A Hero of Our Time - Lermontov
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.