Authors: Mikhail Lermontov

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Russian writer and poet

October 15, 1814

Moscow, Russia

July 27, 1841

Pyatigorsk, Russia


Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov, who carried Alexander Pushkin’s lyricism further into the European Romantic current, is in many ways the Russian counterpart of Giacomo Leopardi, Alfred de Musset, and George Gordon, Lord Byron. Born in Moscow into the family of a retired captain, he lost his parents very early and was raised by his grandmother on her country estate, Tarkhany, where he began writing poetry.

Mikhail Lermontov

(Library of Congress)

From 1828 to 1830, Lermontov studied at the boarding school for the nobility in Moscow, and in 1830 he entered Moscow University, from which he withdrew in 1832 to enroll in military school in St. Petersburg. He underwent two years of military training there, and served in the Life Guards Hussar Regiment in Tsarskoye Selo. He lived a hard and active life, frequently being engaged in duels.

Lermontov began writing as a precocious child of twelve; he first achieved fame with his 1837 ode on the death of Pushkin. This poem, containing accusations against the court, could not be printed but was circulated in written copies; it brought Lermontov a sentence of banishment to a regiment stationed in the Caucasus. Early in 1838, Lermontov was transferred to the Life Guards Hussar Regiment in St. Petersburg, where he spent his most productive two years writing poetry and plays. His earliest work was Byronic in style, gloomy and proud, and was strongly lyrical in its sense of independence. His poem The Demon, planned at fifteen, contains the essence of his visionary loneliness in the story of a lost angel who hopes to find paradise in the love of a woman but who is cheated by her death. In this work, as in others, he draws largely upon the Caucasian setting of his army life.

Many of Lermontov’s shorter poems, such as “The Angel” and “The Sail,” have attained lasting popularity in Russia. “The Novice,” the story of a Circassian orphan published in 1840, and A Song about Tsar Ivan Vasilyevitch, His Young Body-Guard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnikov, written as a folk tale in concrete and extremely realistic phrasing, are two of his best longer poems, but he also mastered the form of the novel in A Hero of Our Time. This, the first psychological novel in Russian, is mostly autobiographical, full of Lermontov’s own passion for love and violence in the person of an officer in the Caucasus. In February 1840, Lermontov was exiled to the Caucasus again for having fought a dual with the son of a French ambassador, and he was killed in another duel there on July 27, 1841, at the age of twenty-six.

Author Works Poetry: Pesnya pro tsarya Ivana Vasilyevicha, molodogo oprichnika i udalogo kuptsa Kalashnikova, 1837 (A Song about Tsar Ivan Vasilyevitch, His Young Body-Guard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnikov, 1911) Stikhotvoreniya M. Lermontova, 1840 Demon, 1841 (The Demon, 1875) The Demon, and Other Poems, 1965 Mikhail Lermontov: Major Poetical Works, 1983 Long Fiction: Vadim, wr. 1832-1834, 1935-1937 (in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v piati tomakh) Knyaginya Ligovskaya, wr. 1836-1837, 1935-1937 (in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v piati tomakh; Princess Ligovskaya, 1965) Geroy nashego vremeni, 1839 (serial), 1840 (book; A Hero of Our Time, 1854) Drama: Tsigany, wr. 1830, pb. 1935 Ispantsy, wr. 1830, pb. 1935 (verse play) Menschen und Leidenschaften, wr. 1830, pb. 1935 Stranny chelovek, wr. 1831, pb. 1935 (verse play; A Strange One, 1965) Maskarad, wr. 1834-1835, pb. 1842 (Masquerade, 1973) Dva brata, wr. 1836, pb. 1880 (Two Brothers, 1933) Miscellaneous: Sochtsnentsya M. Ya. Lermontova, 1889-1891 (6 volumes) Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v piati tomakh, 1935-1937 (5 volumes; includes all of his prose and poetry) Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v shesti tomakh, 1954-1957 (6 volumes; includes all of his prose and poetry) A Lermontov Reader, 1965 (includes Princess Ligovskaya, A Strange One, and poetry) Michael Lermontov: Biography and Translation, 1967 Selected Works, 1976 (includes prose and poetry) Bibliography Allen, Elizabeth Cheresh. A Fallen Idol is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007. In this volume, Allen takes a critical look at Lermontov’s writing, applying literary theories, and placing it in the context of his time and culture. He is portrayed as a writer who defies categorization, straddling the line between Romanticism and Realism. Allen provides a thorough analysis of Lermontov’s works, especially his novel, A Hero of Our Time. She focuses on Lermontov’s narration and characterization as defining qualities of his writing style, which was a product of the Post-Romantic, Pre-Realist period in which he wrote. Briggs, A. D. P., ed. Mikhail Lermontov: Commemorative Essays. Birmingham, England: University of Birmingham, 1992. A collection of papers from a conference at the University of Birmingham in July, 1991, on Lermontov and his works. Bibliography and index. Eikhenbaum, Boris. Lermontov. Translated by Ray Parrot and Harry Weber. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1981. A translation of the Russian monograph by a leading Russian critic of the 1920’s, this thorough study of Lermontov’s poetry and prose remains the seminal work on him. Many poems are offered in both Russian and English. Garrard, John. Mikhail Lermontov. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Presents Lermontov and his works meticulously in a concise, easy-to-understand fashion. Lays the foundation for more ambitious studies of Lermontov in any language. Golstein, Vladimir. Lermontov’s Narratives of Heroism. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998. Tackles the topic of heroism, prevalent in Lermontov’s works, and how he presents and solves it. The emphasis is on “The Demon,” “The Song,” and Pechorin of A Hero of Our Time. Citations of works are in Russian and English translation. Kelly, Laurence. Lermontov: Tragedy in the Caucasus. New York: George Braziller, 1977. Colorfully illustrated biography of Lermontov covers his childhood in the “wild” East, his education, the rise and fall in the society, and his attitudes toward war as reflected in his works. L’Ami, C. E., and Alexander Welikotny. Michael Lermontov: Biography and Translation. Winnipeg, Canada: University of Manitoba Press, 1967. An older-style biography, replete with the reminiscences of Lermontov’s contemporaries as to his character. A general outline of Russian history forms a significant part of this treatment. The second part of the book contains more than one hundred of Lermontov’s poems in rhymed English translation as well as a small sample of prose. Lavrin, Janko. Lermontov. London: Bowes & Bowes, 1959. This brief and very readable monograph presents all important features of Lermontov’s poetry and prose. Succeeds in touching upon the salient aspects of Lermontov’s works, stressing the comparison with other Russian and foreign writers. An excellent introductory monograph. Lermontov, Mikhail. Major Poetical Works. Translated with a biographical sketch, commentary, and an introduction by Anatoly Liberman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. A thorough detailing of Lermontov’s life which takes good advantage of the previous works together with translations of more than one hundred of Lermontov’s poems, not all of which have appeared in English previously. The translations have won much professional praise for their surprising poeticality which does not compromise accuracy. The text includes more than fifty illustrations and is wonderfully annotated and indexed. Mersereau, John, Jr. Mikhail Lermontov. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962. A very concise biography which manages to include much valuable detail. The focus is distinctly on Lermontov’s development of a prose style, with more than half of the book devoted to an examination of A Hero of Our Time. Reid, Robert. Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time.” London: Bristol Classical Press, 1997. This analysis of the novel casts light on Lermontov’s work as a whole. Includes bibliographical references. Turner, C. J. G. Pechorin: An Essay on Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time.” Birmingham, England: University of Birmingham, 1978. A pithy discussion of various aspects of Lermontov’s main character, of the relationship of the narrator and the reader, the narrator and the hero, the hero and himself, the hero and the author, and the hero and the reader. Vickery, Walter N. M. Iu. Lermontov: His Life and Work. Munich, Germany: O. Sagner, 2001. A biography of Lermontov that examines his life and work. Bibliography.

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