Born October 3 in Moscow to Yurii Petrovich, a retired officer
of questionable heritage (he claimed to be of Spanish and
Scottish ancestry), and Marya Mikhailovna (nee Arsenieva),
a wealthy--though sickly--member of the Stolypin family.
Family moves to the family estate of Marya Mikhailovna at
Tarkhany in the Penza province.
Marya Mikhailovna dies in February and Yurii Petrovich moves
to the Tula province, leaving him to be raised by his maternal
grandmother, Elizaveta Alekseevna Arsenieva (nee Stolypina).
Mikhail Yur'evich spends a mostly happy childhood in his
grandmother's care, receiving private tutoring and achieving
early notoriety as a skilled artist and musician.
Elizaveta Alekseevna moves to Moscow in order for Lermontov
to receive a more intensive education. Returns briefly to
Enrolls in Moscow University's School for Nobility, where
he earns the nickname "Frog" and excels in his
studies of literature. He begins translating (mostly from
German and English) and writing poetry. His earliest lyrics
and other writings, which he published in the school's literary
journal, display the poet's love for Schiller, Byron and
Pushkin. Begins his first draft
of what eventually becomes Демон ("The Demon"),
a narrative poem that Lermontov worked on throughout his
adult life and which was only published posthumously, in
1842. Although not particularly popular at school, his grandmother's
family connections allowed Lermontov into many of Moscow's
most elite social circles, where his wit and talent gain
him much favor. He becomes known throughout Society for
his beautiful and sometimes acerbic epigrams and album verses.
It is in these early poetic fragments especially that Lermontov
developed his characteristic method of incorporating, and
thus refreshing, quotations and references from other famous
poets' work. Enrolls in Moscow University proper, but does
not exert much effort in his studies, instead turning his
attention to poetry, to society, and to several (mostly
Lermontov's father, with whom he had only limited contact
throughout his childhood, dies.
Withdraws from Moscow University and moves to St. Petersburg
with the intent of studying at the university there. St.
Petersburg University, however, rejects Lermontov's transfer
application, refusing to accept his work at Moscow University,
where he had done more offending of professors than schoolwork.
Consequently enrolls in Junker School (School of Cavalry
Cadets) in St.Petersburg. Pens some of his most famous lyrics,
such as Парус ("The
Sail") and Нет, я не Байрон ("No, I am not
Byron"), in this transitional period. Хаджи Абрек (Khadzhi
Abrek), a narrative poem, appears as Lermontov's first
published work in 1833 in Bilblioteka dllya chteniya. As
he enters the soldier's life, Lermontov shifts his creative
focus away from the lyrics of his youth to more "mature"
material that reflected his new surroundings, which included
more debauchery than romance. The poems from this period
are commonly referred to as Lermontov's "Hussar poems,"
and he also began working on prose fiction at this time.
Finishes School with the rank of Cornet (equivalent of Second
Upon graduation from the Junker School, Lermontov is stationed
in the elite regiment of Hussar Life Guards in Tsarskoe
Selo. During this period, Lermontov leads an increasingly
hectic and paradoxical existence. While his literary activities
both intensify and diversify, Lermontov's social life is
that of a Society darling and an officer. However immersed
he seemed in the delights and dramas of social life in the
capital, Lermontov privately-and gradually publicly-became
more and more critical of the pretentiousness and superficiality
of that life. Lermontov's most famous dramatic work, Маскарад
(The Mascarade), published in 1836, expresses his
growing disdain for the vagaries of the nobles' social life
in the capital. This development culminated in his famous
response to the death of his much beloved Pushkin in a duel.
Circulated and distributed via unofficial channels throughout
St. Petersburg in February of 1837, Lermontov's poem Смерть
поэта (Death of a Poet) laments the loss of Russia's
greatest poet and even implicates the court in his death.
The poem exhibits Lermontov's typically brash, technically
ostentatious and precise style and was almost solely responsible
for catapulting the poet into the national spotlight. Wary
of any insurrection, the Tsar's government transfers Lermontov
to the front in the Caucasus, to the Nizhegorodsky Dragoons.
In June, publishes Поле Бородино (Borodino Field),
a narrative poem, in Sovremennik, a journal begun by Pushkin.
The poem is a narrative account of Kutuzov's famous battle
against Napoleon and celebrates the twentieth anniversary
of the Russian's defeat of the French and expresses Lermontov's
enthusiastic patriotism. Not coincidentally, by year's end
Lermontov is transferred closer to the capital, to Novgorod,
thanks in part to his patriotism but more importantly to
the influence in court of his grandmother.
Readmitted to the capital and granted full pardon; transfers
service back to Hussars in Tsarskoe Selo and resumes voracious
social life, which now intensifies to the extent that he
begins to ignore some of his military duties. Regular publication
begins, first of lyrics, then of longer narrative poems,
beginning with Тамбовская казначейша (The Tambov Treasurer's
Wife), in Sovremennik, under the direction of Russia's
two most important living poets, Viazemsky
ad Zhukovsky. Begins work on
the final version of Demon. Increased disenchantment
with high society coincides with intensification of creative
output. Otechestvennye Zapiski begins frequent publication
of Lermontov's lyrics. Promoted to full Lieutenant.
At a New Year's Eve ball attended by all of high society,
including a young Ivan Turgenev, Lermontov insults two of
the Tsar's daughters. In February, he publishes a poem called
"The First of January," ostensibly about that
evening, which is especially scornful of society generally
and of a few of its members in particular. Finally, in March
Lermontov involves himself in a duel with the French ambassador's
son that, although no one is hurt, results in the poet's
arrest and second exile to the Caucasus to the Tenginsky
Infantry Regiment. While under arrest, Lermontov befriends
the critic Vissarion Belinsky, publishes both the first
edition of his masterpiece, Герой нашего времени (Hero
of Our Time) and the most famous (in his lifetime) of
his narrative poems, Мцыри (The Circassian Boy),
and attends Nikolay Gogol's name-day party in Moscow on
the way to his new post in the Caucasus. Sometime during
this first stage of exile, Lermontov also writes one of
his more famous lyrics, Тучи ("The Clouds"), which
expresses the poet's (very typically Romantic) feeling of
free from concerns of social and political convention. At
the front in the Caucasus, Lermontov, hoping to return to
official favor, insinuates his way into several battles
and displays remarkable bravery. His grandmother again lobbies
for leniency for Lermontov, this time convincing the authorities
to allow him two months' leave. Lermontov is recommended
for an official award for valor in battle.
Receives two-month pass from army in early January and arrives
in St. Petersburg in early February, where, despite still
being under official condemnation, he immediately attends
a society ball, thus provoking even further consternation
from the authorities. This last St. Petersburg period includes
a flurry of creative output, including the publication of
the final edition of Hero of Our Time and many of
the poet's most famous lyrics, two of which-- Выхожу
один я на дорогу ("I go out onto the road alone...")
and Сон ("The Dream")
-- prefigure the oncoming tragic events. Outstays his two-month
pass and, in mid-April, is sent immediately back to the
front, where he arrives in May to the town of Pyatigorsk.
On July 15, a retired army major, Nikolay Martynov, whom
Lermontov had continually derided and mocked since his arrival,
shoots and kills Lermontov in a duel.
of critical works on M. Iu. Lermontov