Mikhail Bulgakov

Russian author

Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov (15 May [O.S. 3 May] 189110 March 1940) was a Russian-language novelist and playwright of the first half of the 20th century.

Bulgakov in 1928


  • Quotations are sourced from published English translations of the original work. The translations are abbreviated as:
    • B/O= Diana Burgin and Katherine O'Connor
    • MG= Michael Glenny
    • MK= Michael Karpelson
    • P/V= Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
  • Да, человек смертен, но это было бы ещё полбеды. Плохо то, что он иногда внезапно смертен, вот в чём фокус!
    • 'Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst of it is that he's sometimes unexpectedly mortal - there's the trick!'
    • Book One in 'Never Talk with Strangers', P/V
  • 'Kant ought to be arrested and given three years in Solovki asylum for that "proof" of his!' Ivan Nikolayich burst out completely unexpectedly. 'Ivan!' whispered Berlioz, embarrassed. But the suggestion to pack Kant off to an asylum not only did not surprise the stranger but actually delighted him. 'Exactly, exactly!' he cried and his green left eye, turned on Berlioz glittered. 'That's exactly the place for him! I said to him myself that morning at breakfast: "If you'll forgive me, professor, your theory is no good. It may be clever but it's horribly incomprehensible. People will think you're mad."' Berlioz's eyes bulged. At breakfast...to Kant?
    • Book One in 'Never Talk to Strangers', MG, here Woland, Berlioz and Ivan are talking about Kant's views on existence of God
  • In fact, I'm beginning to fear that this confusion will go on for a long time. And all because he writes down what I said incorrectly.
  • 'I do not know these good men,' replied the prisoner.
'Is that the truth?'
'It is.'
'And now tell me why you always use that expression "good men"? Is
that what you call everybody?'
'Yes, everybody,' answered the prisoner. 'There are no evil people on
  • Book One in 'Pontius Pilate', MK, here Yeshua and Pontius Pilate are in conversation
  • It's all over, so let's not burden the telegraph system.
    • Book One in 'The Incident at Griboyedov', B/O
  • Well, as everyone knows, once witchcraft gets started, there's no stopping it.
    • Book One in the chapter 'Schizophrenia, as Predicted', B/O
  • Ryukhin showed himself no mercy-'I don't believe in anything I've ever written!'
    • Book One in 'Schizophrenia, as Predicted', B/O
  • Foreign visitors . . . how impressed you all are with foreign visitors! But they come in many different varieties.
    • Book One in 'The Evil Apartment', B/O
  • ‘He's clever,' thought Ivan,' I must admit there are some smart people even among the intelligentsia'
    • Book One in 'The Duel Between the Professor and the Poet', B/O
  • [S]aid the not entirely suppressed old Ivan, rearing his head from inside the new one, although without much confidence.
    • Book One in 'Black Magic and Its Expose', B/O
  • There was something uncommonly fake and uncertain in every line of these articles, depite their threatening and self-assured tone. I kept thinking . . . that the authors of these articles weren't saying what they wanted to say, and that that was why they were so furious.
    • Book One in 'Enter the Hero', B/O
  • The tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes never! You're asked an unexpected question, you don't even flinch, it takes just a second to get yourself under control, you know just what you have to say to hide the truth, and you speak very convincingly, and nothing in your face twitches to give you away. But the truth, alas, has been disturbed by the question, and it rises up from the depths of your soul to flicker in your eyes and all is lost.
    • Book One in 'Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream', B/O
  • 'What is all this? Damn me if I don't have you thrown out of here!' The beast just smiled and said: 'Damn you, I think you said? Very well!'
    • Book One in 'A Day of Anxiety', MG
  • 'What's the use of dying in a ward surrounded by a lot of groaning and croaking incurables? Wouldn't it be much better to throw a party with that twenty-seven thousand and take poison and depart for the other world to the sound of violins, surrounded by lovely drunken girls and happy friends?'
    • Book One in 'Unwelcome Visitors', MG
  • `Second freshness - that's what is nonsense! There is only one freshness - the first - and it is also the last. And if sturgeon is of the second freshness, that means it is simply rotten.'
    • Book One in 'Hapless Visitors', P/V
  • We have no idea whether there were any other strange occurences in Moscow that night, and we have no intention of trying to find out, since the time has come for us to proceed to Part Two of this true narrative. Follow me, reader!
    • Book One in 'Unlucky Visitors', B/O, the last lines of Book One
  • Follow me reader! Who told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar's vile tongue be cut out!
    • Book Two in 'Margarita', P/V, opening lines of Book Two
  • 'Once upon a time there was a lady. She had no children, and no happiness either. And at first she cried for a long time, but then she became wicked . . .'
    • Book Two in 'Flight', B/O, Margarita talking about herself to a young girl
  • The hope that she might regain her happiness made her fearless.
    • Book Two in 'By Candlelight'
  • 'Don't be afraid, Queen … don't be afraid, Queen, the blood has long since gone into the earth. And where it was spilled, grapevines are already growing.'
    • Book Two in 'The Great Ball at Satan's', P/V
  • Manuscripts don't burn.
    • Book Two in 'The Liberation of the Master', B/O
  • No documents, no person.
    • Book Two in 'The Liberation of the Master', B/O
  • 'Unfortunately I cannot show it to you,' replied the master, 'because I burned it in my stove.'
    'I'm sorry but I don't believe you,' said Woland. 'You can't have done. Manuscripts don't burn.'
    • Book Two in 'The Master is Released', MG
  • 'Never ask for anything! Never for anything, and especially from those who are stronger than you. They'll make the offer themselves, and give everything themselves.'
    • Book Two in 'The Extraction of the Master', P/V, here Woland addresses Margarita
  • 'I had the pleasure of meeting that young man at the Patriarch's Ponds. He almost drove me mad myself, proving to me that I don't exist. But you do believe that it is really I?'
    • Book Two in 'The Extraction of the Master, P/V, here Woland addresses the Master about Ivan (alias "Homless")
  • 'For some reason, cats are usually addressed familiarly, though no cat has ever drunk bruderschaft with anyone.'
    • Book Two in 'The Extraction of the Master', P/V
  • It was clear to him that he had lost something irretrievably that day, and that now he wanted to make up for the loss with minor, inconsequential, and most importantly, belated measures.
    • Book Two in 'How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Karioth', B/O
  • The procurator studied the new arrival with avid, and slightly fearful eyes. It was the kind of look one gives someone one has heard of and thought a lot about, and whom one is meeting for the first time.
    • Book Two in 'The Burial', B/O
  • Cowardice was undoubtedly one of the most terrible vices - thus spoke Yeshua Ha-Nozri. 'No, philosopher, I disagree with you: it is the most terrible vice!'
    • Book Two in 'The Burial', P/V, here Pontius Pilate responds to Yeshua
  • Only if some microorganism doesn't attack these tender hothouse plants and eat away at their roots, only if they don't rot! And that can happen with pineapples! Oh, yes, indeed it can!
    • Book Two in 'The End of Apartment No. 50', B/O
  • 'You're not Dostoevsky,' said the citizeness, who was getting muddled by Koroviev.
'Well, who knows, who knows,' he replied.
'Dostoevsky's dead,' said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.
'I protest!' Behemoth exclaimed hotly. 'Dostoevsky is immortal!'
  • Book Two in 'The Last Adventures of Koroviev and Behemoth', P/V
  • They have read your novel . . . and they said only one thing, that, unfortunately, it is not finished. So I wanted to show you your hero. He has been sitting here for about two thousand years, sleeping, but, when the moon is full, he is tormented, as you see, by insomnia. And it torments not only him, but his faithful guardian, the dog. If it is true that cowardice is the most grave vice, then the dog, at least, is not guilty of it. The only thing that brave creature ever feared was thunderstorms. But what can be done, the one who loves must share the fate of the one who is loved.
    • Book Two in 'Time to Go! Time to Go!', B/O, here Woland is speaking to the Master about Pontius Pilate
  • Gods, my gods! How sad the earth is at eventide! How mysterious are the mists over the swamps. Anyone who has wandered in these mists, who has suffered a great deal before death, or flown above the earth, bearing a burden beyond his strength knows this. Someone who is exhausted knows this. And without regret he forsakes the mists of the earth, its swamps and rivers, and sinks into the arms of death with a light heart knowing that death alone . . .
    • Book Two in 'Time to Go! Time to Go!', B/O
  • How sad, ye gods, how sad the world is at evening, how mysterious the mists over the swamps. You will know it when you have suffered greatly before dying, when you have walked through the world carrying an unbearable burden. You know it too when you are weary and ready to leave this earth without regret; it's mists, it's swamps and it's rivers; ready to give yourself into the arms of death with a light heart, knowing that death alone can comfort you.
    • Book Two in 'Absolution and Eternal Refuge', MG. (Note: Alternate translation of above passage ('Gods, my gods...'))

Quotes about Bulgakov

  • In Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita, the Devil comes to Moscow. What follows is a fearful spiral of denunciation, disappearance and death, at once arbitrary and spiteful, calculated and yet deranged. No work better captures the loathsome quality of the Terror; no scene gets closer to illuminating the surreal atmosphere of the show trials than Nikanor Bosoy's nightmare of being exposed as a foreign currency dealer while sitting in the audience of a variety show in a Moscow theatre. For not every act in the drama required Stalin's instigation; his role was to create an environment in which ordinary men and women - even members of the same family - would denounce one another; in which today's torturer could be tomorrow's victim; in which today's camp commandant could spend the night in the punishment cells.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), pp. 210-211
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