similar characters
The origins of The Master and Margarita: Why Bulgakov is accused of borrowing, and in which novels there are similar characters

Some critics and researchers of Bulgakov's work believe that the novel "The Master and Margarita" is built on the ideas of foreign classics and philosophers. Upon a detailed study of the plot, one can indeed notice numerous allusions and references to Goethe and Hoffmann, observe the subtle intonations of Dumas, Dante and Meyrink. The world classics, of course, could have inspired Mikhail Afanasyevich and to some extent influenced the "portrayal" of characters and dialogues. But it cannot be denied that the plot of The Master and Margarita itself is unique and inimitable. This allowed him to receive the title of a masterpiece of literary art and find his admirers all over the world.

Echoes of Goethe's philosophical drama "Faust"

Illustration for the drama "Faust" by Goethe. Mephistopheles appears to Faust

Roman Bulgakova has a large number of layers. The "Faustian" layer is perhaps one of the most recognizable. Allusions to "Faust" accompany the entire plot - an epigraph that asks a philosophical question about good and evil, descriptions of heroes, direct quotations, etc. In the library of Mikhail Afanasyevich there was a 1902 edition published in St. Petersburg in a prose translation by A.L. Sokolovsky. But most of all Bulgakov was inspired not by Goethe's drama itself, but by the opera by the French composer Charles Gounod, written based on the work. The writer's sister Nadezhda Zemskaya said that Mikhail Afanasyevich had seen the opera 41 times in Kiev. And his first wife T.N. Lappa recalled how the author loved to hum the couplets of Mephistopheles and other excerpts from the opera.

Choosing a name for one of his main characters, Bulgakov considered several options, but in the end he took it from "Faust", namely from the scene of "Walpurgis Night", where Mephistopheles demands from representatives of evil spirits to clear the way for Junker Woland.

Another analogy between Bulgakov's novel and Goethe's drama is the unexpected appearance of the devil in scenes of a conversation between a student and a teacher. Mephistopheles comes in the face of a black poodle during Faust's walk with Wagner, and Woland sits on a bench with Berlioz and Homeless.

The similarity of the heroes is striking. Description of Bulgakov's Woland: a gray beret, a cane with a handle in the form of a poodle's head, eyes of different colors, one eyebrow is higher than the other. The same goes for Goethe - a beret, a cane, different eyebrows and eyes.

There is one more "Faustian" character that could impress the writer - this is the unfortunate Gretchen (one of the variations of the name Margarita). Gretchen, abandoned by Faust, drowned the baby after her expulsion from the city. For this she was sentenced to execution and imprisoned for terrible torture. Some critics believe that it was this storyline that Bulgakov took to create the image of the secondary heroine Frida, who killed her child. Margarita showed sympathy for the unfortunate woman, and asked Woland to spare her.

Thus, the infanticide condemned to eternal suffering in "Faust" received a "second life" from Bulgakov.

Creativity of Gustav Meyrink

Photo by Gustav Meyrink

Soviet and Russian culturologist S.T. Makhlina believes that Bulgakov, like other admirers of mystical realism of the 20th century, could have looked for inspiration in the work of the Austrian expressionist and playwright Gustav Meyrink.In her opinion, the restorer Anastasius Pernat and his beloved Miriam from the novel "Golem", who also could not find happiness in the real world, could have become prototypes of Bulgakov's heroes.

In Russia "Golem" was published in 1922 in the translation of David Vygodsky. Later it is recognized as one of the outstanding monuments of Expressionist literature. In the novel, the main character is reunited with his beloved on the border between the real and the other world. In the book "Angel of the West Window" a similar structure can be traced - the action unfolds in two time layers. According to the Russian publicist B.V. Sokolov, this work left a deep imprint on The Master and Margarita. The prototype of Woland could be the hero Il - the demon of the Azazil desert. And in the early versions of Bulgakov's novel, the prince of darkness was not called Woland, but Azazello. However, the latter still took his place in the plot, becoming one of the main members of the retinue.

In Baron Mullyure, Soloviev sees the prototype of the Master. Moreover, both heroes burn manuscripts in the fire and in both cases miraculously rise from the ashes.

The novel did not receive high marks from critics of the late 1920s because of the symbolism that was too difficult to perceive. But some literary scholars argue that after getting acquainted with Meyrink's works, the meanings of The Master and Margarita will become more transparent for readers.

Parallels with Hoffmann's "Golden Pot"

Illustration for the fairy tale "The Golden Pot" by artist Nika Goltz

The Soviet culturologist Irina Galinskaya found echoes of the tale-story "The Golden Pot" in the novel, published in Russia in 1839, translated by V. Solovyov.

German romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann tells the story of a dreamy student Anselm, who, due to circumstances, receives punishment from the archivist Lindhorst (he is also the prince of the spirits of the Salamanders) and is imprisoned in a crystal jar. As in most works of the era of romanticism, the theme of love occupies a special place in "Golden Pea". At the end of the story, the main character nevertheless finds freedom and happiness with his beloved Serpentine in the romantic kingdom of poetry.

A detailed comparison of Bulgakov's novel and Hoffmann's novel can be traced to a number of obvious and non-obvious parallels. In Woland's ordinary Moscow apartment, whole ballrooms fit in, and green-tailed parrots echo in the gardens. In the small house of Lindhorst, there are also huge halls and winter gardens with birds.

Some analogies can be seen in the construction of dialogues. "Well, sit here and disappear!" - the witch shouts to Anselm when he resists her witchcraft influence. “So you will be lost. Sit here on a bench alone”- says Azazello in his hearts, when Margarita does not accept the invitation to the ball.

One of Hoffmann's heroines, Veronica, who tried to bewitch Anselm to herself with the help of a witch, believes that the old woman's cat is in fact a bewitched young man. Bulgakov's cat Behemoth eventually turns out to be a young page.

Finally, the main meaning of Hoffmann's story is that "everyone will be rewarded according to his faith." Woland says this phrase in a conversation with Homeless.

Pierre Mac-Orlan and his "Night Margarita"

A still from the 1955 film "Margarita at Night" based on the novel by Pierre McOrlan

The mystical work of the French writer was published in Moscow in 1927. The main character, 80-year-old Professor Faust (a descendant of that same Faust) has long been indifferent to life. The lonely and sick old man loses strength, but desperately envies the young, who have a whole life ahead.

Everything changes after a meeting with Mephistopheles, who appears to the reader in the guise of a drug dealer Leon, noticeably limping on one leg (like Bulgakov's Woland). He introduces the Professor to the young cabaret singer Margarita. The old man hopelessly falls in love with a beautiful girl and wants to be young again. The pay for youth is standard - to give your soul and seal the deal with blood. The main character again becomes a 20-year-old boy, but the deal with Mephistopheles does not go unnoticed - the devil's temptations change character and eat away at the innocent soul of Faust.The life of lovers turns into a nightmare, and to end it, Margarita offers Mephistopheles a new deal - to give her soul for the salvation of Faust.

Ukrainian critic Yu.P. Vinnichuk declared about Bulgakov's gross borrowing of ideas from Mac Orlan's "Night Margarita". But the only obvious analogy is in the names of the main characters and in the fact that both of them decided to sell their souls to the devil for love. The rest of the plots of the two "Margaritas" are fundamentally different from each other.

But some authors tried to write a sequel to this great novel.

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