Bookish Birthdays: Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov

Bulgakov is best-known for his novel The Master and Margarita, published posthumously in 1967. An allegorical story which satirises the former Soviet Union, it has become renowned as one of the most important novels of the 20th century. With central characters including the devil disguised as a magician and a massive black cat that can talk, cheat at chess, slug vodka and shoot pistols, it uses magic realism to criticise Soviet society and the literary establishment of the time.

Bulgakov burnt the manuscript of The Master and Margarita mid-way through working on it and had to re-write it from memory. This episode is fictionalised in the novel when the Master from the book’s title burns a manuscript, but later has it returned to him with the much-quoted line: “Didn’t you know that manuscripts don’t burn?”

Although heavily censored when it was first published, The Master and Margarita has since become a classic, and caused Mikhail Bulgakov’s former Moscow flat, where some of the book is set, to be appropriated as an unofficial museum in the 1980s. Although originally a magnet for Moscow satanists, it has recently been jazzed up and is now home to exhibitions of Bulgakov’s work, including photos and other personal belongings.

Happy 119th birthday, Mr. Bulgakov. Your crazy “hog-sized” black cat Behemoth may have given me nightmares when I first read The Master and Margarita, but I now recognise his brilliance. I will toast you with copious amounts of vodka, and hope that the devil doesn’t invade my drunk dreams dressed as a gold-toothed magician.

Post by Jane Bradley