of the Dutch ambassador to Russia. The poem could not appear in print due to its subject matter and the fact that many considered that the Tsar himself had been involved in a plot to have Pushkin killed. Nonetheless, it was circulated in thousands of hand- written copies. However, when the authorities discovered the identity of the poem's author, Lermontov was arrested and sent to join an infantry regiment stationed in a remote part of the Caucasus.
Not missing his Petersburg friends and enjoying the time that was afforded him for exploiting his creative energies during this period, Lermontov even wrote the following to his friend Rayevsky: "At the moment I have no wishes. I would gladly remain in this place and watch its scenery to the end of my days." During this time Lermontov reached maturity as a poet, and was to use the Caucasian landscape as a background for his two best verse tales: The Novice and The Demon, and also for his prose masterpiece A Hero of Our Time.
However, following great efforts on the part of his grandmother, Lermontov was allowed to leave the Caucasus in the autumn of that same year, and after a short spell serving in a regiment stationed at Novgorod, was permitted to rejoin his Hussars at Tsarskoe Selo in January 1838. On his return to Petersburg the newly popular poet was lionised by the same high society which had previously ignored him, and whether sincerely or from inverted snobbery, Lermontov claimed to be bored by it all, soon turning to a deliberate lack of manners in order to assert himself against his social betters and was therefore considered an undesirable outsider.
At this time Lermontov was regularly contributing to periodicals, which in Russia played a more important role than anywhere else in Europe. In 1840 he published his first collection of poems as well as his novel, A Hero of Our Time, both of which were received with much enthusiasm by the pre-eminent critic of the time, Belinsky, who was also Lermontov's greatest champion. However, while on a literary level Lermontov was now 'safe', on a deeper level his own divided personality meant that people were rarely sure what to think of him. Very interesting is Ivan Turgenev's description of him at a ball in 1840:
"In Lermontov's appearance there was something sinister and tragic, a kind of dark and fatal strength, spiteful melancholy and a fervent passion imprinted on his swarthy face, in his big, dark and motionless eyes. Their heavy look formed a strange contrast to the expression of his slightly protruding lips, which were tender like the lips of a child. His thickset frame, his bow-legs, big head, large shoulders and slightly bent figure made an unpleasant impression; still, one could not help feeling in him a certain power... It is beyond any doubt that, following the fashion of the period, he had adopted a certain Byronic style seasoned with even worse whims and caprices of his own. But he paid a terrible penalty for them. It seems that in the depth of his heart Lermontov was profoundly bored. He felt stifled in the narrow sphere to which he had been relegated by fate."
It seems also that Lermontov took a perverse pleasure in inciting quarrels and misunderstandings, and thus in 1840 he argued at a ball with the son of the French ambassador and historian de Barante and thereafter duelled with him and was lightly wounded. As a result of the duel, which was considered somewhat scandalous, Lermontov was once again arrested and sent back to the Caucasus.
During this second period in the Caucasus, seemingly inspired by some sort of romantic death wish, Lermontov took part in many bloody skirmishes with the Caucasian mountain tribesmen and was recommended for medals and gold sabre for valour. His grandmother desperately tried to obtain a pardon for him so that he could return from his exile to Petersburg, but the Tsar on reading A Hero of Our Time is reputed to have commented on its author's "depravity" and thus Lermontov was in utter disgrace. He was refused a release from the army, but was allowed an extended leave, which enabled him to spend the first three or four months of 1841 in St. Petersburg and partly in Moscow.
Travelling back to the Caucasus with his cousin "Mongo" Stolypin in the spring he broke his journey for a while at the fashionable spa-town of Pyatigorsk (which features prominently in A Hero of Our Time) on finding several old friends and acquaintances there. Amongst these was a certain Major Martynov.
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