Bulgakov on Doctor Faustus

The Master and Margarita is definitely my favourite of the works that we have studied thus far in Arts One. Many consider it to be one of the greatest novels of Russian literature, if not one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time. It encompasses so many themes and topics; it’s a satirical political commentary on Communist Russia, a religious debate, a love story, and an exploration of mysticism and realism, and I’m just barely scratching the surface with this summary. It is also a fabulous read, a little hard at first to get into, but definitely worth it. There is absolutely no way that I could effectively communicate the depth and brilliance of this novel in this short blog, although I will certainly try to in my essay. Interestingly, reading Master really helped with my interpretation of Doctor Faustus. They both play on similar themes, and even similar plot elements, but while Master is clearly a clever political allegory attempting to derail the policies of Stalin’s regime, my initial reading of Doctor Faustus left me very confused with Marlowe’s purpose and opinions. As an anti-Calvinist I would think that Marlowe would portray the failings of it’s doctrine, but Faustus is a very poor example of the failures of these teachings. He is a ridiculous and unsympathetic idiot who brings his demise upon himself, and ultimately proves the Church’s values. After reading Master it occurs to me that Marlowe may have intended Faustus in the same way that Bulgakov intended Master, a critical and satirical allegory for the times, exposing the flaws of society or the institution that he is criticizing through the flaws and even idiocy of his characters.

1 thought on “Bulgakov on Doctor Faustus

  1. Hey, really neat idea here at the end. I want to hear more about how Faustus, in Marlowe, might be a satirical allegory for the times, showing the flaws of larger institutions or practices through his own flaws. I like this a lot. Maybe you’ll write an essay on it so we can hear more of how that might be the case! You don’t have to, of course, but it’s intriguing.

    I puzzled over why Faustus is so unsympathetic, if one is to take the anti-Calvinist reading. I concluded in a recent blog post that maybe, just maybe, to make him a believable character in Calvinism, he has to be the sort of person who really would sell his soul to the devil and not be able to repent. A Calvinist would say that people who are damned also show their wickedness and foolishness in the rest of their lives. It’s not like someone who is damned is going to be a saint for their whole lives and then suddenly do something very different like sell their soul to the devil. Those predestined to go to hell are going to show that in their character; it’s not just that they won’t repent, it’s that they are so corrupted in their character that they can’t (for example).

    I’m not fully satisfied with this answer, but it seemed a start at the time.

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