Monday, April 11, 2011

A Hero of Our Time

First of all, I need to give a big shout out to Ingrid of The Blue Bookcase.  Way back near the beginning of my blog, I made a list of great Russian authors of the 19th Century.  Ingrid noticed that I did not mention Mikhail Lermontov, so I added him to my lengthy "To Read" list and picked up a copy of A Hero of Our Time at a used bookstore.  Little did I know that I had a magnificent Russian treasure sitting on my shelves, which I absolutely devoured once I opened its pages.  So Ingrid, thank you for the suggestion!  This is exactly why I love the book blogging world, and I hope any of you who may read my blog can likewise send recommendations my way!

To quickly summarize, A Hero of Our Time can be divided into two parts.  In the first part, the narrator listens to a third party, (Maxim), talk about his experience with the protagonist, Pechorin.  In short, Maxim tells the narrator how Pechorin kidnapped a young girl for a bit of fun, enjoyed the challenge of winning her affection, and then promptly lost interest in her.  Then, the narrator has a brief encounter with Pechorin himself and offers a direct description of him.  In the second half of the novel, the narrator has turned over Pechorin's personal journal, and we read about three of his experiences.  Now we get an inside perspective of Pechorin, which reveals a largely depressed man who is utterly listless about life.

A Hero of Our Time is delightfully Russian.  Lermontov writes in the typical Russian-style narration, in which the narrator frequently interjects in his story with humor, irony, and ample commentary.  Even as I sat in public, I couldn't help but chuckle at some of the narrator's comments as he directly addresses his readers.  Of course, this only occurs in the beginning of the novel before we reach Pechorin's journals.  (If you're curious, Gogol, Goncharov, and Turgenev all write in a similar fashion.)

Another prominently Russian feature of the text is the subject of the "superfluous" hero.  Pechorin is a young, handsome, and wealthy citizen who has tired of the various social engagements and romantic flings he encounters and succumbed to the dreaded ennui.  He's bored.  Repeatedly in his diary, Pechorin laments his lack of feelings and his inability to get excited about things in life.  Many Russian characters display similar problems, and it seems that Lermontov was the first author to create a protagonist like this.  However, I think that Pechorin has many more layers than this.  He frequently contradicts himself, particularly whenever he interacts with his former flame, Vera.  I think these various interactions are really important for understanding the character.  In another contradiction, Pechorin claims that he enjoys having enemies because it makes life more interesting.  However, when he overhears people talking about him negatively, he is shocked and hurt by their remarks.

I liked A Hero of Our Time because it's written well, with an intriguing design to the story and an interesting and multi-dimensional main character.  If this weren't enough, the novel's even more remarkable for its innovation.  Lermontov was one of the leaders of the flourishing 19th century in Russian literature, greatly influencing those who followed him.


Adam said...

I've heard great things about this one - and it's been sitting on my shelf for a while. I think I'll move it up on my massive TBR pile!

IngridLola said...

YEAH! I am so happy you read this! I would agree that it is "delightfully Russian." I love the depth of Pechorin, it's interesting to think about what makes him a "hero." Great thoughts! :)