Chapter 15

Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream

[Son Nikanora Ivanovicha]

When the novel was first published in 1966, this chapter was titled "Nikanor Ivanovich," since the dream (and most of the text) was cut.

spent some time in another place


hand over your foreign currency

inside a theater

men only, they all had beards

Are you all seated?

Sergei Gerardovich Dunchil


Ida Gerkulanovna Vors

Savva Potapovich Kurolesov

The Covetous Knight

Will Pushkin be paying for the apartment?

Nikolai Kanavkin

Einem candy box

There are piles of gold there, and they all belong to me


"You don't?" roared the cook in a threatening bass, "You don't?" he crooned tenderly like a woman

spent some time in another place--the Russian here suggests that he passed some time as a preliminary precaution before he got to Stravinsky's. The other place was, of course, Lubyanka, the NKVD. The interrogation scene is written almost entirely in the indefinite personal form, which consists of the third person plural verb with no subject. We know somebody is doing the interrogating, but we never know who they are: [they] asked [they] raised their voice [they] hinted

hand over your foreign currency--In 1929 the OGPU (NKVD) began a campaign to extract foreign currency, gold, and jewels from the people. Suspected "valiutchiki" -- foreign currency speculators -- were held in prison cells for weeks at a time until they "voluntarily" gave up their currency and valuables. Various methods were used to encourage the prisoners to give up their valuables, including feeding them salty food and no water. More sinister methods are described in Cherniavin's I Speak for the Silent (reprinted in Riha's Readings in Russian Civilization). Bulgakov's description here may be inspired by the stories of his friend, the philologist Nikolai Nikolaevich Liamin, who was held for two weeks in 1931. Liamin's wife was from a famous merchant family, and her aunt had already been arrested. They were looking for a necklace. Liamin didn't mention the aunt until they brought her before him. When they searched Liamin's apartment, they found only some costume jewelry, and he was released.

inside a theater--the theater probably doesn't reflect OGPU/NKVD methods, except inasmuch as the charges were fabricated and the trials scripted. (Read transcripts of the Show Trials at the Art Bin site.) But theaters were Bulgakov's world, and the unreality of the theater, like that of dreams, plays an important part in Master and Margarita. The prison is doubly displaced--into a theater and a dream, perhaps to avoid the censor; yet it was still cut even in 1966.

men only, they all had beards--prisons, unlike theaters, were segregated by sex. The beards could be because the prisoners couldn't shave, or they could be a hint that the foreign currency speculators are Old Believers (many merchants were) or Jews.

Are you all seated?--in Russian "to be in prison" is rendered as "to sit in prison." One needn't use the word prison, since the construction was so familiar. "You are sitting" means "you are in prison."

Sergei Gerardovich Dunchil--a non-Russian sounding name, perhaps a combination of [Isadora] Duncan and [Winston] Churchill.

Kharkov--an industrial town in the Ukraine

Ida Gerkulanovna Vors--Dunchil's mistress has a very funny-sounding name. Gerkulan is an extremely rare name, and "vorsa" refers to the fuzziness of cloths like wool or velvet.

Savva Potapovich Kurolesov--the actor's last name comes from "kurolesit'," which means "play the fool" or "act crazy."

The Covetous Knight--one of Pushkin's Little Tragedies, a series of one-act plays.

Will Pushkin be paying for the apartment?--these sayings, which Nikanor Ivanovich thinks refer to "Pushkin himself," actually use Pushkin to stand in for "nobody/anybody." They are a kind of joking dead metaphor, structurally not unlike our "God knows" or the Russian "Go to the devil"--which also becomes realized in the novel. Instead of the empty "devil" Bulgakov presents Woland. Instead of the empty "Pushkin" Nikanor Ivanovich understands the real Pushkin. He similarly confuses the actor Kurolesov with his role.

Nikolai Kanavkin--Kanavkin's name comes from "kanavka"--a ditch or a small canal. Kanavkin's mentioning his aunt may reflect the situation of Bulgakov's friend Liamin, whose aunt was also arrested along with him.

There are piles of gold there, and they all belong to me (Tchaikovsky, Queen of Spades, again based on Pushkin)

"You don't?" roared the cook in a threatening bass, "You don't?" he crooned tenderly like a woman--the metamorphosis of the cook into a woman as Nikanor Ivanovich wakes is reminiscent of Tolstoy's descriptions of dreaming-waking as well as of a scene in Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges.