May 01, 2019

The Life and Death of the Thick Journal



The Life and Death of the Thick Journal
First installment of the 1967 publication of Master and Margarita, in the journal Moscow.

In the first pages of the legendary novel Master and Margarita, author Mikhail Bulgakov introduces the reader to two seemingly harmless Soviet citizens and in short order has one of them run over by a streetcar and the other taking up residence in a psychiatric hospital.

Why was Bulgakov so hard on these two characters? What was their sin? Simple: both worked for the sort of publication that, in Russia, falls into the category of “thick journal” (толстый журнал).

The pompous, portly, and bald editor, who holds in his hand a “respectable” hat, is lecturing his companion, a neurasthenic young poet with the revolutionary pseudonym “Bezdomny” (“homeless”). The poet has been commissioned to write a long anti-religious poem, which he has dutifully written “in a very short time,” but the editor feels he has made a fundamental mistake in his depiction of Jesus. While He has been cast in a markedly negative light, He comes across as “utterly true to life.” The whole point was for the reader to realize that Christ never existed. The poem has to be completely redone.


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