A Hero of Our Time - Lermontov

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ReadaClassic.com, 2011 - 136 pages
Mikhail Lermontov's famous novel, "A Hero of our Time," was and remains one of the great literary achievements of the 19th century. Lermontov is considered to be the only true Romantic poet from Russia, and it is easy to see why after reading this book. He is greatly influenced by Byronism (a literary movement in Europe started by the Romantic poet George Gordon Lord Byron). In his work, Lermontov creates a character who encapsulates Byronic principles. Pechorin, Lermontov's protagonist, is a darker hero than most in Russian society are accustomed to. He is sensitive and cynical; he has great insight into his own personality and yet remains extremely arrogant. Pechorin is remarkably intelligent and prefers to rely on the certainty of intellect rather than the unpredictable nature of emotions. He is vain and ambitious but never content with his achievements. Once he sets out on a new adventure he easily gets bored with what he has accomplished and becomes depressed. He states "my imagination knows no peace, my heart no satisfaction." He specifically enjoys the challenge of conquering women. As time goes on however, he grows bored with the lovers he has seduced and treats them unkindly or just leaves them altogether. Throughout his journeys Pechorin is cruel to his lovers, rude to strangers, and even kills one of his friends in a duel sparked by a minor disagreement (showing little remorse afterwards). Perhaps Pechorin's contradictory personality is best summarized by the comment he makes to a friend about a lover: "I'm still in love with her. I'm grateful to her for a few moments of relative bliss. I'd give my life for her. But she bores me." Lermontov's creation of this morally corrupt protagonist sparked condemnation from many Russians upon its publication. Society was not comfortable with such a villainous character being hailed a hero as Lermontov clearly implies by the title of the book. In reaction to the criticism, Lermontov adds a preface in the book's second publication to explain that Pechorin "is a portrait of the vices of our whole generation in their ultimate development." He brilliantly points out that perhaps society is so fervently opposed to Pechorin because they secretly fear the realities in Pechorin's personality. Lermontov rhetorically asks "you will say that no man can be so bad, and I will ask you why, after accepting all the villains of tragedy and romance, you refuse to believe in Pechorin? You have admired far more terrible and monstrous characters than he is, so why are you so merciless to him, even as a fictitious character? Perhaps he comes too close to the bone?" Still today, Pechorin is a fascinating literary character and his personality is formed by the principles of Byronism.

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About the author (2011)

Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (1814 -1841), a Russian Romantic writer, poet and painter, sometimes called "the poet of the Caucasus," was the most important Russian poet after Alexander Pushkin's death. His influence on later Russian literature is still felt in modern times, not only through his poetry, but also by his prose. His poetry remains popular in Chechnya, Dagestan, and beyond Russia. Mikhail Lermontov was a poet by genius, a romantic at heart, yet by the time of his death at 26, he had already become something of a disillusioned realist. This tension between streaks in his personality is expressed openly in "A Hero of Our Time" the novel starts out as a romantic adventure beautified with most exquisite imagery, but is later transformed into a disquieting tale of manipulation and dark deeds. The setting for this novel (which is really a loosely connected string of short stories) is the wild Caucasian mountains, to which Lermontov himself had been "exiled" to fight against the fierce Chechens. After the death of Pushkin, Lermontov took it upon himself to keep the great poet's legacy alive. The authorities did not take kindly to Lermontov's endeavour, and transferred the young officer to the war zone. To 19th centrury Russian writers, the experience of the Caucasus and of 'Asiatics' in general was of tremendous value as a gauge of the value of Russian civilization. Juxtaposing Russian high society with the people of the steppes and the mountains became a familiar device in Russian literature, just like American Indians were used to symbolize the natural/unadulterated or the uncivilized/savage in American literature. However, in "A Hero of Our Time" the officer Pechorin transcends the boundaries between culture and nature. In the early chapters of the book, Pechorin's adventures are described from outside, and seem extraordinary, bizarre, yet captivating. Later on, other stories are recounted in Pechorin's diary, and they draw a different picture of the modern hero: disillusioned, hateful, and profoundly unhappy. Life is a game which he has long mastered, he knows exactly how to play into people's pride, vanity and passion. Yet, at unlikely moments, a stir of long-forgotten emotion briefly produces a vulnerable, human hero with whom we, despite ourselves, are forced to identify...

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