A Hero of Our Time

new 1001And then again…there is boundless delight in the possession of a young, barely unfolded soul! It is like a flower whose best fragrance emanates to meet the first ray of the sun. It should be plucked that very minute and after inhaling one’s fill of it, one should throw it away on the road: perchance someone will pick it up! I feel in myself this insatiable avidity, which engulfs everything met on the way. I look upon the sufferings and joys of others only in relation to myself as on the food sustaining the strength of my soul. I am no longer capable myself of frenzy under the influence of passion: ambition with me has been suppressed by circumstances, but it has manifested itself in another form, since ambition is nothing else than thirst for power, and my main pleasure–which is to subjugate to my will all that surrounds me, and to excite the emotions of love, devotion, and fear in relation to me–is it not the main sign and greatest triumph of power? To be to somebody the cause of sufferings and joys without having any positive right to it–is this not the sweetest possible nourishment for our pride? And what is happiness? Sated pride. If I considered myself to be better and more powerful than anyone in the world, I would be happy; if everybody loved me, I would find in myself infinite sources of love. Evil begets evil: the first ache gives us an idea of the pleasure of tormenting another . The idea of evil cannot enter a person’s head without his wanting to apply it to reality: ideas are organic creations. Someone has said that their very birth endows them with a form, and this form is action; he in whose head more ideas have been born is more active than others. This is why a genius chained to an office desk must dies or go mad, exactly as a powerfully built man, whose life is sedentary and whose behavior is virtuous, dies of apoplexy.

So writes Pechorin in one portion of this early Russian novel. Mikhail Lermontov is credited as the person who paved the way for the later great Russian novelists with this work. It is lyrical in the translation by Vladamir Nabokov, and the images of the countryside in the Caucasus region are beautiful. The novel unfolds by first introducing the reader to Pechorin through the stories of Maksim Maksimich, who tells of his earlier friendship with Pechorin as he passes time with the narrator, a fellow traveler on the winter roads. Later, Pechorin himself enters the tale, and we get a different view of him. The remainder of the novel is his journals, in which we get the intimate vision of his personality partially shown in the above extended quote.

I didn’t love this novel, but did enjoy it. It is worth reading for the language, if nothing else, and for a portrait of this complicated man.

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About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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