Examining the Role of Women in Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time
M. Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time utilizes the voice of the main character Pechorin, along with the voice of an unnamed traveler to provide an inner glimpse into the workings of Pechorin’s complex mind, along with the often philosophical, sometimes sensitive and sometimes cynical outlooks this anti-hero possesses. As the reader is exposed to a few impactful and vital accounts in the development of Pechorin’s life and timeline, it is not difficult to see that this hard-to-please character has a negative view of women, in the sense that they are more pawns in his game of chess, rather than human beings deserving respect and equality. Although this type of thinking was not uncommon for the time period in which the book was written (1800s), Pechorin takes this contempt further, by choosing to manipulate certain female characters and grow bored of others. The anti-hero treats “…life as drama”, which only becomes further validated by his actions towards many, among them Princess Mary in the final sections of the novel (Goscilo 1980). This action, in addition to numerous others, some of which will be covered later on, not only exemplify Pechorin’s arrogance, but also his overall dissatisfaction in the way things are. One scholar even goes as far as to claim that Pechorin represents demonic qualities, stating these manifest themselves “…most obviously in his rebelliousness, proud alienation, sense of desolation, and in his estrangement from normal human contacts, feelings, and values” (Leatherbarrow 2004). The disrespectful manner in which Pechorin manipulates and interacts with women throughout A Hero of Our Time, not only exhibits the way in which many viewed/still view the female role in society, but also provides the reader with direct access into the mind of the main character. Even amongst the numerous negative instances, moments of softness and sensitivity are recognizable, adding to the enigma-like nature of Pechorin’s personality.
The earliest example of Pechorin’s arrogance and selfishness being projected onto women in a disrespectful manner, can be seen by the way he essentially steals Bela away from her family, in hopes to marry her (Lermontov 16). After eventually earning her affections, but causing her plenty of emotional distress in the process, Pechorin begins to distance himself from the young woman, admitting to Maxim Maximych that he prefers a life of travel, stating, “My soul has been spoiled by the world, my imagination is unquiet, my heart insatiate…One expedient only is left to me—travel” (Lermontov 28). Even if he did not mean to intentionally play with Bela’s emotions, Pechorin does so by wanting her and then suddenly desiring a different life, for he could not be satisfied with what he had obtained, and still persisted to seek happiness elsewhere.
In another example of the main character’s haughtiness, Pechorin toys with the heart of young Princess Mary, of whom he is well aware he does not love, but throughout the final section of the novel, his personal diary entries detail the way in which he purposely continues to go out of his way to annoy the young royal, eventually leading to her falling in love with this manipulator. Rather than seeing Princess Mary as a fragile, young woman with tender emotions, he figures that she would be a fun conquest to later just throw away. Pechorin proceeds to commit many unpleasant acts to make Mary’s blood boil, one example of which occurred in a shop; “She was bargaining for a marvelous Persian rug…I outbid her by forty rubles, and bought it over her head” (Lermontov 70). Once Mary has fallen in love with Pechorin and he has played with her emotions throughout the summer, he proceeds to finally admit he does not love her, which causes her grief to the point where she becomes very ill. Pechorin announces in one exchange, “I will not justify myself, nor explain my actions: I do not love you”, to which Mary responds “Leave me”, followed by Pechorin, “shrugg[ing] [his] shoulders, turn[ing] round, and walk[ing] away”, completely carelessly (Lermontov 99).
Even though we persistently witness Pechorin’s exploitation of the inner, vulnerable emotions of various women, during certain moments we also see the main character’s softer side, in which he expresses his love, as genuine as it could be, for others. When Pechorin’s bride Bela is captured by the enemy Kazbich, is injured and then begins to deteriorate until her death is imminent, it can be seen that Pechorin is “…grateful to [Bela] for a few fairly sweet moments; [and] would give [his] life for her—only [he is] bored with her…” (Lermontov 28). He does, nevertheless, love Bela and proceeds to stay by her side until she has passed on, displaying a glimpse of compassion and positive human emotion amongst the other complex and self-centered traits of Pechorin (Lermontov 32).
Helena Goscilo. “The Modern Language Journal.” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 64, no. 4, 1980, pp. 488–489. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/325889.
Leatherbarrow, W. J. “Pechorin’s Demons: Representations of the Demonic in Lermontov’s a Hero of Our Time.” Modern Language Review, vol. 99, no. 4, Oct. 2004, pp. 999–1013. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=14856073&site=ehost-live.
Lermontov, M. Y. A Hero of Our Time. Translated by Marr Murray and J. H. Wisdom, PDF , The Project Gutenberg, 2008.
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M. Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time utilizes the voice of the main character Pechorin, along with the voice of an unnamed traveler to provide an inner glimpse into […]