Who the hell is Archibald Archibaldovich? And what is with that name? The introduction of this particular character in chapter V of Master and Margarita is so clever, and fun, that I am awed by it. The process goes something like this: the name is casually dropped, and quickly forgotten; later, a rather striking figure is described, but not given a name; toward the end of the chapter the person and the name come together, and the context is surprising.
The chapter opens with a description of the house where the literary organization MASSOLIT has its headquarters. The narrator characterizes the restaurant, in part, by relating a conversation overheard there (see my translation of this conversation in The Old-Timers of Moscow will remember). In this the poet Amvrosy, hinting at his “insider” connections, and in support of his point that the restaurant is the best in Moscow, says to one Foka, his companion, “Archibald Archibaldovich whispered to me today that the a-la-carte will be Perch au Naturel. A virtuoso trick!” At first I was astounded by this name, Archibald Archibaldovich, but as no further mention is made of it at this time, and the story moves on to some quite dramatic action, it was soon forgotten, mostly.
Later in the chapter, after meeting members of the board of MASSOLIT as they swelter in a room upstairs at Griboedov, we are back in the restaurant, to which these writers have descended after tiring of waiting for their director, Mikhail Alexandrovich. The scene is a brilliant picture of a Russian jazz club at its peak—with the band leader screaming “hallelujah”, surly waiters, diverse dance-floor denizens and dishes breaking in the kitchen. Bulgakov finishes off his description with the summary, “It was a vision of hell at midnight”, and this line is immediately followed by the introduction of a fascinating stranger:
Out onto the veranda stepped a handsome-looking, dark-eyed fellow with a dagger-like beard, in tails, and with a regal gaze he surveyed his domain. The mystics spoke of a time when the handsome one did not wear tails, but was girded in a wide leather belt, from which protruded pistol grips, his raven hair was tied up with scarlet silk, and he sailed the Caribbean Sea with a brig under his command flying a flag dark as a tomb, with a death’s head on it.
This mysterious figure quickly fades out, though, when news arrives that Berlioz, in fact, has just died as the result of being run over by a tram.
Toward the end of the chapter, when the commotion over this news has been replaced by the poet Ivan Nikolaevich raving madly on the veranda, the doorman is being severely dressed down by a man variously referred to as “the Commander of the brig”, “the pirate”, and “the filibuster”, presumably the mysterious figure mentioned earlier, and apparently a figure of authority. “You saw that he was in his underwear?” he repeated. The doorman , who had simply “smiled stupidly” as Ivan Nikolaevkich, in this state of undress, had entered the restaurant, grovels at the pirate’s feet, and even imagines his death, “hanging from the yardarm of a foremast”. He pleads pathetically, “Have mercy Archibald Archibaldovich.” So, the pirate is finally given a name, and he is one-and-the-same as the maitre-d’ of the restaurant at Griboedov!
This seemingly absurd connection between a rather ordinary person doing an ordinary job in the city of Moscow in the 20th century, and a bloodthirsty and charismatic pirate of the Caribbean may be nothing more than an inside joke; according to the website- masterandmargarita.eu, the character of Archibald Archibaldovich was based on an actual person who was known to Bulgakov:
The prototype for Archibald Archibaldovich was Yakov Danilov Rozental (1893-1966), nicknamed the Beard. . . Yakov Rosental as the manager of the Herzen House (which was the prototype for Griboedov) and the manager of the restaurant of the Journalists’ Union form 1925 to 1931. The Bulgakovs were acquainted with Rozental. . .”
Though this characterization of Archibald, son-of-Archibald, might just be Bulgakov poking fun at a friend, it puts me in mind of the circumstances of that period, the decade after the Russian Civil War, when it was quite probable there were men doing perfectly mundane jobs in the city, but who had been leading participants in the widespread lawless, destructive and frankly piratical activities in the years following the revolution.
© 2013, John Dougherty. All rights reserved