Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Pleased to meet you hope you guess my name": The Devil in Dostoyevsky and Bulgakov

Lyrics from Rolling Stones
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've just recently finished my re-reading of Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and I found myself wondering whether or not Ivan's feverish dream of the Devil had any influence upon Mikhail Bulgakov's depiction of the Devil in The Master and Margarita. I haven't noticed any clear parallels, so today's blog entry has nothing especially insightful to offer . . . though some regular readers might retort that it never does have (so why read regularly?). Anyway, with that caveat, I'll quote Dostoyevsky's description of what Ivan sees:
And so he was sitting almost conscious himself of his delirium and as I have said already´╝îlooking persistently at some object on the sofa against the opposite wall. Some one appeared to be sitting there, though goodness knows how he had come in, for he had been in the room when Ivan came into it, on his return from Smerdyakov. This was a person, or, more accurately speaking, a Russian gentleman of a particular kind, no longer young, qui faisait la cinquantaine, as the French say, with rather long, still thick, dark hair, slightly streaked with grey and a small pointed beard. He was wearing a brownish reefer jacket, rather shabby, evidently made by a good tailor though, and of a fashion at least three years old, that had been discarded by smart and well-to-do people for the last two years. His linen and his long scarf-like neck-tie were all such as are worn by people who aim at being stylish, but on closer inspection his linen was not over clean and his wide scarf was very threadbare. The visitor's check trousers were of excellent cut, but were too light in colour and too tight for the present fashion. His soft fluffy white hat was out of keeping with the season.

In brief there was every appearance of gentility on straitened means. It looked as though the gentleman belonged to that class of idle landowners who used to flourish in the times of serfdom. He had unmistakably been, at some time, in good and fashionable society, had once had good connections, had possibly preserved them indeed, but, after a gay youth, becoming gradually impoverished on the abolition of serfdom, he had sunk into the position of a poor relation of the best class, wandering from one good old friend to another and received by them for his companionable and accommodating disposition and as being after all a gentleman who could be asked to sit down with any one, though, of course, not in a place of honour. Such gentlemen of accommodating temper and dependent position, who can tell a story, take a hand at cards, and who have a distinct aversion for any duties that may be forced upon them, are usually solitary creatures, either bachelors or widowers. Sometimes they have children, but if so, the children are always being brought up at a distance, at some aunt's, to whom these gentlemen never allude in good society, seeming ashamed of the relationship. They gradually lose sight of their children altogether, though at intervals they receive a birthday or Christmas letter from them and sometimes even answer it.

The countenance of the unexpected visitor was not so much good-natured, as accommodating and ready to assume any amiable expression as occasions might arise. He had no watch, but he had a tortoise-shell lorgnette on a black ribbon. On the middle finger of his right hand was a massive gold ring with a cheap opal stone in it. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, translated by Constance Garnett, Vintage Books, 1950, pages 772-773)
I could quote passages from Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, but I see little need, for in looking at several just now, I find few similarities exist between Dostoyevsky's Devil and Bulgakov's Devil -- who goes by the name Woland, you'll recall. Possibly of interest, however, is the fact that Woland's demon assistant Korovyov wears checked pants . . . and also a pince-nez, but that's not the same as a lorgnette -- though each eyepiece does give these two comically demonic characters a somewhat foppish air. Still, too few parallels occur on the surface for me to make an issue of them.

Nevertheless, Bulgakov elsewhere exhibited great interest in Ivan's delirious dream of the Devil, for Riitta H. Pittman, in her article "Dreamers and Dreaming in M. A. Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita" (in Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright, edited by Leslie Milne, Routledge, 1996), writes:
Bulgakov's preoccupation with the Karamazov devil is apparent from an episode depicting Aleksei Turbin's nightmare, which was at one time intended for the Days of the Turbins. The nightmare brings "greetings from Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky". Aleksei's instinctive reaction is to instinctive reaction is to exclaim: "The devil!", but almost instantaneously he resorts to reason and begins to insist: ". . . you don't exist. I am seeing you in my dream. And I am now going to wake up", to which the nightmare retorts: "You are mistaken . . . I am not a dream, but most genuinely real. And who can tell anyway, what a dream might be?" Aleksei next calls his devil a nightmare and a myth, and finally threatens to shoot him. Correspondingly, in Brothers Karamazov (Part IV, Book Eleven, Ch. 9) Ivan insists that his devil is "a lie", "a phantom", "a hallucination" and a symptom of his illness. (Pittman, "Dreamers and Dreaming," page 159)
Bulgakov would thus seem to have been thinking a lot about Dostoyevsky's Devil, at least in his play Days of the Turbins, which leads me to wonder if some profounder parallels exist between devils in The Master and Margarita and The Brothers Karamazov that aren't obviously visible on the surface. In comparing the devils in these two Russian authors' works generally, Pittman argues that "Both Dostoevsky's and Bulgakov's devils represent or evoke ideas which the intellectual, or pseudo-intellectual, protagonists try to resist or to suppress on the grounds of reason, but which surge forth from their minds involuntarily . . . [and] emerge as metaphorical extensions or aspects of the protagonists' own personalities, of their 'shadow' selves" (page 159), a point perhaps well taken for Ivan's Devil in Brothers Karamazov though it seems less likely in Master and Margarita, for Ivan alone sees the Devil in the former, whereas all of the characters see the various devils in the latter -- but you can read further on Pittman's views for yourself.

As for the Rolling Stones and their infamous "Sympathy for the Devil," they seem to take his existence for granted in his rather traditional role -- though Douglas Cruickshank and "others" want to find Mick Jagger's inspired writing "under the spell of Mikhail Bulgakov's classic allegorical novel of good and evil, 'The Master and Margarita.'" Read Cruickshank's remarks if you will, but also go to the source itself, the song:
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long long year stolen many man's soul and faith
I was around when Jesus Christ had His moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed His fate
Pleased to meet you hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you is the nature of my game

Stuck around St. Petersburg when I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Tzar and his ministers, Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank held a gen'rals rank when the blitzkrieg
raged and the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you hope you guess my name. Oh yeah
Ah what's puzzling you is the nature of my game. Oh yeah

I watched the glee while your kings and queens fought for
ten decades for the Gods they made
I shouted out "Who killed the Kennedy's?" when after all
it was you and me
Let me please introduce myself I'm a man of wealth and taste
And I lay traps for troubadors who get killed before they reach Bombay
Pleased to meet you hope you guess my name. Oh yeah
But what's puzzling you is the nature of my game. Oh yeah
Pleased to meet you hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you is the nature of my game

Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners, Saints
as heads is tails, just call me Lucifer 'cause I'm in need
of some restraint
So if you meet me, have some courtesy have some sympathy
and some taste
Use all your well learned politesse or I'll lay your soul to waste
Pleased to meet you hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you is the nature of my game
As I noted, this Satan seems more traditional -- dangerous and to be taken very seriously. For an eight-minute recording of the Stones' 1968 live performance of this song, go to You Tube and along with John Lennon . . . enjoy?

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2 Comments:

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thankyou for connecting these for me as I sit learning the solo for the Stones song on electric, and reading The Master + Margarita.

 
At 7:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're a more talented individual than I, so I'm glad to have been of some assistance.

Jeffery Hodges

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