Lermontov’s “A Hero Of Our Time” was published when the author was just 25 in 1839 and was the only book the young man ever put into print. The book describes as the author writes in his preface, “a portrait built up of all our generation’s vices in full bloom”.
The eponymous hero is one cast very much in the Byronic tradition, being a deeply brooding, melancholic, womaniser given equally to arrogance, nihilistic despond and hedonism.
The book explores themes familiar to modern audiences, namely that dangerous freedom is vastly preferable to protected servitude.
Enticingly for those of you with impatient tastes, the book is comprised of 5 short novellas so concentration spans need not be overly taxed.
A Hero Of Our Time has been lauded as the first novel in Russian to truly place such a complex and contradictory character under rigorous psychological scrutiny. Lermontov is often credited as a primary influence on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and other great 19th-century writers.
Lermontov himself was born into a wealthy Muscovite family, never really stood out during his education, but started to gain some notoriety when he began to pass around wildly pornographic poetry while he was in the military.
His life was ended with rather sudden tragedy when he was bested in a cliff-top dual by a chap who’d taken umbrage at one of Lermontov’s ribald jokes. He was just 26.
There’s a full Hero Of Our Time study guide available if you’ve read the book and are keen for more, or to appear really smart at the discussion.
There is also a free copy of the book you can read online if you’ve the eyes for it, or the ink for printing.
If you’re feeling especially heroic yourself you might be interested to read the entire text of A Hero Of Our Time in it’s original Russian – I dare you spot the nuanced differences from the English version and really show off at parties.