Part One: I "Bela"

Introductory note

The structure of A Hero of Our Time is unusual for a novel and has even lead some critics to suggest that it does not in fact belong to that genre. The work is made up of five separate parts, each of which is complete in itself and each reveals new facets of the hero Pechorin's character. There is no discernible plot to link the five sections together, but there is a deducible chronological framework, although the stories are not presented in the order in which they are supposed to have taken place. The episodes taken from Pechorin's "journal" ("Taman", "Princess Mary" and "The Fatalist") come last in the book although chronologically they precede the events of the earlier sections ("Bela" and "Maxim Maximych"). By ordering the stories in such a way, Lermontov introduces the reader gradually to the intricacies of Pechorin's dark character. First, in "Bela" the view received is that told by a warm- hearted, simple old soldier and former comrade-in-arms of Pechorin, Maxim Maximych. Then, in "Maxim Maximych" the reader is made privy to the author's own more sophisticated observations when he observes Pechorin in a chance encounter. The following sections of the novel, which are ostensibly lifted from Pechorin's own private journals, then allow the reader to see a detailed psychological analysis of the hero as conducted by the man himself.

The prose style used by Lermontov for the novel is less simple perhaps than that of Pushkin while still preserving great flexibility within a disciplined writing style. Lermontov shows mastery of varied registers, from the romantic descriptive terms of his images of the stunning Caucasian mountain-scapes to the cold, ironical detachment of Pechorin's descriptions of himself and others, to the simple speech of Maxim Maximych. This latter style, which was to later be employed by authors such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn to great effect, is known as 'skaz'.

Part One: I "Bela"

The reader is introduced to the main subject of the novel, that is its hero Pechorin, through the medium of an anonymous author / narrator. This character is some sort of writer of travel notes and at the beginning of the novel he describes a journey of his from Tiflis in Georgia over the Caucasian mountain passes and into the Northern Caucasian foothills in Russia. The narrator, needing to reach the top of a certain mountain valley by nightfall, is forced to hire bullocks and native Ossetian drivers (Ossetia is an area of the Caucasus with its own indigenous people. It is now divided into the two semi-autonomous administrative regions of Northern and Southern Ossetia). Ascending the hillside the narrator enters into conversation with another traveller, the old soldier Maxim Maximych. When weather forces the travellers to spend the night in a mountain hut together the narrator encourages Maxim Maximych to tell a story from his long experience serving in the army in the Caucasus, and it is when he embarks on his tale that the character of Pechorin first appears.

Maxim Maximych tells how a young officer of around twenty-five arrived at his fort over the River Terek about five years previously and stayed there for about a year. Having said this he incites the narrator's curiosity by saying of Pechorin: "He led me a dance alright... some people are fated to have unusual things happen to them." before embarking on his tale. He explains how there was a friendly chief who lived near their fort whose son, a lively, mischievous and stubborn lad called Azamat, often came to the fort. Once his father invited Maxim and Pechorin to the wedding of his eldest daughter. At the wedding the chief's youngest daughter, a beautiful girl of about fifteen called Bela, sings a song of praise to Pechorin, who is instantly taken by her. Among the guests Maxim notices a renowned native daredevil and bandit, Kazbich, and later when he leaves the chief's tent to get some air he overhears a conversation between Kazbich and Azamat, who is desperate to have Kazbich's horse, his most prized possession, for himself. Kazbich explains that he would part with the animal at no price and Azamat, in desperation tells him that he will steal anything from his father, even his daughter Bela in return for the horse, but Kazbich will not budge. This throws Azamat into a fury; he attacks Kazbich, who pushes him away. Azamat then runs and tells the others that he has been attacked and they come rushing out, a short skirmish ensues and Kazbich escapes.

Back at the fort Maxim tells Pechorin of the conversation he overheard, regretting it when he realises that Pechorin himself is formulating some sort of plan.

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