Places: The Master and Margarita

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Master i Margarita, expurgated, 1966-1967; unexpurgated, 1973 (English translations, 1967 and 1995)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: 30 c.e. and 1920

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Moscow

*Moscow. Master and Margarita, TheCapital of Russia around the time the Soviet Union is being formed. Appropriately, this novel about spiritual values opens at Patriarch’s Pond in Old Moscow, named after the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thereafter, the capital city combines recognizable topography from Moscow’s center–Spiridonovka Street, the Kiev Railway Station, the Aleksandrovsky Gardens, Skaterny Lane–with occasional arbitrary changes in street locations and other details. Ultimately, most facets of the Devil’s visit to the city reveal how communism under the Bolsheviks reduces its citizens to hypocrisy, bribery, blackmail, spying, and denunciation by thwarting their “normal desire to live a decent, human existence.”

Griboyedov house

Griboyedov house (gree-bo-YE-dof). Home of the literary organization MASSOLIT, apparently Mikhail Bulgakov’s version of an actual literary headquarters of the 1920’s-1930’s called Herzen House. Bureaucratic inequities, envy, and self-interest dominate the scene. MASSOLIT’s members enjoy such perks as summerhouses and fine meals at the gourmet restaurant.

Dramlit house

Dramlit house. Eight-floor dwelling trimmed with black marble and gold letters in which Margarita destroys the apartment of the unscrupulous critic who ruins the Master, a Soviet writer who has written a novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

Variety Theater

Variety Theater. Theater on Moscow’s Sadovaya Street that is the site of a magic spectacle hosted by the Devil and his crew to probe the audience’s spiritual state. The Devil concludes that modern Muscovites are ordinary humans, weak yet compassionate, whom the housing shortage has “soured.”

Devil’s headquarters

Devil’s headquarters. Apartment number 50 at 302A Sadovaya Street in Moscow that is initially a home shared by the MASSOLIT chairman and the manager of the Variety Theater. It becomes the Devil’s center of operations for tempting and testing Moscow inhabitants. As the site of visits from covetous citizens and of inexplicable disappearances, the apartment is central to Bulgakov’s satire of the Soviet housing shortage as well as of the secret arrests favored by dictator Joseph Stalin. In a crucial chapter, the Devil’s transformation of the apartment into the site for his annual ball (whose extravagance is possibly modeled on a ball given at the American embassy in Moscow in 1935) shows the ordinary dimensions of time and space yielding to cosmic infinity.

Bulgakov modeled the apartment on an actual housing block in Moscow in which he once lived with his wife.

From the roof of another building, described as the most beautiful in Moscow, the Devil surveys the city at sunset. This unnamed building can be identified as an eighteenth century mansion in downtown Moscow called Pashkov House. The Devil’s view includes the city’s “vast panorama of palaces, huge blocks of apartments and condemned slum dwellings.”

Stravinsky’s insane asylum

Stravinsky’s insane asylum. Famous psychiatric clinic in the suburbs, on the bank of the Moscow River, that becomes home to the Master after his breakdown. The asylum takes in the many characters smitten with a “mad” belief in the Devil’s presence.

*Pushkin statue

*Pushkin statue. Metal statue of Russia’s greatest writer, Alexander Pushkin, in Pushkin Square in the center of Moscow. There, Pushkin represents the quintessential artist in his defiance of censorship and his immortality through his work.

*Torgsin store

*Torgsin store. Store in Smolensk Market that is one of many nationwide stores carrying specialty items available only for hard cash (preferably in foreign currency), precious metals, or gems. There, as at Griboyedov’s, the restriction of such “luxury” edibles as chocolates, herring, and tangerines to the moneyed elite indicts communist socialism.

Master’s apartment

Master’s apartment. Humble two-room basement apartment near the Arbat in which the Master takes refuge before his arrest. Located off a square near one of Moscow’s most picturesque and bustling old streets, the lowly apartment with its garden full of lilacs, limes, and maple trees and its simple comforts represents the Master and Margarita’s benign withdrawal from society into art, love, and nature.

*Sparrow Hills

*Sparrow Hills. Site with a splendid view of Moscow from which the Devil and his crew ascend into eternity. As at Patriarch’s Pond and in other scenes, the city’s west windows glitter with fragmented sunset reflections that suggest the Devil’s refraction of God’s powers. This time the rainbow arching over the city further stresses nature’s link to the metaphysical world.

*Jerusalem

*Jerusalem. City in ancient Judaea that appears in the novel as Yershalaim–from the Aramaic language spoken alongside Greek and Latin in the ancient Middle East. Similarly, Judas’s town, Iscariot, becomes Kerioth. Bulgakov further demythologizes the holy city through his evocation of such mundane specifics as a bread store at the Hebron Gate, the Lower City’s labyrinthine streets, the acacia and myrtles trees growing in the Gethsemane fields, and the smell of leather and sweat filling the palace of Herod the Great. Although Bulgakov fantasizes Moscow while evoking Jerusalem realistically, he shows both cities oppressed by totalitarian systems that despise spirituality and thrive on deadly bureaucracy, spies, coercion, and violence.

Sources for Further StudyBarrat, Andrew. Between Two Worlds: A Critical Introduction to “The Master and Margarita.” Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1987. Astute examination of various interpretations dealing mainly with the Gnostic message and the appearance of the mysterious messenger Woland. Extensive select bibliography and index.Curtis, J. A. E. Bulgakov’s Last Decade: The Writer as Hero. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Study of Bulgakov’s literary profile. Contains a discussion of The Master and Margarita. Good bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Useful index.Ericson, Edward E. Lewiston. Apocalyptic Vision of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita.” New York: E. Mellen Press, 1991. Challenging interpretation of the apocalyptic aspect of the novel as its basic underpinning.Milne, Lesley, ed. Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright. Luxembourg: Harwood Academic, 1995. Collection of background articles, including one on The Master and Margarita. Illustrated, bibliography and index.Proffer, Ellendea. Bulgakov: Life and Work. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. Thorough biography covering all important aspects of Bulgakov’s life and works. The Master and Margarita is discussed at length.Weeks, Laura D., ed. Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996. Collection of articles by various authors, covering recent criticism, problems of genre and motif, apocalyptic and mythic aspects, letters and diaries, and others.Wright, Anthony Colin. Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978. Includes a solid treatment of The Master and Margarita. Good select bibliography.
Categories: Places