The Surprising Literary History of Skin Care by Gavin Francis
This article has been publish by The Paris Review. It begins:
In Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, there’s a scene of miraculous rejuvenation accomplished by a magical cream. Margarita Nikolaevna, a thirty-year-old woman, is sitting on a bench in Moscow’s Alexander Gardens when a suspicious fang-toothed man (later revealed as an agent of Satan) presents her with a golden casket, heavy and ornate as a reliquary. He tells her to wait until exactly half past eight that evening before opening it and applying the contents to her skin. For reasons too complicated to summarize, she agrees.
At 8:29 P.M., Margarita can’t wait any longer: she lifts the heavy box of gold and opens the lid. The cream is yellowish and oily and gives off the aroma of earth, marshland, and forest. She begins rubbing it into her forehead and cheeks, where it is absorbed quickly and greaselessly, producing a tingling effect over her skin. Then she looks in the mirror and drops the casket in shock.