Typically Lermontov

Lermontov (1814-1841) is generally considered to be Russia’s greatest poet bar Pushkin and his prose is as least as good as his poetry. His most important work A Hero of Our Time is regarded as the first psychological, Russian Realist novel and so Lermontov built a bridge between the Romantic and the Realist era in Russia. The impact was enormous when it was first published in 1840.

Small legacy

Lermontov was able to leave only a small legacy in his short life. It is usually split into two parts: a juvenile and a grownup part. A selection of poems, a few narrative poems, a couple of plays and A Hero of Our Time, that’s all. Thematically Lermontov belongs in the Romantic era: the Caucasus is used as a background for most of his work, the protagonist often goes on a journey and falls in love with some exotic beauty. Lermontov himself was a romantic hero too, growing up without his parents, travels and exiles to the Caucasus, a military career and duels being part of his life.

Pechorin, a superfluous man

Actually A Hero of Our Time is not really a novel: it’s a collection of short stories that can be read independently. They’re connected by the same protagonist, Pechorin. Pechorin is the prototype of the superfluous man, this apparently careless man leaves a trail of destruction behind him wherever he goes.The narrative prospect of the stories is very interesting, there are fragments from Pechorin’s diaries, and some of the stories are memoirs of people who knew him. This gives the reader a complete picture. The stories are not told chronologically, which highlights Pechorin’s mysterious character.

Psychological novel

Not only does Lermontov provide us with the picture of an embittered protagonist, he also investigates how it’s possible that such a young man is already tired of life. He comes to the conclusion that society is to blame for Pechorin’s character. Hence the title of the novel. It is the psychological background of Pechorin, that makes A Hero of Our Time the first psychological, Russian Realist novel. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, Turgenev’s Bazarov and Tolstoy’s Olenin, they all have a little bit of Pechorin in them.

The Demon

His other masterpiece (and life’s work!) is The Demon. An epic poem, like we know from Pushkin. Here too Lermontov uses his beloved Caucasus as a backdrop for the story. A fallen angel roams the earth eternally. When he falls in love with a living girl, Tamara, he hopes that she can release him, but she dies after he has kissed her. The poem is of an unearthly and unequalled beauty; it is really not without good reason that Lermontov had the great honour of being called Pushkin’s heir. The Russian painter Vrubel made a fantastic series of illustrations for the poem that capture the atmosphere wonderfully.

Writing style

What makes Lermontov so unique is his musical and descriptive style of writing. Not surprising, since Lermontov was also a gifted musician and painter. Where Pushkin is elegant and cheerful, Lermontov is melancholic. His writing is doubtlessly as beautiful as the Caucasusian landscape. Or the Scottish landscape, where his ancestors came from, now misty and mysterious, then sparkling and fresh.

 

Fragment from The Demon:

“What is this eternity to me without you?

What is the infinity of my domains?

Empty ringing words,

A spacious temple — without a divinity!”

Read more from this unique writer here:

http://faculty.washington.edu/jdwest/russ430/demon.pdf

http://www.eldritchpress.org/myl/hero.htm

© Elisabeth van der Meer

Photos by me (book and Scotland) and from Wikipedia (Portrait of Lermontov and aquarel by Vrubel)

 

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38 thoughts on “Typically Lermontov

  1. Yes 🙂 If only I had extra hours every day !
    And yes, part of my kindred came from Ukraine or somewhere nearby in southern Russia (even if they were Roma (“gypsies”)). Their Romani dialect (Xaladitka) reached, more or less, to my sis and me, but Ukainian or Russian barely reached my dad… Languages get lost with time when people travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know the feeling! I suppose there’ll be more time after retirement 👵🏻 You gave an interesting background, Li. It’s a shame that languages and other family stories get lost over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes… Anyway, if we lost the Slavic roots, we gained the Occitan and Catalan ones :)) And we all have kept the fondness for languages. My sis spoke fluently a lot of them (8 or 10, or 12, depending on how you distinguish languages and dialects), and could read many more (Hindi and Bangla included). But not Russian, either :)) ha ha ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. She was a wonder . I swear ! I’ve never known anybody so intelligent and capable and sensible in my life. (She learnt Welsh in just three summers we spent there with an aunt… while I just battled with English :/ (I can only say a handful of sentences in Welsh) The best among us are soon taken away… Just like Lermontov, for instance.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was going to ask if you read Russian as well, but you answered earlier! I have to read them in translation, usually in French, but sometimes in English (I’m French but live in US now so it’s easier to get books in English).

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Elisabeth – very interesting.

    I love your posts because of what they convey.

    And, as a writer myself, I also appreciate the writing.

    “It is the psychological background of Pechorin, that makes A Hero of Our Time the first psychological, Russian Realist novel. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, Turgenev’s Bazaro and Tolstoy’s Olenin, they all have a little bit of Pechorin in them.” This is a very well put and illuminating comment, in my opinion. So much is conveyed in a few words.

    “The poem is of an unearthly and unequalled beauty; it is really not without good reason that Lermontov had the great honour of being called Pushkin’s heir.” Great sentence.

    “What makes Lermontov so unique is his musical and descriptive style of writing. Not surprising, since Lermontov was also a gifted musician and painter. Where Pushkin is elegant and cheerful, Lermontov is melancholic. His writing is doubtlessly as beautiful as the Caucasusian landscape. Or the Scottish landscape, where his ancestors came from, now misty and mysterious, then sparkling and fresh.” Very illuminating. Beautifully put.

    Thanks, Elisabeth. I always look forward to your posts.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Ah, you’re French. The French have a long tradition of translating from Russian. I read in translation too, otherwise it would take me too long. I do refer to the original if I don’t understand something or if I’m doubting the translation. Thanks, dear!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hello Roger, thank you again for taking the time to read and comment on my posts. I enjoy writing about the subject that I love and it’s good to know that other people enjoy my writing.
    Take care, Roger!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I read Russian, can translate, speak, etc. at a native level. I personally believe that translating Russian poetry and writing is difficult and very few can really convey the message and re-create the characters. Well, and I also think one needs to know the background. Russian history is amazing. Although, I’m a Latvian and we did not get along with Russians for more than 5 decades recently, I never stopped adoring Russian poetry, writing, music and art. I have some good friends, extremely talented Russian poets. Thankfully, I can read this all in original. Well, Russian was mandatory when I started school 54 years ago.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Yes, Russian literature seems to be at a higher level, no matter what one might think about the rest of the country. Perhaps it is because they have always had to write under difficult circumstances like strict censorship, that they rose above all that.

    Like

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