Mikhail Lermontov - Russian Romantic Writer

Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (Russian: Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов)

Mikhail Lermontov
Mikhail Lermontov

Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (October 15, 1814 - July 27, 1841) left a unique legacy in Russian literature and his poetic reputation is second in his native country only to Pushkin's. He was born in Moscow. His father was an impoverished army officer, while his mother was a wealthy young heiress from a prominent aristocratic family. Lermontov's maternal grandmother, Elizaveta Arsenyeva, regarded their marriage as a clear mismatch and deeply disliked her son-in-law.

The couple soon grew apart. Lermontov's mother died three years later, aged 21. After her death, her mother, Elizaveta, decided to raise little Mikhail alone, always in fear that his father might sooner or later run away with him. She even threatened to disinherit him if his father took the boy away.

Mikhail Lermontov got the best schooling. He was fluent in French and German, played several music instruments and was a talented painter.

He had poor health, so his grandmother took him to spas in the Caucasus on three occasions, where the exotic landscapes created lasting impressions on him.

When he was 14, his grandmother took him to Moscow to continue his education. In Moscow Lermontov was introduced to Goethe and Schiller, became acquainted with the poetry of Alexander Pushkin and Vasily Zhukovsky. In 1830, he enrolled at Moscow University. However, Lermontov's career at the university proved short-lived. He rarely took part in student life and showed little interest in lectures, often bringing books from home instead. He eventually left university without completing his course and seriously reconsidered his future career.

He decided to move to St. Petersburg and entered a military cavalry school. At that time, he began writing poetry, imitating both Pushkin and Byron. He was also interested in Russian history and medieval epics. Later on, his deep knowledge of history was reflected in the Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov, his long poem "Borodino" (learned byheart by students at every Russian high school), and a many other short poems.

Upon his graduation two years later, Lermontov plunged into glamorous court life, gaining some popularity as a poet. But the year of 1837 changed his life. Pushkin's death became a real shock for Lermontov. He wrote a famous poem "The Death of a Poet." The poem was addressed to the aristocrats, the court, and the Tsar Nikolai I. The final lines explicitly accused the Russian high society of murdering Pushkin.

The poem caused a real uproar. On the one hand, it brought great fame to Lermontov. On the other hand, it provoked the wrath of the Tsar. The poet was arrested and sent away from Moscow to the Caucasus.

Ironically, the place of his exile was also the land he loved so much. Lermontov had a great time there, studying local languages, meeting some other great Russian writers and poets, writing some of his most famous poems and painting. Thanks to his grandmother's efforts though, he soon returned to St. Petersburg. Since he was considered a promising literary talent, he was able to publish a few of his works and began his famous novel called "A Hero of Our Time." He made friends among the editorial staff of the leading magazine of the Western-oriented intellectuals, and in 1840 he met the prominent progressive critic V.G. Belinsky, who envisioned him as the great hope of Russian literature.

Lermontov's only novel earned him recognition as one of the founding fathers of Russian prose. The partially autobiographical story is considered a pioneering classic of Russian psychological realism. It was published in 1840, earning the author widespread acclaim.

On July 25, 1841, at Pyatigorsk, his fellow soldier Nikolai Martynov challenged Lermontov to a duel. The duel took place two days later at the foot of Mashuk Mountain. Lermontov was killed by Martynov's first shot. Much of his best verse was posthumously discovered in his pocket-book.

Lermontov's life is viewed as one of the most epic and dramatic in the history of Russian literature. Although many of his major poetic works remain largely unknown to English-speaking readers, they can be readily quoted from memory by millions of Russians. His dramatic compositions have played a considerable role in the development of theatrical art, and his life has served as material for many novels, poems, plays, and films.


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