March 13 in Russian history. Master, Margarita and N.Bukharin.


70 years ago in Moscow the Trial of the 21 was over. 18 people, from top Soviet leaders to mere doctors were sentenced to death. 3 other people were sentenced to long terms in prison. (Two days later, on 15 March, ExecutedToday.com plans to publish an article about the trial of the 21 we wrote together.)

Among those sentenced to death was Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin. I am not about to compete with the his biography published at Wikepedia. I have another story for you.

More than a year ago, on 13 February 2007, I wrote:

1940: Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov finished his best known masterpiece "Master and Margarita". Less than one month later, he died. Bulgakov started his work on this novel in 1928 or in 1929. In 1930, he burnt the first draft, when he learnt that his piece "Cabal of Sanctimonious Hypocrites, or Molière" was banned . The second version was being written since 1931 till 1936. The last, final version was in active work since 1936 till 1938, but Bulgakov kept adding and modifying the text till 1940. "Master and Margarita" is called by many critics one of the greatest Russian novels of the XX century. I would say, though, that the book is so heavily influenced and so tightly woven with the references to the general European culture, from Bible to Goethe, to Hoffmann, that it should be called one of the greatest works of the European, not Russian, literature. On the other hand, Bulgakov, in his turn, influenced Salman Rushdie's "Satanic verses" and even Rolling Stones. After all, it's a small world, isn't it?

Bukharin became the prototype for a less important character in "Master and Margarita", Nikolay Ivanovich, a "tenant from the ground floor", who is turned by a magic ointment into a boar. Natasha, Margarita's housemaid rides him to the sabbath when she becomes a witch. He has the same name as Bukharin and his face looks similar. He has the same "blond, wedge-shaped beard", wears pince-nez and a grey waistcoat. The attempts of Nikolay Ivanovich to seduce Natasha parody Bukharin's reputation of a womanizer (in 1929, when the action of the novel is set, Bukharin divorced his second wife). It may be interesting that Bukharin's favorite character in literature was doctor Faust. In 1932 he wrote an article about Göthe, proving that "the end of Doctor Faustus is a vague premonition, a prophetic dream of socialism." Since childhood, Bukharin was an atheist. On 12 June 1929 he opened the All-Union Congress of Atheists (in the novel, on 12 June the devil ran the black magic show at the Variety Theatre). In his biography, Bukharin recalled:

Once I read the famous "lecture on Antichrist" by Vladimir Solovyov and for some time I thought I could be the Antichrist. From the Apocalypse (and I was reprimanded by the school priest for reading it) I knew that the Antichrist's mother was a prostitute, and I interrogated my mother, and she was an unusually smart and working woman, who loved her children and was highly virtuous, whether she was a prostitute, which embarassed her to no end.

Bulgakov never thought Bukharin was a talented politician, or at least a real villain. This mediocrity, Nikolay Ivanovich, is not even invited to the devil's ball, but simply sent away to the kitchen.

Here are some episodes where Nikolay Ivanovich is mentioned:

There was the noise of a car driving away from the front gate. The garden gate banged, and steps were heard on the tiles of the path.
'It's Nikolai Ivanovich, I recognize his footsteps,' thought Margarita.
'I must do something funny and interesting in farewell.'
Margarita tore the curtain open and sat sideways on the window-sill, her arms around her knees. Moonlight licked her from the right side.
Margarita raised her head towards the moon and made a pensive and poetic face. The steps tapped twice more, and then suddenly - silence. After admiring the moon a little longer, sighing for the sake of propriety, Margarita turned her head to the garden and indeed saw Nikolai Ivanovich, who lived on the bottom floor of the same house. Moonlight poured down brightly on Nikolai Ivanovich. He was sitting on a bench, and there was every indication that he had sunk on to it suddenly. The pince-nez on his face was somehow askew, and he was clutching his briefcase in his hands.
'Ah, hello, Nikolai Ivanovich,' Margarita said in a melancholy voice.
'Good evening! Coming back from a meeting?'
Nikolai Ivanovich made no reply to that.
'And I,' Margarita went on, leaning further out into the garden, 'am sitting alone, as you see, bored, looking at the moon and listening to the waltz...'
Margarita passed her left hand over her temple, straightening a strand of hair, then said crossly:
That is impolite, Nikolai Ivanovich! I'm still a woman after all! It's boorish not to reply when someone is talking to you.'
Nikolai Ivanovich, visible in me moonlight to the last button on his grey waistcoat, to the last hair of his blond, wedge-shaped beard, suddenly smiled a wild smile, rose from the bench, and, apparently beside himself with embarrassment, instead of taking off his hat, waved his briefcase to the side and bent his knees as if about to break into a squatting dance.
'Ah, what a boring type you are, Nikolai Ivanovich!' Margarita went on. 'Generally, I'm so sick of you all that I can't even tell you, and I'm so happy to be parting with you! Well, go to the devil's dam!'
A heavy noise of ripping air came from behind and began to overtake Margarita. To this noise of something flying like a cannon ball a woman's guffaw was gradually added, audible for many miles around. Margarita looked back and saw some complex dark object catching up with her. As it drew nearer to Margarita, it became more distinct - a mounted flying person could be seen. And finally it became quite distinct: slowing down, Natasha came abreast of Margarita.
Completely naked, her dishevelled hair flying in the air, she flew astride a fat hog, who was clutching a briefcase in his front hoofs, while his hind hoofs desperately threshed the air. Occasionally gleaming in the moonlight, then fading, the pince-nez that had fallen off his nose flew beside the hog on a string, and the hog's hat kept sliding down over his eyes. Taking a close look, Margarita recognized the hog as Nikolai Ivanovich, and then her laughter rang out over the forest, mingled with the laughter of Natasha.
'Natashka!' Margarita shouted piercingly. 'You rubbed yourself with the cream?'
'Darling!!' Natasha replied, awakening the sleeping pine forest with her shout. 'My French queen, I smeared it on him, too, on his bald head!'
'Princess!' the hog shouted tearfully, galloping along with his rider.
'Darling! Margarita Nikolaevna!' cried Natasha, riding beside Margarita, `I confess, I took the cream! We, too, want to live and fly!
Forgive me, my sovereign lady, I won't go back, not for anything! Ah, it's good, Margarita Nikolaevna! ... He propositioned me,' Natasha began jabbing her finger into the neck of the abashedly huffing hog, 'propositioned me! What was it you called me, eh?' she shouted, leaning towards the hog's ear.
'Goddess!' howled the hog, 'I can't fly so fast! I may lose important papers, Natalya Prokofyevna, I protest!'
'Ah, devil take you and your papers!' Natasha shouted with a brazen guffaw.
'Please, Natalya Prokofyevna, someone may hear us!' the hog yelled imploringly.
Flying beside Margarita, Natasha laughingly told her what happened in the house after Margarita Nikolaevna flew off over the gates.
Natasha confessed that, without ever touching any of the things she had been given, she threw off her clothes, rushed to the cream, and immediately smeared herself with it. The same thing happened with her as with her mistress. Just as Natasha, laughing with joy, was revelling in her own magical beauty before the mirror, the door opened and Nikolai Ivanovich appeared before her. He was agitated; in his hands he was holding Margarita Nikolaevna's shift and his own hat and briefcase. Seeing Natasha, Nikolai Ivanovich was dumbfounded. Getting some control of himself, all red as a lobster, he announced that he felt it was his duty to pick up the little shift and bring it personally...
The things he said, the blackguard!' Natasha shrieked and laughed. The things he said, the things he tempted me to do! The money he promised! He said Klavdia Petrovna would never learn of it. Well, speak, am I lying?' Natasha shouted to the hog, who only turned his muzzle away abashedly. In the bedroom, carried away with her own mischief, Natasha dabbed some cream on Nikolai Ivanovich and was herself struck dumb with astonishment. The respectable ground-floor tenant's face shrank to a pig's snout, and his hands and feet acquired little hoofs. Looking at himself in the mirror, Nikolai Ivanovich let out a wild and desperate howl, but it was already too late. A few seconds later, saddled up, he was flying out of Moscow to devil knows where, sobbing with grief.
`I demand that my normal appearance be restored to me!' the hog suddenly grunted hoarsely, somewhere between frenzy and supplication. 'I'm not going to fly to any illegal gathering! Margarita Nikolaevna, it's your duty to call your housekeeper to order!'
'Ah, so now I'm a housekeeper? A housekeeper?' Natasha cried, pinching the hog's ear. 'And I used to be a goddess? What was it you called me?' 'Venus!' the hog replied tearfully, as he flew over a brook bubbling between stones, his little hoofs brushing the hazel bushes.
'Venus! Venus!' Natasha cried triumphantly, one hand on her hip, the other stretched out towards the moon. 'Margarita! Queen! Intercede for me so that I can stay a witch! They'll do anything for you, you have been granted power!'
And Margarita responded:
'All right, I promise.'
Thank you!' exclaimed Natasha, and suddenly she cried out sharply and somehow longingly: 'Hey! Hey! Faster! Faster! Come on, speed it up'' She dug her heels into the hog's sides, which had grown thinner during this insane ride, and he tore on, so that the air ripped open again, and a moment later Natasha could be seen only as a black speck in the distance, then vanished completely, and the noise of her flight melted away.
In Natasha's place Nikolai Ivanovich now stood. He had regained his former human shape, but was extremely glum and perhaps even annoyed.
This is someone I shall dismiss with special pleasure,' said Woland, looking at Nikolai Ivanovich with disgust, `with exceptional pleasure, so superfluous he is here.'
'I earnestly beg that you issue me a certificate,' Nikolai Ivanovich began with great insistence, but looking around wildly, 'as to where I spent last night.'
'For what purpose?' the cat asked sternly.
`For the purpose of presenting it to the police and to my wife,' Nikolai Ivanovich said firmly.
'We normally don't issue certificates,' the cat replied, frowning, 'but, very well, for you we'll make an exception.'
And before Nikolai Ivanovich had time to gather his wits, the naked Hella was sitting at a typewriter and the cat was dictating to her.
'It is hereby certified that the bearer, Nikolai Ivanovich, spent the said night at Satan's ball, having been summoned there in the capacity of a means of transportation ... make a parenthesis, Hella, in the parenthesis put "hog". Signed - Behemoth.'
'And the date?' squeaked Nikolai Ivanovich.
We don't put dates, with a date the document becomes invalid,' responded the cat, setting his scrawl to it. Then he got himself a stamp from somewhere, breathed on it according to all the rules, stamped the word 'payed' on the paper, and handed it to Nikolai Ivanovich. After which Nikolai Ivanovich disappeared without a trace, and in his place appeared a new, unexpected guest.

Two other persons convicted during the trial of the twenty one and used by Bulgakov as prototypes for the characters in Master and Margarita are Genrikh Yagoda and his secretary Pavel Bulanov:

The last two guests were coming up the stairs!
'It's some new one,' Koroviev was saying, squinting through his lens.
'Ah, yes, yes. Azazello visited him once and, over the cognac, whispered some advice to him on how to get rid of a certain man whose exposures he was extremely afraid of. And so he told an acquaintance who was dependent on him to spray the walls of the office with poison ...'
'What's his name?' asked Margarita.
'Ah, really, I myself don't know yet,' Koroviev replied, 'we'll have to ask Azazello.'
'And who is with him?'
'Why, that same efficient subordinate of his. Delighted!' cried Koroviev to the last two.

This episode is directly linked to the anecdotical "confessions" of Bulanov:

When he [Yagoda] was discharged, he had already taken steps to the poisoning of the room where Nikolay Yezhov had to begin working soon. He gave me direct order to prepare the poison: to dissolve mercury in acid. I don't understand anything about chemistry and medicine and I may confuse the names, but he warned me to careful with the sulfuric acid: burns, smell and something like that. It happened on 28 September 1936. I fulfilled the order, prepared the solution. It was sprayed in the room by Savolainen in the presence of Yagoda and me.

The full text of Master and Margarita is available here: in Russian and in two English translations, by Michael Glenny (1967) and by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1997).

These are two very good web-sites about Mikhail Bulgakov and Master and Margarita in particular:
MasterAndMargarita.eu, created by Jan Vanhellemont from Belgium
and Master and Margarita, created by Kevin Moss at Middlebury College.

PS: The book illustrations were taken from http://www.richcollection.ru/item.233.html

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