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Collecting Miniatures of The Master and Margarita

By Audrey Golden. Oct 12, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Literature, Book History

We love the idea of miniature books, especially when they’re clandestine printings of banned books or re-printings of censored novels. After all, what better way to hide a book than placing it deep inside a pocket or a bag such that it can’t be discovered? One of our favorite novels of the twentieth century, The Master and Margarita [Мастер и Mаргарита], couldn’t be published in the lifetime of its author, Mikhail Bulgakov. Bulgakov wrote the novel in the decade before his death in 1940, but he could share it only with close friends due to its thinly veiled criticism of Stalinism. The novel wasn’t published as a book until 1967, and the first English-language translation included many omissions. It has since undergone new English-language translations, and the book often is considered among the greatest works of modern and contemporary fiction.

But let’s get back to the question of the miniatures. Toward the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, interest in Bulgakov resurged enormously in Russia. In response, in part, to his exclusion from the Russian literary canon during the era of the Soviet Union, a number of Russian presses have begun re-printing the novel in its original language. As if alluding to the once-clandestine nature of the book, many of these presses have created miniatures, often in multi-volume sets, of the novel. We’ll give you some information that will help you to track down some miniatures for your collection.

The Need for “Hide-able” Books: Political Critique in The Master and Margarita

FullSizeRender (10).jpgBefore we get to the information about the miniatures, we’d like to provide some brief background information on The Master and Margarita that will help to illumine the significance of this book being published in miniature form. The novel shifts between present-day Moscow (of the 1930s, of course) and Jerusalem during the time of Pontius Pilate. If you haven’t read the novel, here’s the briefest synopsis we can give: the devil and his retinue, including a giant cat named Behemoth, arrive at Patriarch’s Ponds to wreak comical havoc upon twentieth-century Moscow, while Pontius Pilate agrees to the execution of Jesus. All the while, it turns out the Master, a novelist in Moscow, has been re-writing the story of Pontius Pilate with the encouragement of his lover, Margarita. The novel is at once satire while also a narrative of redemption amidst the threat of totalitarianism.

Given the history of the novel—as political critique, as mode of resistance—it only stands to reason that re-printings of the physical object would speak to its background that reaches far beyond the Russian literary universe. We’ll tell you about a handful of miniatures that you can seek out to add to your collection.

Finding Miniature Books for Your Collection

Master_Margarita_Mini1_BTYW.pngIf you don’t speak Russian, it could be hard to track down some of these miniature re-printings to which we’ve been referring. We’re here to help! One of our favorite miniature versions of The Master and Margarita is an edition for sale solely in Bulgakov’s former apartment in Moscow. The apartment is now the Bulgakov Museum, which also houses a small avant-garde theatre. Inside, visitors can purchase a two-volume set of the novel, with red and blue cloth covers, published by the museum. This edition also contains line-drawing illustrations of various moments in the novel.

In addition, DeAgostini published a three-volume edition of Bulgakov’s novel in 2012. The set consists of three tiny hardcover books—about two and a half inches by two inches—with red leather covers and gilt lettering. These are the smallest Bulgakov miniatures we know about, and they were published as part of DeAgostini’s “Masterpieces of World Literature in Miniature” series. Last but not least, as part of “A Small Library of Masterpieces” [Малая библиотека шедевров] series, the St. Petersburg-based publisher Azbuka-Attikus released a miniature edition of the novel in 2013. Like the two-volume edition sold by the Bulgakov Museum, this miniature is a hardcover with a red cloth cover.

We’re always on the hunt for additional miniatures of Bulgakov’s masterpiece. If you discover additional miniatures, let us know. In the meantime, we hope you’ll find some miniatures to add to your Russian literature collection.

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Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.


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