A Hero of Our Time is a novel written by the Russian author Mihail Lermontov in 1840. The novel is the first major prose novel in Russian literature and was of great influence to those that followed it.
The beginning of the novel is narrated by an unnamed character who during his travels encounters a Junior Captain in the military named Maksim Maksimich. This Junior Captain tells the anonymous narrator of a man named Pechorin whom he once served with and who he believes he formed a strong friendship with. Through large amounts of dialogue we are told of Pechorin’s time at a fort and his brief, unconventional and tragic relationship with a young local princess named Bela.
The main portion of the novel is written in diary form. After a chance encounter with Pechorin the unnamed man, who narrates the opening of the novel, comes into possession of his diaries, these are then presented to the reader and the narrative voice switches to that of Pechorin himself. This diary portion of the novel is split into three very separate short stories, each of which reveals to the reader different aspects of the protagonist’s character.
Pechorin, described by the author as: “Composed of all the vices of our generation” is an anti-hero, acting for his own pleasure and entertainment while caring little or not at all for others’ well being. His views on life and existence could, on many occasions, be described as nihilistic and pessimistic. In contrast to this feeling of purposelessness Pechorin spends the entirety of the last chapter discussing predestination, the concept that that one has a preordained fate set out for them, and, as the chapter’s narrator, gives an example of what he believes may have been proof of predestination.
Even at the end of the novel Pechorin’s continued philosophical debate with himself lacks any sense of finality, and the only certainty he appears to have ascertained is that death is the one inevitability.
The novel is translated from the original Russian and at times utilises a peculiar diction, using words such as “illumining”. The author also uses a lot of specialised vocabulary to do with the geographical locations and historical details such as “Beshmet” a type of smock.
The author served in the Russian army himself and was stationed in the area the novel is set. This allows him to, at times, enter into great detail in his descriptions of the landscape.
The unusual and sometimes challenging diction and writing style lends a certain amount of difficulty to becoming immersed in the novel but once one has become used to Lermontov’s style a complex, interesting and thought stimulating character engrosses the reader.
One of the novel’s translators, Vladimir Nabokov, observed that:
“In A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov managed to create a fictional person whose romantic dash to cynicism, tiger-like suppleness and eagle eye, hot blood and cool head, tenderness and taciturnity, elegance and brutality, delicacy or perception and harsh passion to dominate, ruthlessness and awareness of it, are of lasting appeal to readers of all countries and centuries.”
A Hero of Our Time, with the ideas contained and questions raised within it, is as relevant today as it has ever been. This is a thought-provoking if slightly challenging novel that bears a good deal of resemblance to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground but with a far more captivating protagonist.