Manuscripts Don't Burn: Bulgakov As the Soviet Artist, Western Readers, and the Struggle for the Master and Margarita
Gardin, Russel A., Jr.
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The thesis, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Soviet Novelists, Western Readers, and the Struggle for Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita,” argues that Mikhail Bulgakov’s final novel, The Master and Margarita, depicts the moral failures and abuses by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet government in the early 20th century in greater detail than initially believed. The thesis also argues that The Master and Margarita can be read not only as a period piece commentary but autobiographical to a significant degree, recapitulating myriad events both witnessed by and inflicted on Mikhail Bulgakov. To understand why a book shrouded in mysticism and the fantastic would be withheld for the public for multiple decades, observers must look back to the Soviet system of censorship and Bulgakov’s experience with it. Bulgakov, through unusual working relationships with officials, including Stalin, and an inability to succumb to pressures by the government to cease writing, injected his final novel with themes mirroring some of the most difficult moments in the author’s life. The thesis also takes a look at a selected number of Bulgakov’s earlier works to demonstrate how his dealings with the Soviet government and artistic censorship committees alternated between positive and negative—and how he provoked the powers that be when relations soured. Finally, this thesis, using The Master and Margarita as the case study, analyzes the accessibility, reception, and historical legacy of Bulgakov’s work to explain what lessons were learned in the Western world about Soviet literature and society and how these processes evolved through dramatic changes—and an eventual collapse of the system of government.