Wednesday, November 03, 2010


By Mihail Lermontov

Mihail Lermontov was a Russian aristocrat back in the 1840s. He intensely admired Pushkin and was publicly outraged when the powers that were arranged a fatal duel for the poet. For the boldness of his tongue Lermontov was packed off to the Caucasus, Russia’s southern frontier and the home of Cossack frontiersmen and wild hill tribes.

So you might think he went off and wrote something drearily literate and of interest only to Post-Modern literary critics. Not a bit, when Lermontov wasn’t leading a hard-riding bunch of scouts in Injun country, he wrote all-out pulp adventure yarns with smugglers, dashing bandits, and tough-as-leather soldiers. His hero was Pechorin, a rough and tumble version of the Byronic hero, who was equally at home in a drawing room or a gunfight. He’s no angel, he goads a native into stealing a prize horse so he can steal a woman, and he meets a former friend in a duel that must end in death. Above all Pechorin is a cynical and detached observer of the people around him, but one with a mysterious past.

Really these are Russian Westerns with a dash of European drawing room veneer. Kipling once said something about Russians being barbaric Orientals who only appear civilized. Well thank God, it kept their fiction from being too dull.

As for Lermontov, he survived his battles on the Chechen frontier only to be killed in a duel arranged by authorities who’d never forgiven him for being too outspoken.
-Dave Hardy

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