A Hero of Our Time June 3

I often ask myself why I strive so doggedly for the love of young ladies whom I don’t want to seduce and whom I will never marry! What is this feminine coquetry for? Vera loves me more than Princess Mary will ever love; if she had seemed an unconquerable beauty, then maybe I would be enticed by the difficulty of the enterprise . . . But not a bit! This is not that restless need for love, which torments us in the early years of youth and throws us from one woman to the other, until we find one that can’t stand us. At that point our constancy begins—the true, everlasting love, which can be mathematically expressed with a line falling from a point into space—and the secret of this everlastingness lies in the impossibility of attaining its goal, that is, the end.

So why am I going to such pains? Out of envy for Grushnitsky? The poor thing, he doesn’t deserve it at all. Or is this the result of that nasty but invincible feeling that makes us destroy the sweet delusions of a dear friend, in order to have the petty satisfaction of telling him, when in despair he asks you what he should believe: “My friend, I have had the same thing happen. And yet, as you can see, I enjoy dinner and supper and sleep very peacefully, and, I hope, I will be able to die without shouts and tears.”

But there is an unbounded pleasure to be had in the possession of a young, newly blossoming soul! It is like a flower, from which the best aroma evaporates when meeting the first ray of the sun; you must pluck it at that minute, breathing it in until you’re satisfied, and then throw it onto the road: perhaps someone will pick it up! I feel this insatiable greed, which swallows everything it meets on its way. I look at the suffering and joy of others only in their relation to me, as though it is food that supports the strength of my soul. I myself am not capable of going mad under the influence of passion. My ambition is stifled by circumstances, but it has manifested itself in another way, for ambition is nothing other than a thirst for power, and my best pleasure is to subject everyone around me to my will, to arouse feelings of love, devotion and fear of me—is this not the first sign and the greatest triumph of power? Being someone’s reason for suffering while not being in any position to claim the right—isn’t this the sweetest nourishment for our pride? And what is happiness? Sated pride. If I considered myself to be better, more powerful than everyone in the world, I would be happy. If everyone loved me, I would find endless sources of love within myself. Evil spawns evil. The first experience of torture gives an understanding of the pleasure in tormenting others. An evil idea cannot enter a person’s head without his wanting to bring it into reality: ideas are organic creations, someone once said. Their birth gives them form immediately, and this form is an action. The person in whom most ideas are born is the person who acts most. Hence a genius, riveted to his office desk, must die or lose his mind, just as a man with a powerful build who has a sedentary life and modest behavior will die from an apoplectic fit. Passions are nothing other than the first developments of an idea: they are a characteristic of the heart’s youth, and whoever thinks to worry about them his whole life long is a fool: many calm rivers begin with a noisy waterfall, but not one of them jumps and froths until the very sea. And this calm is often the sign of great, though hidden, strength. The fullness and depth of both feeling and thought will not tolerate violent upsurges. The soul, suffering and taking pleasure, takes strict account of everything and is always convinced that this is how things should be. It knows that without storms, the constant sultriness of the sun would wither it. It is infused with its own life—it fosters and punishes itself, like a child. And it is only in this higher state of self-knowledge that a person can estimate the value of divine justice.

As I re-read this page, I notice that I have substantially digressed from my subject . . . But what of it? . . . I am, after all, writing these diaries for myself, and therefore, whatever I throw into it, will become, in time, precious recollections.

Grushnitsky came in and threw his arms around my neck. He was made an officer. We drank champagne. Doctor Werner came in after him.

“I do not congratulate you,” he said to Grushnitsky.

“And why not?”

“Because, the soldier’s greatcoat suits you very much, and you have to admit that an infantry uniform, tailored here at the spa, will not bestow on you any allure . . . Do you see that until now you were an exception, and now you will join the general rule?”

“Goad me, Doctor! You won’t stop me from celebrating. He doesn’t know,” added Grushnitsky in my ear, “how much hope these epaulets have given me . . . Oh, epaulets, epaulets! Your little stars, your little guiding stars. No—I am now completely happy!”

“Are you coming to walk with us to the chasm?” I asked him.

“Me? I will absolutely not show myself to the princess until my uniform is ready.”

“Would you like us to make your joy known to her?”

“No, if you please, don’t tell her . . . I want her to see me . . .”

“Tell me, then, how are matters between you and her?”

He became embarrassed and thoughtful: he had a desire to boast, to tell lies—and yet he was ashamed to lie. But he was also ashamed to admit to the truth.

“What do you think—does she love you?”

“Love me? For pity’s sake, Pechorin, what notions you have! . . . How could that be, so soon? . . . Yes, and even if she does love me, then a proper lady wouldn’t say it . . .”

“Good! And, in your opinion I suppose, a proper person should also keep silent about his passions?”

“Eh, brother! There is a manner of behaving in everything; a lot goes unsaid, but is guessed . . .”

“That is true . . . But the love that we read in the eyes does not oblige a woman as words can . . . Be careful, Grushnitsky, that she doesn’t dupe you . . .”

“She?” he replied, lifting his eyes to the sky and smiling with self-satisfaction, “I feel sorry for you, Pechorin!”

He went off.

In the evening a large gathering set off to the chasm on foot.

In the opinion of the local scientists, this chasm is nothing other than an extinguished crater. It is located on the slopes of Mount Mashuk, one verst from the town. A narrow path leads to it between the shrubbery and crags; climbing up the hill, I gave my hand to Princess Mary, and she didn’t let go of it for the whole remaining portion of the walk.

Our conversation began with gossip: I started to go through our acquaintances, both present and absent. At first I exposed their amusing sides, and then their bad sides. My bile was excited. I began by jesting—and finished with sincere malice. Initially this amused her, and then it frightened her.

“You are a dangerous person!” she said to me. “I would rather be caught in the forest under the knife of a murderer than by your tongue . . . I beg of you in all seriousness: when it occurs to you to speak badly about me, take a knife instead and stab me—I don’t think you’ll find it difficult.”

“Do I really look like a murderer?”

“You are worse . . .”

I became pensive for a minute and then, adopting an air of being deeply troubled, said:

“Yes, such has been my lot since early childhood. Everyone would read on my face evil signs that weren’t even there. But they were assumed to be there, and so they were born in me. I was modest—and I was accused of craftiness: I started to be secretive. I had deep feelings of good and evil. No one caressed me; everyone insulted me. I became rancorous. I was sullen—other children were merry and chatty. I felt myself to be superior to them—and I was made inferior. I grew envious. I was prepared to love the whole world—and no one understood me—and I learned to hate. My colorless youth elapsed in a struggle with myself and the world. Fearing mockery, I buried my most worthy feelings in the depths of my heart: and they died there. I was telling the truth—and no one believed me—so I started lying. Having become familiar with the world and the mechanics of society, I became skillful in the science of life, but I saw how others without such art were happy, blessed with the advantages for which I tirelessly strived. And then, despair was born in my breast—and not the kind of despair that can be cured by the bullet of a pistol, but a cold, impotent despair, masked by politeness and a good-natured smile. I became a moral cripple: one half of my soul didn’t exist; it had dried out, evaporated, died. I had cut it off and thrown it away—while the other half stirred and lived at everyone’s service, and no one noticed this because no one knew about the other half, which had died. But now you have awakened the memory of it and I have read you its epitaph. To many, epitaphs are funny, but not to me, especially when I remember what lies beneath this one. However, I don’t ask you to share my opinion: if my antics are funny to you—please laugh. I let you know in advance that it won’t distress me in the least.”

At that minute I met her eyes: there were tears running from them. Her hand, leaning on mine, was trembling. Her cheeks were glowing. She was sorry for me! Compassion—a feeling to which women submit themselves so easily—had sunk its talons into her inexperienced heart. She was distracted throughout the whole excursion and didn’t flirt with anyone—and this was a great sign!

We arrived at the chasm; ladies abandoned their cavaliers, but she didn’t let go of my hand. The witticisms of the local dandies didn’t make her laugh. The steepness of the precipice at which she stood didn’t scare her, while the other young ladies squeaked and closed their eyes.

On the way back I didn’t resume our melancholy conversation, and she responded shortly and distractedly to my empty questions and jokes.

“Have you ever loved?” I asked her toward the end.

She looked at me intently, shook her head—and again fell into reverie: it was obvious that she wanted to say something, but she didn’t know how to start. Her breast was excited . . . What was there to be done? Her muslin sleeves were a weak defense against the electric spark that ran from my arm to hers. Almost all passions begin this way, and we often deceive ourselves, thinking that a woman loves us for our physical or moral attributes. Of course, these things prepare her heart for receiving the holy fire, but it is still the first bite that decides the whole matter.

“Wouldn’t you agree that I was most cordial today?” the princess said to me with a forced smile when we had returned from the excursion.

We parted.

She was dissatisfied with herself: she had accused herself of coldness . . . Oh, this is the first major triumph! Tomorrow she will want to recompense me. I know this all by heart already—that’s what’s so boring!