Monday, 5 October 2015

A Hero of our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (5/5)

Translation to English by: Paul Foote, 1966
Page count: 168
First published: 1839 (revised in 1841)
Original title: Герой нашего времени, Geroy nashego vremeni
Original language: Russian

The back says:Proud, wilful and intensely charismatic, Pechorin is bored by the stifling world that envelops him. With a predatory energy for any activity that will relieve his ennui, he embarks on a series of adventures, encountering smugglers, brigands, soldiers, lovers and rivals – and leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him. With its cynical, immoral hero, Lermontov’s novel outraged many critics when it was published in 1840. Yet it was also a literary landmark: an acutely observed psychological novel, narrated from a number of different perspectives, through which the true and complex nature of Pechorin slowly emerges.

I say: I have been seeing this as a recommendation on GoodReads for quite some time, and the second I saw it at the library I picked it up. Having gone far too long without reading anything Russian, this was a surprisingly quick and joyful read.

I have a new bibliography to explore.

The novel is composed of 3 parts: the first being the narrator telling of how during his travels somewhere in the Russian landscape met Captain Maxim Maxymich who, while stranded in a blizzard, tells of his life with Pechorin. A while later the narrator chances upon Maxim Maxymich again and together they wait for Pechorin who makes a brief appearance which ends with the narrator being given Pechorin’s diaries. The second part of the novel is composed of those diary entries and the third part a conclusion by the narrator.

Despite it sounding a tad silly when written down, Lermontov connects the parts nicely.

The narrator justifies why he considers Pechorin a hero of our time, whereas I am unprepared to make any such declarations. I haven’t even decided whether or not I like Pechorin and the biggest reason is probably because he reminds me a lot of myself, which makes me question all the qualities he possessed that were deemed bad. He is, in a lot of ways, a very selfish man; but at the same time his selfishness doesn’t really cause anybody any direct harm – unlike his envy. At one point he writes:

I lied, but I wanted to bait him. I was born with a passion for contradiction. My whole life has been nothing but a series of dismal, unsuccessful attempts to go against heart or reason. An enthusiast turns me cold as ice, and I fancy that frequent contact with a languid phlegmatic would turn me into an ardent idealist.
- p. 77

This was my first work by Lermontov, and definitely not the last, and even though I did grow weary of the descriptions of the scenery the story moved along with both swift and detail. I loved Pechorin’s diaries, especially when juxtaposed to how Maxim Maxymich saw him.

5/5 for amazingness that made me think.

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