Nov 2, 2013

Notes on The Master and Margarita

‘MANUSCRIPTS don’t burn’.–Woland, The Master and Margarita

Recently I re-read this classic, long my favourite book, and I re-discovered why that is. It always amazes me how Bulgakov changes his tone and phrasing, here switching to an everyday, very Russian dry humour and wit, and there to an almost science-fiction exposition. Some notes:

‘… Let me see it.’ Woland held out his hand, palm up.

‘Unfortunately, I cannot do that,’ replied the master, ‘because I burned it in the stove.’

‘Forgive me, but I don’t believe you,’ Woland replied, ‘that cannot be: manuscripts don’t burn.’

Ideas: the most incredible and indestructible creation of humankind. Once an idea is created, it can never be destroyed.

‘No, because you’ll be afraid of me. It won’t be very easy for you to look me in the face now that you’ve killed him.’

‘Quiet,’ replied Pilate. ‘Take some money.’

Levi shook his head negatively, and the procurator went on:

‘I know you consider yourself a disciple of Yeshua, but I can tell you that you learned nothing of what he taught you. For if you had, you would certainly take something from me. Bear in mind that before he died he said he did not blame anyone.’ Pilate raised a finger significantly, Pilate’s face was twitching. ‘And he himself would surely have taken something. You are cruel, and he was not cruel….’

How incredible it would be to not be cruel and petty in this world.

‘… You uttered your words as if you don’t acknowledge shadows, or evil either. Kindly consider the question: what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? Shadows are cast by objects and people. … Do you want to skin the whole earth, tearing all the trees and living things off it, because of your fantasy of enjoying bare light? You’re a fool.’

Ah, how clean-cut good and evil are to the Devil … on a grand scale, you need evil to balance out the good. Of course, this is ignoring the minutiae … maybe the Devil’s not in the details, but rather in the grand scheme of things?

‘… If it is true that cowardice is the most grievous vice, then the dog at least is not guilty of it. Storms were the only thing the brave dog feared. Well, he who loves must share the lot of the one he loves.’

An echo of the master and Margarita?