The Master and Margarita has been a focus of literary scholars and critics ever since its initial publication in 1966 and 1967 in the literary journal Moskva
. Bulgakov's work, with its parallel story lines in Moscow and Jerusalem (or Yershalaim), lends itself to a multitude of critical readings and responses. For readers new to the novel, Laura Weeks' The Master and Margarita: A Critical Companion is an excellent introduction to the many schools of criticism that have formed around The Master and Margarita
In her lengthy introduction to the volume, Weeks provides a useful overview of the critical reception of The Master and Margarita
, both at the time of its initial publication and after. She begins with a history of the writing of the novel, which spanned 12 years, from 1928 until Bulgakov's death in 1940. Her careful overview of this history of writing and revision is helpful in understanding the complicated publication history of the novel, which in turn readers must understand to make informed decisions about which translation to read.
Weeks hits her stride in the heart of her introduction, where she provides an excellent overview of critics' and scholars' main approaches to unlocking the meanings of The Master and Margarita
. She addresses the attempts of some scholars to find one approach that will unlock all the mysteries of the novel, including attempts to read the entire novel as a coded representation of specific individuals living in Moscow, an approach which set some scholars laboriously to tracing connections between characters in The Master and Margarita
and historical figures. Weeks advocates a more complex and nuanced reading of the novel, one which incorporates different interpretive angles to recognize the many different themes and influences that Bulgakov masterfully made his own. Weeks identifies the following approaches as particularly representative of this criticism: the novel as carnival, following Bakhtin's work; the novel as Menippean satire, a mixture of contradictory elements creating an atmosphere of disjointed reality that lends itself to social and political satire; the novel as political allegory; the novel as Faustian parody; and the novel as miraculous fairy tale. Weeks also devotes time to discussing theological frameworks of interpretation, focusing not only on Christian frameworks, but also on Gnostic and Manichaean readings that provide fascinating insights into Bulgakov's representations of good and evil.
Armed with this framework, the reader can move on to Part Two of this volume, comprised of eight excerpts and articles that serve as excellent examples of the critical approaches that Weeks introduced in Part One. Highlights included V. Lakshin's early article, "M. Bulgakov's Novel The Master and Margarita
," Andrew Barratt's overview of recent criticism, and Ellendea Proffer's "Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
: Genre and Motif." I also enjoyed the excerpt from David Bethea's monograph tracing apocalyptic imagery and themes, and Edythe C. Haber's brief piece, "The Mythic Structure of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
." The volume concludes with Part Three, comprised of some primary texts, including a restoration of an earlier version of The Master and Margarita
's Chapter 5, and excerpts from Bulgakov's correspondence and his wife's diaries. There is also a helpful note on translations, and a brief annotated bibliography of major works of criticism written in English.
This one volume does not purport to provide an exhaustive examination of all the critical texts written about The Master and Margarita
. Instead, it provides an excellent foundation for additional exploration. I was grateful to have this roadmap to guide me through the thickets of criticism on The Master and Margarita