|Lord Byron in Albanian dress|
The exotic setting of A Hero of Our Time seems especially significant in the characterization of Lermontov’s Byronic protagonist Grigori Pechorin. In the first place, his deployment to the Caucasus Mountains physically sets him apart from the pomp and politics of Moscow and St. Petersburg. More importantly, it thrusts him into contact with peoples and cultures radically different from his own—cultures he seems to feel a particular affinity for.
Like Lawrence of Arabia and Byron before him, Pechorin takes great pleasure in going native. According to him, “I have, in fact, been told that when riding on horseback, in my Circassian costume, I resemble a Kabardian more than many a Kabardian himself…I have long studied the mountaineer seat on horseback, and in no way is it possible to flatter my vanity so much as by acknowledging my skill in horsemanship in the Cossack mode” (Hero, 113-4). Though an officer of questionable caliber, Pechorin styles himself as a nomad and native par excellence. He is infatuated with the culture, customs, and in Bela’s case, curvaciousness of the Circassians, Ossetians, and Chechens around him. Moreover, while of good breeding and adept at navigating high society Pechorin instead prefers the simple pursuits of hunting, exploring,and riding solo; bored by aristocratic convention, he confides that “One expedient only is left to me—travel” (41). As such, his geographic exploration parallels his own self-exploration. His desire for some identity other than that of the superfluous aristocrat leads him to adopt the garb and mannerisms of the “barbarians” around him and is, perhaps, what leads Lermontov to characterize him as a hero of his time.
Ultimately, Pechorin’s own identity synthesizes his aristocrat heritage and his perceptions of the foreigners among whom he lives. While he finds some peace of mind in this synthetic identity, he is at the same time left straddling two worlds. This perpetual sense of dislocation is perhaps the source of his fickle and often contradictory behavior. All the same, though superfluous in his own society and an outsider among others, Pechorin does seem to find some peace of mind, and perhaps even meaning, in his adopted guise of the Noble Savage.