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Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (1814-41)

Mikhail Lermontov was descended on his father's side from a Scottish soldier named Learmont who had entered the Russian service in the 17th century. His mother was a member of the Stolypin family. She died when he was three, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. Lermontov became interested in Byron at an early age, and the poetry he wrote in his youth reflects this interest: "No, I am not Byron, I am another / As yet unknown chosen one, / A wanderer, persecuted by the world as he was, / But only with a Russian soul...."

 

In 1830 Lermontov entered Moscow University and spent two years there. He became a Cavalry Cadet in 1832, and received a commission in the Hussar Life Guards, where he avidly pursued the image of the carefree, hedonistic, daring Guards officer. Due to his modest income and appearance, however, he made less of an impression in high society than he wished, and he would acutely recall the slights to his pride in later years. When Alexander Pushkin was killed in a duel in 1837, Lermontov wrote a biting and bitter poem blaming the court aristocracy for letting Pushkin be killed. The poem circulated in manuscript form, and it caused a sensation. Lermontov was court martialled and transferred to a regiment of the line in the Caucasus. He was soon pardoned however, and he was restored to the Guards. Now he returned to Petersburg, a kind of triumphal hero with the reputation of a persecuted poet. He could contrast this sudden fame and adulation with the disregard he had received from the same social set just a few years earlier. His short novel, A Hero of Our Time, was written during the years 1838-39, and the imprint of Lermontov's personal experience is evident in the text. The novel appeared in print in 1840.

 

Lermontov's troubles with the authorities were not over, however. In 1840 he managed to insult the Tsar's daughter at a masquerade ball, and he fought a duel with the son of the French ambassador. For this, he was again sent to the Caucasus, where he distinguished himself in military action. Then, in 1841, while taking a rest in the spa town of Pyatigorsk, he became involved in a dispute with an old schoolmate named Martynov over the affections of a woman. Martynov had adopted native dress in an attempt to impress the woman, and Lermontov teased him mercilessly. Martynov challenged Lermontov to a duel, and on July 15, the young writer was shot to death on a hillside outside the town.

   

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