Mikhail Lermontov Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111204732-Lermontov.jpg Mikhail Lermontov Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Mikhail Lermontov’s narrative poems include “Cherkesy” (1828; “The Circassians,” 1965), “Kavkazsky plennik” (1828; “A Prisoner in the Caucausus,” 1965), “Korsar” (1828; “The Corsair,” 1965), “Ispoved” (1831; “A Confession,” 1965), “Aul Bastindshi” (1832), “Sashka” (1834-1836), “Khadshi Abrek” (1835), “Boyarin Orsha” (1835-1836; “The Boyar Orsha,” 1965), “Tambovskaya kaznacheyska” (1838; “The Tambov Treasurer’s Wife,” 1965), “Pesnya pro tsarya Ivana Vasilievicha i udalogo kuptsa kasashnikove” (1838; “Song of the Tsar Ivan Vasilievich and the Bold Merchant Kaksahnikov,” 1965), “Mtsyri” (1839; “The Novice,” 1965), “Skazka dlya detey” (1840; “A Fairy Tale for Children,” 1965), and Demon (1841; The Demon, 1875). Of these, the two best known and most important are “The Novice” and The Demon. They have strong dramatic overtones, especially in their use of dialogue. Both are set in the rugged mountains of the Caucasus, in a dreamlike world, and both deal with the problem of freedom versus fate and question the possibility of a free intellect devoid of moral considerations.

Although The Demon has remained more popular, “The Novice” is considered aesthetically superior. It is perhaps the most sustained piece of poetic rhetoric in Russian and abounds in lush descriptions of the wild Caucasian landscape. The wilderness of nature represents the untamed spirit of a novice, one who was adopted by the monks as a child but who yearns for the freedom of life and love. The rather vague plot tells of his escape from the monastery, his encounter with primitive natural elements, and his subsequent death. In this dream narrative, a journey through the unconscious, there is both a haunting musical...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Best known for his lyric and narrative poetry, especially The Demon and “The Novice,” and for the only Russian Romantic novel, A Hero of Our Time, Mikhail Lermontov was nevertheless one of the few dramatic writers in Russia before Anton Chekhov. A child prodigy, he produced an extraordinary literary output before his death at the young age of twenty-six. He wrote all of his dramatic works before the age of twenty-two; he wrote most of them at age sixteen. Although generally considered as products of his youth, and not his mature literary output after 1837, Lermontov’s plays are among the few examples of Romantic drama in Russia. This is especially important because in the 1830’s there were practically no models for the theater in Russian. The only important dramas, Alexander Griboyedov’s Gore ot uma (wr. 1824, uncensored pr. 1831, censored pb. 1833, uncensored pb. 1861; The Mischief of Being Clever, 1857) and Nikolai Gogol’s Revizor (pr., pb. 1836; The Inspector General, 1890), were written after Lermontov’s first plays.

Lermontov, however, grew up with a love for the theater. His maternal grandmother had presented plays in her home, the most notable being William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601) on the occasion of her husband’s suicide. As a child, Lermontov made wax marionettes and composed plays for them. While at the University of Moscow, the...

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Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mikhail Lermontov (LYAYR-muhn-tuhf) is as well known for his poetry as for his prose writings. In his homeland, his lyric verse andnarrative poems enjoy continuous publication and are liberally included in the educational curricula. Abroad, his poetic renown is less well established. English translations of his verse are available in The Demon, and Other Poems (1965), in Michael Lermontov: Biography and Translation (1967), in Mikhail Lermontov: Major Poetical Works (1983), and in anthologies. Lermontov also tried his hand at drama. Maskarad (pb. 1842; Masquerade, 1973) is still occasionally performed in Russia as well as in other nations, as is Dva brata (pb. 1880; Two Brothers, 1933). Lermontov’s collected works, Sochtsnentsya M. Ya. Lermontova (1889-1891), first issued in six volumes, remained in print in Russia for more than a century.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mikhail Lermontov is still one of the most popular Russian writers, joined in this respect by Alexander Pushkin. His talent and unusual circumstances catapulted him to instant fame despite his brief creative span. He continues to capture the public’s imagination, undimmed by revolutionary upheaval and changing cultural values. The acclaim is not undeserved. With A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov made the difficult shift from verse to prose that had eluded his predecessors. Pushkin recognized the novel as Russia’s undeveloped genre but cast his own novel Evgeny Onegin (1825-1832, 1833; Eugene Onegin, 1881) in verse, in frustrating admission that accomplished lengthy fictional prose was beyond his reach. Lermontov, too, was already an accomplished poet when he made the transition successfully, thereby giving to Russian literature its first aesthetically credible novel. Lermontov is also considered the greatest Russian Romantic, a Slavic Lord Byron, Childe Harold in a Russian cloak.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Russian literature still drew heavily on foreign models. Pushkin had adopted France’s strict neoclassical verse form for his works, carefully avoiding emotional and diffuse outpourings. Lermontov, by nature a Romantic, imported Byron’s Romantic style and content and grafted them artfully into Russian verse and prose. His characters contemptuously reject civilization to seek contemplation and noble savages...

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Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

In addition to his position as one of the foremost Russian poets of the nineteenth century, Mikhail Lermontov (LYAYR-muhn-tuhf) holds the distinction of producing what many consider to be the first major novel in Russia, Geroy nashego vremeni (1840; A Hero of Our Time, 1854). The state of Russian prose during the 1820’s and 1830’s was far from satisfactory. Although several writers had tried their hands at historical novels in the 1820’s, writers in the 1830’s were still wrestling with such basic matters as narrative structure and a suitable literary language for the larger forms of prose fiction. Lermontov himself had begun two novels in the 1830’s—a historical novel, Vadim (1935-1937; English translation, 1984), and a novel of St. Petersburg life, Knyaginya Ligovskaya (1935-1937; Princess Ligovskaya, 1965)—but he never completed them. In A Hero of Our Time, he solved the problems of structure and point of view by turning to the current fashion for combining a series of discrete short stories in a single cycle and taking it a step further. A Hero of Our Time consists of five tales linked by the figure of the central protagonist, Grigory Pechorin. Lermontov uses the device of multiple narrators and points of view to bring his readers ever closer to this hero, first providing secondhand accounts of the man and then concluding with an intimate psychological portrait arising from Pechorin’s own diary records, all the while maintaining his own authorial objectivity. The figure of Pechorin himself, a willful yet jaded egoist, made a strong impact on the reading public, and the Pechorin type had many successors in Russian literature.

Lermontov also wrote several plays, beginning with Ispantsy (pb. 1935; the Spaniards) and Menschen und Leidenschaften (pb. 1935; people and passions), which were inspired by the Storm and Stress period of Friedrich Schiller’s career, and concluding with Maskarad (pb. 1842; Masquerade, 1973), a drama exposing the vanity of St. Petersburg society. Lermontov is most remembered, however, for his prose and poetry.


(World Poets and Poetry)

In poetry, Mikhail Lermontov stands out as a Romantic writer par excellence. Influenced in his youth by such writers as Schiller and Lord Byron, he transformed Russian verse into a medium of frank lyric confession. The reserved and often abstract figure of the poet found in earlier Russian poetry gave way to a pronounced and assertive lyric ego in Lermontov’s work, and Lermontov’s readers were struck by the emotional intensity of his verse. Striving to express his personal feelings as forcefully as possible, Lermontov developed a charged verse style unmistakably his own. Although he seldom invented startling new poetic images, he often combined familiar images in sequences that dazzled his readers, and he used repetition, antithesis, and parallelism to create pithy and impressive verse formulations. Lermontov’s poetic vision and his unabashed approach to the expression of his emotions had a considerable effect on subsequent Russian writers, from Nikolay Nekrasov in the next generation to Aleksandr Blok and Boris Pasternak in the twentieth century.

Iconoclastic in his approach to genre as well, Lermontov completed a trend already apparent in Russian poetry of the 1820’s—the dismantling of the strict system of genre distinctions created during the era of classicism in Russian literature. Lermontov drew on disparate elements from various genres—the elegy, ode, ballad, and romance—and forged from them new verse forms suitable for his own expressive needs. The poet also showed a willingness to experiment with diverse meters and rhythms, and he employed ternary meters, primarily dactyls and amphibrachs, to an extent not seen previously in Russian poetry. Lermontov’s exploration of such meters would later be continued by writers such as Nekrasov.

Although Lermontov’s career was exceptionally brief, his accomplishments were extensive. He is justly considered to be, along with Alexander Pushkin, one of the two most important Russian poets of the nineteenth century. He left a rich legacy for future generations of Russian poets. Having moved past the poetic practices of Pushkin and his contemporaries, Lermontov forged a new style for the expression of the poet’s emotions, a style both rugged and pliant, charged and evocative. His bold assertiveness as a poet and his skilled handling of rhythm and meter found an echo in the work of several generations of later writers. These achievements have earned Lermontov the right to one of the foremost places in the pantheon of Russian poets.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What conditions of Russian life in the 1830’s forestalled the appearance of major Russian Romantics other than Mikhail Lermontov?

Compare Pechorin of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time with Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin as “superfluous men.”

What works of Lord Byron seem to have impressed Lermontov most?

From Lermontov’s descriptions, compose a short account of the Caucasus.

Lermontov lived less than twenty-seven years. What deficiencies of his work would he most likely have overcome had he lived longer?


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Allen, Elizabeth Cheresh. A Fallen Idol is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007. In this volume, Allen takes a critical look at Lermontov’s writing, applying literary theories, and placing it in the context of his time and culture. He is portrayed as a writer who defies categorization, straddling the line between Romanticism and Realism. Allen provides a thorough analysis of Lermontov’s works, especially his novel, A Hero of Our Time. She focuses on Lermontov’s narration and characterization as defining qualities of his writing style, which was a product of the...

(The entire section is 696 words.)