"I hope I die before I get old" sang The Who in "Talkin' about my generation". Mikhail Lermontov would have probably liked this line.
Life was too short for him.
Just like many other great Russian novelists, Lermontov simply died too soon. And yet it was for his own choice, living at the edge.
In fact in his case it wasn't any fatal illness to get him, but a deadly duel when he was just 27.
In this sense he really left his life like a romantic hero of his time. No question about this. No compromises for him.
Being considered the heir of Pushkin in poetry was maybe a weight too heavy to carry for living a quiet life in Moscow or Saint Petersburg as he could have done.
Lermontov was often escaping from a bourgeois cosmopolitan life finding shelter in the solitude of Caucasus and there found his death.
So far, I didn't read any poem by Lermontov, but just this novel.
My impression is that his style was already quite personal combinating very Russian elements with Middle-Eastern exoticism.
The first part of "A Hero of Our Time", introducing the controversial character of Peciorin, reminded me some short stories and tales from the Arabic and Persian world setting the action in Lermontov's beloved Caucasus. A region with its own traditions and habits that looked very remote and unknown. A part of Russia where speaking Russian was unusual and the central government has to put barracks to control the local population.
Circassians, Chechnyans, Ossetians are perceived like dangerous bandits terrorizing civilized Russians protected by their walls in those hostile lands. This vision of the Caucasus is not that far from the way many people look at that turbulent corner of the world stil nowadays.
The second part of the book is totally different and gives Peciorin his own voice, showing us how unbearable, selfish and arrogant man he was. Player for love and lover for play he follows his own theories in relating with women, holding forth about them as he owns the only given key to open, lock and break their hearts whenever he wants.
While reading this second part of the book I thought to "The Gambler" by Dostojevskij (the way he portrays daily rituals and etiquette at spa town) but this is Lermontov and at his very best.