I’ve recently finished reading Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time in the lovely Hesperus Press edition. The book is a nice size, with easy-to-read type and a durable paperback format, with a fold-over outer cover.
I can’t judge the fidelity to the Russian of the translation by Hugh Aplin, but it reads well in English. In an interview with Ready, Steady, Book, Aplin calls A Hero of Our Time, “right up there at the top of my list of favourites,” and it shows.
Lermontov seems to me to be somewhat the anti-Jane Austen. His hero (better anti-hero) is male, rather than female; Russian, rather than English; and so despicable that the respectable reader roots against him, rather than for him. But the social settings and the concerns and preoccupations of the characters are mutatis mutandis quite similar: the capital and the provinces, imperial adventures, military officers, affairs of the heart, engagements, marriage prospects, and the gambling tables. The spa city of Pyatigorsk strongly recalls Bath, the setting for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
For more about Jane Austen and Bath, click on this handy reference card:
One question that presents itself: is Lermontov’s anti-hero, Pechorin–ironically labeled by the title “A Hero of Our Time” also–and still ironically–a hero of our own time? His obsessions—sex, wealth, social status—are certainly not that different from the obsessions of our time. Neither are the conditions of his society—social stratification, endless military conflict, youth in search of excitement.
But if he’s a “hero” of Lermontov’s time and of our own time, is he perhaps a “hero” for all times? Should we suppose that any time is all that different from any other? After all, “Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:10)