Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Frankenstein and the Hero of Our Time

I mentioned in class the other day the similarities I noticed in structure of Hero of Our Time and Frankenstein. Frankenstein is perhaps the best known Romantic novel, and was published in 1818, about 20 years before Hero of Our Time. While I can't be certain that Lermontov read Frankenstein or used ideas from it, (I didn't find any comparisons of the two) I still found it striking and wanted to write my post about the parallels of the two novels.

Frankenstein opens with Captain Walton, a young man on an arctic expedition; he is telling the tale through a series of letters to his sister, Mary. Walton, it is important to note, is a failed poet/writer, who is now searching for success/glory through his expedition. He is much like our unnamed narrator in this way. His ship finds Victor Frankenstein, on the verge of death, and they take him in. As Victor recovers he bonds with Walton and tell him the story of his life. The main piece of Victor's tale is the creation of his monster. After months/years of relentless pursuance, the very moment that Victor succeeds in creating life is the moment he rejects his creation. I found this to be very much like Pechorin's rejections of women once he has won them over.

After creating and abandoning his monster, Victor is sick for a long time. He is nursed by his friend Henry Clerval, who aligns fairly closely with Doctor Werner. He returns home after the news of his young brother's death, sees the monster while walking, and confronts him. The monster then begins his tale, which is quite similar in a way to "Taman." The monster finds a cottage in the woods that hold a family that he becomes infatuated with. He reads and becomes intelligent. Wanting to be part of this group he approaches the blind father while the children are away, but the children return early and chase him out. In his wrath the monster burns their home and leaves. Again, this doesn't completely align, but I was struck by the similar details of cottages and blindness, as well as the reaction to the monster. Pechorin, I think, often feels like/sees himself as an "other," and his attempts to discover the smuggler group end in disaster for them.

The final chapters of Hero of Our Time don't align as closely as the early set-up, mainly because Frankenstein takes a more traditional Romantic route: the monster demands a mate, which Victor half-makes and then destroys. The monster promises to "be with" Victor on his wedding night. In a way this threat reminds me of Pechorin's fear from the fortune he received about dying through a bad wife. Victor thinks that this means his own death, and while he searches for the monster his wife/step sister/cousin Elizabeth is murdered. Victor vows to pursue the creature to the end of the world, bringing us back to Walton and the arctic.

I think Frankenstein and Hero of Our Time play with similar themes throughout, especially the morality theme: who is the monster, Victor or the creature? There's also a tension between fate and freewill: Victor often curses his fate, but it was he who played God and who fails to take responsibility for what havoc he has created. There was one more pattern I noticed that underlines this "Otherness" I feel is shared by the monster and Pechorin: both are often seen looking through windows. Pechorin looks in through windows at Princess Mary several times, and the monster watches Victor often: while he crafts the mate, and after he has killed his wife.

Sorry this post is so long, it's hard to sum up a novel like Frankenstein quickly.


  1. I'm glad you mentioned the window theme. I thought it was interesting that Pechorin had been described more or less like a person who always gets what he wants, regardless of consequence. However, looking through a window is usually connected to feelings of loneliness, jealousy, or longing. It's an interesting juxtaposition of characteristics and perhaps is meant to soften the reader's view of Pechorin.

  2. Very interesting, Lane! I am glad you took the time to write it all out. The otherness or outside status of the monster and of Frankenstein is especially compelling. It's worth following up on, that's for sure.

  3. I think that adding details such as the window theme also add to the complexity of Pechorin. In discussion we were unable to say whether we thought Pechorin was "good" or "bad." He was more complex than, say, Shvabrin in The Captain's Daughter, who pretty much had no redeeming qualities other than being fairly intelligent, according to Pyotr.