A Hero of Our Time
Lermontov’s Paradox: An Analysis of Pechorin
In Mikhail Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time, the author brings out the irony surrounding various characters with Pechorin being at the center stage. The portrayal of Pechorin is viewed in the book as an exemplary Byronic anti-hero and Lermontov describes him as a typical man of his age. The author creates a hero who is both cynical and intelligent, who is honest but violent, not alive in an absolute meaning of this world, but also not dead yet, at least, not physical. In other words, Pechorin is a complex character full of contradictions. However, it is precisely with these contradictions that he appears as a human being whose life is a fight for the meaning. Pechorin is a very existential character. He understands his life as a senseless event. He wants to love women, but he spent life without giving them respect, and only taking love from them never giving anything back.
In one stage of the book, Pechorin clearly states that he does not know what he lives for, and this feeling of pointlessness is a source of his inner personal melancholia. Pechorin is doomed to die from the beginning because living a life of sensual pleasure and cynical self-reflection never actually experiencing a feeling of real unity with someone, and not knowing his true purpose no matter how smart and intelligent he was, Pechorin’s life aims at death at a highest possible pace. In one particularly interesting passage, he talks about himself in the following way: “What of it? If I die, I die. It will be no great loss to the world, and I am thoroughly bored with life. I am like a man yawning at a ball; the only reason he does not go home to bed is that his carriage has not arrived yet” (Lermontov, 36). This phrase of Pechorin shows two critical aspects of his complex character. Firstly, he comes to a point in his life when he considers death to be his only solution to the problems of life, and this desperation only further kills his inner light of real humanity, sensitive love, and spiritual power of the soul. Secondly, it says that Pechorin wrongly comprehended life as an entertainment and an exciting event comparing it to the ball. This attitude towards life is the reason why he lived most of his life wrong, becoming indifferent to the best that life can give, and never really be able to give anything in return. Pechorin himself exhausted his live spending it in a senseless pursuit of pleasure and sensual satisfaction. For him, women were entertainment, as the whole life was treated by him without real respect.
Pechorin began to understand all this being closer to his death which he predicts and feels closer to at the end of the story. He chooses death as the only thing to cure him of a pointless life and a tasteless existence. This mistake brings despair in the life of Pechorin as he no longer thinks that he can win in a battle against himself. Pechorin himself devaluated his life, spending it on the appropriate things. When he pursues Vera on a horse but then gives up, it is his feeling of existential fatigue that stops him as he no longer has the power to live being only illusively high intelligent, but unable to love with a real love and a partnership between a man and a woman: “I saw how futile and senseless it was to pursue lost happiness. What more did I want? To see her again? For what” (Lermontov, 42)? Pechorin understands that he does not deserve Vera and may be the reason for her suffering even though she understands him quite well. He does not want to use Vera as a beautiful woman without giving back to her what she deserves – a mutual all-encompassing, generous, sincere, and meaningful love. Pechorin simply doesn’t have it, but it is his awareness about this absence that makes him a good human being, a person worth of compassion and understanding.
Even though Pechorin accuses himself of being hateful, evil, and secretive, it is not so as he does that only due to a despair and not because of a real cruelty. As he states it: “I was ready to love the whole world–none understood me: and I learned to hate” (Lermontov 55). The paradox here is that Pechorin never actually tried to do that, and he thought that people should be grateful to him for him being so original, good, kind, etc. This setup again portrays Pechorin’s feature of showmanship.
Pechorin wanted to be understood by people and wanted to comprehend the most problematic, complex, and important thing in the life of any human being – purpose of the existence. Unable to find it and passing long into the wrong way, Pechorin felt lost and desired to quit everything at all. This is what many tragic, romantic, and existential characters are doomed to, as they alone try to do what most of the people never really thought, but it is precisely with people (and characters) as such that other can try to understand life better and give it more credit. Without any doubt, Pechorin appears as one of the most tragic, deep, and consistent romantic characters of the 19th-century literature.
Work Cited Lermontov, M. A Hero of Our Time. London: Planet, 2011. Print
The Power of Bias
Narrators provide insight into a character with the way they are described and what events are emphasized. In Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin, and A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov, both have engaged voices, which add a more personal element to the novels, perhaps bias, to the reader’s understanding of the characters.
The personal element is the relationship the narrators have with the characters. It forces the reader to evaluate the characters as companions, rather than characters. Eugene Onegin’s narrative voice comes from a narrator speaking as a friend. Because the narrator is a friend of Eugene Onegin, the narrator is much more compassionate, and less critical. He describes Onegin in a negative light, but makes excuses for him. When confronting Tatyana about her letter, the narrator explains that Onegin was deeply moved, but he coldly rejects her because “Eugene had no wish to betray/ a soul so innocent, so trusting” (Pushkin 4, X1, 11-12). It is hard to believe that these are truly Eugene’s thoughts, not the narrator’s interpretation, because Eugene is a superfluous man; he thinks of his own needs and desires before others. If he were actually trying to be delicate of Tatyana’s feelings he would have been more sensitive while speaking with her. Yet, he still talks of himself – “But I was simply not intended/ for happiness – that alien role,” when explaining why he will not marry her (Pushkin 4, XV, 1-2). Here, the narrator explains Eugene’s actions and words, and does not chastise Eugene’s selfish behavior, then directs the narration to Tatyana’s reaction of embarrassment. The narrator does connect the hurt hurtful words to Tatyana’s reaction. This partial evaluation is out of blind friendship.
Interestingly, however, the narrator changes his tone based on which character he is describing. He uses words like, “dear” when referring to Tatyana and the reader. It seems as if the narrator is speaking directly to the reader, rather than through text, evoking emotion from the reader. When discussing Tatyana’s absorption of neighbor’s gossip about her potential match with Eugene, the narrator “weeps,” “for [Tatyana has],/ at this early date,/into a modish tyrant’s keeping/ resigned disposal of your fate” (Pushkin 3, XV, 1-3). The narrator is very upset by the direction of Tatyana’s life because he cares for her. In seeing his compassion for Tatyana, the reader can’t help but feel bad for Tatyana’s falling trap to societal expectations of love. At the same time however, the narrator sees the issue with Tatyana’s fate, not with how Eugene responds to her. Out of pity for Tatyana and friendship towards Onegin, the narrator blames external powers, rather than the character’s behavior, to protect his beloved character from harsh judgment.
Unlike Onegin’s narrator, the narrator in A Hero of Our Time speaks as a critical observer. He sets the reader’s understanding of Pechorin in a negative light. He critiques all of Pechorin’s physical attributes, then recognizes his bias when he says, “All these thoughts may have suggested themselves to me merely because I knew something of his life,” but this does not change the view that the reader hears and understands (Lermontov 49). After this negative introduction of physical features and recognition of bias, we hear from a friend’s perspective, but we watch how Pechorin offends the speaker, just a couple pages later, discrediting the previous narration. This emphasizes the truth of the previous critical narration.
Then we hear from Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin himself. Because Pechorin’s narration is in the form of diary notes, it is not filtered, which makes it honestly self-critical, feeding into the negative impression that was already formed. He is obviously manipulative when speaking to his “friends.” In “Princess Mary,” the longest collection of travel notes, Pechorin first describes the discrepancies between his thoughts and actions. When meeting with Grushnitsky, Pechorin describes Grushnitsky’s personality and outward appearance, and then writes, “I’ve seen through him, and that’s why he dislikes me – though outwardly we are on the best terms” (Lermontov 73). This blatant comment advertises his comfort with inward and outward contradiction. The only reason the reader is able to discern the truth is because the narration is in the form of diary notes, so the reader is aware of thoughts as well as what is spoken.
Sometimes, there are no direct thoughts that accompany the spoken words, which makes understanding the true situation more convoluted. When Pechorin is speaking with Princess Mary, he explains, “I became a moral cripple” because “I was ready to love the whole world, but no one understood me, so I learned to hate” (Lermontov 106). These declarations are part of a long monologue, but Pechorin does not comment on his monologue to Mary after the fact. This leads the reader to believe that what Pechorin said was actually what he believed. This is confusing for the reader because the reader has previously seen him act in a manipulative fashion. In a diary entry, he admits, “I’ve often wondered why I’m trying so hard to win the love of a girl I have no desire to seduce and whom I’d never marry”(Lermontov 102). Contrary to his monologue, this entry shows that he is being compulsively manipulative. This enables the reader to conclude that Pechorin actually believes that he became “evil” because people didn’t believe him, but his own bias blocks him from seeing his manipulative behavior in the moment. He is only able to reflect on his behavior in retrospect; this is a defense mechanism protecting his own ego. This inability is his personal bias. As readers watch his behavior, they have to discern what is Pechorin’s perspective compared to what is the real effect of his behavior.
Both Eugene Onegin’s narrator and A Hero of Our Time’s multiple narrators are deeply affected by their personal biases. Both Onegin and Tatyana are judged less critically because the narrator has deep affection for them. Similarly, Pechorin is judged less harshly because he is being self-critical; he frames his judgment through excuses and explanations, rather than observations. In this way, he protects his own analysis and the reader understands his interpretation of his behavior, rather than making their own conclusions. Because Pechorin’s behavior is prefaced with two other narrators, this self-protection is more difficult to observe because the other two narrators display the faults in Pechorin’s character. Consequently, the reader is almost looking to justify the starter narrators’ opinions. In both cases, the narrator blocks the reader from critically analyzing the characters on their own conditions. The narrator’s biases formulate a particular image of the characters that is not necessary consistent with the actual behavior described.
Pechorin and Bazarov: the Fatal Power of a Cynic in Love
The characters of Pechorin and Bazarov, the protagonists of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, are both men who are, in a sense, doomed. One voluntarily wanders the globe, waiting and finally meeting an unnoticed end, and one finds himself fatally and irrevocably infected. The two are similar not only in the fact that they live and die with scorn and indifference, but more importantly in the fact that they do this to themselves. Both men are driven, consciously or unconsciously, to self-destruct—and the great hand in their doom is ultimately love. One man is loved but cannot love in return, and another loves a woman who in turn cannot love him; and whatever reasons the two men might claim to believe, nothing spurs them more strongly to their ends than their tortured encounters with love. Pechorin’s relationship with Vera might be described as that of a man who cannot help himself. From the very moment that Vera is introduced, the master manipulator lets slip to his reader that she has a real hold over him; upon first sighting her, thinking of her already, he finds himself crying her name “involuntarily” (87). This woman clearly has a hold on him, and the reader can sense this immediately, though Pechorin himself goes to a great deal of trouble to conceal it. Indeed, immediately after he recounts their surprising reunion and its “long-forgotten thrill” (87), he sets out on a monologue about his absolute power in matters of love: “It’s always puzzled me that I’ve never been a slave to the women I’ve loved,” he says. “In fact, I’ve always mastered them, heart and soul, without even trying” (89). Pechorin is trying to convince himself of something here—and the reader as well, if he can manage it. He admits that his dominance in affairs of the heart confuses him, in an academic sort of way, but the cold way in which he examines the phenomenon gives the very clear impression that he’s not much bothered by it. This is something recognizable in Pechorin throughout the novel; when he confronts the idea of commitment, he gives a soliloquy on marriage. When he’s accused of heartlessness, he reels off an almost biographical explanation of it. In short, whenever Pechorin is faced with a matter of the heart, even of the soul, he makes sure to examine it all in as soulless a way as possible. This reflection on Vera is no exception and, in keeping with his routine, Pechorin throws out several ideas on why he never lets himself be mastered by a woman. Is it, he says, the fault of the women? Is it the force of his strong personality? He isn’t sure, and doesn’t care, but he does seem most held by one of his theories—that he doesn’t want to love, so much as to be loved. “I’ve passed that stage in life when all one seeks is happiness and when the heart feels the need to love someone with passion and intensity. Now all I want is to be loved, and by very few people at that. I think I’d even be content with just one lasting attachment—such is the heart’s pathetic way” (89).There is an air of confession about this passage that suggests, for once, that this is really how Pechorin thinks of himself. He makes his case bluntly and abruptly, even going so far as to imagine how he might someday be happy. It’s very unlike Pechorin to even consider contentment for himself—the entire novel, after all, is basically about how very discontented he is—but here he finds himself revealing what could very well be the last dream he has left. This is “the heart’s pathetic way,” he says—suggesting, even in passing, that he has a heart as well. Why, then, is Pechorin dissatisfied with Vera? If his one remaining goal is simply to be loved by someone else, no other woman could serve better than Vera. In the midst of his seduction of Princess Mary he asks, “Why this womanish coquetry? Vera loves me more than Princess Mary will ever love anybody” (102). He even goes so far as to say that Vera not only loves him more, but also understands him more than any woman he’s ever known—and, as such, that he “could never deceive her” (89) as he does all other women. One would think that such an arrangement would be an ideal one in love, since we all want to find someone who both knows us and loves us. Pechorin, however, seems to be more disturbed by this than anything. “I really can’t think why she is so fond of me,” he says, “especially since she’s the only woman who’s ever properly understood me and all my petty weaknesses and unhealthy passions. Can evil be so attractive” (101)? Confused, bored, and even a little repulsed, he pushes Vera away—pursuing another girl whom he admits he doesn’t care about, because he can’t understand how anyone could care about him. It is this perception that Pechorin has of himself that sends him down such a violent path. After all, he purports more than once that he considers himself to be evil—that all he wants is affection for himself—and that the only thing he can offer is unhappiness for others. Of course, not everything Pechorin allegedly “reveals” can be taken at face value; his vacillation between apparent candor and complete indifference mark him out as a showman keeping a mystery to himself. Yet there is at least one moment in his story that is undoubtedly sincere because, if nothing else, Pechorin admits for the first time that here he finds himself both shameful and ridiculous. The event comes after Pechorin’s duel with Grushnitsky, when he receives a farewell letter from Vera. The letter is heartfelt and tragic, and full of insight; Vera knows just how he looked on her, “as a chattel,” (142), and just how much love she had to give him. Even now, now that her reputation has been ruined by Pechorin, she says that she loves him still, and—most remarkable of all—proves that she really does know him much better than anyone, better even than himself. “No one,” she says, “is so persistent in his desire for love. In no one is evil so attractive…And no one can be so genuinely unhappy as you, because no one tries so hard to persuade himself that he isn’t” (142). Here Vera gives, like a bolt of lightning, Pechorin’s reason for his unhappiness. Despite all that he says, what Pechorin truly wants is to love—not merely to be loved. Being loved alone is not enough, as only Vera can prove to him, because Vera is the one woman who can love him best of all. Her letter and her departure trigger something in Pechorin, perhaps even making him realize that she has pinpointed the force behind his doom, his apparent inability to love. Ironically enough, this seems to spur Pechorin to his most desperate and sincere act in the novel, and he chases her “like a madman” (143), hoping merely for a glimpse of farewell. But forces beyond his control are at work as well here; his horse falls beneath him, and his legs fall beneath him. He can do nothing as Vera travels away from him forever. His fate, then, is sealed, and he knows it either consciously or unconsciously, because after he indulges in his grief he returns to his old self. He gets up, dusts himself off, and continues as he was before. Vera is thus both his salvation and his damnation; she offers him the chance for the contentment he seeks, but she offers him the ability to understand the chance only when it’s too late. “My position, as you’ll doubtless agree, is ridiculous” (81). Thus speaks Bazarov of his ill-fated love for Anna Sergeevna. There is much here, certainly, that smacks of the ridiculous; Bazarov is, after all, a nihilist, a man “who does not bow to any authorities, who does not take any principle on trust, no matter with what respect that principle is surrounded.” Much of his time in the novel is spent flaunting his lack of faith and ridiculing others for theirs; he doesn’t believe in aristocracy, doesn’t believe in sentiment, doesn’t believe in beauty, and certainly doesn’t believe in love. While Arkady waxes sentimental about Anna, Bazarov comes forth with lots of bluster about his indifference. “ ‘If you like a woman,’ he used to say, ‘try to gain your end; if that’s impossible—well, never mind, turn your back on her—there’s plenty of fish in the sea’” (71). This more or less describes Bazarov’s attitude towards love before he meets Odintsova, and perhaps even after—for a time. But before long he finds that as a conquest, she’s impossible, that he wouldn’t ever gain his end:To his own amazement, however, he lacked the strength to turn his back on her. His blood caught fire as soon as he thought about her; he could’ve easily coped with his blood, but something else had taken root in him that he’d never been able to admit, something he’d always mocked, something that irritated his pride. (71)In short, Bazarov is in love. As a nihilist, there is no way that he can justify this within himself, and herein lies the root of his problem. Thus regardless of what comes later, regardless of Anna’s refusal of him and of his untimely death, a part of Bazarov has already died, and this in the very act of falling in love. Even so, at this point Bazarov is far from hopeless. He’s bewildered by, even ashamed of his feelings for Odintsova, but not so much as to renounce her entirely. His confession of love for her, desperate as it is, reveals that he still has some hope in how she might react. He may no longer live as a nihilist, yes, but he waits for her response before going any further; in his pause lies an admission that he might have been willing to live another kind of life, one more like those lived by the fathers before him. But horribly, tragically, he is denied this chance at happiness; Odintsova and Bazarov, as they both often admit, are too much alike. It’s therefore not surprising that Odintsova regards Bazarov’s love with as much terror, and even disgust, as he does. When he comes towards her she hesitates briefly, “but a moment later, she was standing far away in the corner, looking at Bazarov from there” (80). Although Anna continues to waver on her rejection of Bazarov even after this scene, her decision here has ultimately already been made. For the sake of serenity, for independence, and for the type of woman that Anna regards herself as being, she sacrifices her feelings for Bazarov—and in so doing seals his fate. From this point onward, Bazarov is on a path to the end. Bazarov the nihilist fell with his love for Anna, and Bazarov the romantic fell with her rejection of it. Before Anna “romantic” was to him the most ridiculous, nonsensical of words—in one conversation with Arkady, he interchanges it with “nonsense”—but now he finds it inescapably real. Before he often protested an indifference to nature (a trait, coincidentally, that he shares with Anna) but now he suddenly takes a kind of scoffing interest in it. On his arrival at home, he notices his father’s birch grove—and then barks at a servant to fill his pipe. His father mentions “the trees beloved by Horace” (92) and Bazarov asks what kind they are—before stifling a yawn. Lying under a haystack with Arkady Bazarov points out an old aspen which he believed in his childhood to have magical powers—and a short time later he provokes Arkady into a fight. He even finds poignancy in an ant crossing the ground, comparing the ant to himself and the fly it’s dragging to Anna:“Look! Here’s a heroic ant dragging away a half-dead fly. Go on, brother, pull! Don’t pay any attention to her resistance; take advantage of the fact that as an animal you have the right not to feel any compassion, unlike us, self-destructive creatures that we are!” (98)This quote is interesting not only in its connection with nature, and not only in the obvious anguish it contains, but also because Bazarov finds himself admitting that he, as a human, simply feels more than an insect ever can. He bemoans his fate and curses the half-dead fly, but he also seems to recognize that he is suffering because of compassion—and that his suffering will lead him to destroy himself. Arkady seems to catch on to his hinting as well, because his response to Bazarov is here full of fear and concern: “You shouldn’t say that, Evgeny! When have you tried to destroy yourself?”Bazarov raised his head. “That’s the only thing I’m proud of. I haven’t destroyed myself, and no woman’s going to destroy me. Amen! Finished. You won’t hear another word about it from me.” (98) Ultimately, of course, Bazarov is unable to keep his promise. Caught between two worlds, no longer belonging to either one, his behavior becomes increasingly reckless. When Pavel Petrovich challenges him to a duel, Bazarov accepts even though he recognizes that a duel can serve no definite purpose. “From a theoretical standpoint,” he says, “dueling is ridiculous; but, from a practical standpoint, well, that’s a different matter.” The nihilist in him never would have been dragged into something that’s literally useless, but his newfound romanticism drives Bazarov to engage in something that’s very dangerous. After he agrees to the duel Bazarov tries to turn to his microscope only to find that he cannot concentrate; the coolness that reflection requires is no longer his—and, tellingly, Bazarov has a nightmare about the duel in which Pavel appears to him as a forest, an image of nature that reoccurs again as the type of sentimental life he never wanted to lead. Bazarov’s own death is, obviously enough, the ultimate act of self-destruction. Whether or not he realizes it, the end that Bazarov meets is indeed a kind of suicide; his foolhardy and voluntary autopsy on a highly contagious corpse, made when Bazarov was out of practice and terminated when he cuts himself in apparent carelessness, is more Bazarov’s doing than anyone else’s. The fact that his demise comes in an act of scientific research is also significant, since it signals his attempt to return to the fact-bound existence that he had previously led. And the fact that Bazarov cuts himself, instead of being cut by another, is telling if only on a symbolic level; his morbid calmness after the event suggests that he’s long accepted a fate of oblivion. (“Never miss a chance to practice your trade!” (145) he says, cheerily, to his horrified father.) This is not to say, of course, that Bazarov doesn’t mourn himself a little bit; lying in fever, he reflects that an older man than he would have time “to get used to the idea of leaving life behind” (148). Yet Bazarov is, in many senses, an old man already; he is spent in his way, although his body remains young. “If you know too much, you’ll die too soon,” (82) he comments early on in the novel—and whether or not he can face this on his very deathbed, a part of Bazarov realizes that the so-called knowledge he has gathered, about faith and love and their power over him, has made his demise inevitable—and he acquired it, largely, on account of his love for Anna. Her own final appearance to Bazarov is a poetic testament to her role in his fate. Responding to his message, she comes to him immediately; Bazarov’s parents remark that she seems to them to be an angel from heaven. The promise of love that she represents to him is ultimately the last thing that Bazarov wishes to see. Yet when she enters the room and finds Bazarov as he is, she is “simply seized by a cold, enervating terror” (151). Bazarov informs her that his disease is contagious, and in response she rushes hurriedly to the other side of the room—much as she did earlier in their relationship, when his confession of love forced her into a corner. Bazarov’s “disease” is, on a deeper level, love—and here, as before, Anna does not want to catch it. Nevertheless, Anna’s final act displays the mercy that she still possesses. Despite his warnings, she eventually comes to Bazarov’s bed and leans directly over him; Bazarov begs her to “blow on the dying lamp and let it go out…” (153). In shocked obedience she essentially does just that, leaning down still further to kiss him gently on the forehead. It is this final act of love, more openly made than any before it, that represents both the cause of Bazarov’s death and the only way it could have been prevented. Just as Vera leaves Pechorin forever in one final letter, leaving him to wander dimly until he dies, Anna offers Bazarov a promise that makes him realize the life he could have led—and pronounces a sentence that makes him feel as if his end was meant to come.
Nihilism in A Hero of Our Time and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea
Nihilism plays a dominant role in both Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea. Both novels target a particular character to be made an example, but the circumstances of this undertaking are notably different. In A Hero of Our Time, Pechorin “[experiences] all that life has to offer and [finds] nothing to give him more than passing satisfaction” (Lermontov xviii). Life failed to provide any purpose worthy of his powers, and as a result he turns against life and society. In The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, Noburo and his group try to go beyond the established societal boundaries; they don’t think that rules apply to them because they are above law and order just as Pechorin is. Unlike the boys in Mishima’s novel, Pechorin doesn’t purposely try to destroy anyone’s life. His escapades are just an attempt to create “a temporary escape from boredom” (Lermontov xviii). But the boys murder the kitten and later the sailor because they believe that only by “acts such as this [could they] fill the world’s greatest hollows” (57). In both novels, the main characters act with no regard for morals, and their contempt for mundane platitudes drives them to hurt others. Pechorin targets and eventually kills Grushinitsky for the lack of anything better to occupy his talents, while Number One and his followers use killings to test their theoretical worldview and attempt to fill the emptiness in the world. Both novels were written in times when people were suppressed and suffering. A Hero of Our Time takes place in 1830’s Russia, when Czar Nicholas I suppressed anyone who wanted to speak his mind; the author uses this context to explain the tragic side of the human existence. Here, a man like the protagonist – “proud, energetic, strong-willed, self-assured” – may find “that life does not measure up to his expectations [and] become embittered, cynical and bored” (xvii). The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea takes place within the conservative culture of Japan after World War II. In Lermontov’s novel, Pechorin, the true nihilist, is bored and tired of life since he always knows what it has in store for him. He purposely goes against the rules of the society in order to make life more interesting and to amuse himself. The only thing he’s convinced of is that “one foul evening [he] had the misfortune to be born” (79). He considers his victims grist for his amusement, saying, “the world would be [a dull place] if there were no fools” (79). Similarly, in Mishima’s novel, Noburo and his group believe that they are above law and order and can do whatever they want. The chief, left by his parents and allowed to do whatever he wants, leads the group to kill the kitten and then the sailor. Their actions are driven by hatred towards authority figures, who only want to take freedom away: “They hover around our heads waiting for a chance, and when they see something rotten, they buzz in and root in it. And there’s nothing they won’t do to contaminate our freedom and our ability” (138). Only by killing the kitten and sailor could the group “achieve real power over existence” (57). The act of killing gave the boys a kind of “snow-white certificate of merit” (61) that meant they could now do anything, “no matter how awful” (61). Although Pechorin violates societal rules, he does so purely out of boredom and not malicious intent. He plays with Bela, Mary and Vera to amuse himself, not to cause pain and suffering. In the same way, Pechorin competes with Grushinitsky but does not want to kill him: “[He’s] delighted. [He] love[s] enemies, though not in the Christian way” (113). In fact, during the duel, he gives Grushinitsky another chance to back off and stop all of this: “‘You won’t apologize?’” he asks him. “‘Think carefully’” (139). For Pechorin, “life’s a bore” (139), and only by playing with people can he feel alive and not useless. For him, living means “being always on alert, catching every [person’s] glance, the hidden meaning of every word, guessing [that person’s] next step, confounding their plans, pretending to be taken in and then with one fell blow wrecking the whole elaborate fabric of their cunning schemes” (113). Even though he knows how everything will end before it starts, the process of playing with the person’s mind is the only time that he feels he can really use his knowledge and skill. Unlike Pechorin in Lermontov’s novel, Noburo and the boys don’t know what to expect from life, though they are not bored and sick of it. Their purpose of killing is different; they want to get rid of everyone who has any authority in the society and in that way “fill the world’s great hollows” (57). Only by killing the cat and the sailor could they fill in the hollow space in the world: “The chief always insisted it would take acts such as this to fill the world’s great hollows. Though nothing else could do it, murder would fill those gaping caves… Then they would achieve real power over existence” (57). Just as the chief’s house was empty and hollow, so was the world for him: “[Chief’s] hollow house had nourished [his] ideas about the overwhelming emptiness of the world” (55-6). The chief and the group share same feelings towards authority; they think of fathers as “‘machine[s] for dishing up lies to kids’” (137) and “‘the flies of the world’” (138). Like flies, the chief meant that they lay in wait for a flaw and then “buzz in and root in it” (138). The boys want to achieve absolute power, real power over their existence which they don’t have if people higher than them, like fathers, are present. Thus as they achieve their goal and kill the kitten and the sailor, it’s important that they practice absolute dispassion as Noburo does. The protagonists of these novels can be seen in two different ways. The first, most obvious, one is that they are true nihilists who reject societal norms. Although this characterization is accurate, one might also consider them as praiseworthy in a way. By rejecting standards, they set themselves apart from those who accept things as dictated by others; by refusing to pretend normalcy, they remain true to themselves. Perhaps the “hero” in Lermontov’s title describes Pechorin more aptly than it might appear on first glance.
Understanding Pechorin as a Byronic Hero: The Contributions of Each Narrative Voice on Storytelling
In literature, the opinion of a character seems to not solely derive from the perspective of one narrator. A holistic characterization of an individual requires a multitude of viewpoints, as each person notices distinct nuances of a persona that others narrators might not recognize. Within the novel A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov’s inclusion of distinctive narrative voices enhances the quality of story telling by offering multiple perspectives in order to characterize the protagonist Pechorin as a Byronic hero. The viewpoints of characters such as the unnamed narrator, Maxim Maximich, and Pechorin himself highlight features of a Byronic hero through descriptions of the physical appearance and personality of the protagonist throughout the story.
Initially, through the perspective of the unnamed narrator, readers can examine Pechorin’s aristocratic demeanor. In accordance with the description given within the introduction of A Hero of Our Time, Pechorin appears to accurately resemble the proud, aristocratic appearance of a Byronic hero (qtd. in Lermontov xiii).The apparel that the unnamed narrator first discovers Pechorin wearing insinuates his upper-class status, “… his dusty velvet jacket, fastened only by the two bottom buttons, allowed one to view his blindingly white linen, which bespoke of the habits of a proper gentleman; his soiled gloves seemed sewn expressly for his small, aristocratic hands…” (48). The white linen, velvet jacket, and tailored gloves all indicate Pechorin’s aristocratic standing as he appears able to afford luxurious clothing that the lower classes might not possess. Additionally, the perspective of the unnamed narrator demonstrates the patrician tendencies of Pechorin’s behavior. His privileged lifestyle reveals itself to readers through the explanation the unnamed narrator adds on the protagonist’s travel style. When the narrator first locates Pechorin, they notice that immediately, “Pechorin’s valet comes out to meet him and report that they were about to begin harnessing; he handed [Pechorin] his cigar case, and after receiving several instructions, bustled off” (48). In comparison to the way Maxim Maximich and the unnamed narrator travel, Pechorin appears to prefer, as well as afford, a more luxurious and comfortable experience. As the unnamed narrator continues to observe Pechorin does not appear concerned with the process of preparing for travel. He instead relies on his lower-class servants to handle the difficult work while he relaxes and smokes a cigar. In the end, the unnamed narrator illustrates the aristocratic portion of Pechorin’s character, which aligns in accordance with the introduction’s definition of a Byronic hero.
Furthermore, Pechorin’s Byronic characteristics of an antisocial, individualistic personality present themselves through Lermontov’s incorporation of Maxim Maximich’s perspective. Pechorin first exhibits his unsocial disposition when he reunites with Maxim Maximich after many years of separation. Upon leaving the house of Colonel N, “Pechorin was absorbed in thought, gazing at the blue jags of the Caucasus, and seemed in no hurry whatsoever to get going” (50). Despite not appearing rushed, once Maximich appears and invites him to dinner, Pechorin rudely responds, “Truly, I don’t have anything to tell you, dear Maxim Maximich. But farewell, it’s time for me to go … I’m in a hurry” (51). Pechorin’s antisocial tendencies appear conspicuous in this example. The moment that Maximich arrives and attempts to converse with Pechorin, he suddenly remembers that he must leave immediately. Even worse, he fails to provide his old friend with an explanation for his abrupt departure. Moreover, the perspective of Maxim Maximich also demonstrates Pechorin’s individualistic nature, a prominent feature of a Byronic hero. According to Maximich’s experience with the protagonist, “whatever [Pechorin] wants, give it over; you could see he’d been spoiled by his mama as a child” (37). In the story Bela, Maximich illustrates Pechorin’s individualistic qualities when recounting to the unnamed narrator his time with Pechorin at the army fort. One day, Maximich visits Bela only to realize that Pechorin seems missing, not leaving any sort of explanation,
“‘But where’s Pechorin?’ [Maximich] asked.‘Hunting’‘He left today?’ [Bela] said nothing, as if she were having trouble getting the words out.‘No yesterday,’ she said, finally, sighing deeply” (33).
When Pechorin ventures on his hunting trip, he neglects to tell anyone his whereabouts or when he might return. This, therefore, indicates that Pechorin has little concern for the feelings of others around him. Upon returning from his hunting trip, Maxmich recounts that the protagonist does not attempt to apologize for his negligence and acts as if all seems normal, “Bela threw her arms around his neck, and not a single complaint, not a single reproach, for his long absence. Even I became angry with him” (33). Ultimately, from the viewpoint of Maxim Maximich, readers can understand the antisocial, self-centered personality of the protagonist of A Hero of Our Time, Pechorin.
Additionally, Lermontov includes Pechorin’s own perspective since it discloses the Byronic hero qualities of appearing marked by fate and suffering from irreparable misfortune. In the personal diary he keeps, Pechorin reveals to the readers a crucial detail from his past, “When I was still a child, an old woman told my mother my future; she predicted for me death at the hands of an evil wife…” (127). This disclosure serves as an explanation for Pechorin’s behavior around women. Throughout A Hero of Our Time, readers observe his peculiar conduct regarding women. He appears to possess boundaries that prevent him from getting emotionally close to any female he may fancy, “But the word “marry” has a magical power over me; no matter how passionately I love a woman, if she lets me only feel that I should marry her – farewell love! – my heart turns to stone, and nothing can warm it again” (126-127). An application of this statement appears in the protagonist’s reaction to Bela tragic death. Pechorin does not mourn too long for her loss; he instead moves on with his everyday life a short while later. A similar response occurs when Pechorin realizes he might possess feelings for Princess Mary. When she finally admits her own feelings for him, Pechorin denies his feelings and leaves her heartbroken. In addition to appearing marked by fate, Pechorin seems to possess the Byronic feature of experiencing misfortune. In his recount of a conversation with Princess Mary, Pechorin divulges that he suffers from a dark past that significantly influences his character,
Everyone has read the marks of bad traits on my face, traits that were not there, but they were assumed- and so they were born. I was modest, and they accused me of being cunning; so I became secretive. I deeply felt good and evil; no one cherished me, everyone insulted me; and so I became vindictive. I was gloomy while other children were cheerful and talkative; I felt superior to them, and they placed me lower; I became envious. I was prepared to love the whole world, but no one understood me; so I learned to hate… I spoke the truth and people did not believe me; so I began to deceive…. I became a moral cripple (110).
In addition to the bullying, Pechorin also suffers the loss of his mother and a parting from his father. All of these irrevocable tragedies appear to account for his treatment towards women as well as other individuals around him. Pechorin builds firm, emotional barriers so that he never experiences that type of pain again. In the end, Lermontov’s inclusion of Pechorin’s own narrative voice exposes that he possesses the Byronic qualities of appearing marked by fate and irreparable misfortune.
Lermontov incorporates a variety of perspectives in his novel A Hero of Our Time in order to provide multiple viewpoints to characterize his protagonist Pechorin. The unnamed narrator, Maxim Maximich, and Pechorin himself all present different qualities in order to provide a complete depiction of Pechorin’s character. By presenting features of his personality, behavior, and appearance, readers can deduce a holistic characterization of Pechorin. Despite depicting dissimilar aspects, each narrative voice utilizes descriptors of a Byronic hero in order to typify Pechorin.
How Nationality, Social Status, and Gender Affect Pechorin’s Interactions with Individuals
During the 1830’s, the cultural movement of Russian Romanticism evoked a multitude of intense feelings amongst the Russians, in particular a fervent sense of nationalism. This inspiration occurred incongruence with an enormous Russian victory. At this time, Russia triumphed in the first half of a tenacious war with the tribal people of the northern Caucasus Mountains. The Russian nationalism includes a strong sense of superiority, as seen in many works of Romanticism during this time period. In the Russian novel A Hero of Our Time, gender and status trigger Pechorin’s Byronic quality of superiority towards those around him. Lermontov highlights the protagonist’s arrogant attitude specifically through his interactions with mountain tribes, women, and peers.
In the beginning of the novel, Lermontov Pechorin’s superiority over the Caucasian mountain people arises due to the popular belief among Russians during the 1830’s. In order to protect routes to new Trans-Caucasian possessions, Russia desires to assimilate the region into their own territory holdings. Upon winning the first half of the war, “the widespread attitude towards the mountain tribes was the same as that towards savages, who they saw as either outside culture altogether or at its lowest level” (Durylin 127-128). This attitude appears exceedingly prevalent amongst Russian army, including Pechorin. His racist mindset presents itself in his relationship with the tribal princess Bela. Since Pechorin considers her people inferior, he believes that his kidnapping of the princess seems justifiable, “… that wild Circassian girl should be happy to have such a sweet husband…” (Lermontov 21). Due to his notable status, Pechorin reasons that Bela should feel grateful that she can live an ameliorate life as opposed to one she might live back in her village. Moreover, Pechorin’s superiority translates into a feeling of ownership over Bela. In his mind, his supremacy asserts his right over the princess and confirms his ability to control her. Pechorin explains to Maxim Maximich, “[The innkeeper’s wife] knows Tatar and is going to look after [Bela] and accustom her to the idea that she is mine, because she will never belong to anyone else” (24). Since Pechorin believes he possesses supremacy over Bela, he refuses to give the “savage king” his daughter back since he no longer controls her. Ultimately, the superior attitude that Pechorin exhibits within the novel A Hero of Our Time reflects the typical attitude held by most during the time of the Russo-Circassian War.
Additionally, within the novel, Lermontov depicts Pechorin as a male chauvinist throughout his exchanges with women. Pechorin insinuates that women serve only as objects for conquering, as opposed to actual human beings. His mindset originates from a prophecy he receives during his childhood, which predicts “death at the hands of an evil wife…” (127). From that point on, Pechorin refuses to allow any woman to overtake him as he describes in his journal, “One thing I have always found strange: I have never become the slave of a woman I loved. On the contrary, I have always acquired over them, through my will and hear, invincible power, without the slightest effort” (93). Pechorin enhances his overall sense of superiority by dominating women before they discover an opportunity to overtake him. His most notably conquest of a woman appears in his interactions with Princess Mary. Throughout their time together in Pyatigorsk, Pechorin believes that his relationship with the princess seems like nothing other than a game he tries to win, “But I have guessed your secret, dear princess so take care! You wish to repay me in the same coin, to prick my vanity. You shall not succeed! And if you declare war on me, then I shall be merciless” (105). Pechorin does not appear to possess any feelings for Princess Mary; instead, he attempts to get the upper hand in their relationship before she does. Furthermore, every milestone that Pechorin accomplishes in his game to win Princess Mary seems like an emotionless victory, “She is displeased with herself. She is accusing herself of coldness! Oh, this is the first, the main triumph. Tomorrow she will want to make it up to me. I know all this by heart already, and that is what is so boring” (111). Perchorin does not feel any love as his relationship with Mary develops. Dominance and boredom seem like the only sensations he notices. All in all, the male chauvinistic behavior that Lermontov utilizes to depict his protagonist’s interactions with women stem from Pechorin’s childhood prophecy as well as his desire to surmount them.
Moreover, the author demonstrates that Pechorin tends to gravitate towards superiority over those around him because he enjoys the feeling of dominance. In a journal entry, the protagonist confesses that “If I considered myself to be better, mightier than anyone else on earth, I would be happy…” (107). The attitude that Pechorin embodies in this quotation appears in a specific relationship with one of his army colleague, Grushnitsky. Once Pechorin recognizes his peer’s feelings for Princess Mary, he immediately attempts to win the princess for himself, just to prove his superiority. He finds pleasure in watching Grushnitsky lose the affections of Mary as she begins to fall in love with Pechorin, “I look at others’ sufferings and joys only with respect to myself, as on food sustaining my emotional strength… my principle satisfaction lies in bending to my will all that surrounds me” (107). Pechorin recognizes his colleague’s love for the princess, thereby making his suffering exceedingly enjoyable to the protagonist. Additionally, the desire for superiority justifies why Pechorin does not possess any true friendships. Even in a relationship with only one other person, the protagonist believes that an opportunity for inferiority presents itself, “… I am incapable of friendship: of two friends, one is always the other’s slave, although often neither will admit to this. I cannot be a slave…” (83). Instead of friendships, Pechorin prefers to have enemies since they offer him a chance for superiority and dominance. After uncovering Grushnitsky’s plan for revenge, Pechorin admits that, “[Enemies] amuse me, stir my blood. To be always on guard, to catch every glance and the meaning of every word, to guess intentions, spoil plots, pretend to be deceived…that’s what I call life!” (117). The rush of adrenaline that Pechorin senses after victoriously conquering those around him prevents him from engaging in conventional friendships. Ultimately, the enjoyment of a superior status elucidates Pechorin’s interactions with those around him, specifically his relationship with Grushnitsky, and also explains why he never engages in any normal friendships.
As seen in Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time, the gender and status of those Pechorin encounters greatly influences how he chooses to interact with them. The Caucasus mountain tribes, women, as well as peers, in particular, suffer the consequences of the protagonist’s desire for superiority. Pechorin acquires a pleasurable sensation of supremacy by inflicting racist, chauvinistic, or dominant feelings on those he meets. The concept of superiority appeared frequently during the time of the novel’s publishing, 1830. Russian Romanticism often incorporated that feeling because of the events occurring at the time.
A Comparison of A Hero of Our Time and The Vampyre
Mikhail Lermontov’s only novel, A Hero of Our Time, chronicles the adventures of a young officer, Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin, through second and third-person narrative as well as through his own traveler’s journal. Like many other Russian authors, Lermontov found inspiration in work by Pushkin and Lord Byron, but his work on A Hero of Our Time also bears resemblances to a short story written by John William Polidori: The Vampyre. Lermontov even explicitly refers to the short story and the similarities between characters when Pechorin says that at times he “can understand the Vampire.” Pechorin and Lord Ruthven share physical characteristics, antisocial tendencies, a thirst for beautiful women, and the habit of spreading misery wherever they go, affinities which indicate that Pechorin, too, is a vampire. Polidori’s work also influences Lermontov’s other characters and situations Pechorin encounters.
As the chronological beginning of the novel, the short story “Taman” explains how Pechorin’s vampiric transformation occurred. In the seaside town of Taman, Pechorin and his Cossack companion stay in an “unwholesome” place, a hut perched upon a cliff over the sea, where Pechorin encounters an otherworldly smuggler girl who absorbs him with her wildness and magnetic eyes, attracting him despite her lack of beauty. The unnamed girl manipulates a naïve Pechorin, luring him to the beach with a kiss and then attempting—with superhuman strength—to throw him out of the boat to drown. This girl resembles Lord Ruthven in her pale figure and powers of attraction, and her behavior on the boat mirrors that of the creature in the woods who uses strength which “seemed superhuman” to throw Aubrey to the ground. The encounter with this strange creature changes Pechorin; he begins deceiving others and spreading misery, feeding off of the “feelings, love, joys and sufferings” which he generates, and infecting others with his kiss.
Lord Ruthven appears in society “more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank,” described only as a nobleman. Similarly, Pechorin’s rank rarely plays a role in the story despite his military occupation throughout the novel, vaguely referred to by Maxim Maximych as an officer. Maxim Maximych portrays Pechorin as a bundle of contradictions, fearless on the hunt yet startling at a banging shutter, reserved yet capable of entertaining, an entirely unpredictable man. Even Pechorin’s physical feature suggest a duality with the combination of his childlike smile and traces of wrinkles on his forehead, fair hair but dark eyebrows and mustache, dark eyes and brilliant white teeth. Before his duel, Pechorin explains his inner duality, that one part of him “lives in the full sense of the word, [and] the other reflects and judges him,” a statement which could also apply to Lord Ruthven’s conflicting roles of murderous predator and harbinger of karmic consequences.
Polidori omits any real physical description of Lord Ruthven, instead focusing on the effect he produces on those around him, and in this way providing an idea of his countenance. The subconscious fear which Lord Ruthven’s presence provokes most likely stems from his unusual “dead grey eye,” the gaze of which does not penetrate its subject but rather settles heavily on the cheek “with a leaden ray” that does not pass through the skin. Lermontov takes inspiration from this part of Polidori’s portrait but uses the description of what Lord Ruthven is notas much as what he is. Polidori specifies that Lord Ruthven’s gaze does not “seem to penetrate” or “pierce through to the inward workings of the heart” in order to reinforce the character’s otherness and set him apart from the numerous leading men with an imposing gaze, to show that he is more than a striking nobleman. Lermontov turns this on its head and mentions Pechorin’s “quick, penetrating, sombre [sic] glance” which leaves subjects feeling invaded, because one purpose of the novel is to expose the flaws in the cliché, overused hero mold which Pechorin’s character simultaneously fits and mocks.
Lermontov retains enough of Polidori’s physical vampiric attributes to suggest Pechorin’s supernatural nature. Despite the difference in their gazes, both men have grey eyes which discourage approach, in Lord Ruthven’s case because his eyes appear dead and in Pechorin’s because their cold brilliance resembles that of steel. Pechorin also echoes Lord Ruthven in the lack of feeling in his eyes which never laugh when he does, much like how Lord Ruthven’s “eye spoke less than his lip.” Both men have pale skin, and the kind of unusual yet handsome face which appeals to women, the advances of which generally go unacknowledged.
The two characters interact in society yet maintain a distance from their peers which cannot be breached, as if separated from the world by a glass wall. Lord Ruthven attends the nobles’ parties, but does no more than watch, unwilling or unable to participate in the merriment which surrounds him, and mainly acting as a source of excitement for the people he simultaneously frightens and fascinates. He proves an enigma for those around him, absorbed in himself and showing few signs of his observation of anything exterior, so inaccessible that Aubrey cannot form an idea of his character even during their time traveling together. Pechorin also remains unsolved and on the periphery of society. The spring offers a font of social opportunities in “Princess Mary,” though Pechorin interacts mainly with Grushnitsky and Vera until he begins wooing Mary, at which time he entertains and dines with a wider circle to further his plot. He makes superficial connections when they are advantageous, like his relationship with Azamat in “Bela” and even his relationship with Maxim Maximych, which staved off his boredom while they were at the fort together but proved insignificant to Pechorin at their brief and formal reunion. Pechorin brushes off the man who considers him a good friend because he is incapable of emotional connection, this scene acting as a toned-down imitation of Lord Ruthven’s coldhearted seduction and subsequent murder of Miss Aubrey, the sister of the closest thing he could have to a friend.
Lord Ruthven destroys his victims in multiple ways, as a man as well as a vampire. He seeks out vices such as cards and plays, not for his own pleasure or gain, but to beat others, becoming passionately driven upon encountering “the rash youthful novice, or the luckless father of a numerous family,” and acting as an agent of retribution. He leaves the youth devastated and in debt, and the father unable to provide, reaping the consequences of their carelessness; although Lord Ruthven takes no money himself, losing to a more experienced player as soon as he bests his victims. Along the same lines, Lord Ruthven gives generously to vagabonds and beggars, although not to the virtuous, bestowing gifts only upon he who wishes to “wallow in his lust, or to sink him still deeper in his iniquity.” Just like his prey at the gambling table, these men inevitably ruin their lives, ending up on the scaffold or in wretched misery after using Lord Ruthven’s donation to fuel their debauchery. A classic vampire, Lord Ruthven also physically sustains himself by brutally slaughtering and draining the blood of his beautiful young victims. With this he presents a paradox, punishing the sins of those consumed by vice, while himself seducing and murdering women.
Pechorin appears as more of an affective vampire, ruining lives in a similar manner as Lord Ruthven, but subsisting on emotions rather than blood. In a journal entry written while at the spring, Pechorin notes: “I’ve an insatiable craving inside me that consumes everything and makes me regard the sufferings and joys of others only in their relationship to me, as food to sustain my spiritual powers.” Pechorin plays with his victims, knowing exactly how to act in order to make himself irresistible. His former love, Vera, admits that Pechorin has brought her nothing but suffering since they met, yet she admits in her letter that she still loves him and will never love another. Pechorin acknowledges his role as bringer of misery, shown in “Princess Mary” when he contemplates his past and thinks about how many times he has acted as “the axe in the hands of fate,” and “descended on the heads of the condemned,” much like how Lord Ruthven punishes those who succumb to vice. The subjects of Lord Ruthven’s vampiric thirst escape his terror through a merciless death, but Pechorin’s victims live on to infect others and continue the trail of misery. Before leaving them in ruins, Pechorin spreads his condition through a kiss, the recipients of which begin to imitate his destructive tendencies, the same way the girl in Taman changed him.
Several of Pechorin’s adventures in A Hero of Our Time take moments and characters from Polidori’s short story and use them as inspiration for more expanded stories. In “Bela,” the titular character, a dancing foreign girl with noteworthy eyes, is an only slightly altered version of the Greek Ianthe in The Vampyre. Aubrey introduces his Athenian companion as a beautiful and delicate girl whose “eyes spoke” and could be compared to those of an animal, and who “danced upon the plain” like a gazelle. When Bela the Circassian girl first appears, she sings for Pechorin, who says she has eyes like a mountain goat, and Maxim Maximych later reveals that she dances better than any of the girls in Moscow. Polidori’s Ianthe goes along with Aubrey on his excursions for antiquities around the city, and he very quickly falls in love with her innocent charm and beauty, beginning to think of marriage. InLermontov’s version, Pechorin marries Bela and she becomes a companion to Maxim Maximych, who treats her as a daughter and loves her even more than Pechorin. Both girls end up murdered, and Pechorin kills Bela just as surely as Lord Ruthven kills Ianthe, albeit in a more roundabout manner. Lord Ruthven drains Ianthe of her blood in the woods, while Pechorin set into motion Bela’s eventual murder at the hands of Kazbich when he stole his horse as a bride price.
The account in “Princess Mary” generally follows the actions of Lord Ruthven in Italy, supplementing the observations and enquiries of Aubrey to make a clear narrative for Lermontov’s character. Before Aubrey leaves Rome, he joins Lord Ruthven’s social circle to confirm his alleged vicious behavior and finds him “endeavoring to work upon the inexperience” of a young girl. When Aubrey enquires after the girl on his way home from Greece, he finds that she disappeared, leaving her parents in distress and ruin, undoubtedly coming to the same end as Ianthe. Over the course of his time at the spring, Pechorin manipulates Princess Mary into falling in love with him with no intention of marrying her, leading the young girl on a wild goose chase and leaving her emotionally devastated upon the realization that he never loved her. Both Pechorin and Lord Ruthven view women as inferior and treat them accordingly; Pechorin plays with their emotions and admits that he does not like strong women, while Lord Ruthven asserts that “women are frail,” and considers them no more than prey.
Lord Ruthven shows disregard for death because, as Aubrey later finds out, it presents only a minor inconvenience, the most challenging part being witnesses such as Aubrey. In several instances, Pechorin’s words and actions also suggest a resistance to death. In an exchange with Grushnitsky before their duel, Pechorin tells his opponent to remember that one of them will surely be killed, and when Grushnitsky says he hopes it will be Pechorin, Pechorin responds that he is “sure it won’t be” him. This could be a show of confidence and a way of inducing fear, but Pechorin’s annoyance supersedes any worries about the duel, which makes his assertion come off as more than pre-duel intimidation. Pechorin also comes up with the idea to move the duel to the edge of the cliff, a suggestion which also supports the argument of his indestructability. Pechorin proposes the ledge as a location as a way to ensure that one of them dies and that the death remains a secret, but it would also serve as cover for him if Grushnitsky managed a fatal shot. During the duel, Pechorin braces himself to make sure he won’t fall over the edge in the event of a minor injury, but if seriously wounded, Pechorin could fall onto the rocks below and carry out the same kind of regeneration as Lord Ruthven without any witnesses.
Pechorin also hints at a longevity of life and immunity to age, a theme not explicitly stated in The Vampyre, but complimentary to Lord Ruthven’s defiance of death as well as the classic portrayal of vampires as undead and therefore unchanging. Many of his comments sound better suited to a man much older than Pechorin, the age of whom the narrator cannot determine, but places at somewhere between twenty-three and thirty at their meeting. In “Princess Mary,” Pechorin tells his acquaintance at the spring that there is “no one so susceptible to the power of the past” as he is, and that he forgets nothing. When asked about a will on the day of his duel, Pechorin responds that he is past the age of a romantic dying tribute to a sweetheart or friend, and that when he considers impending death he thinks only of himself, continuing on to explain that he has lived by intellect rather than feeling for a long time. In “Bela,” Pechorin recounts his days as a young man, when he tried everything and was bored by it all. Pechorin speaks about his past as if it happened eons ago, yet if he is as young as his appearance suggests, anything of note would have happened ten years previous, at the most. His comments do not fit his youthful appearance and make more sense in a supernatural context, if somehow he ages differently than the average person, or not at all.
Lermontov’s novel and Polidori’s short story exhibit many of the same elements in characters and plot, as well as society’s glorification of villains. Aubrey immediately casts Lord Ruthven as the hero of a romance inspired by his imagination rather than reality, much the same as Lermontov ironically dubs Pechorin “A Hero of Our Time.” The two men share many characteristics with the classic brooding hero, but the authors make no mistake about the destructive nature of their protagonists. Lermontov and Polidori both use vampire stories to criticize the societies they live in; Lermontov just emphasized the society rather than the vampire.
The Historical Context of “A Hero of Our Time”
Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time not only represented the movement in which it appeared, known by some as Russian Romanticism, it also developed parallel to what was occurring historically in Russia during the first half of the 19th century. In fact, in order to grasp a full understanding of romantic movement artists, it is vital to understand the historical context, as well as the life and upbringing of Mikhail Lermontov himself. The “superfluous man” role that A Hero of Our Time’s main character Pechorin exemplifies, not only can be traced back to aspects of Lermontov’s own personality, but possibly also to characteristics of the one in power during this time, Nicholas I.
Mikhail Lermontov was born in Moscow in the year 1814, and because his mother passed away when he was a child, he was raised by his wealthy, aristocratic and controlling grandmother somewhere in Central Russia (Terras 248). Many can agree that he left behind, “a literary legacy of considerable size and richness”, not only due to his innovative and creative writing style, but also because of his contributions to the romantic movement (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 316). As in the novel A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov often wrote about life in the Caucasus region of Russia, because he was sent there a couple of times after being prosecuted for various “crimes”, (in the modern sense they were not really crimes) (Terras 249). Additionally, he spent some time in this area serving in the army, only further solidifying his passion and interest in the stunning landscape of this region and its intriguing people (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 316-317). Lermontov possessed a rather unfavorable demeanor, as many would say, and due to his arrogance and mocking attitude, he grew to have many enemies, one of which eventually led to his premature demise and death (Terras 249). Lermontov died in his 20s in a duel, being shot just like the main character Pechorin of his novel A Hero of Our Time, ironically (Terras 249).
Although meeting his fatal end prematurely, Lermontov inspired many other artists throughout Russia and beyond, contributing a few notable works to the diversity and dynamic of Russian literature. A Hero of Our Time appeared late in the author’s career, somewhere around 1840-1841 (Terras 373). Some scholars would claim that this novel served as part of the Russian Romanticism period (Terras 372), while others describe it as a push towards the Russian realistic novel, introducing elements of the Russian Romantic realism movement (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 317). Regardless of its categorization, A Hero of Our Time contained a few specific, unique elements that made it stand out from other works during its time, as well as adding to its distinct influence on literary history. First of all, the novel can be described as a psychological one, broken down into 5 cycles of inner thoughts, each described through the voice of different narrators (Terras 250). This element not only keeps the storyline fresh and interesting, it provides an inner glimpse into the minds of the characters, as well as a witnessing of multiple perspectives. These perspectives are presented journal entry style, which adds to the honest nature and real depiction of the events that unfold. As with Lermontov’s other works, A Hero of Our Time vividly expresses the stunning landscapes of the Caucasus region, with passages that are descriptive, gorgeous and captivating for the reader. The novel’s main character Pechorin, is what literaries describe as the Byronic hero and “superfluous man”, with each of the 5 cycles adding another complex layer to the protagonist’s personality (Terras 250). Eventually, by the end of the novel we witness Pechorin’s demise, as he slowly digs his own grave in many ways, appearing as more manipulative, self-absorbed, self-critical and in turn isolated, than in any of the prior chapters (Terras 250). In the beginning, it is not difficult to like Pechorin as a character, but by the end of the novel you not only can see the ugliness of his disposition, you just feel sorry for the guy.
Even if it did not last long, only for about the first half of the 19th century, beginning at the turn of the century, Russian Romanticism can best be described by a few common trends; Romantics strived for independence and in some ways rebelled from the constraints of their ultra-controlling and oppressive rulers, but in ways that remained subtle enough to not get them into too many legal troubles. They did so by attempting to establish independence from the Romantic movements of other European countries, so that Russian culture could be liberated from the “slavish imitation” of European models. Additionally, Romantic writers often supported nationalism; they felt Russian art contained a beauty of its own, which should be honored and respected, just as other countries honor and respect their own works. They felt their movement served as a way to encourage national originality, or narodnost (Terras 372-373). National originality became such a major dynamic of this time, that some would even say it was synonymous with Russian Romanticism. For many, the romantic period in Russia was an intensely dynamic and confusing time. Many people developed their own opinions and thoughts about certain aesthetic and philosophical questions, which produced a massive jumble of alliances. Even if Russian romantics wanted to stand out from the likes of other European romantic artists, many of their values related to those of the Europeans. Russian romantics still valued themes such as, love, rebellion, passion, death, madness, escapism, magic, the supernatural, murder, heroes, heroines and individual isolation, they simply implemented their own Russian settings and characters (Terras 373-375).
The “superfluous man” is an intriguing aspect of the Romantic era, and of Mikhail Lermontov’s own literary works, for it is not only blatantly apparent in A Hero of Our Time, but in some ways Lermontov possibly felt it represented aspects of his own personality and eventual demise. In some ways, A Hero of Our Time was an instance of when life imitates art. The term was originally coined in print by writer Ivan Turgenev, but this phrase grew to represent many literary heroes of the Russian Romantic movement (Emerson 54). The “superfluous man” contains many complexities, but three parameters in specific tend to define this individual: he normally fails to win over the woman he loves, he fails to find an actually productive niche in society (often retreating into deep isolation and alienation), and he normally fails to thrive health-wise (Emerson 54). In A Hero of Our Time, these 3 aspects do connect to Pechorin; for he fails to win over Bela (she dies), he never truly discovers what in society will bring him real happiness (and continues to constantly chase something new during that process) and his mental health is by all means questionable, especially when we witness the extent of his obsessive and manipulative tendencies by the final section. This “superfluous man” can possibly also be described as the anti-hero, and sometimes with this character it is challenging to say whether they fall under the role of the protagonist or the antagonist throughout the story. Some scholars relate the appearance of this anti-hero to the historical happenings during this time, claiming it may be a result of the nation-wide restrictive control of Nicholas I, “they quite sincerely recognized their duty to play their part in public life, but in the conditions of life under Nicholas I could find nothing to do” (Schapiro 160).
As one could have guessed, the early 19th century was a complex and challenging time for the Russian people, for numerous reasons. Simultaneously, it is also described as Russia’s “golden age”, because many artistic styles adapted and transformed, bringing about new, original forms and ideas (like the Romantics), even amidst the insanities of rampant autocracy and power-fueled strict censorship (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 309). The Rise of “intelligentsia” also appeared, as more and more individuals strived to become educated and informed, raising the overall quality of aspects such as art and literature (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 310). There were two individuals in power during the first half of the 19th century, beginning with Alexander I, who ruled from 1801 until 1825 (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 265). This oppressive dictator genuinely believed order equaled happiness, and he wanted this system to be implemented all over Russia. The primary issue was his unpredictable personality, which led to him becoming suspicious of people and ultimately dissatisfied with life (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 267). He sometimes spoke of establishing a constitution, but steps towards this were never implemented, because he likely did not actually want a constitution, for it worked in his favor not to have one (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 270). Alexander I failed to reform Russia, likely because he was so focused upon diplomacy and war, which did not really give the Russian people any chance for growth (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 273). He eventually died in 1825 (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 273), and his brother Nicholas I was next in line to take over the throne. Nicholas I ruled from 1825-1855, and unlike his brother, his personality was rather predictable and well-established. He possessed an incredible determination and iron-will, which was in some ways beneficial, and in other ways detrimental for the Russian people (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 285). Like his brother, he also believed that order was vital for success, supporting loyalty and discipline as well. Nicholas I was religious, but unlike many individuals that searched for the truth of the world with God, this ruler held a strong faith and trust in God (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 286). Nicholas I supported nationalism, like the Romantic literaries did, but instead of it bringing about a sense of freedom and individuality, for him it was more of another side to autocracy, and he viewed the Russian people as kind beings that also needed a ruling hand (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 287). This nationalism expressed that every country had its own “unique genius”, with Russia’s genius being considered by Nicholas I as, “the unique bond of love and devotion between the people and the tsar” (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 288). This is probably also not how Romantic literaries viewed the term. Nicholas I was especially determined to fight any signs of rebellion, but by the end of his regime, this obsessive determination grew to become his downfall (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 288). He became so terrified of any revolution happening, that he implemented some especially restrictive policies that further removed any freedom for the Russian people. Russians were no longer allowed to travel abroad, academic freedom and the autonomy of universities shrank sizeably and people were censored, both in everyday life and also in their modes of expression. Nicholas I tried to introduce reform, but failed miserably, because of his intent to preserve his autocracy, his fear of eliminating serfdom and his general distrust of his own people (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 291). Even though capitalism began to appear during this time and prior social constructs were slowly melting away, Russia remained behind developmentally when compared with other countries in Europe, and the tight control of Nicholas I could certainly have been to blame for Russia’s lack of economic developments, while the rest of the world seemed to be thriving (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 301).
Just like Pechorin in A Hero of Our Time, both Nicholas I and Mikhail Lermontov met their eventual demise, much of which was due to their own personal inferiorities, as is the case with a literary anti-hero. Nicholas I, in particular, could not set aside his own egotistical, power-hungry beliefs to support his people when they needed him the most. Lermontov’s egotism was, perhaps nowhere near the degree of Nicholas I, but his arrogance did lead him towards the duel that led to his death, just like his main character, the “superfluous man”, Pechorin.
Emerson, Caryl. The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature. 2nd ed., Cambridge UP, 2013.
Riasanovsky, Nicholas V, and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia. 9th ed., Oxford University Press, 2019.
Schapiro, Leonard. Turgenev: His Life and Times. Harvard UP, 1982, Accessed 23 Oct. 2018. Terras, Victor, editor. Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven, 1985.
Women and Fate: Deconstructing the “Hero”
In the Russian novel A Hero of Our Time, translated by Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov, author Mikhail Lermontov relates the travels of the alienated and manipulative Pechorin, an upper-class military officer struggling with fate in his attempts to interact with women. In the novella “Princess Mary”, Pechorin writes that he views his fate, predicted by an old woman as “death from a wicked wife”, as an “ineffable presentiment”; he is convinced that it will come true, and as such, he carries in his soul an “insuperable aversion” to marriage (Lermontov 137). As such, Pechorin’s relationships with women are marked by his ever-present awareness of his supposed fate, and it is this fear that drives his treatment of them. His treatment of women can be interpreted as heroic, for his respect for them, especially in comparison with his peers—but also as indicative of an antihero, for his manipulation of them. By portraying Pechorin’s relationship to women as an expression of his fear of fate, Lermontov suggests that there is no such thing as a hero: the complexity of human nature prevents an evaluation as such.
Lermontov’s depiction of Bela as exotic and foreign paints Pechorin as or neither heroic nor unheroic, but also distinctly human in his desperation over his fate, suggesting that such a delineation is nonsensical. From the beginning, Bela is exotified: Lermontov introduces her in a quasi-ethnic “Asiatic” wedding, where she is repeatedly described as a “gazelle” (Lermontov 25). This objectification frames Pechorin’s lust for her as a strange and foreign beauty, which nevertheless appears crude and shallow. Lermontov furthers this impression when Pechorin calls Kazbich a “bandit” while he himself is a “husband” (Lermontov 31). This trademark arrogance seems unfounded, especially as Pechorin himself was the one who engineered the deal to steal Bela in the first place. Needless to say, Lermontov’s initial presentations of Pechorin are ones of ignobleness, of shallowness—not heroism. Later, however, he gifts her with Persian fabrics, an act that seems rather unheroic in its attempt to “buy” her love—but Maksim Maksimych is correct in saying that “it is not at all the same thing” as doing so with a Russian girl (Lermontov 36). Maksim’s aside about Bela as strange and exotic is indicative of something else: culturally, a gift of fabrics is a symbol of intent—of marriage. For the first time, Lermontov characterizes their relation as more than simply exotic sex appeal; rather than keeping her as a concubine, as the previous pages would suggest, Pechorin respects her enough to deem her his wife—commendable, perhaps even heroic, in itself, but especially in consideration of what would have been recent events. Chronologically, “The Fatalist” would have occurred directly before “Bela”, and at the conclusion of that story, despite being convinced of predestination, Pechorin never “reject[s] anything decisively, nor trust[s] blindly” (Lermontov 169). As such, the gift is an act of desperation—neither heroic nor unheroic, but simply human—of trying to “test fate” as he had in “The Fatalist” with the Cossack, and willing the prophecy to be disproven. Lermontov’s image of a laughing Pechorin after the death of Bela, then, depicts not a man unmoved by the death of his lover but one broken by the confirmation of his fate. Pechorin’s laugh is neither representative of a hero moving on nor unheroic indifference, but of a complex human being.
Likewise, Lermontov’s portrayal of Pechorin’s relationship with Princess Mary as an expression of his need to keep control contextualizes fate as a continuing specter haunting their liaisons, suggesting that a “hero” cannot exist. Even before Pechorin and Mary make any contact, Lermontov frames jealousy as a motivator for his interactions with her. Pechorin writes that the earnestness of Grushnitsky “envelops [him] with midwinter frost” (Lermontov 89). The ice of Pechorin’s jealousy parallels the seeming coldness with which Pechorin subsequently manipulates Mary, and momentarily, Lermontov projects him as the farthest thing possible from a hero. As such, their first interactions are characterized by manipulation; Pechorin writes with glee that Mary hates him, noting with a sort of vindictive pride that he is the subject of “caustic, but… flattering” epigrams (96). Lermontov’s juxtaposition of two strongly connotative words emphasizes that what Pechorin finds flattering about these epigrams is precisely their causticness; he relishes the fact that he holds power over Mary, that he is the subject of her anguish and her attention. When Pechorin reflects on why he is toying with Mary so intensely, Pechorin writes that his main pleasure is to “subjugate to [his] will all that surrounds” him (Lermontov 116). Lermontov develops a seemingly despicable, unheroic character, at once self-reflective and proud of his own actions, through Pechorin’s grandiose and arrogant tone as he writes this. But this maniacal desire—to control everything around him—reflects his wish to control his fate. As such, when Pechorin is unable to see Mary when she is ill, he writes with incredulity, “Can it be that I have really fallen in love? … What nonsense!” (Lermontov 127). In his use of ellipses, Lermontov creates a natural pause in the flow of text, emphasizing that the reason Pechorin is so averse to the suggestion that he is in love is because he has lost control; he has fallen in love not of his own volition and manipulation but because it simply happened—not to mention that Pechorin is no doubt aware of his supposed fate. When it becomes apparent that he is expected to marry Mary, then, he finally introduces this prophecy and how it has hung over him his entire life—he asserts that he will not “sell [his] freedom” (Lermontov 137). Lermontov’s construction of the comparison of marriage to the sale of freedom—to slavery—evinces Pechorin’s need to remain the one in control. Moreover, this parallels his fear of fate, which stems from his fear of not being able to control his destiny. What is interesting here is that should fate actually exist, as Pechorin so believes, he has no freedom to sell in the first place.
In the end, however, Lermontov’s illustration of the relationship between Pechorin and Vera reveals Pechorin’s capacity—and, indeed, need—for true love despite his supposed fate; whether or not he is a hero becomes irrelevant. Pechorin himself concedes that Vera is the only one who has completely understood him and his “petty weaknesses and wicked passions” (Lermontov 141). Lermontov’s alliteration of words with strong negative connotations suggests that Pechorin understands why he may be despised, but also emphasizes his appreciation for Vera’s unconditional love. His occasional distance from Vera could be heroic—for respecting her husband—or unheroic—for disregarding for her love—yet the question of heroism is extraneous here; regardless of his actions, Pechorin’s dilemmas are complex and cannot be reduced to a simple yes/no binary. Later, after noting Vera’s jealousy about Mary, Pechorin comments on the illogical female mind. He presents a straw man syllogism: “I must not love him for I am married, but he loves me—consequently…” (Lermontov 132). The omission of the “consequence,” reciprocated love, emphasizes the parallel between the married woman he describes and Vera—suggesting that in the end, though Pechorin does take Vera and her love for granted, he still loves her. His love for Vera is made possible by the fact that she is married, and thus poses no threat of fulfilling the prophecy. When Vera does leave, however, Pechorin is overcome with despair. As Pechorin gallops back in his attempts to see her one more time, Lermontov describes the scenery with such words as black, dark, damp, dull, and monotonous, suggesting his desperation in Pechorin’s dismal projection of a world without Vera—and a world without love (Lermontov 157-8).
Throughout the novel, Pechorin has romantic relations with multiple women, yet none of these relationships succeed. Lermontov characterizes all of these relationships, however, as a product of Pechorin’s fear of his fate, and as such, creates a complex and multilayered character. Fate is central to Pechorin’s behavior—yet he is operating under the assumption that it is true. In the final chapter of the book, “The Fatalist,” however, an unnamed character questions, “If predestination actually exists, why then are we given free will and reason, and why must we account for our actions?” (Lermontov164). For Pechorin, the idea of predestination shapes his free will and reason. For Lermontov, the idea of predestination enables him to create a distinct, controversial, yet multifaceted character. Rather than creating a clear-cut hero (or not) as would have been indicated in the title, Lermontov suggests that it is impossible to evaluate someone with a single word; there is no such designation as “hero”, as it fails to do justice to the complexity of human nature. If there is a “hero of our time”, then, it would be the individual: Each person is his or her own hero, in spite of and because of each person’s flaws—because that person is human.
Who Is Pechorin?: Ambiguity and Unreliability in A Hero of Our Time
The novel A Hero of our Time is a Russian novel about the life of a soldier named Pechorin serving in the Caucasus, written by Mikhail Lermontov and translated in one of its most famous versions by Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov. Throughout his novel, Lermontov’s different points of view, the unchronological flow of the chapters, and the exclusion of details all prove that appearances can obscure one’s true nature. Lermontov’s multiple narrators; the unnamed traveler, Maksim Maksimych, and finally Pechorin himself, all present Pechorin differently, making it unclear if any of those represent Pechorin’s true nature. Lermontov’s order of the chapters in the novel, rather than the chronologically accurate order of the stories, develops Pechorin’s character at different times of his life, thus making the reasons behind his changes in nature ambiguous. Finally, Lermontov’s exclusion of details in crucial parts of the novel unknowingly obscures Pechorin’s true nature.
Lermontov’s multiple narrators throughout the novel are continually distanced from Pechorin, and thus their descriptions of Pechorin mask his true nature. Maksimych describes Pechorin to the unnamed traveler as “…a little odd…must have been a rich fellow too…” (Lermontov 23). Maksimych, a character that seems to be a close friend of Pechorin’s, is characterized by Lermontov as being oblivious of many of Pechorin’s odd characteristics and backgrounds, despite Maksimych’s frequent and prolonged interactions with Pechorin in the Caucasus, as seen through Pechorin’s apparent richness, that Lermontov displays Maksim as being completely oblivious of, before recounting his events with Pechorin. Therefore, Lermontov uses this limited understanding in order to emphasize the fact that Maksim did not know Pechorin well enough from their frequent interactions, thus giving an inaccurate view of Pechorin’s nature. In addition, when Pechorin was starting to act coldly towards Bela, Maksim simply thought “…no doubt they must have had a tiff…” despite the significant problems that Pechorin was having at the time (Lermontov 44). Lermontov illustrates Maksim as so ignorant of Pechorin that when Pechorin started to undergo major changes in his attitude towards those he previously loved, like Bela, Maksim took it as a simple “tiff,” which usually connotes a quite petty issue or problem. However, Lermontov rather displays Pechorin’s problem with Bela as far deeper than what it seemed to be, as Pechorin believes he is “…a cause of unhappiness for others…” and that “[he has] an insatiable heart” (Lermontov 47). Lermontov actually proves that Pechorin’s problem was no simple matter, yet Maksim took it like one because of his limited knowledge and view of Pechorin. Thus, Lermontov’s word choice and the inaccurate point of view of Maksim help to show the ignorance of other characters in assessing Pechorin’s true nature, thus concealing his true nature. Finally, in the chapter of “Maksim Maksimych,” when Maksim feels sad about Pechorin’s cold treatment of him, the narrator thought, “…just because Pechorin…proffered his hand while Maksim Maksimych wanted to throw himself on Pechorin’s neck” (Lermontov 66). Thus Lermontov illustrates the unnamed traveler as being quite ignorant of Pechorin’s true problems, despite Maksim’s stories of Pechorin. Lermontov employs this ignorance of narrators in order to show that Pechorin’s true nature was unknown to the characters from Pechorin’s appearances.
Lermontov also used the unchronological ordering of the chapters in the book in order to emphasize the idea that appearances obscured one’s true nature. In the story of “Bela,” when Maksimych started to see Pechorin drawing away from Bela, Maksimych felt that this was because they “…must have had a tiff” (Lermontov 44). Lermontov, places the story of “Bela” first, though it is chronologically second to last, simply to create an uncertainty of what happened to Pechorin chronologically before the events in “Bela.” By doing this switch in the chronological order of events, he shows that the inaccurate perceptions that Maksim makes about Pechorin’s nature are simply because of the lack of context that is later gained with events like Pechorin’s love affairs with Princess Mary and Vera in the story of “Princess Mary.” These events that are revealed later in the novel by Lermontov, which happened chronologically before this chapter, would help to explain Pechorin’s true nature, but without this context, the appearances of Pechorin alone only mislead from Pechorin’s true nature. Thus, Lermontov uses the unchronological ordering of stories in the novel to show that appearances can obscure Pechorin’s true nature. Another example of the unchronological structure of the novel obscuring Pechorin’s true nature is in the story of “Maksim Maksimych,” when Pechorin started acting coldly towards Maksim Maksimych, telling him that he “…must say good-bye…[he is] in a hurry…” (Lermontov 63). Though Lermontov’s characterization of Pechorin could be interpreted as a result of Pechorin’s interactions with Bela in the story before, these reactions of Pechorin mainly came as a result of his interactions with Princess Mary and Vera in the story of “Princess Mary,” which are chronologically before the story of “Maksim Maksimych.” This lack of context makes it seem as if Pechorin’s true nature is being revealed by Lermontov, but after being revealed to it, Lermontov is only proving that the appearances of Pechorin before had only led to misinterpretations of his true nature. Thus Lermontov uses the unchronological ordering of stories to prove that appearances are deceiving and cannot be used to accurately determine one’s true nature.
Lastly, Lermontov uses the exclusion of details by the narrator in order to show that appearances can obscure the one’s true nature. When Maksim and Pechorin were with Bela as she was slowly dying, Maksim did not “…notice a single tear on [Pechorin’s] eyelashes: whether he actually could not cry, or whether he was controlling himself, I don’t know” (Lermontov 52). Lermontov uses the limited view of the narrator in order to make some details unknown, like Maksim’s ignorance towards Pechorin at times. This lack of attention to detail and ignorance overall simply demonstrates the fact that Maksim’s view of Pechorin’s nature is inaccurate. Thus, Lermontov’s lack of details in Pechorin’s appearances obscures Pechorin’s true nature. In addition, later when Bela is closer to dying, Maksimych “…closed [his] eyes with [his] hands and began to say a prayer” (Lermontov 53). Lermontov shows through these moments of temporary ignorance, that the narrator, Maksimych, is sometimes unknowing of what is happening around him, like in this moment when he closed his eyes for some time. In addition, when Kazbich visits Maksim and Bela at their house, Maksim asked Bela to “take a look…[she had] young eyes” (Lermontov 46). Lermontov portrays Maksim as oblivious to details sometimes, like this poor vision of his, which could lead to flawed appearances. Lermontov uses this subtle ignorance of detail in order to prove that appearances themselves cannot accurately portray one’s true nature. Thus Lermontov manages to prove, through the novel, that appearances can obscure one’s true nature, as seen through the multiple points of view, unchronological structure of the chapters of the novel, and the exclusion of details in key events. What this really proves, however, is that no character is ever fully known or revealed, even by the end of the novel, and that some characteristics are just never revealed.
In the case of A Hero of Our Time, no one fully understands Pechorin’s character by the end of the novel, even the reader, simply because all of his appearances drawn by Lermontov can be misleading from his true nature. In fact, near the end of “Princess Mary,” when Pechorin’s horse dies, he states, “What was it that I still needed? To see her?…” (Lermontov 158). Lermontov is proving to us that when even Pechorin does not understand his nature fully at times, there is no way of anyone else doing the same. In addition, though appearances can conceal one’s true nature, they end up revealing more about those who made the assumptions, for example, the narrators who make certain assumptions on Pechorin based on what they see of him. Therefore, though appearances can be misleading for judging one’s true nature, those appearances can be quite useful in analyzing the motives and opinions of those infer those appearances about a character.