The Master and the Margarita

The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Introduced by Marijana Dworski

‘Mikhail Bulgakov’s current reputation as a major 20th-century European writer is posthumous. The story of Bulgakov’s reception illustrates the tragedy of Russian culture in the post-revolutionary period.’ (Cornwell, 1998).  

Bulgakov’s last great and most celebrated novel The Master and Margarita was started in 1928, going through many variants and revisions, and was still not prepared for publication by the time of Bulgakov’s death in 1940 (he burned the first manuscript in despair in 1930). This, combined with the fact that early official editions in the Soviet Union were highly censored, meant that it was some time before a definitive version of the text could be established.

Despite a puzzling text due to the many cuts, the first appearance of Ма́стер и Маргари́та, in issues of the journal Moskva Москва (1966, 67), caused a sensation amongst the Russian literary intelligentsia. The sections cut out of the first edition soon made an appearance in samizdat versions within Russia and abroad.

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YMCA, Paris, 1968

The emigré publishers YMCA in Paris published one version in 1968 and Posev, publishers in Frankfurt published a fuller text using samizdat inserts in 1969.

The Master and Margarita was quickly translated into English and other languages. A first English translation by Mirra Ginsburg and published in 1967, was taken from the censored version of the novel, whereas Michael Glenny’s translation, published in the same year, is of a fuller text obtained through personal contacts.

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