Mikhail Lermontov Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
0111204732-Lermontov.jpg (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Lermontov left an impressive legacy as a poet during the Russian Romantic period, writing both lyric and narrative verse of lasting significance. He was also a dramatist and a novelist whose major work, A Hero of Our Time, presaged the great realistic psychological novels of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevski.

Early Life

Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov’s father was a poor army officer, the descendant of a Scottish mercenary who had come to Russia in the early seventeenth century. He claimed relation to the twelfth century Scottish bard known as Thomas the Rhymer. A major success in his life was his marriage to seventeen-year-old Marya Arsenieva, the only daughter of the widowed Elizaveta Arsenieva, a member of the rich and powerful Stolypin family and the owner of a large estate, Tarkhany, in central Russia.

The death of Marya Lermontova in 1817, when the future poet was only three years of age, caused a one-sided power struggle for his custody between his grandmother and his father. Elizaveta Arsenieva desperately wanted to keep her young grandson in her household. She threatened to disinherit the child should he be removed from her and promised his disfavored father both money and the forgiveness of a previous debt if he would leave young Mikhail with her. Yury Lermontov therefore surrendered his son’s custody and had only sporadic or indirect contact with him thereafter.

Lermontov’s grandmother showered attention on the precocious boy. She hired foreign tutors, who taught him French and gave him the rudiments of Greek and Latin. He was given music lessons so that he was later able to compose tunes to accompany his own lyrics and was able to impress his contemporaries with his ability on the piano and on the violin. He was encouraged to draw and to paint, taking lessons from the artists A. S. Solonitsky and P. E. Zabolotsky, and his talent was so developed that his graphic oeuvre, consisting of more than four hundred oil paintings, aquarelles, sketches, and caricatures, is roundly praised by modern critics. It was Lermontov’s early love of poetry, however, that was most thoroughly indulged. Having read Vasily Zhukovsky’s translations of George Gordon, Lord Byron’s verse, he desired to learn English so that he could read Byron’s work in the original. Thus, when Lermontov was in his teens, a special tutor was engaged to impart this knowledge to him.

In addition to a remarkable home education, young Mikhail Lermontov received the benefit of three exciting journeys, made at ages three, five, and ten, to the Caucasus Mountains in the extreme south of Russia. The reasons for these journeys were both to avoid imminent visits at the Tarkhany estate by his father and to bolster his precarious health. Rheumatic fever and measles left him very frail, and he developed a stoop-shouldered posture and sickly pallor, which later caused him considerable ridicule from his schoolmates, who nicknamed him “the frog.”

The spectacular scenery and the unsubjugated tribes of the Caucasus Mountains made a lasting impression on Lermontov, an impression of adventure and romance in an exotic locale which found its way into many of his later works, both poetry and prose. He gained there an appreciation for freedom as an ideal apart from that of civilization, which he came to regard as corrupt.

In 1827, Arsenieva moved with Mikhail to Moscow. The next year, she enrolled him in an elite preparatory school attached to Moscow State University, the Nobles’ Pensionate, which employed a number of prominent university professors as faculty. There, Lermontov read and discussed the works of such contemporary Russian poets as Zhukovsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, and especially Alexander Pushkin, whose work Lermontov zealously admired. During this period, Lermontov began his own literary activity, having one of his poems accepted for publication by the journal Atheneum in 1830. Thereafter, he wrote almost continually, entering into his notebooks epigrams, commentary, drafts of a drama, and a number of lyrics on nature, death, and love.

Life’s Work

In 1830, Lermontov enrolled in Moscow University’s department of ethics and politics, from which he soon transferred to the department of literature. His classmates in the university included a constellation of later luminaries of Russian social and political dissidence: Vissarion Belinsky, the social literary critic; Aleksandr Herzen, the seminal socialist thinker and editor of radical émigré publications; Nikolai Stankevich, the social philosopher and organizer of radical salons; and Ivan Goncharov, the prominent novelist. Lermontov, however, held himself aloof from these future stars, regarding himself as superior not only to them but to the faculty as well. He took part in one major scandal, in which an unpopular professor was driven out of the classroom, and he quarreled with one of his examination committees severely enough that, in 1832, he left the university, intending to move to the capital and to enroll at St. Petersburg University. The paperwork required by such a transfer was more than Lermontov’s patience could endure, however, and he instead enlisted in the army—a move unpleasantly surprising to his grandmother, who used her influence to have him enrolled in the School of Ensigns of the Guards and Cavalry Cadets.

The literary production of Lermontov’s university years is highlighted by the remarkable poem “Angel,” which evokes the blissful prenatal memories of an earthbound soul. Prominent also is “Parus” (“The Sail”), in which Lermontov gives a symbolic portrait of a revolutionary. It is at this time too that Lermontov began his ten years of work on the...

(The entire section is 2362 words.)

Mikhail Lermontov Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov was born on October 15, 1814, in Moscow, to an impoverished member of the petty nobility, Yury Petrovich Lermontov, and a wealthy but sickly mother, Mariya Arsenieva, the only daughter of a member of the illustrious Stolypin family. Lermontov’s mother died in 1817, and his maternal grandmother, who hated her son-in-law, claimed custody of her grandson, assuming responsibility for his education and future career. While Lermontov was a child, his father left his son with the boy’s grandmother and seldom met with him again before his death in 1831. Lermontov seems to have spent a happy childhood with his grandmother and cousins, especially Shan-Girei, at his grandmother’s estate at Tarkhany. Twice they visited the Caucasus because of young Mikhail Yurievich’s ailing health, an awesome experience later reflected in his verse and prose.

Lermontov was educated at Tarkhany by private tutors and showed a special aptitude for music, evident in the lyric quality of his verse, and for languages, in which he read widely. Foreign authors greatly influenced his writings, especially Shakespeare, Schiller, George Gordon, Lord Byron, and Molière. Lermontov began early to manifest a weakness for the affairs of the heart, and unhappy love affairs were to characterize his short life. His first serious involvement came in 1830 with Ekaterina Aleksandrovna Sushkova, who rejected him and, like Onegin and Tatyana, was herself to be rejected by him later. A rather mysterious young woman,...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

Mikhail Lermontov Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov, born October 15, 1814, in Moscow, had a diverse ancestry. His mother’s family was related to the influential aristocratic Stolypins, while his father traced his origins back to the Learmonths of Scotland. Lermontov’s childhood, however, was traumatic, extending its insecurities into most of his works. His mother died when he was three years old, and his maternal grandmother bribed her philandering son-in-law to leave the boy’s upbringing to her. The ensuing discord, as both sides battled for the child’s affection, left traces of bitterness in Lermontov that are reflected in his major characters. Pechorin, in A Hero of Our Time, especially echoes the author’s inability to express emotion.

Lermontov’s alienation from society and from individuals grew as he matured, despite wealth, elevated social position, and excellent education. He fell deeply in love a number of times without being able to establish a lasting bond. Like the female-hating Pechorin, Lermontov tricked and offended several young women he had earlier admired. As Pechorin rebuffs male friendships, so did the author keep aloof, despising schoolmates, professors, and fellow officers alike. His years at Moscow University’s Department of Literature, from 1830 to 1832, and the proximity of many famous literati, did not significantly further his talents, for he haughtily refused to be influenced. He had his first poems in print at age sixteen, and he relied on self-developed abilities for inspiration. An avid student of English because of pride in his Scottish ancestry, he was much under the influence of Byron, whose works he read extensively in the original. Bored at the university, he entered the School of Guard Ensigns and Cavalry Cadets and joined the Guard Hussars in 1834. His irregular and frivolous life as a rich, spoiled cadet earned for him the reputation of an enfant terrible....

(The entire section is 784 words.)

Mikhail Lermontov Biography

(World Poets and Poetry)

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov was born in Moscow on October 15, 1814. According to family tradition, the Lermontovs were descended from a Scottish mercenary named George Learmont, who entered the service of the Muscovite state in the seventeenth century. Mikhail’s mother, Mariya Arsenieva, belonged to an old and aristocratic family, the Stolypins, and her relatives did not approve of her match with Lermontov’s father. Mariya died in 1817, and the child was reared by his maternal grandmother, Elizaveta Arsenieva, on her estate, Tarkhany. Because Lermontov’s father Yury did not get along with Elizaveta Arsenieva, he left his son at Tarkhany and seldom met with him again before dying in 1831.

Lermontov had a...

(The entire section is 1174 words.)

Mikhail Lermontov Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111204732-Lermontov.jpg Mikhail Lermontov Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (LEHR-muhn-tawf) was born in Moscow, Russia, on October 15, 1814. He was the only child of retired army captain Yury Petrovich Lermontov and Mariya Mikhaylovna Arsenieva, whose wealthy family strongly disapproved of the marriage. The Lermontovs moved to Tarkhany, a country estate 350 miles from Moscow owned by Mariya’s strong-willed mother.

When Mariya died three years after Mikhail’s birth, Elizaveta Arsenieva took custody of her grandson. Crucial to his future development as a writer, she took him with her on journeys to the Caucasus Mountains to take the waters at the spa town of Pyatigorsk. The Caucasus was the wild frontier of the Russian Empire. The native mountain tribes were...

(The entire section is 701 words.)

Mikhail Lermontov Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mikhail Lermontov was the supreme psychological analyst of the superfluous man—the man isolated and exiled from society by virtue of his superior gifts and perceptions. Sometimes, as in The Demon, Lermontov idealizes this figure, while at other times, as in A Hero of Our Time, he puts the figure under the microscope and coolly examines his life and motives. Modern readers will find plenty to fascinate them in Lermontov’s works. The mixture of alienation, strong passions, love of beauty and freedom, cold-blooded manipulation, iron willpower, and cynical humor embodied in his characters is as vivid and engaging today as it was in Lermontov’s time.

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Mikhail Lermontov Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (LYAYR-muhn-tuhf), who carried Alexander Pushkin’s lyricism further into the European Romantic current, is in many ways the Russian counterpart of Giacomo Leopardi, Alfred de Musset, and George Gordon, Lord Byron. Born in Moscow into the family of a retired captain, he lost his parents very early and was raised by his grandmother on her country estate, Tarkhany, where he began writing poetry.

From 1828 to 1830, Lermontov studied at the boarding school for the nobility in Moscow, and in 1830 he entered Moscow University, from which he withdrew in 1832 to enroll in military school in St. Petersburg. He underwent two years of military training there, and served in the Life Guards Hussar...

(The entire section is 424 words.)