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Becoming Mikhail Lermontov

The Ironies of Romantic Individualism in Nicholas I's Russia

Powelstock, David

Publication Year: 2005

Mikhail Lermontov (1814 1841) is one of Russia's most prominent poets and one of its most puzzling. In this radically new interpretation, David Powelstock reveals how the seeming contradictions in Lermontov's life and works can be understood as manifestations of a coherent worldview.

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

In this book’s long journey, it and I have incurred many debts of gratitude. My research and writing have been supported at various stages by the University of California – Herzen University Faculty Exchange Program; the Mellon Foundation; the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University; and the Humanities Division of the University of Chicago, which supported ...

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Notes to the Reader

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pp. xi-xii

I have used common anglicized versions of Russian names in the text when such versions exist. I have further anglicized certain other names in the text proper that seemed awkward in rigorous transliteration, but all bibliographic matter in the notes, and all transliterated Russian quotes throughout the book, follow the Library of Congress scheme. In Russian quotations...

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Introduction: Irony and Authenticity

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pp. 3-26

I ARGUE IN THIS BOOK that Mikhail Lermontov’s seemingly contradictory life and works can be understood as manifestations of a coherent worldview, a particularly radical version of Romantic individualism. His outlook involved first of all the conviction that the consciousness and desires of the human individual precede in importance any definition of the individual in collective terms. It was...

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1. Representing the Romantic Hero: Death and the Dream of Death

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pp. 27-72

MIKHAIL LERMONTOV was born in Moscow on October 2, 1814. His mother, Maria Mikhailovna Lermontova, n

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2. The Icon and the Window: Framing the Social Self and Literary Mediation

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pp. 73-121

FOR LERMONTOV, the stakes in the creation of a lyric persona extended beyond the boundaries of literary craft. To define oneself as a poet in Romantic Russia was to define oneself socially as well as literarily, a project rendered all the more urgent by Lermontov’s stringent requirements for individual mimesis, the twin imperatives of self-expression and authenticity. In the years 1830–35, the poet...

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3. The Ineffable Self in the Landscape of Language: A Romantic Mythology of the Word

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pp. 122-171

THE LAST TWO CHAPTERS have developed the idea that Lermontov’s representation of the Romantic individual, both in literature and in life, relied heavily on the perceptions of others. The external perspective was both necessary for the inscription of an authentic self into the discourses of culture — legend, myth, memory, and social opinion — and inadequate, or even hostile, insofar as...

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4. Poetry as Theater: Taking the Stage

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pp. 172-249

THE MOST GLARING SYMPTOM of Lermontov’s pessimism regarding his own future as a poet in the years 1832–36 was a sharp falloff in his production of lyric poems. He wrote more than three hundred lyrics in the four years from 1829 to 1832 but fewer than ten during the following four years. Although he did produce several narrative poems, two unfinished novels (Vadim and Princess Ligovskaya), and a play—all ...

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5. Enter the Other: The Author and His Readers

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pp. 250-328

THE YEARS IN PETERSBURG that intervened between Lermontov’s return from his first Caucasian exile (January 1838) and his departure for his second (May 1840) might be characterized as both the best of times and the worst of times. Lermontov’s literary abilities and stature were growing by leaps and bounds. In 1839–40...

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6. Sincere Lies: Irony and Seduction in Hero of Our Time

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pp. 329-397

“OUR READING PUBLIC is still so young and naive that it does not understand a fable unless it finds a moral at its end. It does not get a joke and does not sense irony; it is simply badly brought up” (VI:202). These words, which appear in Lermontov’s introduction to...

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7. “Fierce Integrity”: Inner Freedom and Poetic Potentials

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pp. 398-459

THE “FIERCE INTEGRITY” that Nabokov attributes to the author’s “general purpose” in Hero of Our Time can be extended to characterize Lermontov’s best writing as a whole. Those who are moved by Lermontov’s works are aware of this quality of passionate commitment, even when they, like Nabokov, find it difficult to identify his purpose. I have argued...

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Conclusion: Living into Language

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pp. 460-466

AS LERMONTOV made what would be his final southward journey to the Caucasus in the spring of 1841, he fell ill, probably with scurvy. As in 1837, the poet was given medical leave to convalesce at the region’s fashionable mineral spas, where he spent the last two months of his life. Lermontov rented a house with his relation and old friend Alexei Stolypin in Piatigorsk, where the two settled into the relaxed social life of ...

Appendix: Russian Poems Cited in the Text

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pp. 467-489


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pp. 491-539


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pp. 541-545

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165892
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810119314

Page Count: 606
Publication Year: 2005

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