Chapter 22: By Candlelight
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
is a classic in Bulgakov’s genre of magic realism. This chapter of The Master and Margarita
, By Candlelight, sees Margarita returning to Moscow to take up the position of Satan’s Queen, surpassing the rest of this book in its astounding level of magic, more extreme than Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole, on top of the mushroom, chatting with the mad king and queen.
After the crow driver has deposited Marg on a gravestone and sent his flying car crashing into a ravine, mysteriously then flying away on a hubcap, Satan’s accomplice Azazello emerges and flies with her to meet the dark lord, in a dark candlelit apartment that somehow resembles Dr Who’s Tardis, being larger inside than outside. Koroviev explains this geometrical peculiarity as the simplest matter, that in the fifth dimension anything is possible. Such amazing hyper-dimensionality continues the satire on Stalin, for whom simple ethical maxims such as ‘no man no problem’ made many quite difficult objectives attainable. To prove this link, Koroviev gives the mildly off-topic example of a man who turned one room into five through real estate speculation and ended up in the gulag.
Koroviev introduces himself with a famous line, “Please allow me to introduce myself”. He could have gone on to explain that he is a man of wealth and taste, since this book was one of Jagger’s sources for Sympathy for the Devil
The purpose is revealed, that Satan has chosen Margarita, descendant of a queen of France, as the Queen for his annual ball of ghouls. Satan is in bed in a dirty nightshirt. He receives the following description. “Two eyes bored into Margarita’s face. In the depths of the right eye was a golden spark that could pierce any soul to the core; the left eye was as empty and black as a small black diamond, as the mouth of a bottomless well of dark and shadow. Woland’s face was tilted to one side, the right-hand corner of his mouth pulled downward and deep furrows marked his forehead parallel to his eyebrows. The skin of his face seemed burned by timeless sunshine.”
Such detailed descriptions abound in The Master and Margarita
, illustrating Bulgakov’s genius for character. This one amplifies the description of the devil's eyes at the start of the book. Satan’s rich dark tan brings to mind the fabulously wealthy criminals who live on the French Riviera luxuriating in the enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains. Or maybe Bulgakov is thinking of Stalin’s holidays in Crimea? Some say
in socialist realist literature the furrowed brow and pinched face are signs of the revolutionary’s dedication and sacrifice.
Margarita encourages Satan to continue his game of chess with his familiar, the black cat Behemoth. The conversation seems to have made close study of the logical uncuity of Humpty Dumpty and the Mad Hatter
in Through the Looking Glass
. Speaking in a muffled falsetto, the cat claims the knight has turned into a frog.
This picture by Vyacheslav Zhelvakov
shows Behemoth with crazychess, white bowtie, gilded whiskers, monocle, opera glasses, and nude witch Hella.
The cat explains his absurd attire by saying “I don’t want to make myself look ridiculous” and offering to shave himself. When he objects to Satan’s deflation, Behemoth gives another priceless gem: “My remarks are by no means all hot air, as you so vulgarly put it, but a series of highly apposite syllogisms which would be appreciated by such connoisseurs as Sextus Empiricus, Martian Capella, even, who knows, Aristotle himself.”
Soon the chess board comes to life, Satan wins the game against his cat, Koroviev and Azazello hare off on a false alarm wild goose chase for some parrots mentioned by the cat, and Behemoth resorts to cheating at chess, surely one of the worst of the dark arts. Satan explains his sore knee was acquired on the Brocken in 1571. They look at Satan’s globe, which comes to life with armies killing children and burning houses. Satan ascribes this to Abadonna, who it appears is the destroying angel of the bottomless pit. Abadonna turns up in person, and Satan sternly rejects Margarita’s suggestion that he take off his dark glasses. They discuss whether the Schweinsteinian pig should be sent to the cooks, and all is ready for the ball.