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  1. I finally just started reading this and it seems very much like an "Arts & Faith" type novel. At least it is a story of the sort that we do seem to often discuss around here. Who else has read it? What's your opinion on it? Becky Crook, “Mystery and Mayhem: Reading Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita While Dating an Atheist in Seattle,” The Other Journal, May 5, 2008: ... Eliminating mystery from our cultural vocabulary allows us only to talk about half of what is real—the observable half. The other elements of our lives, hearts, world, spirit, and community become unspeakable and therefore also unrecognizable, for an idea is only actively meaningful inasmuch as it can be expressed and shared (through language, music, art, for example). The amputation of mystery from our language and conversations leaves a vacuum, a notable void, and our words of science and reason—which should rightly be used in tandem to enhance and to challenge fruitfully the discourse of those mysterious and unknowable things—are left instead trying to fill a space that science has neither the capacity nor the purpose to fill. Using science to describe the spiritual realm is like “dancing about architecture.” Such attempts (known as “scientism”) to inhabit the sphere of mystery and wonder with fact and logic, result in empty, plaster words .... Clearly, in Bulgakov’s topsy-turvy narrative, no one is less in control than those who think they have it all figured out—these unfortunate characters are met with beheadings, transfigurations, unreasonable instantaneous transportations, frauds, scams, disappearances, beatings, jailings, and the quite-popular admittance to the insane asylum. Woland seems intent to disrupt every notion of order. Yet in a strange paradox of the novel, all of the Devil’s attempts to stir up evil and disbelief somehow have the opposite effect, creating instead magic, beauty, and redemption. The reader, if she is a spiritual person, is left to wonder about her own certainty that it is in fact the Devil who has appeared in Moscow, or whether it is some kind of mischievous manifestation of God—a sheep in wolf’s clothing in a pen whose shepherds don’t believe in the existence of sheep or wolves—who delights in turning all of our notions on their head. Or, alternatively, is Bulgakov remarking upon the ability of the divine ultimately to fashion hope and goodness from disbelief and evil? God only knows! ... Laura D. Weeks, The Master & Margarita: A Critical Companion, 1996: ... The writing of the Master and Margarita was a long and tortuous process that occupied Bulgakov for roughly twelve years, from 1928 until his death in March 1940. The process began very simply: Proffer records a remark Bulgakov made to his close friend Popov sometime in 1926, that if his mother served as the impetus for the creation of the novel The White Guard, the figure of his father would be the starting point for another work he now had in mind. His friend Pavel Markov records a comment Bulgakov made in a different context, namely, that he was obsessed with the enigma of the Passion story. By 1928 he had put down in a notebook fifteen chapters that followed more or less the sequence of events in the novel as we now know it. A poet and an editor meet at Patriarchs’ Ponds to discuss the former’s antireligious poema, or long narrative poem. They are joined by a mysterious stranger, who gives his own version of the Passion story ... The poet tries to warn his brothers-in-literature that the devil has appeared in Moscow, for which he is promptly sequestered in a psychiatric clinic. The mysterious stranger proceeds to give a performance at the Variety Theater, where he wreaks havoc among both audience and staff ... When The Master and Margarita first appeared in print, critics were at a loss to define it in terms of genre. Here, it seemed, was something of a completely new and unrealized form, not cut from whole cloth but pieced together from a variety of familiar genres - satire, romance, fantastic realism in the manner of E.T.A. Hoffmann, fragments of a conventional historical novel. One solution, which was suggested by the carnival atmosphere of the Moscow chapters, was to characterize the novel as a carnival, using the definition worked out by the Russian formalist critic Mikhail Bakhtin. The genesis for his definition was the medieval mystery plays given on church feast days and invariably accompanied by an atmosphere of horseplay, crude humor, farce, and revelry. The collision of the eternal (the Passion story, often presented in starkly realistic detail) and the ephemeral allowed carnival goers to air their social and economic grievances and, most important, to set the prevailing social and moral order on its head. The analogy between this ritual and Bulgakov’s novel, where the Passion story is set off by the antics of Korov’ev and Behemoth, hardly needs to be spelled out ... Each of the main protagonists bears an enormous semantic load of Christian iconography, much of it derived from the Russian Orthodox tradition. This is especially true for Margarita. To begin with the purely Russian context, she is a classic example of the strong woman from Russian ninteenth-century literature. The strong woman is a heroine like Turgenev’s Elena (On the Eve) or Tolstoy’s Natasha (War and Peace) - a woman stronger than the man she loves, a woman dominated by emotion, full of purpose and direction, and characterized by a quality of wholeness ... Russian Orthodox iconography never concentrated on the aesthetic appeal of the adolescent Virgin Mary, but rather on Mary’s celestial role as Queen of the Universe and her more compassionate role as Mother of God. These are, in fact, the roles Margarita is called on to fill. She is Queen Margot to Woland and Company (an oblique allusion to her being a descendent of Queen Marguerite de Valois, wife of Henry IV of France ... Bezodomny is also a parody of the Russian tradition of “iurodivy” or “fools in Christ.” These “holy fools,” as they are sometimes called, are traditionally homeless “half-wits” who dress poorly and survive on charity. Symbolically, they represent man at his furthest remove from God (man having renounced reason of his own free will) and at his closest to Christ (man having taken on the humiliation and suffering that falls to such vagrants). In Russian literature, such fools have often been a marvelous medium for speaking the truth ... News reports from 2011 say that Caroline Thompson (scriptwriter for Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride) was writing a screenplay adaptation of this, but I haven't found any recent news on whether it was ever finished.
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