The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov discussion

The Master and Margarita
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Historical and Cultural Background

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Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
This thread is a place to ask questions, post resources, and discuss the historical and cultural background to The Master and Margarita.


message 2: by Kris (last edited Aug 20, 2012 07:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
I asked Nataliya to give us some recommended readings for anyone who'd like to explore the historical, social, and cultural context around TM&M. Here's what she wrote:

"Bulgakov's own Heart of a Dog is excellent in providing more context for the young 'Soviet Revolutionary State'. Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya (a daughter of a renowned Soviet writer, by the way) gives a perspective of an ordinary Soviet woman on the paranoia and Purges, giving us the viewpoint of someone who really does not understand what is going on. Evgenia Ginsburg's Journey into the Whirlwind is a good 'context' book as well. And, of course, anything by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn will be excellent for context as well. "

Thanks so much, Nataliya!


Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 22 comments OMG, not /the briar patch/ more books! No!


Mikki | 43 comments Ooh, good choices. I've just ordered Heart of a Dog as it's a quick read and seems to be closer in tone to TM&M. Thanks!


message 6: by Kris (last edited Aug 21, 2012 08:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
I just found a good article: Stephen Lovell, "Bulgakov as Soviet Culture," The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 76, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 28-48. If any of you are interested in it, please send me your email address in a PM.

BTW, I am about to cross-post this under censorship and general resources threads.


Mike (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2 comments For historical context, I recommend Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Currently making my way through it--S-L-O-W-L-Y. An excellent resource.


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
That looks great - thanks Mike!

I am about to check out the following two books: Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s and The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia. Figes also wrote Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia. (See Moonbutterfly's review.)

I also just found and downloaded a PDF of a journal article by Orlando Figes - "Private Life in Stalin's Russia: Family Narratives, Memory and Oral History," History Workshop Journal , No. 65 (Spring, 2008), pp. 117-137. Once again, if anyone wants to see the Figes article, PM me your email address and I'll send it over.


Aloha | 51 comments I have Natasha's Dance. It loolks great!


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
Aloha wrote: "I have Natasha's Dance. It loolks great!"

Doesn't it? I have a copy sitting here, staring at me. I can tell it's the kind of book that leads you to add another 100 books to your to-read shelf.....


Mikki | 43 comments Kris, I'll be starting the book on Saturday and would love for you to send the article! I'll send a PM.


Jason (ancatdubh2) | 63 comments Is anyone reading through the commentary section at the end of the novel (I'm reading the B/O version; it starts on page 337) as they're reading the text? I started to do that but found it distracting and not entirely necessary, I think? Especially as they are just general comments, not anything relating specifically to footnoted items (i.e. they are not endnotes). I think I shall skip it.


Mikki | 43 comments Hi Jason, I was planning on reading the commentary in tandem with each chapter, but then was afraid that the flipping back and forth might take me out of the story or be distracting as you say. I'll test it out when I begin reading tonight. Do you find that you're still able to understand the cultural and historical references without them?


Jason (ancatdubh2) | 63 comments I'm probably missing some historical references, but so far I don't really find that it's interfered with understanding the text itself. I'm okay with missing references here or there (provided they are not directly relevant), but that's just me.


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
I read with the notes, but I don't think there is anything there that you absolutely need to know to understand the novel. BTW, the Afterword is excellent.


Jim (Neurprof58) | 54 comments Kris wrote: "I read with the notes, but I don't think there is anything there that you absolutely need to know to understand the novel. BTW, the Afterword is excellent."

I agree with Kris. For a first reading, I think most will enjoy the book more without the notes. But the Afterword is outstanding, and you might want to dip into it now and then as you read. Lots of great perspectives on the author and his life and times, as well as his bag of magic tricks as a storyteller. It is a really remarkable story.

This is my second reading, and I have started by reading all of the notes and the Afterword. Both are very valuable for me to get a lot more of the depth and nuance from my second reading. But I only glanced at the notes for my first reading, and was completely mesmerized by the book anyway. I didn't want anything distracting me from that story at that point, and it worked out really well!


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
Mark was asking me some really good questions about some of the aspects of Soviet society that the satirical elements in TM&M were based on. (view spoiler)


message 18: by Kris (last edited Aug 31, 2012 04:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
I have two interesting articles that discuss the relationship between music and TM&M: Ksana Blank, "Bulgakov's Master and Margarita and the Music of Igor Stravinskii" and David Lowe's "Gounod's Faust and Bulgakov's TM&M." If any of you are interested, let me know (and please send me your email in a PM if you haven't done so already for other articles).


message 19: by Kris (last edited Aug 31, 2012 04:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
Archived story & interview from NPR's Weekend Edition on Orlando Figes' research into informers in Stalin's Russia (at the time his book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia was published). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...
There is also an excerpt from the book.


message 21: by Mikki (last edited Aug 31, 2012 04:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mikki | 43 comments Jim wrote: "For a first reading, I think most will enjoy the book more without the notes. But the Afterword is outstanding, and you might want to dip into it now and then as you read."

Thank you, it sounds as if everyone is in agreement. Like Jason, I'll read through without notes as much as possible. I'm sure that any questions that come up will be answered in the discussion.

Kris, I'd be interested in reading the articles. Do you still have my email address?


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
Mikki wrote: "Kris, I'd be interested in reading the articles. Do you still have my email address?"

Absolutely! Sending them now.


Jim (Neurprof58) | 54 comments Mikki wrote: "Jim wrote: "For a first reading, I think most will enjoy the book more without the notes..."

Thank you, it sounds as if everyone is in agreement. Like Jason, I'll read through without notes as much as possible. I'm sure that any questions that come up will be answered in the discussion. "


Very welcome, Mikki, and I am looking forward to the discussion!


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
MB, I just bought Gulag Archipelago -- I had been meaning to for a while, and you spurred me into action. I have Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar as well - I've heard great things about it from Mike Sullivan and Brian Dice. Bloodlands seems interesting, too....

I will second your request for book recommendations on the Russian Revolution.


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
Moonbutterfly wrote: "Excellent. I always see the Gulag Archipelago classified as fiction in several bookstores in my area. It's a curious thing. "

That is just odd. Do they think that since Solzhenitsyn also wrote fiction, anything he wrote automatically is fiction? It reminds me of one of my pet peeves - when people call any book, including works of non-fiction, a novel. Makes me crazy.


Kris (krisrabberman) | 313 comments Mod
It's really sad, that's what that is.


Mark (pericles) | 3 comments Two books on the Russian revolution that I read a number of years ago and found fascinating were Alexander Kerensky's 'The Crucifixion of liberty' but that is undoubtedly out of print as my copy is an edition printed in 1934 but it gives an account which, obviously, is very partisan but fascinating just the same.

the other is Alan Moorehead's 'The Russian Revolution'. Again written in the 50's but interesting because of his outlook. It deals simply with the revolution of 1917, though it gives the background and actions that led up to the event itself there is no atempt to look beyond


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