*Caucasus (KAW-kuh-zuhs). Region and range of mountains lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the extreme southeast of Europe. The Caucasus Mountains are generally accepted as a dividing line between Europe and Asia, and the range includes Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus. At the time the novel takes place, Russia was fighting the region’s indigenous peoples in a war of expansion destined to last until 1864. To Russians, the Caucasus represented a frontier whose cities were outposts of what they regarded as civilized life.
Lermontov himself visited the Caucasus as a child, and served twice in the region as a military officer, having been banished there in 1837 and again in 1840. Besides being a novelist and poet, he was a gifted painter and describes the region’s majestic yet forbidding terrain with quick, impressionistic strokes.
*Military Georgian road
*Military Georgian road. Often precipitous road running from Georgia to Russia through the Caucasus Mountains. Besides linking the Caucasus to its occupiers, the road connects the novel’s five sections. In “Bela,” the first episode, two of the novel’s characters meet on the road during the autumn, and since the station they have reached lacks rooms for travelers, they spend several hours in a smoky native hut as a snowstorm passes. Over tea, one of the travelers, Maksim Maksimich, begins a story about a striking officer named Pechorin, the hero of the novel’s ironic title. Although the two resume their travels during the night, worsening weather forces them to seek shelter in a second hut.
In “Maksim Maksimich” the two travelers meet again, farther down the road, in a decrepit inn at Vladikavkaz, a town on the Terek River. Although the mountains loom over the landscape “like a crenelated wall,” the town itself is uninspiring, consisting of a “multitude of squat little houses” built along the riverbank. Here the two unexpectedly encounter Pechorin, who offhandedly urges his old friend Maksimich to do what he wishes with the personal papers Maksimich has been saving for him. These papers turn out to be Pechorin’s journal, sections of which form the novel’s remaining sections.
Fort. Setting of the story Maksim Maksimich recounts in “Bela,” lying beyond the Terek River in Chechnya. Although the fort itself is secure, Maksimich describes the surrounding countryside as highly dangerous for Russian soldiers not on their guard: “Either a lariat would be around your neck or there would be a bullet in the back of your head.”
In the same area lies the Cossack settlement that is the setting for “The Fatalist.” The Cossacks were a warrior people who fought for Russia in that country’s wars of expansion, and in this case their settlement is also the station for a battalion of Russian troops. In the evening the Russians have little to do but gamble, an activity whose philosophical implications are explored in the story and throughout the novel.
*Taman (tah-MAHN). Small Russian port on the Black Sea that is the setting for the episode of the same name. Pechorin calls it “the worst little town of all the seacoast towns in Russia.” Forced to stay in a shanty with broken windows on the edge of the sea, he quickly notices that the customary religious icon is missing from its walls—“a bad sign!” Taman is one of the many places in the novel that Lermontov himself had visited.
*Pyatigorsk (pyih-tyih-GORSK) and *Kislovodsk (kyih-slah-VOTSK). Fashionable Russian spas nestled in the Caucasus Mountains that are the settings for the “Princess Mary” episode. Noted for their mineral springs, the spas provide a vivid contrast to the more...
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austere settings of the other episodes. Pechorin calls Pyatigorsk a “varicolored, neat, brand-new little town.” Although the spas are far behind the lines of battle, many army officers on leave frequent them.
It was also in Pyatigorsk that Lermontov himself was killed in a duel at the age of twenty-six, an event eerily presaged in this episode.
Eikhenbaum, B. M. Lermontov. Translated by Ray Parrott and Harry Weber. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1981. First published in Russia in 1924, this literary and historical evaluation of Lermontov’s works is still much admired for its role in placing them in Russian literary context.
Garrard, John. Mikhail Lermontov. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Arguably the best overview for the general reader of Lermontov’s life and works. The section on A Hero of Our Time focuses on its literary background and on Pechorin as hero, including a psychological analysis and pointed insights into the extent of the author’s identification with Pechorin.
Kelly, Laurence. Lermontov. New York: George Braziller, 1977. Entertaining biography does not deal directly with Lermontov’s works, but enriches the perceptive reader’s appreciation of their autobiographical aspects. Parallels between the lives and personalities of Lermontov and Pechorin are striking.
Lavrin, Janko. Lermontov. New York: Hillary House, 1959. Short, lucid, intelligent summary of Lermontov’s life, major works, and recurrent themes.
Mersereau, John, Jr. Mikhail Lermontov. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962. This revised doctoral dissertation provides a useful and readable critical analysis of Lermontov’s works. Contains a valuable discussion of Lermontov’s romanticism and a detailed treatment of A Hero of Our Time.