Reading «Мастер и Маргарита»: Chapter 13 Posted by on Sep 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

This is mimosa, one of the first flowers that appear at Russian markets in late winter and early spring. There’s much discussion whether the flowers Margarita carried the day she met Master were indeed «мимозы» [mimosa flowers]. After all, Bulgakov never named them, not in Chapter 13 anyway. He only described them as «отвратительные, тревожные жёлтые цветы» [disgusting, troubling yellow flowers]. If you still think that it might be some other kind of flower and not mimosa stick around – the answer will be revealed to you in a few chapters. In the mean time here is an interesting and highly relevant fact about mimosa. It was, by some accounts, Stalin’s favorite flower.

Remember how Master came to live in his cozy little basement apartment? «Он выиграл лотерею» [He won a lottery]. This is another mystery. Does Master strike you as someone who buys «лотерейные билеты» [lottery tickets] and who’s interested in «быстрое обогащение» [quick riches]? Besides, it seems that all the fund-raising lotteries conducted by Soviet government between 1925 and 1939 were «вещевые», meaning that various household items, not money, were given away as prizes. Seems like Bulgakov gave his Master an “easy way out” of the daily grind, emphasized his not fitting in with the societal realities.

Speaking of lottery, have you ever heard a phrase «выиграть в лотерею по трамвайному билету» [lit: to win a lottery with a tram ticket]? It means to be so lucky that you don’t even have to try hard if at all. Such person is also called «счастливчик» [the fortunate one] or «везун» [the lucky one] from the word «везти».

The word «везти» itself has a couple of meanings. One is to carry or drive as in «Сергей меня подвезёт до вокзала» [Sergey will drive me to the train station]. The second meaning is to luck out, as in «с мужем мне очень повезло» [I am lucky to have such a husband] or «Свете повезло и она смогла провезти все украшения через таможню» [Sveta lucked out and was able to carry all the jewelry through the customs].

I personally don’t know anyone who is «везунчик» [lucky one], a kind of person that whatever he undertakes, «ему фартит» [the luck is on his side]. Most of my friends have «полосы везения, чередующиеся с полосами невезения» [lucky streaks followed by the unlucky ones].

When «невезуха» [informal – bad luck] or even «непруха» [even more informal – bad luck] happens many Russians ask rhetorically «что такое «не везёт» и как с этим бороться» [what’s lack of luck and how to overcome it]. They might complain that «везёт как утопленнику» [just my luck; lit. having the luck of a drowned man]. But most know that «если не везёт в картах – повезёт в любви» [if one is unlucky in cards, he’s lucky in love] or «кому не везёт в любви, тому карта прёт» [those unlucky in love are dealt the best hand in cards]. Besides, everyone knows that «дуракам всегда везёт» [fools are always lucky]. So «если вам не везёт» [if you aren’t having much luck] whether «в любви» [in love], «в картах» [in card games], «по работе» [with or at work], or even «по жизни» [in life], that’s just another proof that you’re a smart cookie.

Like many people in many other countries, Russians believe «число тринадцать» [number thirteen] to be a particularly unhappy one (we even had a discussion about «пятница, тринадцатое число» [Friday, the 13th] on our Facebook fanpage some time ago. Isn’t it strange then that Master makes his entrance in Chapter 13?

To begin with, it is not often that one has to read almost half through the novel to meet its hero. Can you think of any other «литературное произведение» [literary work] that does the same? I can’t.

And then, when the hero finally appears, he does so in Chapter 13 that increases the feeling of «мистика» [mysticism] and reinforces the reader’s impression that some «чертовщина» [devilry] is afoot.

Can it also be a veiled reference to Matthew 3:13 “Then cometh Jesus…”? After all, the title of the chapter, «Явление героя» [The Appearance of the Hero], evokes one of the most well-recognized Russian paintings «Явление Христа народу» [The Appearance of Christ before the People].

Whatever the allusion, the appearance of Master brings a third dimension to the novel. So far it had two plot lines running in parallel. One was set in the ancient Jerusalem and centered on Pontius Pilate and Yeshua; the other, mischievous one, set in Bulgakov’s Moscow, involved Woland and his victims. The only link between the two was the poor «сумасшедший» [insane, lit. the one who left his mind] Ivan Bezdomniy. And now, we have another «душевнобольной» [insane, lit. the one with an ailing soul] who strengthens the link.

If you know the saying «когда бог хочет наказать человека, он лишает его разума» [when god wants to punish a man, he deprives him of the faculty of reason], you might find it very curious indeed that the only two people in the entire Moscow who have an inkling as of Woland’s true nature are the two mental patients. Things are getting more and more mysterious!

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  1. Natalie:

    I’m thrilled you mentioned that the mimosa was Stalin’s favorite flower. I thought I was the only one who knew that strange little fact. (Aside from Simon Sebag Montefiore, of course, since I learned it from his Stalin biographies.)

  2. Yelena:

    Hi Natalie, thanks 🙂 Actually, that’s the book I picked up at a B&N a few days ago and here’s why. I was thinking about how to write about this chapter and at the same time I was looking for a new book about Russian history and culture to read. Then I saw Montefiore’s book, opened it randomly and came across a photo of Stalin gardening in his Sochi dacha. The caption mentioned that mimosas were indeed Stalin’s favorite flowers. I thought it was too coincidental to be ignored and bought the book 🙂