Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Perception of Youth in Lermontov and Puskin

The majority of time in class discussions of Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time and Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter has been spent on comparing and contrasting the two works. Both take standard Romantic conventions of the time and, each in their own way, turn them on their head. Both center their plot about soldiers (or ex-soldiers) and the troubles they encounter. The list of such comparisons could go on. However, one comparison we neglected to discuss, and that I would like to ponder in this post, is the fact that both main characters--Lermontov's Pechorin and Pushkin's Pyotr Grinyov--are rather young. This fact, and how the characters use it or have it used against them, provides a small but distinct flavor to each story.

In the beginning of The Captain's Daughter, Pyotr is, according to his mother, "going on seventeen," and thus seen by his father as fit to go into military service. Throughout the story, he faces detractors and opponents to the things he wants to do, solely because he is young. When he falls for the titular girl Marya Ivanovna, his father refuses to bless their union because he writes off Pyotr's love as youthful infatuation. When he is preparing to go against Shvabrin in a duel for Marya's honor, his servant Savelyich pleads with him to stop, not only because he may very well die, and duels are against the rules of the fortress in which he finds himself--but also because, as he is young, his anger at Shvabrin, which flared up so quickly, is liable to fade away just as quickly.

Eventually, Pyotr overcomes these opponents, partially through doing things regardless of their insistence (he does enter the duel, after all), and partially by maturing, developing better qualities, and proving to those around him that he is worthy of being treated as an adult, not just a rash youth with fire in his veins. A major catalyst of this change is the Pugachov rebellion, as well as the leader himself of this uprising, who (as we've discussed in class) acts as a father figure to Pyotr after the geographical and emotional isolation from his real father sets in.

In A Hero of Our Time, the issue of youth and maturity is treated rather differently. For one, instead of being a memoir written in the main character's old age, the story is presented as a journal written almost immediately after the events happened. Because of this, the implied age disparity of The Captain's Daughter is not present, and instead Pechorin writes like he acts, and acts how he is. He is rather older than Pyotr, and notes in his journal that he thinks and feels older than his age and face would imply. He doesn't use his youth to manipulate or gain advantages, despite the impression given from his personality. It mostly seems to be something to ignore, or perhaps since he is not extremely young, it's not a big enough fact to take advantage of.

Conversely, age is not something that is overly revered or respected in A Hero of Our Time. This is seen through Pechorin's treatment of his fellow soldier Maxim Maximych, who is rather old, but since he is uneducated, Pechorin treats him with little respect. It seems that in the case of Pechorin in specific, and A Hero of Our Time in general, it is not someone's age or station, but rather their personality, that determines whether someone is worthy of respect.


  1. I think this is a very interesting distinction to make. I read The Captain's Daughter as Pyotr's journey from a boy to a man and A Hero of Our Time as more of Lermontov's view on society. I agree that Pyotr obtains respect when he enters into the military while Pechorin gives people his respect based on their intelligents. This attributes to Pechorin having high standards for himself which is probably a reflection of Lermontov's beliefs. Do you think women are judged by the same standards in the two novels?

    1. Your initial observation describing the difference between the two works' views does have a point. The Captain's Daughter almost seems like a bildungsroman, a story of coming of age, even though the character is already rather close to adulthood in the beginning of the book.

      As to your question, I would say (and the phrasing of your question seems to agree) not in the least. In fact, the characterization of the female characters in both works seems to follow the classic madonna/ingenue/whore trichotomy. Using this method, a female character is seen as old, motherly, and loving (madonna); young, innocent, and pure (ingenue); or excessively and inherently sexualized (whore). This trope was heavily used in Romantic and Gothic literature, so it's quite appropriate that it'd be alluded to in these works. However, the female characters in these books seem to be exclusively categorized as either a madonna or an ingenue. The captain's wife is a madonna; her daughter's an ingenue. Pechorin's young "bride" Bela, and his conquest Princess Mary are definitely ingenues. But his first and true love, Vera, does not fall into any of the three types. She is not quite old, but not quite young. She is not matronly and caring, and not shameless and sexual. She is definitely too world-weary to be innocent enough for the ingenue's role. Perhaps her inclusion, rather close to the end of the book, shows that A Hero of Our Time was ultimately more interested in subverting Romantic tropes than staying true to them.