Despite some early critical reservations, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita has become one of the icons of postrevolutionary Russian literature. The bibliography of scholarly commentary on the work—mostly adulatory, and in some cases even hagiographical—is vast. Bulgakov has become, especially for western critics, the epitome of the artistmartyr. Persecuted by the Soviet writing establishment, he was able, through his long suppressed satiric masterpiece, The Master and Margarita (published for the first time in 1966-67), to survive and turn the tables—aesthetically and morally speaking—on his former oppressors. Life is short, art is long; or as Woland expressed it, manuscripts do not burn.
Indeed, there is ample justification for such a hagiographical approach. By 1928, when Bulgakov was drafting the first plans for The Master and Margarita, his literary prospects were already growing dim. In the 1930s, no longer able to publish original fiction, he survived by adapting works for the theater and by translating.