“And They Lived Happily Ever After”–How The Master and Margarita Does it Right

Before launching into the literary subject matter at hand, I’d like to to take a moment to beg forgiveness of my esteemed reader and offer an explanation for my absence.  I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and miscellaneous adventuring. I’ve also begun to spend much of my time copyediting software engineer/dreamboat Erik Dietrich’s blog at daedtech.com. (If any of you folks dabble in things tech-y, I highly recommend the blog. Erik often draws from historical and literary sources for his software metaphors, and it’s a real pleasure to read.  That’s coming from a person who was pretty sure “C++” means “really close to being a B” and “motherboard” is the plank you walk up to get on the main flying saucer of an alien fleet.)

I’ve finally finished The Master and Margarita, and I’m just clever enough to know that there is plenty of satire afoot and just not clever enough to understand what the satire is targeting.  Maybe it requires more than a single Russian history class to understand.  I did notice wonderful hints at what Russian society is like, though.  I remember learning that Stalin was a late-to-bed, late-to-rise type and the hours of governmental operation and eventually the whole country began to mirror those hours kept by Stalin.  That explained why the literary folks at the club ate dinner near midnight. But since some of Bulgakov’s more subtle points about society were, I fear, lost on me, I will focus on that which enchanted and entertained me.  The story itself was incredibly amusing.  I loved watching Satan and his cohorts wreak havok for awhile, and I found myself wishing desperately Satan’s darling tom cat was real so he could come by and stir things up for my amusement and then go on a rampage about no one giving cats the respect they deserve.

By the the end of the novel, it struck me that I was actually rooting for the fairy tale ending–a thing which, under normal circumstances, bores me to tears.  “The poor Master and Margarita deserved to be together,” I thought near the end of the novel.  “They belong with one another, and I will throw a FIT if it doesn’t work out for them.”  Then I slapped myself, because, what,  I’m pulling for the cheesy ending?  What have I become?

But I realized that there’s a reason I can root for a happy ending to the story without feeling like it would be cliche.  After all, the two are in league with Satan, so this reader is more likely to give herself permission to cheer for romance as long it’s countered by being able to root for “evil,” too.  It’s not as sugary.  There’s balance. So, well played, Bulgakov.  I wanted your characters to be together forever.  And when they were, I was very satisfied with your ending, because, HA, it means that it pays to sacrifice your soul to Satan!  I can embrace romance and still feel edgy!

I love seeing things work in literature, and I love trying to figure out just what the author did right, making me putty in their hands (words?). I love seeing where authors fail, as well.  I thrive on the weakness of others.  Kidding, of course; figuring out where authors went wrong is very edifying to me because I’m more and more often in a position to give advice to others about their writing, and I’d like to think my advice will result in the real improvement of their creations.  Critical reading is one of those skills I aim to sharpen to an exceptionally fine point.  But, oh, perhaps you see that therein lies a real philosophical conundrum.  Just because a twist of phase, a plot device, or a directional choice doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it that it won’t work for others.  Arguably, all taste is subjective, and what literature is good, what is bad, and even the difference between what writing is literature and what isn’t is an incredibly blurry line.  Yet, as species that has been around for awhile, we agree to keep some writers around and collectively esteem their works.  Studying them seems to be a good way to build up an idea of what is generally good and what isn’t.  But, ug, the quandries that arise when examining Hume’s expert-mimicry and the like are too great for bloggy snippets, and I’ve wandered far enough away from the topic as indicated by the title of this post.  If anyone wants to chat philosophy on these matters, I’m more than happy to dance in circles around these questions that have no answers with you.  It’s one of my favorite pastimes, and I have no resolved opinions on the matter, making me a great person to discuss things with.

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