Literary Journeys into the Past: Lost Stories by Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov, The Georgian Military Highway, 1837.  Wikimedia Commons.


Mikhail Lermontov’s short novel remains a classic account of the nature of the Russian Empire and of the conquest of the Caucasus in the early 19th Century.  Here three students from HST 374–Evan Helchen, Mary Seaman, and Emily Erdmann–“find” lost sections of the work and contextualize them.



Evan Helchen


            In A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, we are let in to the mind of the repulsive, yet endearing mind of the main character, Pechorin, for every part of the story besides the one that perhaps should tell us the most about him. In this essay, I attempt to replicate what I believe would be Pechorin’s journal entries during his time with Bela. Within these, I try to answer why Pechorin did things in a way that Maxim was not able to.



4 Mar

“I had a better opinion of Circassian women” I said to Maxim.

Undoubtedly excited to prove me wrong, he smirked and responded, “You wait.”

I had my doubts. In St. Petersburg, there had been tales of the stunning beauty of these Circassian women. To this point, the only women we had seen were certainly nothing special. They had been kind enough to hide from Maxim and I when we came riding in to town.

We entered the hut of the Tatar king. Maxim insisted on ensuring our horses were put in a place that he was aware of. That man worries too much. Afterwards, we were shown in to the best room of the chief’s hut, where the wedding was to take place.

The wedding was nothing out of the ordinary. I hate to admit, however, that Maxim had been right earlier when he had told me to wait. On the other side of the room, I saw what most men probably think of when they speak of Circassian Beauties. This woman had a slim figure, with eyes as dark as the sea. I was entranced by this beauty, the likes of which I had never seen before.

I captured her eye, and held on to it. I knew then that she would be mine. The thing about these women from these exotic lands is that we Russians are just as mysterious to them. We may technically be of the same empire, but we are far from the same people.

After the ceremony, our gaze turned in to action. She came over and sang to me in a language I did not understand. I displayed my gratitude and made sure that Maxim translated that to her. She went back to where she had been sitting previously.

As she walked away, Maxim turned and asked me “Well, what do you think of her?”

“Charming!” I asked Maxim, “What was her name?”


I made sure to look her way periodically the rest of the night. You see, it is easy for a man like me to play this game with a woman from these parts. They do not interact with men that have the intellect or status of myself. The only thing I needed to find was an opportunity to make her mine.


7 Mar

After we got back from the wedding the other night, Maxim told me about an interaction he had witnessed between Azamat and Kazbich            . He told me of these wild offers that Azamat had been making to Kazbich for Kazbich’s horse. He had even offered up his sister!

I have not been able to stop thinking about Bella. I do not understand why. She is not nearly of my status, and typically I do not get transfixed on women. Her hair is wild, like it is consistently being blown by a gust of wind. Her legs go on farther than the eye can see. She moves with a grace that other women of her ilk do not.

There must be some way for me to get Azamat that horse. One time, I promised that brat that I would give him a ducat if he would steal his father’s best goat. The next day, he came lugging that goat. I thought, surely there must be some way to get him to do the same with his gem of a sister.

The horse! I must get the horse! I am sure Azamat will be here within the next few days, and when he comes I will make him a proposition.


11 Mar

I wonder if it is common for all Tatar boys to be so easily swayed.

When Azamat came in to the fortress today, I gave him sweetmeats, as I typically do, and turned the conversation to horses. We marveled at the joy of riding and the majesty of the creatures. I could tell that his attention was waning a bit, which is when I brought up Kazbich’s horse:

“I have seen a lot of different horses in my time traveling this grand empire, but I have to say there has only been one that I have ever been truly enamored with.”

“What is this horse you speak of?”

“Why, Kazbich’s horse of course. It is so handsome. I have never seen another horse run with such a vigor. That horse is enough to make up for the faults of any man that rides it. Surely, there cannot be another horse of this earth that could even compare!”

Maxim chimed in and changed the conversation. I wonder if he was trying to protect the boy from himself. I guess it does not matter, because I know I have captured the boy’s imagination.


11 Apr

Over the past few weeks, Azamat and I have talked about that horse every time he has visited. I saw how the love for the horse was growing inside of the boy. I decided, finally, that enough was enough, and asked, “I see, Azamat that you have taken a desperate fancy to that horse of Kazbich’s, but you’ve no more hope of getting him than you have of flying. Tell me what you’d give to anyone who got him for you”

“Anything he wanted,” Azamat answered.

After he said that, I promised him that I would get him the horse, provided that he gave me Bela. Maxim told me that this was bad business that I had entered. He is so simple minded. How can he not see that I am helping this beautiful girl? With a man like myself, she is no longer limited and confined to this place. I can lavish her with the finest goods from around the world. I can expose her to thoughts that these people of these lands cannot even begin to dream of.

What is it about this girl that has done this to me? I do not know. The heart grows fonder as my anticipation grows for her to be mine. Typically, I like to play with these women. There is not this yearning to make their life better, I merely enjoy the chase. This will not be the same as those past events.


16 Apr

She is mine now, but she will not open herself up to me. I do not know where this deep caring comes from. I feel compelled to win her over. Every day, I give her a gift. Every day, I try and learn the Tatar language so I can communicate with her. Every smile, every time she acknowledges me a second longer, is a moment I treasure.

Even though she will not submit to my wishes yet and even grant me a kiss, I am still determined. After an exchange today where she referred to herself as my slave I was so frustrated that I ran to my room to pace and think for a bit.

Maxim walked in and I exclaimed to him, “She is a devil – not a woman! But I give you my word of honor that she shall be mine!”

Maxim followed that up with some helpful advice. Telling me that these Circassian women do not need these gifts. These women are not like the women in the lands that I come from. He may be a simple man, but he is certainly not bad to have around sometimes.


20 Apr

Finally, I have accomplished my goal. Once Maxim told me that these Circassian beauties do not respond to physical gifts like the women of Russia, I realized where I had erred. The entirety of our relationship, I had been the one expressing. I was the one giving. Bela has never had to face the prospect of me leaving, which means she can feel safe in her own feeling of being my slave. That is to say she doesn’t have to think of the alternative of not having me in her life. So, I decided to stage a walk out. I told her that if she did not love me, that I would leave. The key to my plan was that I actually committed to leaving if she decided to let me go. That being said, I was certain when I hatched the plan that it would work. As soon as I touched the handle of the door, she threw her arms around me. Oh, what a beautiful day it has been.


31 Aug

            I always get bored. Why did I think this would be different? I remember the immense feeling of joy I had once I had conquered Bela and made her mine. Do I just seek thrills? Is that why I love the hunt? There is always another boar to chase, and once I kill the boar, there is nothing to deal with afterwards. The deed is done. With a woman, they need more past the point of the initial embrace. I seem to just need less and less as the time goes on.

Today, Kazbich visited the fortress, presumably because he had heard of my stealing his horse. In reaction, I have told Bela to remain on the fortress grounds, where she is safe. Telling her to be safe was not out of a deep seeded love like the one she has for me.


8 Sep

The other day, Maxim and I were coming up on the fortress after an unsuccessful boar hunt when we saw Kazbich in the distance. We chased him down and got within gunshot and I fired. I did not want to deal with this savage any longer. The bullet caught his horse on the hind leg and it fell to the ground. It was then that I realized that he was carrying Bela with him on the horse.

We went to shoot at him again, and truthfully, I do not remember where we hit him, but I do know that he stabbed Bela and ran off. The savage didn’t have the curtesy to stab her in the heart either, and it was clear when we came up on her that she was not going to make it.

Over the next days, I was at the bedside of Bela for most hours of the day. I felt nothing. This woman, who I had felt so strongly about, stirred no emotions within me on her deathbed. She needed me more than I needed her, and that makes me feel no guilt.

After she finally gave up on her fight for life, Maxim and I paced together for a while, saying nothing. I started laughing. I could tell from Maxim’s puzzled look that he did not understand where the laugh came from. He cannot understand because he cannot understand me. I am a man who has gone to many different lands, hunted many animals, and pursued many women, and none of them have affected me permanently. The one woman who I thought was different than the others could not evoke anything out of me even in death. Is this what it is to be young and have to want for nothing? I think it is time to go and try something new.





“The Recollections of Princess Mary”: A Review of Mikahil Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time


Discovered and Introduced by Mary Seaman


After reading the fiction so graciously compiled by Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov about my time with his “hero,” I feel it my duty to disclose the truth of Pechorin to any who find the opinion of but one of his endless conquests noteworthy. Please understand that my commentary results not from a long-unspoken bitterness regarding the role Pechorin played in my past; rather, it is simply a correction of facts that Sir Lermontov, after merely stumbling upon Pechorin’s misleading musings, could not possibly have discerned, despite his keen eye for a frivolous tale.

As it so happens, Pechorin was not nearly as clever as he thought himself to be. In fact, Pechorin’s influence did not appear in my diaries until May 16th of that year, when I disclosed the following about the day’s events:

“[…] that insufferable soldier friend of Grushnitsky’s ruined a romantic moment today, when his brash actions created an illusion of a Circassian raid to startle me (91). It is obvious that he wishes to usurp Grushnitsky’s courtship with me. It shall be interesting to see how this plays out, for I believe his description to match Vera’s mystery man who loved her long ago in Petersburg. I shall inform her of my suspicions tomorrow morning before she visits the spa, and I’m sure she’ll confirm the truth as I see it.”

Indeed, the most blaring error of Pechorin’s account was his impression that he exercised complete control over his situation. It may surprise my readers to know that the majority of the events described within his narrative resulted from Vera’s most clever scheme to exact revenge upon her former lover. For, after I confronted her the next day, Vera revealed to me Pechorin’s transgressions from her youth, and proposed that we unite to beat Pechorin at his own game.

Since my beloved Vera was so near the grave, and this plot proved a tremendous distraction from her degenerative illness, I agreed to act as her accomplice, although I must admit that it went much farther than I could have possibly foreseen. For, while the goal of my mission was to cause pain and suffering to Pechorin, it caused me a great deal of pain and suffering as well. Indeed, Pechorin correctly guessed that I loved him – I suppose the naïveté of my youth made such things obvious, especially to men like Pechorin. And the love of one as innocent as I was apparently to him “like a flower that breathes its sweetest scent to the first rays of the sun. You must pluck it at once, breathe your fill of its scent and cast it on the roadway to be picked up, perchance, by another” (103).

As I had no way of knowing how this man would impact me, I threw myself full-heartedly into Vera’s scheme. We decided it would be best for him to work for an invitation into our home. According to Vera’s impressive memory, Pechorin was always more inclined to misread situations whilst participating in a chase than he was when placed within seemingly effortless situations. Thus, Vera gave me strict orders not to give him the invitation she so desperately wanted him to receive until he’d proven himself a gentleman worthy of my attention. This did not happen until his actions at the ball, during which he predictably stepped in so that I might avoid a drunken man’s advances and the subsequent humiliations I’m sure would have befallen me without his intervention (96). Our discussions that evening were lively, and I admit that I was taken with him enough to invite him to our residence the next day. When I told Vera all that had happened however, she appeared sullen and distant. She was pleased that her plan had worked, but I believe it was rather obvious to her that I was following in the footsteps of her childish past. She warned me again about falling in love with Pechorin, and said solemnly that he would never be capable of loving any woman, especially not women like us. Of course, I responded that her concerns were unfounded, for I would sooner love Grushnitsky – the man Pechorin had exposed the night before as a man who lied about his rank – than Pechorin. I remember vividly how strangely Vera looked upon me that night, and I truly believe she knew how the summer would end for me in that moment.

I didn’t understand her actions until the end of May, when I realized that Pechorin’s conversation was entirely more entertaining to me than Grushnitsky’s and admonished him for deferring my company to a man so clearly beneath his entertainment value (102). I admit, such sentiments were childish of me, and the fact that he ignored me during this time, which seemed almost like a punishment for my rudeness to his friend, was enough to remind me that Pechorin could be nothing more than a passing amusement between Vera and myself. He was a scoundrel, but I was rather fond of his charm, and, after reviewing my diaries, it appears I was also rather fond of the loyalty he had towards his friend. It wasn’t until the walk to the Chasm, however, that I truly admitted my love for Pechorin.

How could I not? The brutality his honesty maintained towards his history was inconceivable to me. Men simply don’t acknowledge their weaknesses in such a manner to women. Of course, later, I thought his monologue was a rehearsed effort to seduce me into his arms; especially given the hindsight bestowed upon me by the end of the summer. Nevertheless, after reading his account, I firmly believe that he told me the truth that night. He truly saw himself as someone destined to never love, purely because no one had bothered to love him before he’d conquered his own innocence. Of course, I told Vera all of this when I came home. She, of course, told me he’d spouted lies, and that these were things she’d heard millions of times before from his lips, but I believe she knew that I’d lost my heart to him that night. However, she’d gone too far in her plan to give up so easily. So, she fixed it so the next phase of her plan would occur Kislovodsk, away from my admiring gaze of Pechorin.

This meant I had to make my association with him at the ball last, which meant that my primary objective shifted from playing coyly distant to his flirtation to engaging him for as long as I possibly could. This meant that I could waste no precious time on Grushnitsky and his change of rank, of which he seemed quite excited. However, fate was not on my side, as it seemed the entire ballroom conspired against me to keep Pechorin away from me, Grushnitsky blabbering all the way along about his new position ever so intolerably every time he found me. The only solace of the night came with a kiss to my hand from Pechorin as he helped me into my carriage (112).

That brush of his lips sustained me for a week. I floated on air, and there was no one around to stop me from admitting it to the world. Of course, Grushnitsky endeavored for my affections in the absence of his friend, but even he could tell that I was completely lost to him now. My only thoughts were of Pechorin, my songs held all new meanings now. He was everything to me, and in my youth I seemed to forget my propriety. With Vera too far away to reprimand me properly, I acted truly lovesick for the first time in my life. It was then that the rumors started about the hot spring that Pechorin and I were engaged to be married.

All of these fantasies came crashing down after Pechorin and I rode together when I finally arrived in Kislovodsk, after which I heard from his own lips that he harbored no feelings of love for me (123). When I told Vera of his actions, she became very angry and decided to employ her plan the next day. And, on June 15th after she met with him and confirmed that my words were true, she felt no sorrow in the events that transpired next.

For you see, she had orchestrated such an elaborate trap for Pechorin that even the actions of Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain were orchestrated by her efforts. She’d purposefully made it so that Pechorin could only see her if he could seduce me to affect the favor I’d previously bestowed upon his friend, knowing that after he saw Pechorin as a traitor, he would go to his brigade and seek their sympathy for his cruelties. By isolating Pechorin from his fellow soldiers, Vera believed we could make him truly miserable. And, originally, that was the extent of her plan. However, after seeing how truly broken I’d become after his seduction, Vera endeavored to permanently damage his honor, by informing Grushnitsky that she’d seen Pechorin peering through my window the past night. This meant that he was waiting for Pechorin to come down from Vera’s window after their meeting the 15th, and subsequently made possible all the events that transpired later.

But before you blame a dead woman for the murder of Grushnitsky, please believe me when I say that she meant for no such thing to happen. Her only goal was to provide Pechorin with as much suffering as she could. When her husband informed her about the duel, her face went ashen. She begged him to take her home. She had no desire for the bloodshed. I think she died with the guilt of Grushnitsky’s blood on her hands.

And, after reading the letter she’d left to Pechorin, I cannot believe the obvious concern she felt for me during this time. She was so concerned with the fact that I might marry Pechorin – the man who’d never loved me to begin with, that she allowed her last words to him be about my welfare.

Nevertheless, I will never forget the terror and desperation I saw on Pechorin’s face as he rushed away from his quarters on a horse he’d already tired half to death to chase after Vera. I recalled that Vera had once said Pechorin could never love a woman, that he was incapable of such emotion. But after seeing that display, I believed it was I who was incapable of loving a man, for I could not so much as empathize with what he was feeling at that moment.

When he returned home and my mother confronted him about the rumors floating about concerning his affairs with her daughter, he understandably rejected me with a coldness I’d grown to expect from the man I so admired. I told him that I hated him, for I did. In that moment? After witnessing all the death and destruction he’d caused – I ask you, how could I not hate him?

So you see, the majority of this segment of Mikhail Yuryevich’s novel was inaccurate. Even though the sequencing of events was correct and the characters were the same as my recollections, the way I loved Pechorin developed completely independently from how he inferred. And, after reading all this as an older woman, and one who has felt true love and borne many children from that lasting partnership, I cannot avoid the feeling that this summer with Pechorin was merely a distraction for me.

However, it remains noteworthy that the majority of this novel was written by a man whose opinion I once greatly admired. And, while Pechorin was wrong about me in more ways he could ever fathom, he was right about the lasting impact that summer impressed upon my soul. After reading his thoughts about our time together, I found myself moved to tears from the sheer senselessness of it all. While Lermontov saw heroism in Pechorin’s actions, I can discern nothing noteworthy about them in the slightest, save for an exceptional fear of lasting happiness, which it seems plagued Pechorin his entire life.

Is this what makes a hero in our era? A man so afraid to accept happiness, to accept graciousness and love that he will murder a close friend to presumably protect the honor of a woman he claimed to never love? If this is the ideal for the modern man, then I am quite pleased to be a widow, and will retain no further desire to court any suitors in the future. To those who emulate Pechorin, I feel nothing but sorrow for the chasm that has replaced their hearts. No one deserves emptiness, regardless of their unrelenting fears of unadulterated satisfaction. If you feel yourself relating to the plight of Pechorin, please know that I sincerely pity you, from the bottom of my heart, and that I pray for you to find joy in the dangers behind true vulnerability. As someone who knew Pechorin well, and understands him completely now, I must say that his walls were the strongest facet of his spirit, and the fact that he never allowed anyone entrance to his soul is what made him abhor our society and our time. How could any man such as this be a tribute to his culture, his generation, or his heritage?



“A Hero’s Response”

Found and Introduced by Emily Erdmann



This essay is intended to serve as Pechorin’s defensive response to the critiquing, conservative Russian masses who claimed his story to be “… a slander on Russian society” (Foote, xxvii). The footnotes offer a greater depth to the paper that cannot necessarily be added from Pechorin’s point of view as he conveys the idea that the Russian elite are united not by a productive, national identity, but rather by an alienation that leaves them bored and motivated towards idle manipulation.


Does my title as “hero” offend you?

Hero is the one who leads the many, and by extension, the one who represents all the others. I am less of the former and more of the latter. I am no Scaevola;[1] I stand not for courage, I stand merely as the superfluous man. I am all of you, the only thing setting me apart being my admission to these idiosyncrasies we share. Suffice it to say that I am not the hero who saves, but rather the one who reveals a truth, however bitter it may be.

On the surface, though, I think we all aspire to be the saving type – myself included, although it pains me to admit it. I have forever run against the current of Russian society, flattering myself to be different or special. I thought that an adventure to the Caucuses would prove an exciting and heroic one, defending the Fatherland with Asiatic bullets flying about. And yet, I soon found myself disenchanted with all of it. Along with this disenchantment came the ability to see through the illusion that I myself had suffered from as it played out in other people.

My dear Russians, your concept of hero seems regretfully to align with that of Grushnitsky’s, who, for his part, “knows nothing of people or of the weaker sides of human nature, since the sole preoccupation of his life has been himself. His ambition is to become the hero of a novel” (73). Caught up in his own airs, this variety of hero pretends to understand and overcome humanity’s weaknesses, but in reality, he perpetuates them.

You are all naïve to think that this could be the image of a hero in our time. Your characters belong in a fairy tale, whereas the only fictional hero meant for reality is the like of the Vampire: a leader who is not macho, but sinister, and not virtuous but a destroyer of the lofty yet shallow beliefs we deign to hold up as “virtues” (168). The only heroes of the real world are born and bred upon the vices of this génération pitoyable.[2]

I will not save Princess Mary from a fiery fate, but I will relentlessly draw attention to the charades and illusions of everyday society life that keep us entrenched and held back from a system that would put our existence to effective use.


Do you perceive me to be callous?

I must be a psychopath for I have no emotions. You are inclined to tell yourself this, because you wish it to be true. And yet, my fellow Russians, I am not devoid of emotions – I am simply educated beyond requiring them. I pride myself on the supremacy of my intellect over my own feelings,[3] but this does not imply that such feelings have ceased to exist altogether. My personality is not black and white as you are wont to believe, but rather gray and fluid as is yours. I am not an impenetrable wall of apathy.

I gave Grushnitsky a chance to repent, telling him honestly that I would forgive his slander. It is not my fault that he chose death over degrading deliverance. Murder did not come easily to me. The finger may move quick on the trigger, but the mind is slower to accept. The turmoil in my mind made me physically ill. I am sickened by society, but I do not pretend to be anything but a product of it.

You are so quick to judge me because you have read my thoughts. Yet, did not Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain also play manipulative games? Did they not pray on my sanity and cause me to cry out “Why do they all hate me?” (122) as my entire being filled with sorrow and spite? This goes not only to show that I am capable of being moved to a point of rational feeling, but additionally that nefarious and malignant actions are not limited to me alone. Would you be disappointed to find out that there is trivial difference between myself and the others? What about between me and you? I suspect you will find that the deviation is little.


Do you think I’m a cynic?

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I wander through life “T’ward good and evil shamefully uncaring”[4] – too many times has life provoked me to try and left me without fruit. Why shouldn’t I seek enjoyment in what I already know to have a bitter end? I sought adventure and found boredom, I loved and I was abandoned.

As the narrator puts it, “It is sad to see a young man’s fondest hopes and dreams shattered when the rose-coloured veil through which he has viewed the actions and feelings of men is plucked away. But still he has the hope of replacing his old illusions with others, just as fleeting, but also just as sweet” (53). I am only labeled a cynic because I see the illusions where you see happiness. It is senseless to live in ignorance of the fact that we are ever in pursuit of the next happiest moment. Boredom is the only enduring sentiment when there is no cause for anything more permanent.

Russian society is as flat and static as its geography.

In idleness stagnating, growing old.
We have received, when barely finished weaning,
The errors of our sires, their tardiness of mind,
And life oppresses us, a flat road without meaning.4

In our own boredom, we reach for the diversity and variance of the Caucuses only to find that we don’t belong there either. Yes, at first I was attracted to the foreign element of Bela’s existence but it didn’t take long to realize that we were too different. With the disparity between the cliffs and the chasms of the rural mountains, there is also the discrepancy between hierarchical strata: for all our mediocrity, we remain superior to the uncivilized masses of the Caucuses. I do indeed regret the way Bela left this world, but there was no sense in painting illusions for her in those final days. “I’m just as much to be pitied as she is, perhaps even more. My soul’s been corrupted by society” (35).

I had loved Vera in days passed, and in talking myself out of the regret I felt as she left me, married to another man, it would seem that I talked myself into the idea of marrying someone else. I should have known life would leave me disappointed as ever it has and ever it will. I noted the disdain in Maxim’s face, but I cannot change the way of things. I come from an education that forces me to reason through what he cannot seem to see. I cannot enjoy the trifles of life, the monotony of societal “sophistication;” there is naught but mindless platitudes and illusions.

Even if you all join me in this point of view — seeing Russia for what it is — I fear there will still be no solution to the “vices of our whole generation” (4). Because we lack connection to a semblance of Russian identity, we guide ourselves by intellect, not feeling. Educated and well-off, those of us from society know not where to direct our efforts and intelligence. We are not European, we are not Caucasian. What can we do from here but entertain ourselves in the boring blip between birth and obliteration?

Hélas, finita la tragedia.[5]


[1] Allusion to the legend of Gaius Mucius Scaevola, a Russian soldier who was considered a hero for having burned himself to prove Russian courage and loyalty (Kivelson & Suny, 150).

[2] “pitiful generation”

[3] “He scorns emotions and prides himself on the supremacy of his intellect over his feelings” (Foote, xviii)

[4] Verses “Meditation” (1838)

[5] This is a reference to the ironic statement “finita la commedia” (141) that Pechorin says after murdering Grushnitsky. The inherent irony is that the story is, in fact, a tragedy (denoted by the fact that the main characters die). Because Pechorin offers no solution to the Russian condition, the only ending to the “flat road without meaning” (“Meditation,” v. 7) is death.


Evan Helchen is a junior majoring in Business Analytics and Economics with a minor in History.

Mary Seaman is a sophomore majoring in History.

Emily Erdmann is a junior majoring in French and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

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