The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Demon, banished from Heaven, soars over the earth despondent about the memories of his once glorious past, when he knew both faith and love. No force challenges him as he spreads evil and strife around the world, but it has all been too easy and he has become bored and indifferent, even to the magnificent beauty of the Caucasus. The created universe leaves him cold and disdainful. Even the lush valleys of Georgia leave him feeling bitter and contemptuous.

Meanwhile, the aged Prince Goudal plans for the marriage of his only daughter, the beautiful Tamara. Outwardly she appears pleased, and she dances and smiles, but within her heart she has misgivings about leaving her home and becoming subservient to her new relatives. The Demon flies past her, sees her dancing, and immediately falls in love with her. His empty and lonely soul is aroused by her beauty and innocence, and he feels confused.

The Demon then espies the young bridegroom excitedly riding toward the wedding, and he distracts the young man from visiting a shrine along the way. The bridegroom pursues a pair of Ossetian robbers, but after a brief chase, he is mortally wounded and his horse shows up at Goudal’s castle in the mountains bearing his corpse. Tamara is anguished, but the Demon’s strange voice calls out to comfort her and to advise her to wait. The words inflame her passions, but when he enters her bedroom as if in a shadowy dream, looking “unearthly handsome” and forlorn in his love, she detects no radiance from his head.

A fearful and suspicious Tamara begs her father to turn the other suitors away and allow her to enter a convent as a nun. Even in a remote convent, however, secluded among the mountains and forests, she continues to sense the Demon’s presence in forbidden dreams and to feel attracted by his unearthly beauty.

Tamara cannot meditate or pray properly, unable to stop thinking about the Demon. She becomes indifferent to the beauties of nature. When she attempts to pray to icons of the Virgin Mary, she ends up thinking about the Demon of her troubled dreams, and she fantasizes passionate embraces with him. She prays to the saints, but her heart yearns for the Demon.

At first, the Demon does not dare approach the convent, but finally...

(The entire section is 934 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Eikhenbaum, B. M. Lermontov. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1981. Translated by Ray Parrott and Harry Weber. Considers The Demon to be the last example of the “Russian lyrico-epic narrative poem.” A concise stylistic commentary on the poem’s emotional-phonic qualities.

Garrard, John. Mikhail Lermontov. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Argues that in The Demon Lermontov handles an important and complex topic “in an intellectually impoverished context.” Sees the characters, including the Demon, as insufficiently motivated and underrealized.

Kelly, Laurence. Lermontov: Tragedy in the Caucasus. New York: George Braziller, 1978. Inclines toward an autobiographical reading of the poem, seeing The Demon as embodying Lermontov’s unhappy experiences with romantic love. Salvation through love is impossible for the Demon, as for other fictional Lermontov characters and for the author himself.

Lermontov, Mikhail. Major Poetical Works. Translated by Anatoly Liberman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Useful translation of the poem and valuable textual commentary on the eight versions; includes three pages of notes. Reflects on the poem’s artistic problems, notably with the character of the protagonist and the conciliatory end, which some critics believe was prompted by Lermontov’s efforts to deflect objections of ecclesiastical censors.

Reid, Robert. “Lermontov’s Demon: A Question of Identity.” The Slavonic and East European Review 60, no. 2 (1982): 189-210. The most complete and useful commentary on the poem. Considers the polarization between humanistic and metaphysical readings. Notes that Tamara’s beauty attracts the Demon because he confuses it with moral goodness; argues that natural beauty can persuade but not save or redeem.