(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Demon, originally circulated in manuscript in 1839, is Lermontov’s best-known tale in verse. Like “The Novice,” the poem is a piece of defiance and frustration, but on a grander scale. Once again there is a restless soul trapped in a prison, but instead of a monastery, the prison is the cosmos. The Demon sees in Tamara the same mirage of happiness that the novice sees in the mountains. Like the novice, the Demon fails to assuage his loneliness or escape his fate.

The Demon is symbolic of rebellion and isolation. Many critics see him as more closely connected with Lermontov’s own nature than any of his other creations. He constantly reworked the poem from 1829 to the end of his life in 1841. Lermontov’s Demon is a former rebel angel, expelled from paradise and doomed to roam eternally through the universe. A vindictive, sad exile, he sows evil wherever he appears. In the end, evil bores him. One day, flying over the Caucasus, the Demon sees the beautiful maiden Tamara, and falls in love with her.

The Demon feels his love for Tamara might reconcile him to God and the universe. He tempts her, and her guardian angel tries to intervene. The guardian angel soon gives up, and Tamara surrenders to the Demon’s wooing. No sooner does he touch her lips with his immortal’s kiss than she dies—an example of the Lermontovian theme of the lover-destroyer. Her soul is carried away by a good angel, while the Demon is doomed to dwell...

(The entire section is 426 words.)