Lermontov, Mikhail Yurevich

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Lermontov, Mikhail Yurevich

Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov (mēkhəyēl´ yōōr´yĬvĬch lyĕr´məntŭf), 1814–41, Russian poet and novelist. Given an extensive private education by his wealthy grandmother, Lermontov began writing poetry when he was 14. He first attracted public attention in 1837 with the inflammatory poem "On the Death of the Poet," written to protest the death of Pushkin in a duel. A cavalry officer in the czar's army, he was temporarily banished to the Caucasus, where he had recuperated from illness as a child, and the area's stirring landscape became a prevailing element in his work. Of his early verse, which, like his life, was greatly influenced by Byron, only the lyric "The Angel" (1830) is equal to his later work.

Lermontov's poetic reputation, second in Russia only to Pushkin's, rests upon the lyric and narrative works of his last five years. The Demon (1829–41, tr. 1930), his narrative poem about the love of a fallen angel for a mortal, was used by Anton Rubinstein as the basis of an opera. Mtsyri (1833; tr. The Circassian Boy, 1875) reflects Lermontov's antireligious feeling and idealization of primitive life. His heroic poems include "The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov" (1837, tr. 1929). Lermontov's partially autobiographical novel A Hero of Our Time (1840, tr. 1958, 1966, 2005) consists of five tales describing aspects of the life of Pechorin, a disenchanted, bored, and doomed young nobleman. The novel is considered a pioneering classic of Russian psychological realism. Lermontov, who had once sought a position in fashionable society, became enormously critical of it. His caustic wit made him numerous enemies, and, like Pushkin, he was killed in a duel.

See biography by J. Lavrin (1959); studies by J. Mersereau (1962), L. Kelly (1977, repr. 1983), B. M. Eikhenbaum (1981), J. G. Garrard (1982), E. Etkind, ed. (1992), R. Reid (1997), V. Golstein (1998), I. Kutik (2004), and D. Powelstock (2005).

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