During his lifetime, the Russian writer and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov (15 May 1891 – 10 March 1940), was best known for his stage plays than he was for his novels and short stories.
Stalin was known to be fond of his play Days of the Turbins (Дни Турбиных) (1926), which was based on the novel The White Guard. However, despite the sometime approval of Uncle Joe, Bulgakov’s career was blighted by censorship.
Posthumously, Bulgakov is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, which he began writing in 1928, but only completed in the last years of his life.
On 15 June 1938, when the manuscript was nearly finished, Bulgakov wrote in a letter to his third wife, Yelena Shilovskaya (who inspired the character Margarita):
“In front of me 327 pages of the manuscript (about 22 chapters). The most important work remains – editing, and it’s going to be hard, I will have to pay close attention to details. Maybe even re-write some things… ‘What’s its future?’ you ask? I don’t know. Possibly, you will store the manuscript in one of the drawers, next to my ‘killed’ plays, and occasionally it will be in your thoughts. Then again, you don’t know the future. My own judgement of the book is already made and I think it truly deserves being hidden away in the darkness of some chest.”
The book was eventually published by Bulgakov’s widow in 1966, twenty-six years after his death, and led to an international appreciation of his work.
The novel is a critique of Soviet society and its literary establishment. The work is appreciated for its philosophical undertones and for its high artistic level, thanks to its picturesque descriptions (especially of old Jerusalem), lyrical fragments and style. It is a frame narrative involving two characteristically related time periods, or plot lines: a retelling of the gospels and a description of contemporary Moscow.
The novel begins with Satan visiting Moscow in the 1930s, joining a conversation between a critic and a poet debating the existence of Jesus Christ and the Devil. It develops into an all-embracing indictment of the corruption, greed, narrow-mindedness, and widespread paranoia of Soviet Russia. A story within the story portrays the interrogation of Jesus Christ by Pontius Pilate and the Crucifixion.
It’s interesting to note that there are two English translations of the novel available in Kindle format:
A copy published by Oneworld Classics (2008) and translated by Hugh Alpin, has digital artwork on the cover, photographs included in its front matter, and extra material about Bulgakov’s life and works.
A copy published by Vintage Books – London (2010) and translated by Michael Glenny, has a plain cover but a much nicer – and less clumsy – turn of phrase, so that’s the translation I bought (never judge a digital book by its front matter).
I enjoyed the black magic carpet ride that Bulgakov took me on, but it was several chapters and a lengthy epilogue too long.
An Olympia Model 8 typewriter owned by Bulgakov is on display at the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, which is situated in the Moscow apartment building where Bulgakov shared a room with his first wife, Tatiana Lapp, from 1921 to 1924.¹
The typewriter is set into the wall and is surrounded by snippets of the writer’s work displayed on cards:
Buklgakov’s Olympia Model. 8 at the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, Building 10, Entrance 6, Floor 4, Apartment №50, Moscow
More typewriters (as if the Olympia Model 8 wasn’t enough) are displayed in another room of the apartment building:
The Olivetti is easy to identify, but the other two… ?
A few wide-carriage typewriters are also on display (interchangeably it seems) in a coffee bar/ tourist shop situated in the same building:
Probably they have no association with the author and are there purely for decoration …
… much like the typewriter depicted on this Russian phonecard …
Images and text (Google translation¹) from: