The Goodrich Tabula Rasa: Black Marsden and Margarita
The epigraphs to Wilson Harris’s Black Marsden (1972) make clear its debt to Hogg and MacDiarmid, and further, to Kurt Wittig’s The Scottish Tradition in Literature; the Edinburgh novel has been read as a ‘zone of contact’ between Harris’s Guyanese ‘radical imagination’ and the Scottish tradition. In this paper, I argue for a different ‘zone of contact’ represented in the novel, stretching east to Europe, that both follows MacDiarmid and foreshadows later connections in writers such as Gray and Morgan. The paper maps this zone of contact via a comparative reading with Mikhail Bulgakov’s Soviet-era satire The Master and Margarita, which shares striking characteristics with Black Marsden; two English translations of Bulgakov’s novel, by Mirra Ginsburg and Michael Glenny, were published in 1967, immediately before Black Marsden. I sketch the common ground between Black Marsden and The Master and Margarita, particularly their folkloric, esoteric, and supernatural elements, and Cold War-era political satire. The paper consequently offers Scotland within a new literary-transnational cartography, in the Cold War moment of Black Marsden’s publication.
Joe Jackson, University of Nottingham