Lermontov, Mikhail

Mikhail Lermontov, Romantic poet and author of the highly influential novel “A Hero of Our Time,” was born in Moscow to Maria Lermontova, an heiress to rich estates, and Yuri Lermontov, a poor army officer. Thanks to his wealthy and domineering grandmother, Mikhail Lermontov was steeped in the Classics and French Romantic thought from an early age, and at age fourteen he entered a boarding school for the sons of the nobility in Moscow. Here, he developed his passion for poetry, along with a reputation for cruel and sardonic humour. In 1828 he was admitted to Moscow University, where he began writing poetry influenced by Lord Byron and the latter’s cult of personality. After being expelled for disciplinary reasons he attended cadet school in St. Petersburg and in 1834 he was stationed in the city with the Hussar regiment of the Imperial Guards. By 1832 Lermontov had already written two hundred lyric poems, ten long poems and three plays. His passionate eulogy on Pushkin’s murder, “A Poet’s Death,” which was published in 1837, was enthusiastically received in liberal circles but annoyed Tsar Nicholas I, with the result that Lermontov was exiled to the Caucasus. Due to his grandmother’s influence he was permitted to return to St. Petersburg. However, his experience of exile did not temper his critical attitude towards Russia’s aristocratic milieu or his conviction that Russia lacked clear and consistent leadership. After fighting a duel with the son of the French ambassador, he was sent to join a regiment stationed at the Black Sea, where he distinguished himself in combat. In 1841, after feigning illness in order to be sent to the health resort of Pyatigorsk near Moscow, a fellow army officer took umbrage at one of Lermontov’s jokes and killed him in a duel.