London: Ingram, Cooke & Co., 1853. First edition in English. Original publisher's cloth binding embossed in gilt and blind. Yellow endpapers. Extremities a bit bumped, and small splits to cloth of spine at crown, center, and foot of front joint; front hinge cracked but holding. Bookseller's blindstamp of Swinerton & Brown and ownership signature of S. Powell to front endpaper. Internally else clean and unmarked. Collating 315, [1, blank], [4, Illustrated Family Novelist adverts]: complete, with engraved frontis, vignette title page, and six engraved plates. The first appearance in English, not only of Lermontov's masterpiece, but of any major Russian novel. This book was re-translated and re-published the following year, 1854, the same year that a second major novel of the Russian literary canon was released, Gogol's Dead Souls. Institutionally well represented, it is nonetheless exceptionally scarce in trade. No copies appear in the modern auction record; and the present is the only complete copy on the market.
"Inspired by the writings of Lord Byron and Lermontov's own countryman Alexander Pushkin, A Hero of Our Time stands as the first significant prose novel in Russian literature. In its protagonist, Pechorin, Lermontov creates an exemplar of the brooding, alienated youth whose depiction many writers have striven to imitate but few have ever surpassed. Guided by Lermontov's frank narration, the reader follows Pechorin through a series of dramatic adventures, in which gamblers, smugglers, Circassian guerillas, and pistol-wielding dualists all have their parts to play. Page by page, with unerring psychological discernment, Lermontov reveals his main character as a master manipulator" (Foote).
Initially published in St. Petersburg in 1840, the present edition was issued in the "elegant and rather miscellaneous" Illustrated Family Novelist series (Sadleir). Presented as a narrative "By a Russe," the omission of Lermontov's name may have been a tactic for avoiding exposure to the wider anti-Russian sentiment caused by the Crimean War, while enticing those English readers who found the exoticism of Russia "deeply and painfully interesting" (May). Certainly it worked to promote sales of Lermontov's work, under his name or not; and two more translations of his work appeared in 1854. "Although the work plainly recalls the Byronic antiheroes of the earlier century, it also lent inspiration to the masterpieces of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and brilliantly anticipated the existential fiction of the twentieth century. A bitter satire of its own age as well as a timeless reflection on the very possibility of heroism in an absurd, dislocated universe" (Foote). (Item #3939)