Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Honourable Mentions: the Master and Margarita

This novel by Mikhail Bulgakov was written between 1928 and 1940 but remained unpublished until released as a serial in 1966-67. It was released as a volume in 1967 and as an uncensored book in 1973. The novel itself is a satire on Stalinist Russia and uses the Faust legend (amongst other things) as a background.

It begins with Satan, in the guise of Professor Woland a foreign magician, visiting the Patriarach Ponds and his impact thereafter on the artists of Moscow. The novel also contains scenes from the last days of Christ told both by Woland (who was at the meeting with Pontius Pilate and tells a story not entirely consistent with the Christian gospels) and also from a manuscript written by the Master, an otherwise unnamed author who was ruined by the literary bureaucracy and whose love is Margarita.

For the sake of TMtV our focus is on the character Hella – one of Woland’s retinue. She is not named until quite late into part one of the book and is described as a very pretty red-headed girl. I've noticed that, on the internet, she is often described as a succubus – though, other than the fact that she spends an awfully large amount of time naked, there is little evidence to support that. Indeed every indication is that she is a vampire.

We see her, naked, approach the house-manager of the Variety Theatre, Varenukha, and she is described as “red-haired, her eyes burning with a phosphorescent gleam.” Despite him being drenched in cold water her hands are colder still – like ice. She offers him a kiss and he passes out before feeling it.

Hella is also portrayed as having a purple scar on her neck, presumably where she was fatally bitten in her turn, though that is supposition. She is described as perfect, though when she attacks Rimsky, the Treasurer of the Variety Theatre, we see her arm elongate and become putrid green as spots of decay appear on her chest; she is depicted as dead. The attack is interrupted by a cock crow, which causes her, and her accomplice, to escape the theatre by flight (implied as being an escape from sunrise). In another scene we see her helping Margarita (who is temporarily a witch and serving as hostess for a Walpurgis Night ball) shower in reviving blood.

Although Hella is never actually directly named as a vampire herself, Varenukha is and he begs Woland to allow him to not be a vampire – it is clear therefore that Hella turned him. I also discovered, through a website dedicated to the book and subsequent adaptations that Bulgakov found Hella’s name in the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary where it says “that Hella was the name given to girls who died too early, and became vampires after.”

Technically a fleeting visitation (or series thereof) in the book, the book itself cannot be recommended highly enough – a must have for collections.

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