A Hero of Our Time
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"A Hero of Our Time" Summary

By Mikhail Lermontov

classics | 208 pages | Published in 2001

A masterpiece of Russian prose, Lermontov's only novel was influential for many later 19th century authors, including Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekhov. Lermotov's hero, Pechorin, is a dangerous man, Byronic in his wasted gifts and his cynicism, and desperate for any kind of action that will stave off boredom. In five linked episodes, Lermontov builds up a portrait of a man caught in and expressing the sickness of his times.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A thrilling and psychologically complex Russian novel that explores the dark and cynical nature of its protagonist.


"A Hero of Our Time" is a gripping and highly acclaimed novel written by Mikhail Lermontov, a prominent Russian writer of the 19th century. This influential work, originally published in 1840, is considered a classic of Russian literature and has been praised for its complex characters, vivid descriptions, and exploration of human psychology.

Brief Synopsis

Set in the picturesque backdrop of the Russian Caucasus Mountains, "A Hero of Our Time" is a collection of interconnected stories that follow the life of Pechorin, an enigmatic and disillusioned young officer. The book is structured as five separate but interrelated stories, each providing a unique perspective on the flawed and complex nature of the protagonist.

Plot Overview and Setting

The novel opens with a foreword, setting the stage for the narrative by revealing that the stories presented were found in the diary of a man named Pechorin. This frame narrative adds depth and intrigue to the overall structure of the book.

The first story, "Bela," introduces us to Pechorin as a cynical and self-absorbed young officer stationed in the Caucasus. He becomes entangled in a triangular love affair between two women, Bela and Azamat. Pechorin manipulates and betrays their affections, showcasing his callous and calculating nature.

The subsequent stories, "Maxim Maximych" and "Taman," continue to delve into Pechorin's character. In "Maxim Maximych," Pechorin recounts his experiences with an aging Circassian officer, highlighting his disrespect for authority and his relentless pursuit of self-interest. "Taman" takes us to a remote fortress, where Pechorin becomes disillusioned with the monotony and emptiness of military life.

The fourth story, "Princess Mary," focuses on Pechorin's encounter with Princess Mary, a beautiful and virtuous woman engaged to another man. Pechorin becomes infatuated with her and goes to great lengths to win her over, only to grow bored and disinterested once he succeeds in his conquest.

The final story, "The Fatalist," provides a glimpse into Pechorin's fatalistic worldview. He shares a tale of a young soldier who believes in fate but seems doomed to die in various situations. Through this story, Pechorin reflects on his own amoral actions and questions whether he, too, is captive to an inevitable destiny.

Main Characters

PechorinThe enigmatic protagonist who serves as the central focus of the novel. Pechorin is a disillusioned officer with a complex and contradictory nature. He manipulates others to fulfill his desires and often shows a lack of empathy.
BelaA young Circassian girl who falls in love with Pechorin. She is naive and innocent, ultimately becoming a victim of Pechorin's calculated machinations.
AzamatBela's lover and rival for Pechorin's affections. He is a proud warrior who becomes consumed by jealousy and revenge.
Princess MaryA beautiful and virtuous woman engaged to be married. Pechorin becomes infatuated with her, seeing her as a challenge to conquer. She represents the ideal of purity and morality.

Themes and Insights

1. Human Nature and Moral Ambiguity
One of the central themes explored in "A Hero of Our Time" is the complex nature of human beings. Pechorin's character embodies moral ambiguity, reflecting the flawed and contradictory aspects of human behavior. Lermontov raises profound questions about the intrinsic capacity for good and evil within every individual, challenging conventional notions of heroism and villainy.

2. Love and Relationships
Throughout the novel, love and relationships are presented as complex and often destructive forces. Pechorin's multiple romantic entanglements serve as a vehicle for exploring desire, manipulation, and the fickle nature of human emotions. The book also contemplates the consequences of pursuing one's own desires at the expense of others' happiness.

3. Society and Its Constraints
Lermontov also critiques the societal norms and constraints that shape the characters' lives. Pechorin rebels against societal expectations and military hierarchy, rejecting predefined roles and expectations. The author highlights the clash between individual desires and the pressures exerted by social conventions.

4. Fate and Determinism
"The Fatalist" story delves into the theme of fate and determinism. Pechorin questions whether individuals have agency over their lives or if they are merely pawns in a greater cosmic design. This exploration provokes contemplation about the role of destiny and the consequences of our actions.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Hero of Our Time" is a thought-provoking and timeless piece of literature that captivates readers with its rich characters and exploration of the complexities of human nature. Lermontov's writing skillfully captures the essence of the human condition, forcing readers to question their own beliefs and assumptions. Through Pechorin's experiences, readers are compelled to reflect on their own motivations, desires, and the consequences of their actions on others.


Mikhail Lermontov's "A Hero of Our Time" is an enduring classic that offers a profound examination of human psychology, moral ambiguity, and the erosive power of love. This novel stands as a masterpiece of Russian literature, captivating readers with its vivid descriptions, complex characters, and insightful exploration of the human condition. As readers immerse themselves in Pechorin's world, they are confronted with uncomfortable truths and forced to confront their own vision of what constitutes a hero.

A Hero of Our Time FAQ

  1. What is 'A Hero of Our Time' about?

    A Hero of Our Time is a novel written by Mikhail Lermontov, which is a series of interconnected narratives about a disillusioned young officer, Pechorin, serving in the Caucasian War.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Hero of Our Time'?

    The author of 'A Hero of Our Time' is Mikhail Lermontov, a Russian writer and poet.

  3. Is 'A Hero of Our Time' based on a true story?

    No, 'A Hero of Our Time' is a work of fiction and is not based on a true story, though it is influenced by the author's own experiences.

  4. When was 'A Hero of Our Time' first published?

    'A Hero of Our Time' was first published in 1840.

  5. What genre does 'A Hero of Our Time' belong to?

    'A Hero of Our Time' belongs to the genre of psychological novel and romanticism.

  6. Is 'A Hero of Our Time' a difficult book to read?

    The level of difficulty in reading 'A Hero of Our Time' may vary depending on the reader's familiarity with Russian literature and the complexity of the narrative structure. It can be considered challenging for some readers.

  7. Are there any film adaptations of 'A Hero of Our Time'?

    Yes, there have been several film adaptations of 'A Hero of Our Time' in various languages. One notable adaptation is the 1955 Soviet film directed by Sergei Gerasimov.

  8. What themes are explored in 'A Hero of Our Time'?

    'A Hero of Our Time' explores themes such as the nature of heroism, love and obsession, the conflict between inner thoughts and outward actions, and the impact of societal expectations on an individual's identity.

  9. Is 'A Hero of Our Time' a recommended read?

    Yes, 'A Hero of Our Time' is often considered a classic of Russian literature and is recommended for readers interested in psychological depth and insightful characterization.

  10. Does 'A Hero of Our Time' have a happy ending?

    'A Hero of Our Time' does not have a conventionally happy ending. It explores complex emotions and often presents a bleak and cynical view of human nature.