Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How About an Anchorage MASSOLIT?

Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita arrived in the mail last spring.   A friend had sent it and I haven't had a chance to start it until this trip.

On page one we meet
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berloiz. editor of an important literary journal and chairman of the board of one of the largest literary associations in Moscow, known by its initials as MASSOLIT.
Berloiz exits, dramatically, at the end of Chapter 3. ("It was the severed head of Berlioz.")  But it's MASSOLIT that piqued my interest and had me fantasizing such an institution in Anchorage.  (Well, as you'll see below, similar in basic concept, but not in actual execution.)

It's not until Chapter 5 that we get more details about MASSOLIT.  It's housed, for instance, in an old

two-story, cream-colored mansion [called Griboyedov's] . . . set deep within a run-down garden. . .
MASSOLIT made itself at home in Griboyedov's in the cosiest and most comfortable way imaginable.  The visitor at Griboyedov's  was greeted first of all by the announcements of a variety of sports clubs and by the collective as well as individual photographs of members of MASSOLIT, which (photographs) covered the walls of the staircase leading to the upper floor.

On the door of room No. 2 there was a somewhat obscure inscription, ONE-DAY CREATIVE TRIPS.  SEE M. V. PODLOZHNAYA.

The next door bore a short but altogether cryptic sign, PERELYGINO.  Next, the chance visitor to Griboyedov's was all but dizzied by the multitude of signs peppering the ... heavy walnut doors:  REGISTER FOR PAPER WITH POKLEVKINA, PAY OFFICE, SKETCH WRITERS' PERSONAL ACCOUNTS . . .

Cutting across the longest queue, which stretched all the way down to the foyer, one could see the sign HOUSING QUESTION on a door that was constantly being assailed by a crowd of people.
Beyond the housing question a magnificent poster opened to view:  a cliff, and riding on its crest a horseman in a felt cloak, with a rifle behind his back.  A little lower were some palms and a balcony, and, sitting on the balcony, a young man with a tidy tuft of hair over his forehead and a fountain pen in his hand, staring off somewhere into the heights with overconfident, overbold eyes.  The legend read:
In short, MASSOLIT is an organization of writers where housing and work and other recreation can be procured in relatively pleasant surroundings. 
But it isn't all sweetness and light.  Although it does have the best 'restaurant in Moscow, and because this fare was served at the most moderate, most reasonable prices"  it also has problems.

Any visitor at Griblyedov's, unless, of course he was a hopeless dunce, immediatly realized how well these lucky chosen ones - the members of MASSOLIT - were living and was attacked by the blackest envy.  And began at once to send up bitter reproaches to heaven because it had not endowed him at birth with literary talent, whithout which one naturally could not even dream of coming into possession of a MASSOLIT membership card - brown, smelling of good leather, with a wide gilt edge - a card well known throughout Moscow.

Now, I'm not fantasizing a Soviet style literary club in Anchorage with its own mansion, but it is nice to fantasize about a private club of sorts for writers of various types with its own building where people would come to plan collaborative projects with others, to find work or at least grant opportunities, and to eat with friends in a good restaurant. 

I'm assuming that MASSOLIT is modeled after a real place, though the story itself gets rather surrealistic.  The translator's introduction tells us:
After the extraordinary flowering of literature in a great variety of forms in the post-revolutionary decade, the end of the New Economic Policy and the introduction of the Five-Year Plans in the late 1920's brought about a tightening of the reins in literature and arts as well. The party's instrument of pressure and coercion at the time was RAPP (Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) under the leadership of the narrow and intolerant zealot Leopold Averbakh.  And the persecution and pressures applied to writers to force them into the requisite mold succeeded in destroying all but a very small minority which resisted to the end.  Many of the most famous authors became silent or almost silent, either by their own choice, or because their works were barred from publication.  .  .
Bulgakov [the author of The Master and Margarita]  was one of the first writers to be hounded out of literature.  His first novel, The White Guard, the first part of which was serialized in a magazine in 1925, provoked a storm of criticism from party-line critics because it did not portray any Communist heroes, but dealt with the responses of Russian gentry intelligentsia and White officers to the upheavals sweeping the country and destroying all their old values and social norms. 
So, Frank, thanks for the book.  I'd point out that one of the benefits of blogging is that I was forced to go back to the intro which didn't mean all that much when I first read it.  Now I can guess that MASSOLIT might be modeled after RAPP. 

And CS, anything to add?

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