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This article is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

Lermontov Redivivus John Pilling

Lermontov would doubtless have been content to settle for the posthumous fame which has left him, outside of Russia at least, the author of a classic prose work and of that alone. To think of him consenting to a more propitious destiny would be to fabricate a figure making concessions and accommodations of a kind he was not accustomed to, and could only accomplish with difficulty. The facts of his life suggest he was a man foredoomed to burn brightly and fizzle out, redeemed only (if at all) by an imperishable, though selective, posterity.

Lermontov's upbringing, after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father, had been entrusted to wealthy and indulgent grandparents. After failing to complete a course of study at Moscow University, where his impatience, impertinence and indolence had proved more than a match for his precocious intelligence, Lermontov became an officer cadet in Petersburg and carried on as befitted one who chafed against all forms of restraint and discipline, especially those he had himself chosen freely. On offending the official censor, and more importantly the Tsar, with the sentiments expressed in his poem on the death of Pushkin, Lermontov was banished to the Caucasus, where he had spent summer holidays as a child. When permitted to return he continued to scandalize polite society and to disquiet a nervous administration with an almost vocational zeal, leaving them little alternative other than to repeat the punishment. Between the army campaigns against native tribes ...


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