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«A Hero of Our Time», Mikhail Lermontov

Contents

The Author's Preface (to the 2nd edition)

Bela

Maksim Maksimich

Introduction to Pechorin's Journal

Taman

Princess Mary

The Fatalist

[Notes]

The Author's Preface

The preface is the first and at the same time the last thing in any book. It serves either to explain the purpose of the work or to defend the author from his critics. Ordinarily, however, readers are concerned with neither the moral nor the journalistic attacks on the author – as a result they don't read prefaces. Well, that's too bad, especially in our country. Our public is still so immature and simple-hearted that it doesn't understand a fable unless it finds the moral at the end. It fails to grasp a joke or sense an irony[5] – it simply hasn't been brought up properly. It's as yet unaware that obvious violent abuse has no place in respectable society and respectable books, that education nowadays has worked out a sharper, almost invisible, but nevertheless deadly weapon, which behind the curtain of flattery cuts with a stab against which there is no defense. Our public is like the person from the sticks[6] who, overhearing a conversation between two diplomats belonging to hostile courts, becomes convinced that each is being false to his government for the sake of a tender mutual friendship.

This book recently had the misfortune of being taken literally by some readers and even some reviewers. Some were seriously shocked at being given a man as amoral as the Hero of Our Time for a model. Others delicately hinted that the author had drawn portraits of himself and his acquaintances... What an old, weak joke! But apparently Russia is made up so that however she may progress in every other respect, she is unable to get rid of foolish ideas like this. With us the most fantastic of fairy tales has hardly a chance of escaping criticism as an attempt to hurt our feelings!

A Hero of Our Time, my dear readers, is indeed a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of all our generation's[7] vices in full bloom. you will again tell me that a human being cannot be so wicked, and I will reply that if you can believe in the existence of all the villains of tragedy and romance, why wouldn't believe that there was a Pechorin[8]? if you could admire far more terrifying and repulsive types, why aren't you more merciful to this character, even if it is fictitious? Isn't it because there's more truth in it than you might wish?

You say that morality will gain nothing by it. Excuse me. People have been fed so much candy they are sick to their stomachs. Now bitter medicine and acid truths are needed. But don't ever think that the author of this book was ever ambitious enough to dream about reforming human vices. May God preserve him from such foolishness! It simply amused him to picture the modern man as he sees him and as he so often-to his own and your own misfortune-has found him to be. It's enough that the disease has been diagnosed – how to cure it only the Lord knows!

Part I[9]

I. Bela

I was traveling along the military road[10] back from Tiflis[11]. the only luggage in the little cart[12] was one small suitcase half full of travel notes about Georgia. Fortunately for you most of them have been lost since then, though luckily for me the case and the rest of the things in it have survived.

The sun was already slipping behind a snow-capped ridge when I drove into Koishaur Valley. The Ossetian coachman, singing at the top of his voice, tirelessly urged his horses on in order to reach the summit of Koishaur Mountain before nightfall. What a glorious spot this valley is! All around it tower awesome mountains, reddish crags draped with hanging ivy and crowned with clusters of plane trees, yellow cliffs grooved by torrents, with a gilded fringe of snow high above, while down below the Aragva River embraces a nameless stream that noisily bursts forth from a black, gloom-filled gorge and then stretches in a silvery ribbon into the distance, its surface shimmering like the scaly back of a snake.

On reaching the foot of the Koishaur Mountain we stopped outside a tavern where some twenty Georgians and mountaineers made up a noisy assembly. Nearby a camel caravan had halted for the night. I saw I would need oxen to haul my carriage to the top of the confounded mountain, for it was already fall and a thin layer of ice covered the ground, and the climb was a mile and a half long.

So I had no choice but to rent six oxen and several Ossetians. One of them lifted up my suitcase and the others started helping the oxen along-though they did little more than shout.

Behind my carriage came another pulled by four oxen with no visible effort, though the vehicle was piled high with baggage. This rather surprised me. In the wake of the carriage walked its owner, puffing at a small silver-inlaid Kabardian[13] pipe. He was wearing an officer's coat without epaulets[14] and a shaggy Circassian[15] cap. He looked about fifty, his tan[16] face showed a long relationship with the Caucasian sun, and his prematurely gray mustache did not match his firm step and vigorous appearance. I went up to him and bowed. He silently returned my greeting, blowing out an enormous cloud of smoke.

"I guess we're fellow travelers?"

He bowed again, but did not say a word.

"I suppose you're going to Stavropol[17]?"

"Yes, sir, I am... with some government baggage."

"Will you please explain to me how it is that four oxen easily manage to pull your heavy carriage while six animals can barely haul my empty one with the help of all these Ossetians?"

He smiled wisely, casting a glance at me as if to size me up.

"I bet you haven't been long in the Caucasus?"

"About a year," I replied.

He smiled again.

"Why do you ask?"

"No particular reason, sir. They're awful good-for-nothings, these Asiatics[18]! you don't think their yelling helps much, do you? You can't tell what the hell they're saying. But the oxen understand them all right. Hitch up twenty of the animals if you want to and they won't budge as soon as those fellows begin yelling in their own language. . . Terrific cheats, they are. But what can you do about them? They do like to skin the traveler. Spoiled, they are, the robbers!... you'll see they'll make you tip them too. I know them by now, they won't fool me!"

"Have you served long in these parts?"


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