Let’s pause for a moment and wish a very happy 154th birthday to my girl Ada Leverson! She was a friend of Oscar Wilde’s. He adored her and called her “darling Sphinx,” and when he went to jail and such, she stayed his faithful and stalwart friend. Which not that many people did. Wonderful Sphinx!
Anyway. Onward. This segment of the Master and Margarita readalong featured a magic show, so if you think that you are going to escape this post without plenty of Arrested Development gifs, you have seriously misunderstood who I am as a person.
First up, we get a bunch more of what I presume is satire relating to the housing situation in Soviet Moscow. It’s probably very cutting, I would have no way of knowing.1 Woland and his pince-nez-wearing friend use bribery and wickedness to gain access to the full apartment that previously belonged to Berlioz (now dead from decapitation) and Styopa (in Yalta), then shop the landlord to the authorities for receiving foreign currency. Non-devil-adjacent characters continue to be furious that the glass in the dude’s pince-nez is broken, and can I just say, I appreciate that. Sometimes in Russian novels characters will fixate on small details and FREAK THE FUCK OUT about them and I’m like “Jesus, chill out, it doesn’t matter,” but in this case I endorse the rage. You are the devil’s right hand-man, bro, replace your pince-nez.
Next, the theater where Styopa (in Yalta) was working wants to know where he is. They cannot find him. Once again, a character (Varenukha, the theater manager where Woland is going to do his magic show) finds that asking too many questions about what the devil is up to leads to heartache. The theater guy who does not ask too many questions (Rimsky) gets a satisfactory explanation for Styopa’s disappearance and a baller stage show, and the theater guy who does ask too many questions (again, Varenukha)2 passed out after encountering a slightly-on-fire-sounding naked chick.
Okay, she’s not that on fire. She just has, like, fiery eyes or something. I suspect her also of being a dementor, because the next time we see Varenukha he is dead behind the eyes and keeps repeating the devil’s lie about what happened to Styopa. Sorry, Varenukha! Sorry you got your soul sucked out by a naked lady with fire eyes! Shouldn’t have asked so many questions!
(Honestly, even if he hadn’t, he’d probably have come to a bad end. The landlord above barely did anything, and he still got taken up by the police and shipped off to the mental institution where Bezdomny/Homeless is spending his days.)
There’s also a chapter where Bezdomny/Homeless decides that the whole thing with Berlioz and Woland wasn’t even that big of a deal. He changes his mind almost instantly two chapters on, so I am not sure why we had to waste our time on this instead of getting to THE FIREWORKS FACTORY i.e., Chapter 12, in which Woland finally goddamn does something, i.e., puts on a magic show.
The magic show is basically just that he rains money down on the crowd and then has the ladies come up to the stage to pick out fancy new clothes and accessories. It’s not that exciting in a traditional magic show way where there are lots of different parts and spectacles, but I like fancy clothes and accessories and money, so I’m not super complaining. Afterward, an audience member stands up and demands to know what the trick is.
Number two, I am pretty sure that even in the most dire years of Stalinist Russia, attendees of magic shows had better manners than to demand that the performers show them how the illusion was accomplished.3 I’m kind of mad that of all the people whose lives Woland has ruined thus far, he ruins this audience member’s life the least. Surely this is worthy of decapitation! GAHD.
Anyway, then Varenukha comes back all dead-eyed, I covered that above, and THEN I flipped to the back of my books to glance over the notes for chapter 16 and DO YOU KNOW THE FUCK WHAT THE NOTES SAID?
Here Bulgakov underscores that he is aware how odd it is to have a major figure (whose name is used in the title) first appear more than a third of the way through the novel. Up to this point one could easily conclude that Woland or Ivan is the real hero.
With — because this bro is hella diffident for a bro who supposably is going to get Woland to quit hassling the intelligentsia of Moscow4 — a heaping side of
Well. Now I feel really stupid for thinking Ivan (i.e., Bezdomny/Homeless) or Woland was the main hero. Is the Master going to defeat Woland? With an assist from Margarita, his lovah? Or what? I have been told re: The Master that I should hang on to my hat, so that is what I will be doing heading into this readalong’s third section next week. WE’LL SEE.
- I mean, I could look it up, but I am pretttttty lazy. ↩
- I will never find it excessive to repeat and re-identify the characters in Russian novels. ↩
- I am not sure of this. I don’t think there’s anything you could tell me about Russia and Russians that would defy belief — partly because I am credulous but mostly because I find Russia really confusing. ↩
- my mum is reading this like STOP SAYING SUPPOSABLY ahahahaha NEVER ↩