Pechorin as the Demon

Topics: Mikhail Lermontov, Demon, Romanticism Pages: 23 (8592 words) Published: March 5, 2013
PECHORIN’S DEMONS: REPRESENTATIONS OF THE DEMONIC IN LERMONTOV’S A HERO OF OUR TIME The demonic traits in Pechorin’s character, as well as his relationship to the figure of the Demon from Lermontov’s narrative poem of that title, have been well charted in the critical literature. Moreover, the more general question of the function of demonism in Russian literature has recently received a great deal of critical attention. As Julian Connolly remarks, Lermontov was persistently fascinated by the figure of the demon—writing in his lyric ‘My Demon’ (‘Moi Demon’, 1830–31) that ‘the proud demon will not leave me alone, as long as I live’—even if the conception and presentation of that demon evolved dramatically over the course of his career. Pechorin’s demonism manifests itself most obviously in his rebelliousness, proud alienation, sense of desolation, and in his estrangement from normal human contacts, feelings, and values. These ‘qualities’—along with his destructive egoism, ennui, and desire to take revenge on a world he feels has spurned him—mark him out as an archetypal fallen angel, at odds with the world of nature, man, and God. As Faletti notes, these are essentially Romantic demonic characteristics—as embodied in the Satanic–Byronic types of European Romantic literature—and they are the ones that have attracted the scrutiny of the majority of Lermontov’s commentators, while other demonic traits have not received proper attention. While this is understandable, in that Pechorin is clearly designed to articulate and test the conventions of the traditional literary Romantic hero, the aim of this essay will be not to explore again the Romantic origins of Pechorin’s demonic persona, but to clarify instead how such Romantic conventions in A Hero of Our Time (Geroi nashego vremeni) sit alongside other ways of representing the demonic, especially those that turn on the novel’s exploitation of the traditions of Russian (and Georgian) folk culture. The relationship between such di·erent forms of demonic representation turns out to be a mutually subversive one and, in its contribution to the novel’s rich narrative irony, it helps to reinforce the view, persistent in Christian culture, that the act of narrative itself might be charged with the demonic. See e.g. Heidi E. Faletti, ‘Elements of the Demonic in the Character of Pechorin in Lermontov’s Hero of Our Time’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 14 (1978), 365–77; Robert Reid, ‘Lermontov’s The Demon: Identity and Axiology’, in Russian Literature and its Demons, ed. by Pamela Davidson (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2000), pp. 215–39; Elena Loginovskaia, Poema M. Iu. Lermontova ‘Demon’ (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1977); Anatoly Vishevsky, ‘Demonic Games, or the Hidden Plot of Mixail Lermontov’s Knjazna Meri’, Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, 27 (1991), 55–71. See, in particular, Julian W. Connolly, The Intimate Stranger: Meetings with the Devil in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature (New York: Peter Lang, 2001); Russian Literature and its Demons, ed. by Davidson; W. J. Leatherbarrow, A Devil’s Vaudeville: The Demonic in Dostoevskii’s Major Fiction (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, forthcoming [2004]); Adam Weiner, By Authors Possessed: The Demonic Novel in Russia (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998). Connolly, The Intimate Stranger, pp. 135–36 and passim. Faletti, ‘Elements of the Demonic in the Character of Pechorin’, p. 365.


Pechorin’s Demons

Russian popular ‘demonography’ (if one may coin such a term to describe how the devil has been represented, rather than what he represents) has always favoured the image of the ‘petty demon’ (melkii bes). The emergence of the devil as a figure in the ‘unclean force’ (nechistaia sila) of Russian folk belief was in itself a form of contamination, a consequence of the Christianization of Russia, and it represented, as Simon Franklin puts it, ‘a kind of colonization of paganisms by Christian...
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