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Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction…
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Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to The Master and Margarita

by Andrew Barratt

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The Master and Margarita is a top-shelf, world-class novel, a Russian novel by the Little Russian that bounds past the geographical limits of its origin to expose the universal human condition to the careful reader. The first-timer should read M&M without the restrictive viewpoint of the literary critic, but at the second, third or subsequent read may wish to explore what others have gleaned. Then the reader should consult a top-shelf literary criticism such as Between Two Worlds, by Andrew Barratt, who is on a par with the likes of Richard B. Sewall. Then Mikhail Bulgakov's literary magic that captivates us in our naive reading will be revealed. But unlike a magic trick revealed, we do not feel cheated, just more in awe of a great master.

Barratt elevates his analysis on the three pillars of historical context, structure and interpretation and uses them to provide multiple dimensions in which to view what is actually on the printed page. Other critics have characterized M&M as a Menippean satire, or as a medieval mystery play, shortcuts attempting to capture the whole work in a single phrase. Does this help us any in understanding the book itself, however? Lesley Milne quotes the critic, V. Lakshin, in dismissing the former, then proceeds to promote the latter herself. Great literature cannot be so contained. Barratt examines M&M as autobiography, as satire, as allusion, but it is none of these in its entirety. As he says, it is a mistake to take the part for the whole.

Barratt poses fundamental questions, who is Woland and why has he come to Moscow, and, similarly, who is Yeshua and why has he come to Yershalaim? A host of other questions ensue from these two, but it is not the particular answers themselves which are revealing. If you will, it is the process of revealing that is revealing, for we do not come to a single answer to these questions. As we read farther into the novel, and as we re-read on subsequent occasions, our answers to these questions change as deceptions are cast aside and deeper meanings revealed.

We suspect, from the epigraph, that the Woland who appears at Patriarch's Ponds is Mephistopheles and may mildly scorn Berlioz and Bezdomny for not realizing this immediately. But Woland is not Mephistopheles, not entirely, perhaps not at all, the poodle motif notwithstanding. More and more of Woland is revealed as we read further, a process that Barratt calls a 'progressive unfolding'. The demonic doings in Part 1 give way to a divine plan in Part 2 and our perception of Woland, the prime mover, changes from devil to celestial agent. In the Epilogue, the last folds are unfolded, and we see Woland's retinue, Koroviev, Behemoth, and Azazello, revealed as they truly are. Woland also is revealed, but what do we see? It is Margarita who looks on him, but Margarita would have been unable to say what the reins of his horse were made of and thought they were possibly chains of moonlight and that the horse itself was just a lump of darkness, the horse's mane a cloud, and the rider's spurs white blurs of stars. Woland isn't seen at all, and even his horse is just a shadow in the night sky. The last revelation of Woland reveals--nothing. What is inside the innermost matryoshka doll? Some mysteries must remain.

Yeshua brings his simple, but powerful, belief in the goodness of mankind to Yershalaim and predicts that the kingdom of truth and justice will come--an anarchic kingdom where authorities such as Caesar (and by extension, Stalin) will be superfluous. This truth was buried in the gospels underneath dogmas more accommodating to the entrenched powers. This truth emerged in the Master's novel, but was again suppressed, this time by the literary authorities lead by Berlioz. Bezdomny may return to the story after his sojourn as historian. But we have learned to recognize this 'progressive unfolding' from reading Bulgakov, and can perhaps similarly discover the truth in other works which tap into this same Muse. To discover the story behind the story, thanks to Barratt. ( )
6 vote WilfGehlen | Oct 4, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0198156642, Hardcover)

Mikhail Bulgakov's masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, is by general consent one of the most important, controversial, and original novels to have emerged from the Soviet Union. The first comprehensive study of this novel in English, Between Two Worlds describes its genesis and reception inside and outside the Soviet Union.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:05 -0400)

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