A Hero of Our Time Foreword

A foreword is both the first and the last thing to a book: it serves either to explain the aims of the work, or to justify it and respond to its critics. But usually, the reader is not involved in moral purpose or journalistic offensives, and hence they don’t read forewords. This is a shame, especially for our country. Our audience is still so young and simple-hearted, it wouldn’t recognize a fable if there weren’t a moral at the end of the story. It doesn’t anticipate jokes, it doesn’t have a feel for irony; it is simply badly educated. It doesn’t yet know that overt abuse has neither a place in proper society, nor in a proper book; that the contemporary intellect has devised sharper weapons, almost invisible, but nonetheless deathly, which, under the clothing of flattery, deliver an irresistible and decisive blow. Our audience is like a provincial person, who overhears a conversation between two diplomats belonging to enemy sovereignties, and is left convinced that they are both betraying their governments for the sake of mutual, affectionate friendship.

Not long ago, several readers, and some journals even, succumbed to the misfortune of believing in the literal meanings of the words in this book. Some were awfully offended, in all seriousness, at the fact that they were presented with such an unprincipled person as the “hero of our time”; indeed, others very shrewdly observed that the author had painted his own portrait and the portraits of his acquaintances . . . That sorry, old ruse! But, apparently, Rus’1 is a creature in whom everything is constantly being renewed except nonsense such as this. The most magical of our magical fairy tales can barely escape the reproach that it is an attempt at insulting certain people!

A Hero of Our Time, my gracious sirs, is indeed a portrait, but not of one person: it is a portrait composed of the flaws of our whole generation in their fullest development. You will tell me that a person cannot be as nasty as this, but I’ll say to you that you have believed in the possible existences of every other tragic and romantic scoundrel, so why won’t you believe in the actuality of Pechorin? Since you have admired much more terrible and monstrous figments of imagination, why can’t you find mercy in yourselves for this character, just as a figment of imagination? Could it be that there is more truth to him, than you might like . . . ?

Will you say that morality gains nothing from all of this? Forgive me. Enough people have been fed on sweets: their guts have rotted from them. What is needed is a bitter medicine, the pungent truth. But do not think now that the author of this book has had the proud impulse to remedy human flaws. God cure him of such audacity! It simply amused him to paint the contemporary person, one that he understands, and to his misfortune has come across too often.