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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
Pechorin," he went on, "will you take a card and throw it up in
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
"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
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
"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
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
(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?
slang American term for rural, provincial, i.e., not St.
Petersburg or Moscow.
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
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
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
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
telezhka, crude springless horse-drawn carriage.
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
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
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.
here, the row of front-line forts in the counter-guerrilla war.
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.
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
mirnoy knyaz'--he didn't take sides between the Russians and the
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.
short for Maksim Maksimovich, and pronounced like "Mack-SEE-much"
according to Nabokov. We have changed the name throughout from
"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.
in this case, all Muslims.
Muslim religious leader.
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.
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
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
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?
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."
prosaic central Russian provincial cities.
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
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.
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)
all-too-revealing Romantic so-called autobiography of 1782. See
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".
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
changed here from "gloaming".
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.
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.
"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.
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
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
the word is missing in Parker's text but we agree with Nabokov in
replacing it here.
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.
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
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.
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
the Russians had read a French version of The Vampire: A Tale, by
John Polidori (1819).
read in French translation (though Lermontov knew some English).
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.
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