© Mikhail Bulgakov
© Translated from the russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
OCR: Scout
Spellcheck: Chaim Ash
Origin: "Master i Margarita"

This translation published in PENGUIN BOOKS 1997
OCR: Scout


A Note on the Text and Acknowledgements

Never Talk with Strangers
Pontius Pilate
The Seventh Proof
The Chase
There were Doings at Griboedov's
Schizophrenia, as was Said
A Naughty Apartment
The Combat between the Professor and the Poet
Koroviev's Stunts
News From Yalta
Ivan Splits in Two
Black Magic and Its Exposure
The Hero Enters
Glory to the Cock!
Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream
The Execution
An Unquiet Day
Hapless Visitors

Azazello's Cream
By Candlelight
The Great Ball at Satan's
The Extraction of the Master
How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Kiriath
The Burial
The End of Apartment No.50
The Last Adventures of Koroviev and Behemoth
The Fate of the Master and Margarita is Decided
It's Time! It's Time!
On Sparrow Hills
Forgiveness and Eternal Refuge


Mikhail Bulgakov worked on this luminous book throughout one of the
darkest decades of the century. His last revisions were dictated to his wife
a few weeks before his death in 1940 at the age of forty-nine. For him,
there was never any question of publishing the novel. The mere existence of
the manuscript, had it come to the knowledge of Stalin's police, would
almost certainly have led to the permanent disappearance of its author. Yet
the book was of great importance to him, and he clearly believed that a time
would come when it could be published. Another twenty-six years had to pass
before events bore out that belief and The Master and Margarita, by what
seems a surprising oversight in Soviet literary politics, finally appeared
in print. The effect was electrifying.
The monthly magazine Moskva, otherwise a rather cautious and quiet
publication, carried the first part of The Master and Margarita in its
November 1966 issue. The 150,000 copies sold out within hours. In the weeks
that followed, group readings were held, people meeting each other would
quote and compare favourite passages, there was talk of little else. Certain
sentences from the novel immediately became proverbial. The very language of
the novel was a contradiction of everything wooden, official, imposed. It
was a joy to speak.
When the second part appeared in the January 1967 issue of Moskva, it
was greeted with the same enthusiasm. Yet this was not the excitement caused
by the emergence of a new writer, as when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day
in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
appeared in the magazine Novy Mir in 1962.
Bulgakov was neither unknown nor forgotten. His plays had begun to be
revived in theatres during the late fifties and were published in 1962. His
superb Life of Monsieur de Moliere came out in that same year. His early
stories were reprinted. Then, in 1965, came the Theatrical Novel, based on
his years of experience with Stanislavsky's renowned Moscow Art Theatre. And
finally in 1966 a volume of Selected Prose was published, containing the
complete text of Bulgakov's first novel. The White Guard, written in the
twenties and dealing with nearly contemporary events of the Russian civil
war in his native Kiev and the Ukraine, a book which in its clear-sighted
portrayal of human courage and weakness ranks among the truest depictions of
war in all of literature.
Bulgakov was known well enough, then. But, outside a very small group,
the existence of The Master and Margarita was completely unsuspected. That
certainly accounts for some of the amazement caused by its publication. It
was thought that virtually all of Bulgakov had found its way into print. And
here was not some minor literary remains but a major novel, the author's
crowning work. Then there were the qualities of the novel itself-- its
formal originality, its devastating satire of Soviet life, and of Soviet
literary life in particular, its 'theatrical' rendering of the Great Terror
of the thirties, the audacity of its portrayal of Jesus Christ and Pontius
Pilate, not to mention Satan. But, above all, the novel breathed an air of
freedom, artistic and spiritual, which had become rare indeed, not only in
Soviet Russia. We sense it in the special tone of Bulgakov's writing, a
combination of laughter (satire, caricature, buffoonery) and the most
unguarded vulnerability. Two aphorisms detachable from the novel may suggest
something of the complex nature of this freedom and how it may have struck
the novel's first readers. One is the much-quoted 'Manuscripts don't burn',
which seems to express an absolute trust in the triumph of poetry,
imagination, the free word, over terror and oppression, and could thus
become a watchword of the intelligentsia. The publication of The Master and
was taken as a proof of the assertion. In fact, during a moment of
fear early in his work on the novel, Bulgakov did burn what he had written.
And yet, as we see, it refused to stay burned. This moment of fear, however,
brings me to the second aphorism - 'Cowardice is the most terrible of vices'
- which is repeated with slight variations several times in the novel. More
penetrating than the defiant 'Manuscripts don't burn', this word touched the
inner experience of generations of Russians. To portray that experience with
such candour required another sort of freedom and a love for something more
than 'culture'. Gratitude for such perfect expression of this other, deeper
freedom must surely have been part of the enthusiastic response of readers
to the novel's first appearance.
And then there was the sheer unlikeliness of its publication. By 1966
the 'thaw' that had followed Stalin's death was over and a new freeze was
coming. The hopes awakened by the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan
the first public acknowledgement of the existence of the Gulag,
had been disappointed. In 1964 came the notorious trial of the poet Joseph
Brodsky, and a year later the trial of the writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli
Daniel, both sentenced to terms in that same Gulag. Solzhenitsyn saw a new
Stalinization approaching, made worse by the terrible sense of repetition,
stagnation and helplessness. Such was the monotonously grim atmosphere of
the Brezhnev era. And in the midst of it there suddenly burst The Master and
not only an anomaly but an impossibility, a sort of cosmic error,
evidence of some hidden but fatal crack in the system of Soviet power.
People kept asking, how could they have let it happen?
Bulgakov began work on the first version of the novel early in 1929, or
possibly at the end of 1928. It was abandoned, taken up again, burned,
resurrected, recast and revised many times. It accompanied Bulgakov through
the period of greatest suffering for his people -- the period of forced
collectivization and the first five-year plan, which decimated Russia's
peasantry and destroyed her agriculture, the period of expansion of the
system of 'corrective labour camps', of the penetration of the secret police
into all areas of life, of the liquidation of the intelligentsia, of vast
party purges and the Moscow 'show trials'. In literature the same struggle
went on in miniature, and with the same results. Bulgakov was not arrested,
but by 1930 he found himself so far excluded that he could no longer publish
or produce his work. In an extraordinarily forthright letter to the central
government, he asked for permission to emigrate, since the hostility of the
literary powers made it impossible for him to live. If emigration was not
permitted, 'and if I am condemned to keep silent in the Soviet Union for the
rest of my days, then I ask the Soviet government to give me a job in my
speciality and assign me to a theatre as a titular director.' Stalin himself
answered this letter by telephone on 17 April, and shortly afterwards the
Moscow Art Theatre hired Bulgakov as an assistant director and literary
consultant. However, during the thirties only his stage adaptations of
Gogol's Dead Souls and Cervantes' Don Quixote were granted a normal run. His
own plays either were not staged at all or were quickly withdrawn, and his
Life of Monsieur de Moliere, written in 1932--5 for the collection Lives of
Illustrious Men, was rejected by the publisher. These circumstances are
everywhere present in The Master and Margarita, which was in part Bulgakov's
challenge to the rule of terror in literature. The successive stages of his
work on the novel, his changing evaluations of the nature of the book and
its characters, reflect events in his life and his deepening grasp of what
was at stake in the struggle. I will briefly sketch what the study of his
archives has made known of this process.
The novel in its definitive version is composed of two distinct but
interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient
Jerusalem (called Yershalaim). Its central characters are Woland (Satan) and
his retinue, the poet Ivan Homeless, Pontius Pilate, an unnamed writer known
as 'the master', and Margarita. The Pilate story is condensed into four
chapters and focused on four or five large-scale figures. The Moscow story
includes a whole array of minor characters. The Pilate story, which passes
through a succession of narrators, finally joins the Moscow story at the
end, when the fates of Pilate and the master are simultaneously decided. The
earliest version, narrated by a first-person 'chronicler' and entitled The
Engineer's Hoof,
was written in the first few months of 1929. It contained
no trace of Margarita and only a faint hint of the master in a minor
character representing the old intelligentsia. The Pilate story was confined
to a single chapter. This version included the essentials of the Moscow
satire, which afterwards underwent only minor revisions and rearrangements.
It began in much the same way as the definitive version, with a dialogue
between a people's poet and an editor (here of an anti-religious magazine.
The Godless) on the correct portrayal of Christ as an exploiter of the
proletariat. A stranger (Woland) appears and, surprised at their unbelief,
astounds them with an eyewitness account of Christ's crucifixion. This
account forms the second chapter, entitled 'The Gospel of Woland'.
Clearly, what first spurred Bulgakov to write the novel was his outrage
at the portrayals of Christ in Soviet anti-religious propaganda (The Godless
was an actual monthly magazine of atheism, published from 1922 to 1940). His
response was based on a simple reversal -- a vivid circumstantial narrative
of what was thought to be a 'myth' invented by the ruling class, and a
breaking down of the self-evident reality of Moscow life by the intrusion of
the 'stranger'. This device, fundamental to the novel, would be more fully
elaborated in its final form. Literary satire was also present from the
start. The fifth chapter of the definitive version, entitled There were
Doings at Griboedov's', already appeared intact in this earliest draft,
where it was entitled 'Mania Furibunda'. In May of 1929, Bulgakov sent this
chapter to a publisher, who rejected it. This was his only attempt to
publish anything from the novel.
The second version, from later in the same year, was a reworking of the
first four chapters, filling out certain episodes and adding the death of
Judas to the second chapter, which also began to detach itself from Woland
and become a more autonomous narrative. According to the author's wife,
Elena Sergeevna, Bulgakov partially destroyed these two versions in the
spring of 1930 -- 'threw them in the fire', in the writer's own words. What
survived were two large notebooks with many pages torn out. This was at the
height of the attacks on Bulgakov . in the press, the moment of his letter
to the government.
After that came some scattered notes in two notebooks, kept
intermittently over the next two years, which was a very difficult time for
Bulgakov. In the upper-right-hand corner of the second, he wrote:
'Lord, help me to finish my novel, 1931.' In a fragment of a later
chapter, entitled 'Woland's Flight', there is a reference to someone
addressed familiarly as ty, who is told that he 'will meet with Schubert and
clear mornings'. This is obviously the master, though he is not called so.
There is also the first mention of the name of Margarita. In Bulgakov's
mind, the main outlines of a new conception of the novel were evidently
already clear.
This new version he began to write in earnest in October of 1932,
during a visit to Leningrad with Elena Sergeevna, whom he had just married.
(The 'model' for Margarita, who had now entered the composition, she was
previously married to a high-ranking military official, who for some time
opposed her wish to leave him for the writer, leading Bulgakov to think he
would never see her again.) His wife was surprised that he could set to work
without having any notes or earlier drafts with him, but Bulgakov explained,
'I know it by heart.' He continued working, not without long interruptions,
until 1936. Various new tides occurred to him, all still referring to Satan
as the central figure -- The Great Chancellor, Satan, Here I Am, The Black
Theologian, He Has Come, The Hoofed Consultant.
As in the earliest version,
the time of the action is 24-- 5 June, the feast of St John, traditionally a
time of magic enchantments (later it was moved to the time of the spring
full moon). The nameless friend of Margarita is called 'Faust' in some
notes, though not in the text itself. He is also called 'the poet', and is
made the author of a novel which corresponds to the 'Gospel of Woland' from
the first drafts. This historical section is now broken up and moved to a
later place in the novel, coming closer to what would be the arrangement in
the final version.
Bulgakov laboured especially over the conclusion of the novel and what
reward to give the master. The ending appears for the first time in a
chapter entitled 'Last Flight', dating from July 1956. It differs little
from the final version. In it, however, the master is told explicitly and
The house on Sadovaya and the horrible Bosoy will vanish from your
memory, but with them will go Ha-Nozri and the forgiven hegemon. These
things are not for your spirit. You will never raise yourself higher, you
will not see Yeshua, you will never leave your refuge.
In an earlier note, Bulgakov had written even more tellingly: 'You will
not hear the liturgy. But you will listen to the romantics . . .' These
words, which do not appear in the definitive text, tell us how painfully
Bulgakov weighed the question of cowardice and guilt in considering the fate
of his hero, and how we should understand the ending of the final version.
They also indicate a thematic link between Pilate, the master, and the
author himself, connecting the historical and contemporary parts of the
In a brief reworking from 1936--7, Bulgakov brought the beginning of
the Pilate story back to the second chapter, where it would remain, and in
another reworking from 1937-8 he finally found the definitive tide for the
novel. In this version, the original narrator, a characterized 'chronicler',
is removed. The new narrator is that fluid voice -- moving freely from
detached observation to ironic double voicing, to the most personal
interjection - which is perhaps the finest achievement of Bulgakov's art.
The first typescript of The Master and Margarita, dating to 1958, was
dictated to the typist by Bulgakov from this last revision, with many
changes along the way. In 1939 he made further alterations in the
typescript, the most important of which concerns the fate of the hero and
heroine. In the last manuscript version, the fate of the master and
Margarita, announced to them by Woland, is to follow Pilate up the path of
moonlight to find Yeshua and peace. In the typescript, the fate of the
master, announced to Woland by Matthew Levi, speaking for Yeshua, is not to
follow Pilate but to go to his 'eternal refuge' with Margarita, in a rather
German-Romantic setting, with Schubert's music and blossoming cherry trees.
Asked by Woland, 'But why don't you take him with you into the light?' Levi
replies in a sorrowful voice, 'He does not deserve the light, he deserves
peace.' Bulgakov, still pondering the problem of the master's guilt (and his
own, for what he considered various compromises, including his work on a
play about Stalin's youth), went back to his notes and revisions from 1936,
but lightened their severity with an enigmatic irony. This was to be the
definitive resolution. Clearly, the master is not to be seen as a heroic
martyr for art or a 'Christ-figure'. Bulgakov's gentle irony is a warning
against the mistake, more common in our time than we might think, of
equating artistic mastery with a sort of saintliness, or, in Kierkegaard's
terms, of confusing the aesthetic with the ethical.
In the evolution of The Master and Margarita, the Moscow satire of
Woland and his retinue versus the literary powers and the imposed normality
of Soviet life in general is there from the first, and comes to involve the
master when he appears, acquiring details from the writer's own life and
with them a more personal tone alongside the bantering irreverence of the
demonic retinue. The Pilate story, on the other hand, the story of an act of
cowardice and an interrupted dialogue, gains in weight and independence as
Bulgakov's work progresses. From a single inset episode, it becomes the
centrepiece of the novel, setting off the contemporary events and serving as
their measure. In style and form it is a counterpoint to the rest of the
book. Finally, rather late in the process, the master and Margarita appear,
with Margarita coming to dominate the second part of the novel. Her story is
a romance in the old sense - the celebration of a beautiful woman, of a true
love, and of personal courage.
These three stories, in form as well as content, embrace virtually all
that was excluded from official Soviet ideology and its literature. But if
the confines of 'socialist realism' are utterly exploded, so are the
confines of more traditional novelistic realism. The Master and Margarita as
a whole is a consistently free verbal construction which, true to its own
premises, can re-create ancient Jerusalem in the smallest physical detail,
but can also alter the specifics of the New Testament and play variations on
its principal figures, can combine the realities of Moscow life with
witchcraft, vampirism, the tearing off and replacing of heads, can describe
for several pages the sensation of flight on a broomstick or the gathering
of the infamous dead at Satan's annual spring ball, can combine the most
acute sense of the fragility of human life with confidence in its
indestructibility. Bulgakov underscores the continuity of this verbal world
by having certain phrases -- 'Oh, gods, my gods', 'Bring me poison', 'Even
by moonlight I have no peace' -- migrate from one character to another, or
to the narrator. A more conspicuous case is the Pilate story itself,
successive parts of which are told by Woland, dreamed by the poet Homeless,
written by the master, and read by Margarita, while the whole preserves its
stylistic unity. Narrow notions of the 'imitation of reality' break down
here. But The Master and Margarita is true to the broader sense of the novel
as a freely developing form embodied in the works of Dostoevsky and Gogol,
of Swift and Sterne, of Cervantes, Rabelais and Apuleius. The mobile but
personal narrative voice of the novel, the closest model for which Bulgakov
may have found in Gogol's Dead Souls, is the perfect medium for this
continuous verbal construction. There is no multiplicity of narrators in the
novel. The voice is always the same. But it has unusual range, picking up,
parodying, or ironically undercutting the tones of the novel's many
characters, with undertones of lyric and epic poetry and old popular tales.
Bulgakov always loved clowning and agreed with E. T. A. Hoffmann that
irony and buffoonery are expressions of 'the deepest contemplation of life
in all its conditionality'. It is not by chance that his stage adaptations
of the comic masterpieces of Gogol and Cervantes coincided with the writing
of The Master and Margarita. Behind such specific 'influences' stands the
age-old tradition of folk humour with its carnivalized world-view, its
reversals and dethronings, its relativizing of worldly absolutes -- a
tradition that was the subject of a monumental study by Bulgakov's
countryman and contemporary Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin's Rabelais and His
which in its way was as much an explosion of Soviet reality as
Bulgakov's novel, appeared in 1965, a year before The Master and Margarita.
The coincidence was not lost on Russian readers. Commenting on it,
Bulgakov's wife noted that, while there had never been any direct link
between the two men, they were both responding to the same historical
situation from the same cultural basis.
Many observations from Bakhtin's study seem to be aimed directly at
Bulgakov's intentions, none more so than his comment on Rabelais's travesty
of the 'hidden meaning', the 'secret', the 'terrifying mysteries' of
religion, politics and economics: 'Laughter must liberate the gay truth of
the world from the veils of gloomy lies spun by the seriousness of fear,
suffering, and violence.' The settling of scores is also part of the
tradition of carnival laughter. Perhaps the most pure example is the
Testament of the poet Francois Villon, who in the liveliest verse handed out
appropriate 'legacies' to all his enemies, thus entering into tradition and
even earning himself a place in the fourth book of Rabelais's Gargantua and
So, too, Bakhtin says of Rabelais:
In his novel ... he uses the popular-festive system of images with its
charter of freedoms consecrated by many centuries; and he uses it to inflict
a severe punishment upon his foe, the Gothic age ... In this setting of
consecrated rights Rabelais attacks the fundamental dogmas and sacraments,
the holy of holies of medieval ideology.
And he comments further on the broad nature of this tradition:
For thousands of years the people have used these festive comic images
to express their criticism, their deep distrust of official truth, and their
highest hopes and aspirations. Freedom was not so much an exterior right as
it was the inner content of these images. It was the thousand-year-old
language of feariessness, a language with no reservations and omissions,
about the world and about power.
Bulgakov drew on this same source in settling his scores with the
custodians of official literature and official reality.
The novel's form excludes psychological analysis and historical
commentary. Hence the quickness and pungency of Bulgakov's writing. At the
same time, it allows Bulgakov to exploit all the theatricality of its great
scenes -- storms, flight, the attack of vampires, all the antics of the
demons Koroviev and Behemoth, the seance in the Variety theatre, the ball at
Satan's, but also the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, the crucifixion as
witnessed by Matthew Levi, the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of
Bulgakov's treatment of Gospel figures is the most controversial aspect
of The Master and Margarita and has met with the greatest incomprehension.
Yet his premises are made clear in the very first pages of the novel, in the
dialogue between Woland and the atheist Berlioz. By the deepest irony of
all, the 'prince of this world' stands as guarantor of the 'other' world. It
exists, since he exists. But he says nothing directly about it. Apart from
divine revelation, the only language able to speak of the 'other' world is
the language of parable. Of this language Kafka wrote, in his parable 'On
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and
of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says:
'Go over,' he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which
we could do anyhow if it was worth the trouble; he means some fabulous
yonder, something unknown to us, something, too, that he cannot designate
more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the least. All these
parables really set out to say simply that the incomprehensible is
incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to
struggle with every day: that is a different matter.
Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only
followed the parables, you yourselves would become parables and with that nd
of all your daily cares.
Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
The first said: You win.
The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
The first said: No, in reality. In parable you lose.
A similar dialogue lies at the heart of Bulgakov's novel. In it there
are those who belong to parable and those who belong to reality. There are
those who go over and those who do not. There are those who win in parable
and become parables themselves, and there are those who win in reality. But
this reality belongs to Woland. Its nature is made chillingly clear in the
brief scene when he and Margarita contemplate his special globe. Woland
'For instance, do you see this chunk of land, washed on one side by the
ocean? Look, it's filling with fire. A war has started there. If you look
closer, you'll see the details.'
Margarita leaned towards the globe and saw the little square of land
spread out, get painted in many colours, and turn as it were into a relief
map. And then she saw the little ribbon of a river, and some village near
it. A little house the size of a pea grew and became the size of a matchbox.
Suddenly and noiselessly the roof of this house flew up along with a cloud
of black smoke, and the walls collapsed, so that nothing was left of the
little two-storey box except a small heap with black smoke pouring from it.
Bringing her eye stffl closer, Margarita made out a small female figure
lying on the ground, and next to her, in a pool of blood, a little child
with outstretched arms.
That's it,' Woland said, smiling, 'he had no time to sin. Abaddon's
work is impeccable.'
When Margarita asks which side this Abaddon is on, Woland replies:
'He is of a rare impartiality and sympathizes equally with both sides
of the fight. Owing to that, the results are always the same for both
There are others who dispute Woland's claim to the power of this world.
They are absent or all but absent from The Master and Margarita. But the
reality of the world seems to be at their disposal, to be shaped by them and
to bear their imprint. Their names are Caesar and Stalin. Though absent in
person, they are omnipresent. Their imposed will has become the measure of
normality and self-evidence. In other words, the normality of this world is
imposed terror. And, as the story of Pilate shows, this is by no means a
twentieth-century phenomenon. Once terror is identified with the world, it
becomes invisible. Bulgakov's portrayal of Moscow under Stalin's terror is
remarkable precisely for its weightless, circus-like theatricality and lack
of pathos. It is a sub-stanceless reality, an empty suit writing at a desk.
The citizens have adjusted to it and learned to play along as they always
do. The mechanism of this forced adjustment is revealed in the chapter
recounting 'Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream', in which prison, denunciation and
betrayal become yet another theatre with a kindly and helpful master of
ceremonies. Berlioz, the comparatist, is the spokesman for this 'normal'
state of affairs, which is what makes his conversation with Woland so
interesting. In it he is confronted with another reality which he cannot
recognize. He becomes 'unexpectedly mortal'. In the story of Pilate,
however, a moment of recognition does come. It occurs during Pilate's
conversation with Yeshua, when he sees the wandering philosopher's head
float off and in its place the toothless head of the aged Tiberius Caesar.
This is the pivotal moment of the novel. Pilate breaks off his dialogue with
Yeshua, he does not 'go over', and afterwards must sit like a stone for two
thousand years waiting to continue their conversation.
Parable cuts through the normality of this world only at moments.
These moments are preceded by a sense of dread, or else by a
presentiment of something good. The first variation is Berlioz's meeting
with Woland. The second is Pilate's meeting with Yeshua. The third is the
'self-baptism' of the poet Ivan Homeless before he goes in pursuit of the
mysterious stranger. The fourth is the meeting of the master and Margarita.
These chance encounters have eternal consequences, depending on the response
of the person, who must act without foreknowledge and then becomes the
consequences of that action.
The touchstone character of the novel is Ivan Homeless, who is there at
the start, is radically changed by his encounters with Woland and the
master, becomes the latter's 'disciple' and continues his work, is present
at almost every turn of the novel's action, and appears finally in the
epilogue. He remains an uneasy inhabitant of 'normal' reality, as a
historian who 'knows everything', but each year, with the coming of the
spring full moon, he returns to the parable which for this world looks like
Richard Pevear

A Note on the Text and Acknowledgements
At his death, Bulgakov left The Master and Margarita in a slightly
unfinished state. It contains, for instance, certain inconsistencies - two
versions of the 'departure' of the master and Margarita, two versions of
Yeshua's entry into Yershalaim, two names for Yeshua's native town. His
final revisions, undertaken in October of 1939, broke off near the start of
Book Two. Later he dictated some additions to his wife, Elena Sergeevna,
notably the opening paragraph of Chapter 32 ('Gods, my gods! How sad the
evening earth!'). Shortly after his death in 1940, Elena Sergeevna made a
new typescript of the novel. In 1965, she prepared another typescript for
publication, which differs slightly from her 1940 text. This 1965 text was
published by Moskva in November 1966 and January 1967. However, the editors
of the magazine made cuts in it amounting to some sixty typed pages. These
cut portions immediately appeared in samizdat (unofficial Soviet
'self-publishing'), were published by Scherz Verlag in Switzerland in 1967,
and were then included in the Possev Verlag edition (Frankfurt-am-Main,
1969) and the YMCA-Press edition (Paris, 1969). In 1975 a new and now
complete edition came out in Russia, the result of a comparison of the
already published editions with materials in the Bulgakov archive. It
included additions and changes taken from written corrections on other
existing typescripts. The latest Russian edition (1990) has removed the most
important of those additions, bringing the text close once again to Elena
Sergeevna's 1965 typescript. Given the absence of a definitive authorial
text, this process of revision is virtually endless. However, it involves
changes that in most cases have little bearing for a translator.
The present translation has been made from the text of the original
magazine publication, based on Elena Sergeevna's 1965 typescript, with all
cuts restored as in the Possev and YMCA-Press editions. It is complete and
The translators wish to express their gratitude to M. 0. Chudakova for
her advice on the text and to Irina Kronrod for her help in preparing the
Further Reading.
R. P., L. V.

The Master and Margarita

'... who are you, then?'
'I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works
Goethe, Faust

    * BOOK ONE *

    CHAPTER 1. Never Talk with Strangers

At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the
Patriarch's Ponds. One of them, approximately forty years old, dressed in a
grey summer suit, was short, dark-haired, plump, bald, and carried his
respectable fedora hat in his hand. His neatly shaven face was adorned with
black horn-rimmed glasses of a supernatural size. The other, a
broad-shouldered young man with tousled reddish hair, his checkered cap
cocked back on his head, was wearing a cowboy shirt, wrinkled white trousers
and black sneakers.
The first was none other than Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, [2] editor
of a fat literary journal and chairman of the board of one of the major
Moscow literary associations, called Massolit [3] for short, and his young
companion was the poet Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyrev, who wrote under the
pseudonym of Homeless. [4]
Once in the shade of the barely greening lindens, the writers dashed
first thing to a brightly painted stand with the sign: `Beer and Soft
Ah, yes, note must be made of the first oddity of this dreadful May
evening. There was not a single person to be seen, not only by the stand,
but also along the whole walk parallel to Malaya Bronnaya Street. At that
hour when it seemed no longer possible to breathe, when the sun, having
scorched Moscow, was collapsing in a dry haze somewhere beyond Sadovoye
Ring, no one came under the lindens, no one sat on a bench, the walk was
'Give us seltzer,' Berlioz asked.
'There is no seltzer,' the woman in the stand said, and for some reason
became offended.
'Is there beer?' Homeless inquired in a rasping voice.
`Beer'll be delivered towards evening,' the woman replied.
'Then what is there?' asked Berlioz.
'Apricot soda, only warm,' said the woman.
'Well, let's have it, let's have it! ...'
The soda produced an abundance of yellow foam, and the air began to
smell of a barber-shop. Having finished drinking, the writers immediately
started to hiccup, paid, and sat down on a bench face to the pond and back
to Bronnaya.
Here the second oddity occurred, touching Berlioz alone. He suddenly
stopped hiccupping, his heart gave a thump and dropped away somewhere for an
instant, then came back, but with a blunt needle lodged in it. Besides that,
Berlioz was gripped by fear, groundless, yet so strong that he wanted to
flee the Ponds at once without looking back.
Berlioz looked around in anguish, not understanding what had frightened
him. He paled, wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, thought:
"What's the matter with me? This has never happened before. My heart's
acting up... I'm overworked... Maybe it's time to send it all to the devil
and go to Kislovodsk...'[5]
And here the sweltering air thickened before him, and a transparent
citizen of the strangest appearance wove himself out of it. A peaked
jockey's cap on his little head, a short checkered jacket also made of air.
... A citizen seven feet tall, but narrow in the shoulders,
unbelievably thin, and, kindly note, with a jeering physiognomy.
The life of Berlioz had taken such a course that he was unaccustomed to
extraordinary phenomena. Turning paler still, he goggled his eyes and
thought in consternation:
'This can't be! ...'
But, alas, it was, and the long, see-through citizen was swaying before
him to the left and to the right without touching the ground.
Here terror took such possession of Berlioz that he shut his eyes. When
he opened them again, he saw that it was all over, the phantasm had
dissolved, the checkered one had vanished, and with that the blunt needle
had popped out of his heart.
'Pah, the devil!' exclaimed the editor. 'You know, Ivan, I nearly had
heat stroke just now! There was even something like a hallucination...' He
attempted to smile, but alarm still jumped in his eyes and his hands
trembled. However, he gradually calmed down, fanned himself with his
handkerchief and, having said rather cheerfully: 'Well, and so...' went on
with the conversation interrupted by their soda-drinking.
This conversation, as was learned afterwards, was about Jesus Christ.
The thing was that the editor had commissioned from the poet a long
anti-religious poem for the next issue of his journal. Ivan Nikolaevich had
written this poem, and in a very short time, but unfortunately the editor
was not at all satisfied with it. Homeless had portrayed the main character
of his poem - that is, Jesus - in very dark colours, but nevertheless the
whole poem, in the editor's opinion, had to be written over again. And so
the editor was now giving the poet something of a lecture on Jesus, with the
aim of underscoring the poet's essential error.
It is hard to say what precisely had let Ivan Nikolaevich down - the
descriptive powers of his talent or a total unfamiliarity with the question
he was writing about - but his Jesus came out, well, completely alive, the
once-existing Jesus, though, true, a Jesus furnished with all negative
Now, Berlioz wanted to prove to the poet that the main thing was not
how Jesus was, good or bad, but that this same Jesus, as a person, simply
never existed in the world, and all the stories about him were mere fiction,
the most ordinary mythology.
It must be noted that the editor was a well-read man and in his
conversation very skillfully pointed to ancient historians - for instance,
the famous Philo of Alexandria [6] and the brilliantly educated Flavius
Josephus [7] - who never said a word about the existence of Jesus.
Displaying a solid erudition, Mikhail Alexandrovich also informed the poet,
among other things, that the passage in the fifteenth book of Tacitus's
famous Annals [8], the forty-fourth chapter, where mention is made of the
execution of Jesus, was nothing but a later spurious interpolation.
The poet, for whom everything the editor was telling him was new,
listened attentively to Mikhail Alexandrovich, fixing his pert green eyes on
him, and merely hiccupped from time to time, cursing the apricot soda under
his breath.
There's not a single Eastern religion,' Berlioz was saying, 'in which,
as a rule, an immaculate virgin did not give birth to a god. And in just the
same way, without inventing anything new, the Christians created their
Jesus, who in fact never lived. It's on this that the main emphasis should
be placed...'
Berlioz's high tenor rang out in the deserted walk, and as Mikhail
Alexandrovich went deeper into the maze, which only a highly educated man
can go into without risking a broken neck, the poet learned more and more
interesting and useful things about the Egyptian Osiris, [9] a benevolent
god and the son of Heaven and Earth, and about the Phoenician god Tammoz,
[10] and about Marduk, [11] and even about a lesser known, terrible god,
Vitzliputzli,'[12] once greatly venerated by the Aztecs in Mexico. And just
at the moment when Mikhail Alexandrovich was telling the poet how the Aztecs
used to fashion figurines of Vitzli-putzli out of dough - the first man
appeared in the walk.
Afterwards, when, frankly speaking, it was already too late, various
institutions presented reports describing this man. A comparison of them
cannot but cause amazement. Thus, the first of them said that the man was
short, had gold teeth, and limped on his right leg. The second, that the man
was enormously tall, had platinum crowns, and limped on his left leg. The
third laconically averred that the man had no distinguishing marks. It must
be acknowledged that none of these reports is of any value.
First of all, the man described did not limp on any leg, and was
neither short nor enormous, but simply tall. As for his teeth, he had
platinum crowns on the left side and gold on the right. He was wearing an
expensive grey suit and imported shoes of a matching colour. His grey beret
was cocked rakishly over one ear; under his arm he carried a stick with a
black knob shaped like a poodle's head. [13] He looked to be a little over
forty. Mouth somehow twisted. Clean-shaven. Dark-haired. Right eye black,
left - for some reason - green. Dark eyebrows, but one higher than the
other. In short, a foreigner. [14]
Having passed by the bench on which the editor and the poet were
placed, the foreigner gave them a sidelong look, stopped, and suddenly sat
down on the next bench, two steps away from the friends.
`A German...' thought Berlioz. `An Englishman...' thought Homeless.
'My, he must be hot in those gloves.'
And the foreigner gazed around at the tall buildings that rectangularly
framed the pond, making it obvious that he was seeing the place for the
first time and that it interested him. He rested his glance on the upper
floors, where the glass dazzlingly reflected the broken-up sun which was for
ever departing from Mikhail Alexandrovich, then shifted it lower down to
where the windows were beginning to darken before evening, smiled
condescendingly at something, narrowed his eves, put his hands on the knob
and his chin on his hands.
'For instance, Ivan,' Berlioz was saying, `you portrayed the birth of
Jesus, the son of God, very well and satirically, but the gist of it is that
a whole series of sons of God were born before Jesus, like, say, the
Phoenician Adonis, [15] the Phrygian Atris, [16] the Persian Mithras. [17]
And, to put it briefly, not one of them was born or ever existed, Jesus
included, and what's necessary is that, instead of portraying his birth or,
suppose, the coming of the Magi,'[18] you portray the absurd rumours of
their coming. Otherwise it follows from your story that he really was born!
Here Homeless made an attempt to stop his painful hiccupping by holding
his breath, which caused him to hiccup more painfully and loudly, and at
that same moment Berlioz interrupted his speech, because the foreigner
suddenly got up and walked towards the writers. They looked at him in
'Excuse me, please,' the approaching man began speaking, with a foreign
accent but without distorting the words, 'if, not being your acquaintance, I
allow myself... but the subject of your learned conversation is so
interesting that...'
Here he politely took off his beret and the friends had nothing left
but to stand up and make their bows.
'No, rather a Frenchman ....' thought Berlioz.
'A Pole? ...' thought Homeless.
It must be added that from his first words the foreigner made a
repellent impression on the poet, but Berlioz rather liked him - that is,
not liked but ... how to put it ... was interested, or whatever.
'May I sit down?' the foreigner asked politely, and the friends somehow
involuntarily moved apart; the foreigner adroitly sat down between them and
at once entered into the conversation:
'Unless I heard wrong, you were pleased to say that Jesus never
existed?' the foreigner asked, turning his green left eye to Berlioz.
'No, you did not hear wrong,' Berlioz replied courteously, 'that is
precisely what I was saying.'
'Ah, how interesting!' exclaimed the foreigner.
'What the devil does he want?' thought Homeless, frowning.
'And you were agreeing with your interlocutor?' inquired the stranger,
turning to Homeless on his right.
'A hundred per cent!' confirmed the man, who was fond of whimsical and
figurative expressions.