This is the second part of our Bulgakov walk which looks at buildings associated with the author’s life and his Moscow-based novel The Master and Margarita. This second walk is about 3.5 miles long and covers the Prechistenka and Arbat areas of Moscow. You can follow the first part of the walk here.
We start at 3 Malyy Mogiltsevskiy Pereulok which was once a registry office. It was here, in 1932, that Bulgakov married his third wife (and his inspiration for the character of Margarita) Elena Shilovskaya. At the time, Bulgakov was working as Assistant Director at the Moscow Arts Theatre, and whilst in a meeting he passed a note to the theatre director which read: “Secret. Urgent. I am getting married at the Registrar Office at 3.45pm. Release me in 10 minutes.”
From facing the registry office, turn left and walk along the street, turning right at the end, then second left into Bolshoy Mogiltsevskiy Pereulok. Turn right again into Bolshoy Levshinskiy Pereulok and then first left into Chistyy Pereulok stopping at number 9. Bulgakov lived in an outbuilding of this house between 1924 and 1926 which he and his second wife, Lyubov Belozerskaya, nicknamed the “Dovecote” which sounds romantic but his wife later recalled it as “a ramshackle little addition in the courtyard of number 9″. In May 1926 the Bulgakov’s apartment was raided and his diaries were confiscated along with the manuscript for his novel the Heart of a Dog. It wouldn’t be until 1987 that the novel was finally published in the USSR. The diaries were eventually returned to Bulgakov but he decided that it would be safest to burn them. As it turned out, the secret services had made copies which were carefully stored in their archives, and as a result scholars now have access to them.
Continue down Chistyy Pereulok 9 [you might want to take a quick look at number 1 on the corner which is where Bulgakov’s uncle lived – he was the inspiration for the Professor in the Heart of a Dog] and walk down to Prechistenka Ulitsa. Turn right and then cross the road into Mansurovskiy Pereulok stopping at number 9. This building (pictured at the top of the page) is thought by many to be the inspiration for the Master’s basement apartment in the novel. The building was owned by the Topleninov brothers who were friend’s of Bulgakov’s (Sergei was a layout artist for the Moscow Arts Theatre where Bulgakov worked), and Bulgakov frequently stayed in the basement while writing The Master and Margarita. The wife of Vladimir Topleninov wrote that Bulgakov “often stayed in a special room with a stove“. The stove gets at least three mentions during the description of the apartment in Master and Margarita including this one:
Ivan could clearly picture to himself the two rooms in the basement of the detached house, in which it was always twilight because of the lilac and the fence. The shabby red furniture..and the books, books from the painted floor to the smoke-blackened ceiling, and the stove.
Continue down Mansurovskiy Pereulok and turn left onto Ulitsa Ostozhenka stopping opposite number 21. There are many locations in Moscow which people believe to be the inspiration for Margarita’s house in the novel and this house is one of them. This building may not be in the right location (it should be nearer the Arbat) but it is definitely gothic in style and has the all important turret: “Margarita woke up around midday in her bedroom, which looked out through the skylight onto the house’s turret”. One of the factors that makes this house a strong contender is that the wife of Bulgakov’s friend, Sergei Topleninov (who lived in the Master’s House that we have just visited) was the daughter of the architect, Leo Kekusheva, who built this mansion as his family home. Sergei and his wife, Mary, eventually went to live in the Ostozhenka mansion.
Continue along Uitsa Ostozhenka, turning left at Gogolevskiy Boulevard and second left into Gagarinskiy Pereulok. The first road on the right is Nashchokinsky Pereulok, walk along until you find number 5. A wing of this building housed apartments for writers, and Bulgakov and his third wife lived here in flat 44 from 1934 until his death in 1940. In May 1935 Bulgakov wrote to his brother:
It’s light and dry and we have gas! God how delightful! I call down a blessing on the person who thought of putting gas into apartments.
This last period of Bulgakov’s life was one of reasonable security but it hadn’t always been so. In 1929 all of his plays had been banned by the authorities and after his work The Cabal of Hypocrites was banned before rehearsals even had a chance to start, Bulgakov burnt the manuscripts of all the pieces he was writing including early drafts of The Master and Margarita. He then wrote directly to Stalin:
All of my works have received grotesque and unfavourable reviews and my name has been slandered…my strength has been broken. Since I no longer have the strength to survive, since I am persecuted and now that it is impossible that I should ever be published or staged in the USSR again [I am requesting you and the Soviet Government] to expel me from the USSR together with my wife.
The response was a telephone call from Stalin himself who suggested that Bulgakov apply for a position at the Moscow Arts Theatre. Bulgakov replied: “I asked about it – they refused me”. Stalin suggested he apply again and Bulgakov became Assistant Director at the theatre. In their book Literary Russia: A guide Anna Benn and Rosamund Bartlett speculate that Stalin’s generosity was because he wished to avoid the same sort of embarrassing scandal that had occurred after the recent suicide of the poet Mayakovsky.
Although Bulgakov continued to have problems getting plays performed and literary work published (when The Cabal of Hypocrites finally got to the stage in 1936 it was then banned after seven performances), the period of time he spent here in this apartment was one of the more stable and seemingly prosperous parts of his life. One of his friends remarked on visiting him here:
Instead of Bohemian disorder he was surrounded by comfortable and tasteful furnishings…he’s gone bourgeois.
Continue along the road and turn right into Sivstev Vrazhek Pereulok and then left onto Gogolevsky Boulevard, cross into the tree lined avenue and across the road again to Kolymazhnyy Pereulok. Turn left into Malyy Znamensnkiy, right onto Ulitsa Znamenka before turning left into Ulitsa Mokhovaya. The first building on your left (number 3) is known as the Pashkov house and is the setting for the scene in Master and Margarita where Woland and Azazello are on the terrace and survey the city:
Woland looked fixedly at the boundless assemblage of palaces, gigantic buildings and little hovels doomed to demolition. Azazello…just like him was not taking his eyes off the city. Woland spoke: “What an interesting city, isn’t it?”
It was also here in this building (which once housed the manuscript branch of the Lenin Library) that the authorities deposited all Bulgakov’s banned manuscripts, letters and editions of the Master and Margarita.
Retrace your steps, turning right into Ulitsa Znamenka and continue until you reach the Boulevard ring. Cross the road in front of the statue of Gogol and continue down Malyy Afanasyevskiy Pereulok. If you like modern street art then you can take a slight detour when you reach Bolshoy Afanasyevskiy Pereulok turning left to number 33 where you’ll find this fabulous portrait of Bulgakov. Once you’ve had a look, turn back on yourself and continue until you reach the Old Arbat. A Master and Margarita walk would not be complete without a stroll down the Old Arbat which in Bulgakov’s time wasn’t pedestrianised and was one of the busiest main roads in the city. The Arbat features at several points in the novel, most notably during Margarita’s flight on her broom.
“I have to be even more careful on the Arbat”, thought Margarita, “there’s so much stuff entangled here, you can’t make anything of it” She set about diving between the wires. Below Margarita swam the roofs of the trolleybuses, buses and motor cars, and along the pavements, as it seemed to Margarita from above, there swam rivers of caps.
Continue along the Old Arbat and turn right into Spasopeskovskiy pereulok. Diagonally opposite the entrance to the little park you’ll find the residence of the American Ambassador (at number 10). In 1935, Bulgakov and his wife Elena, attended a ball at Spaso House at which the Ambassador had brought in a number of animals from Moscow zoo. Elena described how:
I have never seen such a ball in my life…We had dinner at small tables in a huge dining room with, in a corner, living baby bears, goats and roosters
and she later recalled that Bulgakov was greatly impressed by the event. It is widely accepted (including by the Americans!) that this ball provided much of the inspiration for Satan’s Ball in Master and Margarita. You can find a detailed description of the chaos at the Ambassador’s ball in this account by an American, Charles Thayer, who was involved in its organisation.
Our walk ends here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!