Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Master and Margarita : An exercise in interpretation 3

Don't click away!

This delightful illustration might be mistaken for one of the "Petty Girls" artworks on a 1940 calendar, drawn by master George Petty himself but it is not. It does, and very accurately so, represent a scene from Bulgakov's book "The Master and Margarita".

What a joy to view this marvellous drawing. See how elated the two girls look!
On the background with a phallic broom firmly sticking out between her thighs is Margarita. She is waving, beckoning us for a closer look. (Click on the picture for a closer look!) The blond girl enjoying the bristles of the swine against her bare bottom is her housemaid Natasha. She clearly enjoys her ride on the bewildered pig who appears to be Nikolay Ivanovitch, her downstairs neighbour! Both girls are happy and feeling wild. Azazello’s cream has freed these beautiful witches, one from a marriage and her boring lover, the other from her servitude. Nikolay unfortunately has turned into a pig. But he too should be happy because he has been freed from a nagging wife and a boring existence.

For all three it is the happiest moment of their life. The tragedy is that two of them do not realize it and will forsake this moment of bliss and suffer for it.

Let's start with Margarita. She is at first introduced to us through the narration of the Master. He paints a rather platonic image of her. She is described as being kind, tender and taking motherly care of the Master.
But is she really this mother figure or is this how the (let’s face it) boring Master sees her? There is according to me a darker side to her, an aspect of his beloved, the Master does not know. She is after all, from the moment she starts an affair with him an adulterer living a life of lying and deceit.

We have to wait till the second part of the book to be introduced to her in a proper way. And lo and behold! From the moment, the Master disappears, after just three chapters, some hesitation at being summoned like a prostitute to the apartment of a stranger and the help of a magic rich yellowish cream from a glittering golden box, the real Margarita is unleashed and turned into the wild vixen she really is. She undresses, flies off with a broom between her legs and runs naked for nearly the whole second part of the book, Satan’s Spring ball and all, until, yes, you guessed it, she is reunited with the Master. From that moment she turns again into a Saintly mother Theresa look-alike and she chooses a romantic death united-forever à la Romeo and Juliette with her boring beau.Why this choice? Some critics, like the self-willed Ukrainian polemicist Alfred Nikolayevitch Barkov argue that Margarita actually spies on the Master and then turns him over to Stalinist authorities. There is after all one nasty little sentence on page 148 of the Penguin edition which is whispered and suggestive: “A quarter of an hour after she left me, there came a knock at my window…”If this is the case, then her choice of dying with her lover might serve as redemption for her terrible crime.

Another possibility might be that Bulgakov simply is not allowed to choose a life of diabolic debauchery for his Margarita. Too many of Bulgakov lovers and wives have been looking over his shoulder while he was writing and influenced the shape and the actions of the Master’s mistress. I can for instance very easily picture wife nr. 3 sulking on her bed, after proofreading, because poor Bulgakov’s Margarita still looks or acts too much like wife nr.2. I am afraid that the women in Bulgakov’s life had too much too say in the characterization of Margarita and that therefore she becomes a hotchpotch of characters ( Saint, Mother, Lover, Witch and Whore) instead of the well defined vixen she was planned to be.

Now let’s turn to Nikolay Ivanovitch, the neighbour of Margarita and Natasha dragged against his will into this adventure. We suspect that he secretly has been fantasizing about and spying on these two beautiful women. And they know it and they enjoy it. As soon as Margarita hears his steps coming home, she teases him sitting naked on the windowsill. No wonder this serious burgher man is stunned and collapses in awe. When Margarita has flown away, he rushes to gorgeous Natasha and makes her decent and indecent proposals. Poor Nikolay, naming his girl Venus, Queen or Princess is to no avail.Strange enough, the magical ointment that had such a positive effect on the two women, turns Nikolay instantly into a Pig. Probably this happens because the magical ointment was smeared on him by Natasha and not done by himself. And the cream turns you into what the user thinks about you. But this transformation is not as bad as it looks. Because being a hog mounted by a gorgeous naked babe riding trough the Russian night sky will turn out to be the most exciting moment of Nikolay’s life. Unfortunately at the moment he has to decide his future he does not have the guts to follow his Princess and he will forever regret that he has asked the Devil a return to his “normal life”.

Finally there is lovely Natasha.For me in the end, she is the real heroine and she becomes what Margarita could have been. Only Natasha chooses too remain a witch. Only Natasha, the housekeeper, seems to have understood that her newly gained life was a guarantee for eternal youth, fun and freedom. She grasps this unique opportunity with both hands and lives happy ever after!

Well done girl!