Mikhail Lermotov 1840-1841

CC-Culture and Art Department


The Fatalist
I happened once to spend two weeks in a Cossack village on the left flank. A battalion of infantry was stationed there, and the officers used to meet at each other's quarters in turn, playing cards in the evenings. One time at Major S----'s, having tired of boston, we threw the cards under the table and sat on talking until late, for this time the conversation was interesting.


We were discussing the Moslem belief that the fate of man is preordained in heaven, which was said to find many adherents among us, Christians, too. Each of us had some unusual occurrences to relate pro or contra. "All you have been saying, gentlemen, proves nothing," said the old major. "After all, none of you witnessed any of the strange happenings which you try to use to support your views, did you?"

"Of course not," several said. "But we have it on reliable authority!"

"Nonsense!" someone said. "Where is the reliable authority who has seen the scroll on which the hour of our death is appointed? And if there is such a thing as predestination, why have we been given will and reason? Why are we held accountable for our actions?"

At this point an officer who had been sitting in a corner of the room stood up, walked slowly over to the table, and surveyed us all with a calm, solemn look. He was a Serb by birth, as you could tell from his name.

Lieutenant Vulic's appearance was in keeping with his character. His tall stature and the swarthiness of his complexion, black hair, black, piercing eyes, and the large but regular nose typical of his nation, the cold, melancholy smile that eternally played on his lips--all this was as if designed to endow him with the appearance of an unusual person, incapable of sharing his thoughts and emotions with those whom fate had made his comrades.

He was brave, he spoke little but bluntly. He confided his intimate and family secrets to no one. He scarcely ever drank any wine, and he never paid court to the young Cossack women, whose charms must be seen to be appreciated. It was said nevertheless that the colonel's wife was not indifferent to his expressive eyes, but he was always angered by hints to that effect.

There was only one passion that he didn't conceal--his passion for gambling. At a green-topped table he was oblivious to the world. He usually lost, but persistent bad luck only fed his obstinacy. It was said that one night, during an expedition, when he was keeping the bank on a pillow and having a terrific run of luck, shots suddenly rang out, the alarm was given, and everyone sprang up and rushed for their weapons. "Stake the pool!" cried Vulic, who had not moved, to one of the most involved players. "Seven!" replied the latter as he dashed off. In spite of the general confusion, Vulic dealt to the end; he turned up a seven for the player.

When he reached the skirmish line, the firing was already heavy. Vulic paid no attention either to the bullets or the Chechen sabers. He was searching for his lucky player.

"It was a seven!" Vulic shouted, catching sight of him at last in the firing line, that was beginning to dislodge the enemy from a wood. Going up to him, he pulled out his wallet and gave it to the winner, in spite of the latter's objections to this ill-timed settlement. Having performed this unpleasant duty, Vulic dashed forward at the head of the soldiers and with the utmost calm exchanged fire with the Chechens to the very end of the engagement.

When Lieutenant Vulic walked up to the table everybody fell silent, expecting something original from him.

"Gentlemen!" he said (his voice was calm though it was pitched lower than usual). "Gentlemen, why this idle argument? You wish for proof: I propose we test it out on ourselves whether a man can do what he wants with his own life, or whether the fateful moment has been preordained for each of us . . . Who wants to try?"

"Not I, not I!" was the response from all sides. "What a card! Of all the things to think of!"

"I suggest a wager," I said in jest.

"What sort of a wager?"

"I maintain there is no such thing as predestination," I said, emptying some twenty gold pieces on the table from my pockets--all that I happened to have on me.

"Done!" replied Vulic in a low voice. "Major, you be the umpire--here are fifteen gold pieces. You owe me five, so will you do me the favor of making up the difference?"

"Very well," said the major. "Though I haven't the slightest idea what it's all about, or how you propose to settle the matter."

Without a word Vulic went into the major's bedroom, we following him. Going over to a wall hung with weapons, he took down at random from its nail one of the pistols, of which there were several of different calibers. We didn't realize what he was up to at first, but when he cocked the weapon and primed it, several of us involuntarily stepped up and grabbed him by the arms.

"What are you going to do? Are you mad?" we shouted at him.

"Gentlemen!" he said with deliberation, disengaging his arms. "Which of you would care to pay twenty gold pieces for me?"

Everyone fell silent and drew back.

Vulic went into the next room and sat down at the table. The rest of us followed him. He motioned us to take our seats around the table. We obeyed him in silence, for at this moment he had acquired some mysterious power over us. I looked intently into his eyes, but they met my searching gaze calmly and unwaveringly, and his pale lips smiled; yet in spite of his composure I thought I could read the seal of death on his dull white face. I have observed, and many old soldiers have confirmed the observation, that frequently the face of a person who is to die in a few hours' time bears some strange mark of his inevitable fate, which an experienced eye can hardly fail to detect.

"You will die today," I said to him. He turned sharply to me, but replied with calm deliberation: "I may, and then again I may not . . ."

Then, turning to the major, he asked whether the pistol was loaded. In his confusion, the major couldn't remember exactly.

"That's enough, Vulic!" someone cried. "It must be loaded since it hung at the head of the bed. What sort of a joke is this!"

"A stupid joke!" threw in another.

"I'll wager fifty rubles to five that the pistol is not loaded!" a third shouted.

Fresh bets were made.

I got tired of this endless ceremony. "Look here," I said, "either fire or hang the pistol back in its place and let's go to bed."

"That's right," many exclaimed. "Let's go to bed."

"Gentlemen, I beg of you not to move!" said Vulic, pressing the muzzle of the pistol to his forehead. We were all petrified.

"Mr Pechorin," he went on, "will you take a card and throw it up in the air."

As I recall now, I picked up an ace of hearts from the table and threw it up. We watched with bated breath, our eyes, wide with fear and an indefinable curiosity, shifting back and forth between the pistol and the fateful ace which was now slowly fluttering downwards. The moment it touched the table, Vulic pulled the trigger--but the pistol didn't go off.

"Thank God!" several voices cried. "It wasn't loaded . . ."

"We'll see about that," said Vulic. Again he cocked the weapon and aimed at a cap hanging above the window. A shot rang out and smoke filled the room, and when it dispersed the cap was taken down--there was the hole in the very center of it and the bullet had imbedded itself deep in the wall.

For a good three minutes no one could utter a word. Vulic calmly poured my money into his purse.

Speculation began as to why the pistol did not go off the first time. Some claimed that the pan must have been clogged, others whispered that the powder was damp at first, and that Vulic had afterwards sprinkled some fresh powder on it. I, however, assured them that the latter supposition was incorrect, for I had not taken my eyes off the pistol for a moment.

"You have gambler's luck!" I said to Vulic.

"For the first time in my life," he replied, smiling complacently. "This is better than faro or shtoss."

"But slightly more dangerous."

"Well? Have you begun to believe in predestination?"

"I do believe in it. Only I don't understand why it seemed to me that you were doomed to die today ..."

The very same man, who so short a time before had with supreme indifference aimed a pistol at his own forehead, now suddenly flared up and looked disconcerted.

"That will do!" he said, rising. "Our bet's finished and now your remarks seem out of place to me . . ." He picked up his cap and walked out. His behavior struck me as strange--and rightly so.

Soon everyone left, each giving his own interpretation of Vulic's eccentric behavior on the way home, and, probably, unanimously branding me an egoist for having wagered against a man who wanted to shoot himself--as if he could not have found a convenient opportunity without my help!

I returned home through the deserted side streets of the settlement. The full moon, red as the lurid glow of a fire, was just coming up over the jagged skyline of the housetops. The stars shone placidly in the dark-blue firmament, and I was amused at the thought that there once were sages who believed the heavenly bodies have a share in our wretched squabbles over a tiny territory or some other imaginary rights. Yet these lamps, which they thought had been lighted only to illuminate their battles and triumphs, still burn with undiminished brilliance, while their passions and hopes have long since died out together with them like a campfire left burning on the fringe of a forest by a careless wayfarer. But what strength of will they drew from the certainty that all the heavens with their numberless inhabitants looked down on them with constant though mute sympathy! Whereas we, their wretched descendents, who roam the earth without convictions or pride, without joys or fear other than the nameless dread that constricts the heart at the thought of the inevitable end, we are no longer capable of great sacrifices either for the good of mankind or even for our personal happiness, since we know that happiness is impossible; and we pass indifferently from one doubt to another just as our forebears floundered from one delusion to another, without the hopes they had and without even that vague but potent sense of joy the soul derives from any struggle with man or destiny . . .

Many similar thoughts passed through my mind. I did not hold back their passage, because I don't care to dwell upon abstract ideas--for what can they lead to? In my early youth I was a dreamer. I liked to toy with the images, now gloomy, now radiant, which my restless, eager imagination drew for me. But what have I derived from it all? Only weariness, like the aftermath of a nighttime battle with a phantom, and dim memories filled with regrets. In this futile struggle, I exhausted the fervor of spirit and the constancy of will which are essential to real life. When I embarked on that life, I had already lived it in my mind, and therefore it has become as boring and repulsive to me as a poor imitation of a long-familiar book.

The evening's events had made a rather deep impression on me and worked on my nerves. I'm not certain whether I now believe in predestination or not, but that night I firmly believed in it. The proof had been striking, and regardless of the fact that I had ridiculed our forebears and their complacent astrology, I found myself thinking as they did--but I caught myself in time on this dangerous road, and having made it a rule never to reject anything categorically and never to believe in anything blindly, I cast metaphysics aside and began to watch the ground under my feet. Such caution was timely, for I nearly stumbled over something thick and soft but apparently dead. I bent down--the moon now lit up the road--and what did I see lying in front of me, but a pig sliced into two with a saber . . . I had hardly had time to look at it when I heard footsteps: two Cossacks came running from a side street. One of them came up to me and asked whether I had seen a drunken Cossack pursuing a pig. I told them that I had not met the Cossack, but showed them the unlucky victim of his ferocious skill.

"The bandit!" said the second Cossack. "As soon as he drinks his fill of wine, he's out to cut up everything that comes his way. Let's go after him, Yeremeich; we've got to tie him up, or else . . ."

They went off and I continued on my way more warily than before, at last reaching my quarters safe and sound.

I was staying with an old Cossack non-commissioned officer, whom I liked because of his kindly nature and particularly because of his pretty daughter, Nastya.

She was waiting for me as usual at the gate, wrapped in a fur coat; the moon shone on her sweet lips now blue from the cold of the night. Seeing me, she smiled, but I had other things on my mind. "Good night, Nastya," I said, passing by. She was about to say something in reply, but sighed instead.

I locked the door of my room, lit a candle and flung myself on the bed. Tonight, however, sleep eluded me for longer than usual. The east was already beginning to grow pale when I fell asleep, but evidently the heavens had ordained that I was not to sleep this night. At four o'clock in the morning two fists banged at my window. I sprang up--what was the matter? "Wake up and get dressed!" several voices shouted. I dressed hastily and went out. "Do you know what's happened?" the three officers who had come for me said to me in chorus; they were as white as death.

"What?" "Vulic has been killed." I was stupefied. "Yes, killed!" they went on. "Let's go, quick." "Where to?" "We'll tell you on the way."

We set off. They told me everything that had happened, adding to the story various observations concerning the strange predestination that had saved him from certain death half an hour before he died. Vulic had been walking alone along a dark street, when the drunken Cossack who had slashed up the pig bumped into him, and might perhaps have gone on without paying any attention to him had Vulic not stopped suddenly and said: "Who you looking for, boy?"

"You!" the Cossack answered, striking him with his saber and splitting him from the shoulder nearly to the heart . . . The two Cossacks whom I had seen and who were pursuing the murderer reached the spot, and picked up the wounded man, but he was already breathing his last and mouthed only the words: "He was right!" I alone understood the dark meaning of these words--they referred to me. I had involuntarily predicted the poor man's fate. My instinct had not failed me--I had indeed read on his altered features the stamp of death coming soon.

The murderer had locked himself in a vacant hut at the far end of the settlement, and that's where we went. A large number of women were running in the same direction, wailing as they went. Every now and then a Cossack sprang belatedly out into the street, hurriedly buckling on a dagger, and ran past us. There was a fearful commotion.

At last we arrived on the scene to find a crowd gathered around the hut, whose doors and shutters had been fastened from the inside. Officers and Cossacks were holding a hot argument and the women kept howling and lamenting. Among them I noticed an old woman whose imposing face expressed frantic despair. She was seated on a thick log, her elbows on her knees and her hands supporting her head. She was the murderer's mother. At times her lips moved . . . was it with a prayer or a curse?

In the meantime, some decision had to be made and the perpetrator arrested. But no one was anxious to go in first.

I went up to the window and looked in through a crack in a shutter. The man lay on the floor, holding a pistol in his right hand. A bloodstained saber lay beside him. His face was pale, and his expressive eyes rolled fearfully. At times he shuddered and clutched at his head, as if hazily recollecting the happenings of the previous day. There did not seem to be much resolve in his uneasy glance and I told the major that there was no reason why he shouldn't order the Cossacks to break down the door and rush him, for it would be better to do so now rather than later when the man would've fully recovered his senses.

Just then an old captain of the Cossacks went up to the door and called to the man inside by name. The latter responded.

"You've sinned, brother Yefimych," said the Cossack captain. "So there's nothing you can do but give yourself up!"

"I won't!" replied the Cossack.

"You should fear God's anger! You are not a heathen Chechen, you're an honest Christian. You've gone astray and it can't be helped. You can't escape your fate!"

"I won't give myself up!" the Cossack shouted menacingly, and we could hear the click of the pistol as he cocked it.

"Hey, missus!" the Cossack captain said to the old woman. "You speak to your son--maybe he'll listen to you . . . After all, this sort of thing is only defying God. Look, the gentlemen have been waiting for two hours now."

The old woman looked at him intently and shook her head.

"Vasiliy Petrovich," said the Cossack captain, walking over to the major, "he won't give himself up--I know him. And if we break in the door, he'll kill many of our men. Wouldn't it be better if you ordered him to be shot? There is a wide crack in the shutter."

At that moment, a strange thought flashed through my mind; like Vulic, I thought of putting fate to a test.

"Wait," I said to the major, "I'll take him alive." Telling the Cossack captain to keep him talking and stationing three Cossacks at the entrance with instructions to break in the door and to rush to help me as soon as the signal was given, I walked around the hut and approached the fateful window, my heart pounding.

"Hey there, you donkey!" shouted the Cossack captain. "Are you making fun of us or what? Or maybe you think we won't be able to capture you?" He began hammering at the door with all his strength, while I, pressing my eye to the hole, followed the movements of the Cossack inside, who did not expect an attack from this side. Then I suddenly broke off the shutter and threw myself through the window, head first. The pistol went off next to my ear and the bullet tore off an epaulet. The smoke that filled the room, however, prevented my adversary from finding his saber, which lay beside him. I hugged him in my arms--the Cossacks broke in, and in less than three minutes the criminal was tied up and led off under guard. The people left for home and the officers congratulated me--and indeed they had reason to do so.

After all this, one might think, how could one help becoming a fatalist? But who knows for certain whether he is convinced of anything or not? And how often we mistake a deception of the senses or an error of reason for conviction!

I prefer to doubt everything. Such a disposition does not preclude a resolute character. On the contrary, as far as I am concerned, I always advance more boldly when I don't know what is waiting me for me. After all, nothing worse than death can happen--and death you can't escape!

After returning to the fort, I told Maksim Maksimich everything I had seen and experienced, and wanted to hear his opinion about predestination. At first he didn't understand the word, but I explained it to him as best I could, whereupon he said, wisely shaking his head: "Yes, sir! It's a funny business that! By the way, these Asiatic pistol cocks often miss fire if they are poorly oiled, or if you don't press hard enough with your finger. I must admit I don't like those Circassian rifles either. They are a bit inconvenient for the likes of us--the butt is so small that unless you watch out you can get your nose scorched . . . Their sabers, now, are a different matter--I take my cap off to them!"

Then he added after thinking a little more: "Yes, I'm sorry for that poor man . . . Why the hell did he stop to talk to a drunk at night! I suppose, though, that all that happened to him was already written in that big book when he was born!"

I could get nothing more out of him. In general he doesn't like metaphysical talk.

(accent on first syllable) was a great poet and not a bad landscape painter either. He was exiled to the front line of the colonial war that the Russians carried on against the Caucasian tribesmen in the first part of the 19th century--twice. He had visited the area as a boy a couple of times. After attending Moscow University and graduating from military school he became friends with some of those who played a part in the failed Decembrist uprising. He greatly admired the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin and was upset by his death in a duel in January 1837, so he wrote a eulogy--that caused his first political exile. There he fought bravely, studied and translated some Caucasian literature, and met some revolutionary exiles. As well as doing some painting he picked up the ideas for this book and some great poems. After his return to Moscow, he again got into trouble and was exiled to the Caucasus a second time. He was killed in a duel, much like the one in this book, at the age of 26. Nabokov translates a wonderful recursive poem he wrote just before that duel. The reported reaction by Czar Nicholas I was "a dog's death for a dog."

Geroy nashego vremeni in Russian:
Lermontov's title in manuscript was One of the Heroes of the Beginning of the Century, although the book as printed is supposed to take place starting in the fall of 1837. In English, the novel has been variously entitled A Hero of our Own Time, The Hero of Our Days, A Hero of Our Times, and The Heart of a Russian. We employ the most common and traditional title.

We also referred to but did not literally copy from the interpretation in the 1958 translation by Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov, Doubleday Anchor Books. (We draw attention especially to the authoritative introduction and notes of this book, even though they did not have access to the early editions--and the Edward Gorey cover hits the nail on the head for modern readers.) Referred to hereafter as "Nabokov."

Written 1837 to 1839, the book was first printed April 1840, after three of the chapters had been published as stories in a magazine. The preface was added for the second edition, 1841--it was at that time printed at the beginning of volume (part) 2. (Some translations put the preface at the end of the book.) This book comes at the end of the Romantic period and many critics feel it makes a transition to Realism. Some point out its striking modern aspects of existential irony and innovative narrative discourse.

how to interpret the irony in this book is the subject of a raft of books and articles listed in the Everyman edition, ranging from early Russian critics to Soviet Marxist-Leninist to Formalist to modernist and post-modernist and psychoanalytic. But why not just read the book here and decide for yourself?

the sticks:
slang American term for rural, provincial, i.e., not St. Petersburg or Moscow.

our generation:
actually, the Romantic excesses were incurred by the generation that was just ending, with the Byronic hero as the exemplar, while Lermontov's contemporaries such as those portrayed by Turgenev and Dostoeyevsky went on to new vices and virtues. However, the personality of this type of hero or criminal has fascinated a lot of writers and even readers of detective or spy novels in many cultures.

the name is derived from that of a Siberian river, as is Onegin by Pushkin. Of course, there are endless speculations about the character of Pechorin. What do you think? Have you known anyone like him?

Part I, II:
the division into parts this way makes no sense (Nabokov called it "purely fortuitous") and seems to have been an invention of the clumsy editor of the second edition. Russian literature did not yet have a tradition of the prose novel, while European printers at the time usually divided novels into separate volumes for convenience and sales. If one wanted to read the book in chronological order of the fictional events, it would be this way: Taman, Princess Mary, Bela (The Fatalist comes in the middle of this), Maksim Maksimich, and the Preface. However, the order Lermontov uses does spiral in on Pechorin's character effectively. By the way, there are references in the book to "a long chain of tales" and teases about "a fat notebook" of remaining material, but, sorry, this is all we've got.

The Georgian (and Ossetian) north-south military highways built by the Russians over the middle part of the Caucasus Mountains are still the main routes. The track from Tibilisi (Tiflis) to Vladikavkaz follows the Aragva River, over the 8,000-ft. Pass of the Cross, the Koyshaur Canyon, and down through Kazbek and Lars along the Terek River, which flows to the Caspian Sea. The road is more than 120 miles long. The area is called "Asiatic" by European Russians.

now called T'bilisi, capital of the now independent nation of Georgia. Georgia has had a long relationship with Russia, notably between the Treaty of Georgievsk, 1783, and 1878, when the Russians drove to the Black Sea in a war against the Turks. In 1837 Georgia was peacefully run by the Russians. However, the mountain people to the north were involved in bitter resistance to the Russian takeover of their territory, and political rebels were sent to this front by the Czar's government just as they were to Siberia.

telezhka, crude springless horse-drawn carriage.

The Circassian
people (Cherkes) in the northwest Caucasus Mountains (Abkhazia, Kabardia) fought the Russians from 1815 to about 1839, when they were mostly subdued. In 1864 the entire nation of about 400,000 people emigrated to Ottoman territory rather than live under the Russians. They have an ancient origin evidently absorbing Greek, Roman and possibly Crusader elements, and because they were tall, handsome, and intelligent were favored slaves, mercenaries, and managers.

Chechens, Ossetians:
The Chechens, and the Lezgians of Dagestan (the eastern part of the mountains), are Muslims, but speak Indo-European languages. Like many Native American Indians and third-world people in other countries, they bravely resisted the white man's colonization and pacification attempts, with a dirty guerrilla war that lasted years. The Dagestan guerrillas were conquered in 1857-9, when many of them went south to Armenia. The Chechens, many in North Ossetia in the mid part of the Caucasus, were also defeated. In 1920 they formed a province (oblast) under the Russians, united with the Inguish, but were exiled to Central Asia by Stalin after they were charged with collaboration with the Germans during World War II (in 1957 Khrushchev allowed them to return). December 11, 1994, Chechnia was again invaded by Russian troops, who destroyed the capital but failed to completely subdue the mountain guerrillas. We have seen little on the Internet about Ossetia, but here is a record of a visit by Fitzroy Maclean, we don't know when. And this Australian web page contains a full list of links to other resources about the Caucasus region.

or epaulettes, fancy shoulder boards with fringes hanging from the ends showing an officer's rank. Although mostly generals or admirals wear them now for fancy dress, even lowly officers wore them then regularly.

older translations use "swarthy"--Nabokov comments that Lermontov uses both cliched and strange words for colors.

Russian army headquarters in North Caucasus, 160 miles northwest of Vladikavkaz.

i.e., not European Russians, who were those to the north but closer to the West. The term used by Maksim Maksimivich--though, is not one of much respect, more like the derogatory slang used by an American soldier, either for enemy or ally or just foreign civilian--just refers usually to the "foreign" Muslims in general.

Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov:
(1772-1861), greatly respected leader of Russian counter-guerrilla operations, especially in Chechnia and Dagestan, 1818-1827.

the line:
here, the row of front-line forts in the counter-guerrilla war.

second lieutenant:
the officers' ranks in this book are significant --it seems that Pechorin was demoted after the duel and before the Bela episode, although he still outranked a cadet as an ensign. A second lieutenant or shtabs-kapitan was below captain but above ensign.

also spelled Tartars, descendents of invaders from Central Asia, but essentially at this point any Muslims who speak Turkish languages. Remember the Circassians don't speak a Turkic dialect, but a rare Indo-European one.

Stone Ford:
Kammeny Brod, probably fictional.

Parker's word is "ruffians", Nabokov's is "cut-throats." It indicates the resentment of the regular army officer against the unconventional but effective tactics of the mountain guerrillas, a word we sometimes use for Parker's abreks .

or boza, a new wine or other fermented drink made with hemp seed, not related to the slang word "booze", which is from Middle English for cup.

barely managed to escape:
sounds like an interesting story, but we aren't told that story here.

neutral prince:
mirnoy knyaz'--he didn't take sides between the Russians and the guerrillas.

the age is of interest since he insults the young cadet, who was about 21, a few years before, in "Princess Mary," and because a psychoanalytic interpretation of Pechorin's personality indicates narcissism and inordinate concern about his appearance and being an adult, or at least so say some experts.

Maksim Maksimich:
short for Maksim Maksimovich, and pronounced like "Mack-SEE-much" according to Nabokov. We have changed the name throughout from Parker's "Maksimych."

"white army caps": an ordinary informal, fatigue uniform cap that would, however, be worn by an officer demoted in rank, such as a political exile or one who had killed another in a duel. (Cornwell notes the undertext of political exile in this locale through the book.) Regular Army epaulets indicate a lesser grade than a royal Guards officer from the capital. A cadet might wear an army overcoat to pretend he had been in a duel and so reduced in rank.

"Bad" according to the text, although it is not certain how skilled Lermontov (or Maksim Maksimich, or the unnamed narrator, either, for that matter) was with the maze of Caucasian languages. Can we trust any of the narrators here?

ritual blood-brother in this culture, sworn buddy, from the word for "guest" in Turkic dialect; it doesn't seem that it means much in this story.

those Asiatics:
in this case, all Muslims.

Muslim religious leader.

formal dance.

strummed Russian string instrument.

although in Latin languages it might connote "beautiful," in Turkic it means "grief." However, the Circassian language is not Turkic but Ibero-Caucasian, an Indo-European branch.

pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.

actually, barani meaning rams.

or bashmet, a silk or cotton shirt or smock belted at the waist and usually fancily embroidered; the jacket over it was usually worn open to expose it.

plotting something:
planning what? The plot is thin here.

southern Russian tribesmen, Christians, who served as skilled cavalrymen and sort of military police force.

word used is actually "Giaour," Turkish for non-Muslim, like the Yiddish "goy."

Nabokov believes it means "Black Eye" in Turkic, but again, the Circassians here didn't speak a Turkic language. The love affair between Russian men and their horses is described in many books.

famous sword-maker made very sharp blades layered and tempered like Toledo steel. Pistols and muskets of the time had only a short range and were inaccurate from a moving horse. Swords and knives were important emblems for men.

an old song:
probably invented by Lermontov, and his lie about its being in prose first is just piling fiction upon preposterous fiction. Lermontov wrote surpassingly good verse still memorized by Russians, but pretty much unknown in English.

stamping his foot:
Nabokov lists a whole page of these stock phrases Lermontov uses to indicate emotion in various Romantic ways.

mountain mammal like an antelope or goat.

bride-money, dowry. Many tribes regulate marriages by requiring the husband to pay for the wife before marriage--if she returns to her family he doesn't always get his money back; alternatively, her family gives money which is often retained by her no matter what happens.

tying his horse:
the narrator (can you figure out which one here?) has already forgotten that this courser never needed to be tethered.

all through the night:
Nabokov states something apparently is wrong with the text here.

"I once witnessed...," etc.: Nabokov emphasizes the role of eavesdropping in the novel as a literary device to advance the plot, since the exchange of letters as in the Romantic epistolary novel had been worn out by this time. Psychoanalytic critics point out the social isolation involved in this behavior. It also brings in the element of chance vs. fate that runs through the text. Furthermore, it fits right in with the strange texture of the text where fictional characters seem to invent and imitate one another and listen in to what each other says--amazing when you think of it--what is really the truth in this novel?

Transcaucasian Tatar:
i.e., Muslims on the south side of the mountains.

the Russian word is the same for heaven, sky, or firmament.

Gamba, Cross Mountain:
Gamba, French diplomat to Georgia, travel writer (1826), misinterpreted Mount Krestovaya (Mount of the Cross, from Russian "krest" or cross) as "Mount Saint Christopher."

Saratov, Tambov:
prosaic central Russian provincial cities.

Nightingale Robber:
the whistling highway robber of Russian folklore who could frighten by imitating wild animals.

Peter I the Great:
(1672-1725) occupied Derbent in 1702 and Baku in 1723 and traveled through East Caucasus but there is no record he went as far as this part of the mountains.

polyana, which really means clearing.

knock that fellow off:
so much for the blood-brother.

did Kazbich want to carry her off?: The previous motivation seems to have been forgotten--why didn't he take off after his beloved courser instead of the girl?

hot wet pads:
we couldn't bring ourselves to use the word "poultice" here.

or Shapsugi, a tribe of the Circassians in the northwest Caucasus.

now Krasnodar, North Caucasus, spa town perhaps 60 miles northwest of Vladikavkaz.

the dry steppes, or rolling upland prairie hills north of the Caucasus, were crossed by (Bactrian) camel caravans.

comic character from 1785 and later operas.

birch-bark baskets:
Nabokov uses the term "bags" here because the local people were known to collect honey in goatskins.

thirty-year-old Balzac coquette,
or coy woman: from his short novel, La femme de trente ans (1834)

Rousseau's Confessions:
all-too-revealing Romantic so-called autobiography of 1782. See on-line version.

place, unclean:
nechisto, just unclean, but there are overtones of haunted or evil, perhaps influenced by Undina.

Black Sea port near Caucasus, south of Taman.

On that day:
"On that day shall the mute sing out and the blind shall see:" Isaiah 35:5-6, 29:18.

Nabokov insists the word used means "boulders" and goes into a long explanation of why it should be translated "billows".

Phanagoria fort:
as the name indicates, this is what is left of an ancient Greek colony on the Black Sea.

actually, "undine," as in Zhukovsky's poem Undina and an 1811 French romance.

darkening night:
changed here from "gloaming".

Young France:
not to be confused with the political movement a little later, this was a foolish group of dandies in Paris who ineffectually looked down on the solid middle class and posed such ridiculous propositions as this one.

Roman nose:
pseudo-science such as phrenology and diagnosis by facial features was common at the time. It would not be surprising to see Roman features in people living in Black Sea towns.

heroine from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister.

spa town on river about 60 miles west of Yekateringrad and north of the Caucasus and its highest peak, Mt. Elbrus. Lermontov was killed in a duel here. A spa is a place with mineral water springs thought to have healing properties and thus frequented by wounded soldiers or other sick or old people. It was a good place to mix and form new social relationships and so a suitable place for a novel. Finally, this type of society gathering was usual in the society novels that Lermontov effectively puts paid to in this segment (the Encyclopædia Brittanica article on Lermontov seems to miss the point of its irony entirely).

"the last cloud...": from Pushkin's The Storm Cloud, 1835.

swelling of the glands.

used to have:
Nabokov notes the tendency as here to veer into the past tense as if someone--maybe Pechorin?--is trying out this character for a role in a play or a book.

we couldn't bear to use the term "lorgnette," a sort of magnifying spectacle often with a little handle, used to see at a distance, as at the opera or to make an impression on someone.

French for love-letters.

à la moujik:
cut very short.

Mon cher,...:
"My friend, I hate men in order not to despise them--otherwise life would be too disgusting a farce."

Mon cher, je...:
"My friend, I despise women in order not to love them--otherwise life would be too ridiculous a melodrama."

handsome young man loved by Aphrodite in Greek legend.

Cicero, augurs:
a stock allusion to an old report that the Roman fortune-tellers who worked by examining animals' guts used to laugh in secret reference to their play-acting of predictions whenever two of them met.

don't wish to know more:
this whole speech is one of the most revealing of Pechorin's character, according to psychoanalytic critics, who point out the obvious determination by Pechorin to hide as much of his true character as possible at the same time he claims that all is known.

the word is missing in Parker's text but we agree with Nabokov in replacing it here.

Circassian coat:
cherkeska, i.e., from the Cherkes.

balki, Turkic, like the Spanish barranco.

mixture of ...Nizhni-Novgorodan:
another reference to Chatsky, see below.

replied in French
"My God, a Circassian (bandit)." "Fear not, ma'am, I am no more dangerous than your companion" (cavalier, gallant knight, meaning Grushnitsky). More polite French phrases follow in this story, such as "That's impossible," "Permit me," and so forth. Upper class Russians spoke French in formal society.

another spa to the west some ten miles.

since the Jews were not accepted in Russian society they had to work in such jobs as tailors.

Reader's Library:
a magazine meant to be taken seriously, edited by Osip Senkovsky, who, by the way, first reviewed this book rather favorably, but, after Lermontov's death, retracted his judgment and called it infantile.

fifty souls:
economically too small a feudal estate with that many serfs or as they were called "souls".

famous Caucasian mineral water. In the Kabardian language, nart-sane means drink of the Narts, mythical giants or heroes.

white acacia:
actually, the imported American black locust tree, which has beautiful white flowers this time of year.

To jumble up...:
loosely from Chatsky, or Woe from Wit (1824, 1833), a comedy by Griboyedov that was banned by the censors for political reasons. This work seems to have begun the theme of the Russian "superfluous man" that is continued here and later by many others, including Turgenev and Dostoeyevsky.

The cold reflections...:
from Eugene Onegin, appeared in 1828.

1581 Italian poem read in French versions in Russia. See online version.

the Russians had read a French version of The Vampire: A Tale, by John Polidori (1819).

Old Mortality
read in French translation (though Lermontov knew some English).

Julius Caesar:
whose fate the Roman augurs, or fortune-tellers, had fully predicted, as in "the ides of March".

Finita la commedia:
the comedy (play) is over.

card game like bridge.

This Serbian last name is spelled with an acute accent over the "c" by Parker, but "Vulich" by Nabokov. We couldn't reproduce it properly in HTML.

faro or shtoss:
gambling card games.

chirir', Caucasian new wine.

big book
we've added "big book" here-- it's our predestined fate, the mythical story that the author God has already assigned every detail to our mortal lives, and supposedly written it in a book available for consultation in heaven. Note the parallel to a similar expression at the start of this novel.

* * *

Another online edition of this work can be found at the University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center. That English translation, entitled "The Heart of a Russian," by J. H. Wisdom Marr Murray, N.Y.: Knopf, 1916, has a different order to the chapters and has heavy Victorian prose and sketchy footnotes. However, the edition, by Judy Boss, Carolyn Fay, and David Seaman, does have page numbers and a few color illustrations. We did not refer to it when doing this edition. A text-only version of that translation was released in Project Gutenberg in May, 1997.

For further references, please see the books by Cornwell and Nabokov previously cited, as they contain notes, a map, chronologies, excerpts from critical material, and everything you need.