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Lermontov's Narratives of Heroism

Golstein, Vladimir

Publication Year: 1998

This is the first study of Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov (1814 41) that attempts to integrate the in depth interpretations of all his major texts including his famous A Hero of Our Time, the novel that laid the foundation for the Russian psychological novel. Lermontov's explorations of the virtues and limitations of heroic, self reliant conduct have subsequently become obscured or misread. This new book focuses upon the peculiar, disturbing, and arguably most central feature of Russian culture: its suspicion of and hostility toward individual achievement and self assertion. The analysis and interpretation of Lermontov's texts enables Golstein to address broader cultural issues by exploring the reasons behind the persistent misreading of Lermontov's major works and by investigating the cultural attitudes that shaped Russia's reaction to the challenges of modernity.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

First of all I would like to thank all the great teachers of literature whom I was fortunate to encounter, and whose personal example has shown me that the study of literature can be a serious and rewarding experience: such are my Moscow teachers, Leah and Genrikh Gorchakov, my Columbia University professors, Edward Tayler and Richard F. Gustafson, and Yale Graduate School mentors, Robert Louis Jackson and Tomas Venclova. This book is a modest proof that their efforts to educate me were not totally wasted.

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1. Heroism and Individualism: The Russian Context

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pp. 1-27

"I want a hero: an uncommon want / when every year and month sends forth a new one." So declared Byron in his immortal satire Don Juan. This statement from the creator of what later became known as the "Byronic hero" highlights the paradoxical situation that existed during the Romantic period, when a burgeoning cultural demand for new heroes was met by a correspondingly growing supply.

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2. "The Demon": How Not to Regain Paradise Lost

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pp. 28-52

Fascination with demonism revived during the Romantic period. Many Romantic poets identified poetry with rebellion, exile, and loss, and, in turn, rebellion and exile with Satan.1 Satan became a patron saint of poetry, and Blake seems to express the dominant attitude toward poetry in his evaluation of Milton: "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it" ("Marriage of Heaven and Hell").

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3. The Hero and the Masquerade: Temptations of a Gnostic Outlook

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pp. 53-84

Lermontov did not see his play The Masquerade performed or even published. It was eleven years after his death before selected scenes of this drama were first staged. Even though the rest of Lermontov's plays, as well as the majority of his early poetry, were not published during the poet's lifetime, The Masquerade deserves special attention as it was the first text that he actively sought to make public.

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4. The Enigma of Heroism in Lermontov's "The Song of Tsar Ivan Vassilyevich, His Young Oprichnik, and the Stout-hearted Merchant Kalashnikov"

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pp. 85-109

In Russian literature, the first decades of the nineteenth century were a time of Romantic involvement with folk culture and poetry, with national roots and national history. Russian writers began to share the conviction expressed by V K. Kiukhel'beker: "The beliefs of our ancestors, the folk-mores, the chronicles, and folk tales are the best, the purest, and most authentic sources for our literature" (1979, 4.58).1

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5. Futile, Fatal, or Heroic: Perchorin in "The Fatalist"

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pp. 110-132

The very title A Hero of Our Time presents a problem. Is Pechorin a hero? And if so, in what sense? What "time" does the author refer to in his title, and why does this "time" make Pechorin its hero? The novel's two introductions foreground the problem without resolving it. The narrator of the second introduction, the one who introduces Pechorin's diary, states: "Perhaps some readers will want to know my opinion of Pechorin's character.

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6. Lermontov versus Marlinsky; or, Why Grushnitsky Had to Be Thrown off the Cliff

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pp. 133-153

"Princess Mary," by far the longest tale in A Hero of Our Time, dominates both the novel and its scholarly discussion. Critics ranging from Shevyrev to Eikhenbaum have insisted that A Hero of Our Time is "Princess Mary," and view the rest of the tales as secondary to this main one. Belinsky, on the basis of Pechorin's self-revelations-"Princess Mary" is written in the form ...

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7. Mtsyri's Refusals: The Making of Lermontov's Paradoxical Hero

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pp. 154-185

The narrative poem "Mtsyri" is often hailed both as Lermontov's masterpiece and the culmination of the tradition of the Russian Romantic narrative poem (poema).1 Although this observation may be chronologically valid, I do not think it does full justice to Lermontov's design and execution. Just as Pechorin may embody the death knell of marlinism without being its literal culmination, so Mtsyri renders the tradition of the ...

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Afterword: "The Man That Hath No Music in Himself..."

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pp. 186-191

Modifying western models, utilizing various perspectives and literary genres, Lermontov produced a unique gallery of heroes, all striving to conduct themselves wiith integrity, self-reliance, and courage, but drastically different in two separate yet related aspects: their artistic sensibility and their attitudes toward other individuals. Thus Lermontov's characters cover a range of characteristics, from Arbenin and the Demon, ...


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pp. 192-221

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 222-236


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pp. 237-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165816
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810116115

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 1998

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory