top of page

Roots of "Master and Margarita": Who Was the Real Master, Margarita or Woland?

“…who are you then?

- I am part of that power

which eternally wills evil

and eternally works good.”

Goethe "Faust"

The novel Master and Margarita is one of the most important texts for Russian literature of the 20th century and one of the most known pieces of Russian classics for the entire world. Its author is Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (1891 - 1940), who was a respected writer at that time already, though mostly known as a dramaturge. Unfortunately, Bulgakov's biggest work of all his life was published after his death. What is ironic on some point, because he is known exactly by Master and Margarita in the first place, and exactly this book made him a part of cultural world history. But Bulgakov died in 1940, and the book was published for the first time only in 1966, as a shortened version in the magazine “Moscow.” Master and Margarita is a part of the world culture, a life-changing book for many people. Some persons read it in one breath, some cannot get it at all, but the novel definitely creates a lot of emotions, questions, and discussions for anyone. And there are reasons why it is so.

First of all, a little introduction to the plot. The main story in the novel is about Satan, with the name of Woland, who shows up in Moscow with his close ones to play with people's weaknesses. At the same time a character with the name of Master sitting in his apartment, writing a book, the matter of all his life, while the love of his life, Margarita, stands beside him with a heart full of love and beliefs. She is spending all her days with Master no matters on her husband and they are very happy together. Nevertheless, at one moment everything is falling apart and strange, mysterious things happen in the town, all lines of which are leading to Woland. One story crosses another, at the same time the reader can see a manuscript by Master, the main topic of which is Christian philosophy. This book contains many semantic levels in it, and this is one of the reasons why the novel became so huge and cultural-important. Master and Margarita is a big literature work.

Figure 1: Illustration titled The first meeting of the master and Margarita by Nadya Rusheva (n.d.)

Second of all, each character in the book has its own prototype. This article will open the three main characters of the novel, who as we know already, are The Master, Margarita, and Woland. As a prototype for Woland, who is the main antagonist in the story, Satan itself and master of evil assumed to be Joseph Stalin. To understand the situation, the author had a very hard relationship with the leader, Stalin enjoyed Bulgakov's theatre plays, but at the same time, banned the publishing of his books, so Bulgakov had no chance to reach some income for his texts. And in the book, we can see how evil power covering Moscow and so it was in the real life at that time, people were suffering from an evil power which was not explainable too. All lines in the novel lead to Woland. All lines in life were going to and from Stalin. As well, the name of Satan, Woland also has a meaning. It came to Bulgakov from Goethe’s Faust, and of course, goes across with Goethe's Mephistopheles on some level. This name appears in Faust once: “Junker Voland kommt!" (Nobleman Woland coming!) – says Mephistopheles to evil creatures, so they would not stand in his way. In German literature language, they have the name Faland which directly means devil, liar. And it is clearly seen how Bulgakov showing that meaning to the reader when Woland creating a show in the Variete Theatre, he giving money and fashionable dresses to the audience, but in the end, they left with nothing. Because any gift from the devil is always an illusion, a lie. This is a true essence of Woland - illusion, and lie. This is a very important line to follow, Satan can pretend to help, but necessary always to remember what the power it is. When everything is going to be ruined in Master's and Margarita's life, they forgetting this morale.

Master's and Margarita's prototypes were Bulgakov himself and his last wife Elena who also looked very similar to the character. Biographies of The Master and Mikhail are different, but the position of the writer, who is working on the biggest matter of his life - Bulgakov was feeling more than anybody else.

Another common thing for Master’s storyline and Bulgakov’s life happened in 1930. In that year, when he was currently working on “Master and Margarita” (the novel did not have that name yet), Bulgakov reached the writing crisis (of course, as all writers reaching at some time), because of which he was very unpleased by his work, unsatisfied and was not able to consider that as a good one. So all papers and drafts went to a fire and almost all work was burnt. The same scene can be seen in the novel as well, with Master getting very mad by reviews of his work, and under strong emotions, he burns all his work. Hopefully, Margarita is there and she saves them by taking them out of the fire, nevertheless, there are some notes that burned irrevocably and now only Woland can help with that. In real life, Bulgakov hardly regretted this action and started to create a novel from the start with some saved draft pieces two years after. Interesting that in his letters to friends, Bulgakov writes that he has no idea what he is trying to create and what he will reach at the end of the process. Very sad that he will never know.

Figure 2: Photograph of Elena Nurenberg and Mikhail Bulgakov (n.d.)

Third of all, unfortunately, in 1940 Bulgakov got ill and this year would be the last one for him. Bulgakov has no strength already even for writing, so his wife Elena writes down each of his words. She will work with this novel even after her husband's death, will edit “Master and Margarita” for the next 20 years, and patiently fight for the first publishing date.

As a result, all those moments about burning the first version of the book, last words written with last breath, Bulgakov's widow's hard work on that in memory of her loved one, how deeply structured novel it is, and how long was the history and road for the book to make from writer to readers - are those reasons why Master and Margarita had such a fascinating influence on the world and culture. Book's history adds a mystery to it when the story already contains it itself, so it is easy to feel that fear, see Satan on pages, and have empathy for the characters. The novel contains philosophy, human fears, beliefs, religion, and hopes inside. This book is known for many different quotes, has its influence on a lot of people around the world, and even without reading the novel, everyone is definitely familiar with a black cat named Behemoth. Only a very huge novel can influence the world that hard and became a part of it.

“Not causing trouble, not touching anything, fixing the primus.”

“Manuscripts do not burn.”

Figure 3: Illustration of Behemoth and Margarita (n.d.)

Bibliographical references

Bulgakov, M. (2021). Master and Margarita. Alma Classics.

Давыдова, В. (2018, October 27). История создания романа Михаила Булгакова Мастер и Маргарита. Реальные книги.

Meduza, М. (2016, May 16). Почему все сходят с ума по Мастеру и Маргарите? Стыдные вопросы о самом известном романе Михаила Булгакова. Meduza.

Visual sources

Cover image/Figure 1: Rucheva, N. (n.d.) The first meeting of the master and Margarita. [illustration]. Retrieved from:

Figure 2: The love story of Elena Nurenberg and Mikhail Bulgakov (n.d.). [Photograph]. Retrieved from:

Figure 3: Illustration of Behemoth and Margarita (n.d.). [Illustration] Retrieved from:


Author Photo


Arcadia _ Logo.png


Arcadia, has many categories starting from Literature to Science. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can subscribe from below or click the bar and discover unique more experiences in our articles in many categories

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page