In this novel we are presented with a Byronic character named Pechorin, a Russian military officer. We learn about him through a narrator and also excerpted diaries that he abandoned before his final voyage, which includes themes of adventure, seduction, existentialism, and bride kidnapping.
The air is pure and fresh, like the kiss of a child; the sun is bright, the sky is blue—what more could one possibly wish for? What need, in such a place as this, of passions, desires, regrets?[…]
I always advance more boldly when I do not know what is awaiting me. You see, nothing can happen worse than death—and from death there is no escape.[…]
He once told me that he would rather do a favour to an enemy than to a friend, because, in the latter case, it would mean selling his beneficence, whilst hatred only increases proportionately to the magnanimity of the adversary.
Pechorin’s seduction of Princess Mary over a beta male counterpart was masterful, forcing me to realize that game is nothing more than a watered down version of what the great seducers of history have mastered.
She finds it exceedingly strange that I, who am accustomed to good society, and am so intimate with her Petersburg cousins and aunts, do not try to make her acquaintance. Every day we meet at the well and on the boulevard. I exert all my powers to entice away her adorers, glittering aides-de-camp, pale-faced visitors from Moscow, and others—and I almost always succeed. I have always hated entertaining guests: now my house is full every day; they dine, sup, gamble, and alas! my champagne triumphs over the might of Princess Mary’s magnetic eyes!
They invented the game while we merely copy the best parts and apply them inelegantly on women who have already opened their legs for a large number of men. We borrow their vaginas for the night while the greats took their souls.
Pechorin’s had many insights on women and life:
If she is bored in your company for two minutes on end—you are lost irrevocably. Your silence ought to excite her curiosity, your conversation ought never to satisfy it completely; you should alarm her every minute.[…]
I must confess that, in fact, I do not love women who possess strength of character. What business have they with such a thing?[…]
The [dance] began. Grushnitski chose no one but the Princess, other cavaliers chose her every minute: obviously a conspiracy against me—all the better! She wants to talk to me, they are preventing her—she will want [me] twice as much.[…]
I am very glad; I love enemies, though not in the Christian sense. They amuse me, stir my blood. To be always on one’s guard, to catch every glance, the meaning of every word, to guess intentions, to crush conspiracies, to pretend to be deceived and suddenly with one blow to overthrow the whole immense and laboriously constructed edifice of cunning and design–that is what I call life.[…]
Passions are naught but ideas in their first development; they are an attribute of the youth of the heart, and foolish is he who thinks that he will be agitated by them all his life. Many quiet rivers begin their course as noisy waterfalls, and here is not a single stream which will leap or foam throughout its way to the sea. That quietness, however, is frequently the sign of great, though latent, strength.[…]
However passionately I love a woman, if she only gives me to feel that I have to marry her–then farewell, love! My heart is turned to stone, and nothing will warm it anew. I am prepared for any other sacrifice but that; my life twenty times over, nay, my honour I would stake on the fortune of a card… but my freedom I will never sell.[…]
I saw how futile and senseless it was to pursue lost happiness. What more did I want? To see her again? For what?[…]
If I must die, I must! The loss to the world will not be great; and I myself am already downright weary of everything. I am like a guest at a ball, who yawns but does not go home to bed, simply because his carriage has not come for him. But now the carriage is here… Good-bye!…[…]
To none has my love brought happiness, because I have never sacrificed anything for the sake of those I have loved: for myself alone I have loved–for my own pleasure. I have only satisfied the strange craving of my heart, greedily draining their feelings, their tenderness, their joys, their sufferings–and I have never been able to sate myself.
He may be the first writer to eloquently describe a woman’s rationalization mechanism:
I remember that once a woman loved me simply because I was in love with another woman. There is nothing more paradoxical than the female mind; it is difficult to convince a woman of anything; they have to be led into convincing themselves. The order of the proofs by which they demolish their prejudices is most original; to learn their dialectic it is necessary to overthrow in your own mind every scholastic rule of logic.
Beta male behavior was disliked then just as much as now:
“You torture me, Princess!” Grushnitski was saying. “You have changed dreadfully since I saw you last.”
“You, too, have changed,” she answered, casting a rapid glance at him, in which he was unable to detect the latent sneer.
“I! Changed?… Oh, never! You know that such a thing is impossible! Whoever has seen you once will bear your divine image with him for ever.”
“But why will you not let me say tonight what you have so often listened to with condescension—and just recently, too?”
“Because I do not like repetitions,” she answered, laughing.
Overall the book was an enjoyable read but it was missing something that made it great instead of merely good. The wisdom it relayed was a touch incomplete, which makes sense when you realize the author, Mikhail Lermontov, produced it in his mid 20’s. Nonetheless, it’s a short read that I believe is worth your time.
Read More: “A Hero Of Our Time” on Amazon