Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time: A Critical Companion


Praised as the first Russian novel of psychological realism and as a critique of the repressive era in which Mikhail Lermontov lived, A Hero of Our Time brought to life the political and social ideas that at that time could only be expressed indirectly. This latest volume in the acclaimed Northwestern/AATSEEL Critical Companions to Russian Literature series presents diverse perspectives of leading Slavic literary theorists and specialists, ethnologists, formalist critics, and Western humanists. Lending additional...

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Praised as the first Russian novel of psychological realism and as a critique of the repressive era in which Mikhail Lermontov lived, A Hero of Our Time brought to life the political and social ideas that at that time could only be expressed indirectly. This latest volume in the acclaimed Northwestern/AATSEEL Critical Companions to Russian Literature series presents diverse perspectives of leading Slavic literary theorists and specialists, ethnologists, formalist critics, and Western humanists. Lending additional breadth and depth are conservative and radical reviews of the novel written at the time of its publication, plus two new essays, one on ethnic identity and the other on women's issues in the novel.

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Lewis Bagby is a professor of Russian and the director of International Programs at the University of Wyoming. He is the author of Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky and Russian Byronism

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Lermontov's a Hero of Our Time: a Critical Companion

By American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages.

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2002 American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0810116804

Mikhail Yur'evich Lermontov and A Hero of Our Time

Lewis Bagby

A Brief Biography

Mikhail Lermontov (1814-41) is considered the second most important Russian poet of the nineteenth century, after Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). This opinion, held by critics in Russia and abroad, is of no small consequence, for Lermontov's verse is held up against the poetic achievements of many accomplished poets of the Golden Age of Russian verse. Lermontov's poetry is recited to this day: it is on the lips of both national figures and provincial educators in the Russian Federation. What is remarkable about Lermontov's credited verse is that it was almost entirely written between the time he was twenty-three and twenty-seven. Adding piquancy to the stature of his aesthetic accomplishment is the woeful fact that he was killed in a duel.

Lermontov's poetry holds a special position in Russian culture, but his importance also derives from the one novel he published in his lifetime, A Hero of Our Time. The novel took the public by storm in 1840 and has continued to disturb, challenge, and excitereaders and critics since that time. It has been praised as the first novel of "psychological realism" in Russian prose and as a critique of the repressive times in which Lermontov lived. Lermontov's life coincided with the notorious historical period when political, economic, and social ideas had to go underground, surfacing indirectly in works of art rather than in public forums or in the public media that the police and censor controlled for content. A Hero of Our Time is one such work, a seminal one at that.

Lermontov stands as a key figure in Russian culture of the second quarter of the nineteenth century. His small but significant mature poetic output, the tragic circumstances of his death, the role he played in society, his continual affront to government, and his contribution to Russian prose through the publication of A Hero of Our Time earned him this place.

It was a complex time in which he lived. Tsar Nicholas I's tyrannical reign was a troubled era when over ninety percent of the population was living in conditions of poverty, when a large percentage of the peasant population was virtually enslaved, when power, land, and wealth were amassed in very few hands, and when the country had yet begun to recover from the trauma of the Decembrist revolt that occurred in 1825 on the first day of Tsar Nicholas I's rule.

On that December day, a group of bright, radical military officers attempted to install a constitutional form of government by rallying the rank and file troops of St. Petersburg to forestall the Senate's swearing allegiance to Nicholas I. The revolt was a fiasco, ending when over one hundred officers were tried, convicted, and exiled to Siberia and the Caucasus. Six principal organizers were hanged. December 14 set a paranoic tone for Tsar Nicholas I's rule, although he might have been the tyrant he was in any case.

Lermontov was born on October 3, 1814, approximately eleven years before the Decembrist revolt. He would have known of it as a child but become more familiar with it as a cadet in St. Petersburg. In his brief life, he met with several of the Decembrists when he was exiled in the Caucasus. His life was connected adversely with the tsar, his court, and secret police - not only during the years of Lermontov's greatest literary output (which placed him in the eye of the censors as well as the court and police) but also while he was being schooled and trained for military duty when he was a youth.

Before tracing the details of Lermontov's biography in greater detail, it is important to acknowledge the difficulties that occur in attempting to reconstruct his life. The historical record is very slim. Although the reader has his poems, dramas, and prose, Lermontov left few letters, notebooks, diary pages, or drafts. Memoirs about his life were penned many years after his death, when archetypal images of Lermontov's persona already prevailed. In treating his biography, it becomes difficult to differentiate fact and fiction. This is the case for a variety of reasons, some of which belong to Lermontov himself; others to his friends, acquaintances, and enemies (and problems associated with their memoirs); and others to the interpretive means at our disposal 160 years after Lermontov's death.

Lermontov created smokescreens, manipulating the presentation of his self in a way that ultimately blocked it from view. For example, in a moment of despair, he once wrote to Sofia Bakhmeteva, a close friend, that "the poetry of my soul has died." Then he added, "If I had started writing to you an hour earlier, perhaps I would have written something entirely different; every moment I have new fantasies." We might conclude from this remark that constant internal movement defines Lermontov. But it may also be accurate to say that Lermontov created the image of a contradictory, yet heroic, character and that he did so in order to remain outside the grasp of those who tried to define him. There are historical reasons why memoirists cannot always be trusted either. During the first several decades of the nineteenth century, it was normative to equate literature with life. It is to be expected that Lermontov acquired the habit of his generation, particularly among the ultraromantics, to fashion himself by aesthetic means. The public would have viewed him in the same manner.

The equation of his art with his person has long dominated critical discourse about him. For example, Ivan Turgenev delivers the following description of Lermontov:

There was something ominous and tragic in Lermontov's appearance: his swarthy face and large, motionless dark eyes exuded a sort of somber and evil strength, a sort of pensive scornfulness and passion. His hard gaze was strangely out of keeping with the expression of his almost childishly tender, protruding lips. His whole figure, thick-set, bow-legged, with a large head on broad, stooping shoulders, aroused an unpleasant feeling; but everyone had at once to acknowledge its immense inherent strength. It is, of course, a well-known fact that he had to some extent portrayed himself in Pechorin. The words, "His eyes did not laugh when he laughed," from A Hero of Our Time, etc., could really have been applied to himself.

Turgenev's words sound more like literary cliche, as in the physiological sketch in the "Maksim Maksimych" chapter of A Hero of Our Time. But there is also the chance that Turgenev's description is accurate and provides an adequate depiction of Lermontov's social image. Whether that projection was a game Lermontov played for the benefit of society or whether it was authentic is difficult to ascertain. In any case, Turgenev's record of Lermontov maintains the practice of equating literature and life in synchrony with the times.

That mode of apprehension has not disappeared. In his 1982 biography of Lermontov, John Garrard writes, "The symbiotic relationship between love and suffering is, of course, a favorite Romantic paradox, but for Lermontov it was much more than a literary device. He was unlucky in love and believed that he always would be: fate had ordained it" (6-7). As with Turgenev's testimony, Garrard's description may be a judicious interpretation of the man, but we note that art and fiction are woven together in it.

Other memoirs of Lermontov confuse the issues because the source of information sometimes proves unreliable. Ekaterina Sushkova's memoirs are a case in point. Lermontov had fallen for her when he was seventeen years old, but she did not reciprocate his feelings. Several years later he sought his revenge, courting her publicly - much to her newfound delight - then dropping her suddenly and viciously. As one might expect, Sushkova's recollections of Lermontov are neither flattering nor entirely objective, even if they contain useful information.

When the historical record seems more certain, another problem can emerge. In recounting Lermontov's life, it is not uncommon to interpret his life in a deterministic manner. One such pitfall is illustrated by the circumstances of his early life. Lermontov was born to Maria Mikhailovna Arsen'eva and Yury Petrovich Lermontov. Maria was the only child of Elizaveta Alekseevna Arsen'eva (n´ee Stolypin, a family of great fame, position, and wealth). Yury Petrovich, several years Maria's senior, lived on a small, rather undistinguished, estate. Elizaveta Alekseevna was not pleased with her daughter's fascination with this dashing, young, retired officer who was known for his libertine ways and small pocketbook. In 1812, when the couple married against the mother's wishes, there was a falling out of the kind one encounters in stories and novels of the time. The pair lived briefly in Moscow until they could persuade Arsen'eva to receive them in her home. She seems to have been willing to do so because Mikhail had been born.

In 1817, when Mikhail was not quite three years old, his mother, Maria, died of consumption. Arsen'eva immediately sought to take control of her grandson's upbringing. She bought Yury off with a large payment, apparently threatening to disinherit the child if Yury were to interfere with raising the boy. Yury removed himself from the family altogether. Over the next fourteen years, he saw his son two times that have been attested - once in 1827 and again in 1828. Yury died of consumption in 1831 when Lermontov was seventeen.

From this series of tragedies, and the widely acknowledged fact that his grandmother saw to his every whim, it is reasonable to conclude that Lermontov was destined to be sad, lonely, isolated, and even manipulative of those he loved. Such a reading, as compelling and logical as it appears to be, may be a neat, compact, and aesthetically balanced story; but it may not be accurate.

Another example of Lermontov's biography, which might result in a deterministic assessment, derives from the behavior of his maternal grandmother, Madame Arsen'eva. She sent him to good schools, lobbied for his release from punishment when he misbehaved, worked successfully to have him placed in the Imperial Guard Hussars, and helped him gain release from two of his exiles. On three occasions she took him to the northern Caucasus when he was still a young boy, and she indulged his "dreamy, willful, self centered, and impulsive" nature - including the precocious urge to copy out others' poems and compose his own. Lermontov's lifelong dependence upon his grandmother and her smothering concern are part of many biographical descriptions of his ambivalence toward life, love, fate, and death. Although such assessments may appeal to a twentieth-century sense of psychological inevitability, these readings may not be valid, for they cannot be reinforced by demonstrable causal links.

Because of problems associated with a relative dearth in the Lermontov archives, with Lermontov's propensity to project images of himself that may only belong to his persona, and with the confusion of literature and life in the memoirs of the period, the "facts" of Lermontov's life remain contingent. Consequently, the reader must be aware of the type of discourse the critic engages when reviewing Lermontov's biography. With these caveats in mind, it is possible to attempt to separate fact and fiction in Lermontov's life.

Lermontov's grandmother raised him as best she could, which was substantial in material terms. She made certain that competent French and English tutors were available. When he reached thirteen, she enrolled him in the best school for the nobility in Moscow. There he enjoyed visiting his large extended family, from which a cousin was selected each summer to visit the family estate in Tarkhany to keep Lermontov company. Later he attended military school in St. Petersburg.

Lermontov was not physically attractive. He had bowlegs and was somewhat bent, physical features that worsened when, as a cadet, he attempted a gambol on horseback that backfired and left him with a broken leg that produced a limp. Lermontov, however, was an impressive individual by other measures. Even as a youth, he was an accomplished painter, vocalist, pianist, and violinist. His poetry, though callow, showed moments of genius. His still famous "Angel" was written when he was but sixteen.

The sensitivity Lermontov displayed in some contexts seems to have developed a shadow side - he could also be self-conscious, capricious, even bilious. His grandmother spent much of his twentyseven years bailing him out of trouble. He seems to have delighted in annoying those he disliked with aggressive and inconsistent behavior. He assaulted his interlocutors' and audience's intellectual and emotional comforts. As a result, memoirs of Lermontov range from vitriol to affection. Although the Karamzin family, famous in court and in the literary world, enjoyed Lermontov's company and appreciated his talent, others could not tolerate him.

Tsar Nicholas I and his chief of the secret police, Count Alexander Benckendorf (Madame Arsen'eva's relative) exiled Lermontov to the Caucasus three times for egregious infringements that must have dumbfounded Lermontov's supporters and friends. For example, Lermontov insulted the tsar's daughters at a masked ball. He fought a duel, a practice that was outlawed at the time, and - what is worse - he fought it against Ernest de Barante, the son of the French ambassador. When a disagreement arose about the way Lermontov comported himself during the duel, he again challenged de Barante from his prison cell. He published poems like "The Death of a Poet" (1837) that attacked high society for its pretenses and moral bankruptcy. (In this poetic commemoration of Alexander Pushkin, he lambasted society for its part in Pushkin's death.) He thumbed his nose at the authorities in the capital. Lermontov was society's bad boy, and he appears to have favored the role.

When in 1832 Lermontov transferred from Moscow University to St. Petersburg and found that he could not receive credit for work already completed and would have to begin his university education all over, he decided to enroll instead in the prestigious School of Cavalry Junkers and Ensign of the Guard. He lived the flamboyant life of a military man, drinking, wenching, and pulling pranks. He put it indirectly to Maria Lopukhina in a letter of August 4, 1833: "The time of my dreams has passed; the time for believing is long gone; now I want material pleasures, happiness I can touch, happiness that can be bought with gold, that one can carry in one's pocket like a snuff-box, happiness that beguiles only my senses while leaving my soul in peace and quiet!" (Garrard, 17).

By 1834, at age twenty, he was assigned to the Life Guard Hussars. He was commissioned cornet and stationed at Tsarskoye Selo, a prestigious assignment. For a few years, he lived in the social whirl of St. Petersburg, simultaneously enjoying its fruits and castigating the duplicities of high society. But in 1837 much changed. His poetic career began in earnest and he became famous for his poem on Pushkin's death. He appeared regularly in print and experimented in writing prose. (He did not complete a society tale, "Princess Ligovskaya," in which a precursor of the later Pechorin makes an appearance.)

His Pushkin poem was circulated in manuscript. Because of its content, he was arrested and interrogated. During Lermontov's interrogation, in an act he considered cowardice, he faulted his friend, Svyatoslav Raevsky, for the latter's part in the circulation of the poem. As a result, Raevsky suffered a more severe punishment than did Lermontov. Raevsky was sent to the north for two years to serve in a lowly clerk's position. Perhaps in exchange for his confession, or due to his grandmother's efforts (if not for both reasons), Lermontov was not even demoted. He was transferred instead to the Nizhegorodsky Dragoon Regiment in the Caucasus, but he never reached his assignment. First, after leaving St. Petersburg, he stayed on in Moscow for close to a month, then he stopped to take the waters in Stavropol in order to cure influenza and rheumatism. From there he was transferred to the hospital in Pyatigorsk, where he remained for the summer.

Throughout the journey, he was surrounded by friends and relatives who were in charge of his circumstances. He met several Decembrists serving in the ranks for their part in the failed revolt, and he kept good company in Pyatigorsk society. He was sent to join a military expedition in August, and this forced him to travel to Anapa on the Black Sea by way of Taman. The expedition was canceled, and he was sent back to Stavropol. By October he was transferred to Novgorod, and in April 1838 he was reassigned to the Life Guard Hussars at Tsarskoye Selo. Thus, Lermontov's first exile ended up being a long holiday in the Caucasus. During that time, Lermontov produced a good deal of poetry, completed several paintings of its landscape and peoples, and prepared chapters for publication that would eventually form part of A Hero of Our Time.

In 1838 he became friends with important members of the intelligentsia, most notably the famous court poet Vasily Zhukovsky and the distinguished romantic poet Prince Peter Vyazemsky. Lermontov was a constant visitor to the Karamzin family literary salon. But he continued to lead a dual life - carousing on the one hand, and pursuing a serious literary career on the other.

At the end of 1839, he was promoted from cornet to lieutenant, but soon he provoked leading society with his callous disregard of the tsar's daughters, his duel, and his poetic challenge to high society. He was exiled a second time to the Caucasus, on this occasion to the Tenginsky Infantry Regiment (a demotion from the Life Guard Hussars).

Assuming the leisurely pace of his first exile, Lermontov left St. Petersburg in May and stopped in Moscow, where he met Nikolai Gogol and renewed his friendship with Prince Vyazemsky. By June he arrived in Stavropol, from where he was sent to the Grozny Fortress. This was not his official assignment but one the local command issued for him.

Lermontov distinguished himself in one battle after another, the most prominent in July 1840 at the river Valerik (after which his famous poem is named). Had he behaved well, he would have been awarded a gold saber "for courage." Unfortunately, Lermontov could not remain constant for the length of time it normally took to recommend someone for an honor and have the case disposed.

In January 1841 Lermontov was given a two-month pass to return to St. Petersburg. Upon his arrival in February, he did not report immediately to his commanding officer, as was required. Instead, he went to a ball, a particularly grievous breach for someone still serving under the conditions of punishment. This act of disobedience provoked an official examination of the circumstances under which he had been nominated for military commendations. It was then discovered that, in the spring, he had not reported to his regiment as ordered but had been reassigned to fight in expeditions he was not intended to see. Furthermore, it was discovered that he had overstayed his leave of absence in St. Petersburg by more than a month. Consequently, he was summarily ordered to leave the capital and return to the Tenginsky Infantry Regiment.

In April Lermontov began a third leisurely trip to the Caucasus. He fell ill again on the journey south, which necessitated a stay in Pyatigorsk to take the cure. In June Tsar Nicholas I signed an order that he conduct frontovaia sluzhba (literally, "front duty") in the south. Many scholars have assumed that this meant frontline duty, in the thick of battle where the Tenginsky Regiment was located. It was an inhospitable location where the infantry and officers were suffering massive losses. It has been argued, however, that frontovaia sluzhba at that time meant "reserve battalion duty," not "frontline service." Thus, the notion that Tsar Nicholas I was intent on destroying Lermontov personally is not believed today, reams of Soviet scholarship notwithstanding. In fact, it would have been well below the dignity of the tsar, tyrant though he was, to have engaged in behavior so unbecoming the Tsar of All the Russias.

Lermontov enjoyed his round of activities in Pyatigorsk in the company of a distant relative, a Stolypin with the nickname "Mongo." He fed on his notoriety as social misfit, his fame as a poet second only to Pushkin, and his success with the second publication of A Hero of Our Time.

But he did not endear himself to Nikolai Martynov and others. In the salons of polite Pyatigorsk society, Martynov dressed as a native Circassian, wore a long sword, affected the manners of a romantic hero cut from the cloth of Lermontov's own Grushnitsky. Lermontov teased Martynov mercilessly. There had also been misunderstandings between their families in the past (Garrard, 30-31). When Martynov could no longer stand the slights and insults, he challenged Lermontov to a duel and, on July 15, 1841, killed him. This skeletal summary of Lermontov's biography indicates why it has become common to equate the man with his persona and his persona with his art. He led such a wild, romantic life, fulfilled so many Byronic features (individualism, isolation from high society, social critic, and misfit), and lived and died so furiously, that it is difficult not to confuse these manifestations of identity with his authentic self.

There are indications, however, that Lermontov was only beginning to understand himself when he died. This idea is predicated on the notion that he could only have depicted Pechorin as clearly as he did through having gained an objective, critical perspective on his hero's behavior, patterns of thought, and beliefs. Who Lermontov had become, however, or was becoming, remains unclear. Lermontov, like many a romantic hero once closely examined, remains as open and unfinished an individual as his persona seems closed and fixed. Much the same can be said of his novel.

A Hero of Our Time

Upon first reading, Lermontov's novel appears to have little depth. It consists of stock romantic characters and episodes. Thematic concerns about Pechorin's generation, the role of fate in the individual's life, the romantic hero, and his loves, sufferings, and isolation seem quite commonplace. Yet to this day, the novel elicits significant critical response, the best of which continues to unearth new information about the text, to generate challenging perspectives on the novel's subtleties, to dispel prejudices about the work (like those above), and to find layers of complexity the novel's surface seems to preclude.

Without reviewing in advance the scholarly work contained in this volume, suffice it to say that A Hero of Our Time represents a major aesthetic accomplishment, and it does so from a variety of perspectives. Its utilization of stock romantic genres from which to develop a "realist" novel is rather ingenious. Its chronological reordering of events necessitates a forward and backward, rather than linear, approach to reading. Its system of parallel images, repetitive lexical items, repeated plot elements, and recurring character types reinforce the forward and backward apprehension of the text, urging the reader to recall and bring together elements of similarity in an attempt at pattern formation the novel appears otherwise to lack. Its social system of "insiders" and "outsiders" becomes so knotted with each successive chapter that it is difficult to establish a "society" that might be considered normative or dominant and out of which some larger social meaning might be generated. Its apparent separation of "savages" and "civilized," too, dissolves in a way that challenges the ethnic divisions a reader might bring to the text beforehand.

D. S. Mirsky may have summed these features up most generously:

[T]he perfection...of [Lermontov's] style and narrative manner can be appreciated only by those who really know Russian, who feel the fine imponderable shades of words and know what has been left out as well as what has been put in. Lermontov's prose is the best Russian prose ever written, if we judge by the standards of perfection and not by those of wealth. It is transparent, for it is absolutely adequate to the content and neither overlaps it nor is overlapped by it.

Vladimir Nabokov, who thought well enough of the novel to translate it (together with his son), feels quite differently about Lermontov's stylistic achievement:

In attempting to translate Lermontov, I have gladly sacrificed to the requirements of exactness a number of important things - good taste, neat diction, and even grammar (when some characteristic solecism occurs in the Russian text). The English reader should be aware that Lermontov's prose style in Russian is inelegant; it is dry and drab; it is the tool of an energetic, incredibly gifted, bitterly honest, but definitely inexperienced young man. His Russian is, at times, almost as crude as Stendhal's in French; his similes and metaphors are utterly commonplace; his hackneyed epithets are only redeemed by occasionally being incorrectly used. Repetition of words in descriptive sentences irritates the purist.

Both Mirsky's and Nabokov's assessments are correct, at least as far as they go. Nabokov is right - stylistic faults do occur within the text. What he does not acknowledge, however, is that, as in Dostoevsky's prose, utterance belongs to the author's characters, not to the author. Consequently, it is difficult to fault Lermontov for the way his three narrators speak and write, because their style suits Lermontov's purposes. For him the languages of the novel's narrators serve two purposes - to depict Pechorin through distinct narrators and to display simultaneously those narrators' states of mind. This is as true of Pechorin-as-narrator as it is of Maksim Maksimych and the traveling narrator of "Bela," "Maksim Maksimych," and the "Introduction to Pechorin's Journal." It is one of the text's great accomplishments to demonstrate that the "how" and "what" of the story cannot be separated. Thus, if A Hero of Our Time is "the presentation of a realistic portrait of a contemporary type," it also represents graphically the means by which that portrait is delivered up.

In addressing the stylistic means Lermontov utilizes to body forth the content of his novel, it becomes clear that its component parts cannot be easily separated. The layers of narrators, the achronological sequence of the chapters, the later insertion of the "Author's Introduction" (1841), the independent publication of the novel's first chapters in the 1830s (apparently without Lermontov knowing they would eventually become part of a larger work) form a composite that is difficult to treat in pieces, that is, unless one reintegrates them subsequently. Lermontov's genius is that he does not permit us to completely untangle the novel without doing it a disservice. As a case in point, Nabokov realizes the limitations of his assessment of Lermontov's style and ultimately must acknowledge that "when we start to break the sentence . . . into its quantitative elements, the banalities we perceive are often shocking, the shortcomings not seldom comic; but, in the long run, it is the compound effect that counts, and this final effect can be traced down in Lermontov to the beautiful timing of all the parts and particles of the novel" (xix).

The more one ponders A Hero of Our Time, the more one marvels at its ingenious design. Time in the novel, its parallel structures, multiple voices, metatextual references, and ironies comprise overarching features of the novel that subsume its component parts and elevate it to a high aesthetic level. It may be worth examining these elements, not for what they say individually about the novel's construction but to gain a sense of how they work together to create what Nabokov calls the novel's "compound" or "final" effect.

There are several forms time takes in A Hero of Our Time. First, there is the time in which the work was created, through which it evolved, and finally reached a canonical form. Lermontov published "Bela," "Taman," and "The Fatalist" before he conceived of a way to integrate these texts into the larger work that also includes "Princess Mary," "Maksim Maksimych," "The Introduction to Pechorin's Journal," and, in 1841, the "Author's Introduction." Second, there is the temporal sequence in which we encounter the novel. We begin with "Bela" and conclude with "The Fatalist." Third, there is the chronological time of the text considered as a whole. This specific time element consists of several immanent forms, which we shall examine in more detail.

Chronological, or linear, time begins with the chapter "Taman." In it Pechorin travels in 1830 from St. Petersburg to the Caucasus via Taman on the Black Sea. Approximately two years later, Pechorin takes a military leave of absence in Pyatigorsk, where "Princess Mary" is set. He courts Mary, befriends Dr. Werner, conducts an affair with Vera, belittles and eventually humiliates Grushnitsky, makes enemies of a group of officers, and eventually kills Grushnitsky in a duel. In the fall of 1832, Pechorin, undergoing punishment for his part in the duel, is placed under Maksim Maksimych's command at a fortress in Chechnya. There the events of "Bela" occur. In December 1832 Pechorin visits a Cossack settlement where Vulich challenges fate and is murdered, and where Pechorin captures the Cossack who has killed Vulich. These events occur in "The Fatalist." Pechorin then returns to the fortress, where, in the spring and summer of 1833, the Bela abductions and murder occur. That winter Pechorin departs for Georgia and then returns to St. Petersburg. Approximately four years later, in 1837 or 1838, Pechorin travels by way of the Caucasus to Persia. On the road he happens to meet Maksim Maksimych, whom he slights. These events are recounted in "Maksim Maksimych." Angered and hurt by Pechorin's indifference toward him, Maksim Maksimych delivers the notebooks, which he had been keeping for Pechorin, to the traveling narrator of the "Bela" and "Maksim Maksimych" chapters. In 1838 (possibly 1839), while returning from his travels in Persia, Pechorin dies. The traveling narrator uses Pechorin's demise as an opportunity to publish the materials he has both collected and composed under the title A Hero of Our Time (1840).

To summarize, the chronological sequence of the novel is as follows: "Taman," "Princess Mary," "Bela"/"The Fatalist"/"Bela," and "Maksim Maksimych." When we consider the entire text, however, this sequence becomes more complex. For example, the "Introduction to Pechorin's Journal" adds an additional time element, one belonging to fictionalized metatime. This temporal dimension indicates something other than the object of focus (Pechorin and his time) and alludes to the subject, the traveling narrator, who has put that object into focus for us in the first place. When we examine the temporal world he brings to the novel, we come to appreciate the novel's achronological sequence of chapters as belonging to him - it is the temporal order through which he has become familiar with Pechorin.

As the traveling narrator imposes his subjective temporal experience upon his readers, we begin to suspect that he may have done more to alter the novel's content than simply reorder its chronology. Proof of this lies in his reworking Kazbich's song into Russian verse form. Thus, through Lermontov's injection of the traveling narrator's temporal orientation into the novel, we become sensitized to a problem that runs throughout the text - its instability as a source of reliable information. We are forced to question the degree to which both the traveler and Maksim Maksimych might have contaminated the novel's content.


Excerpted from Lermontov's a Hero of Our Time: a Critical Companion by American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. Copyright © 2002 by American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration

I. Introduction

Mikhail Yur'evich Lermontov and A Hero of Our Time
Lewis Bagby

A Hero of Our Time
Vissarion Belinsky

A Hero of Our Time
B. M. Eikhenbaum

Ironies of Ethnic Identity
Susan Layton

Compassion and the Hero: Women in A Hero of Our Time
Jane Costlow

II. Criticism

Mikhail Iur'ievich Lermontov: The Poet's Personality and His Work
Nikolai Kotlyarevsky

Lermontov's Poetics
Vladimir Fisher

The Caucasus and Caucasian Peoples in Lermontov's Novel
Sergei Durylin

Lermontov's Fate
Emma Gershtein

The Genuine Meaning of Pechorin's Monologue
V. Levin

III. Primary Sources

Reviews of A Hero of Our Time circa 1840
    S. P. Shevyrev 
    S. O. Burachok
    Faddei Bulgarin
    L. Brant

Select Bibliography

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