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LERMONTOV, Mikhail



A Hero of Our Time

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I have an unfortunate character; whether it is my upbringing that made me like that or God who created me so, I do not know. I know only that if I cause unhappiness to others, I myself am no less happy. I realize this is poor consolation for them - but the fact remains that it is so. In my early youth, after leaving the guardianship of my parents, I plunged into all the pleasures money could buy, and naturally these pleasures grew distasteful to me. Then I went into high society, but soon enough grew tired of it; I fell in love with beautiful society women and was loved by them, but their love only aggravated my imagination and vanity while my heart remained desolate... I began to read and to study, but wearied of learning, too; I saw that neither fame nor happiness depended on it in the slightest, for the happiest people were the ignorant, and fame was a matter of luck, to achieve which you only had to be shrewd.

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Yes, such has been my lot since childhood. Everyone read signs of non-existent evil traits in my features. But since they were expected to be there, they did make their appearance. Because I was reserved, they said I was sly, so I grew reticent. I was keenly aware of good and evil, but instead of being indulged I was insulted and so I became spiteful. I was sulky while other children were merry and talkative, but though I felt superior to them I was considered inferior. So I grew envious. I was ready to love the whole world, but no one understood me, and I learned to hate. My cheerless youth passed in conflict with myself and society, and fearing ridicule I buried my finest feelings deep in my heart, and there they died. I spoke the truth, but nobody believed me, so I began to practice duplicity. Having come to know society and its mainsprings, I became versed in the art of living and saw how others were happy without that proficiency, enjoying for free the favors I had so painfully striven for. It was then that despair was born in my heart--not the despair that is cured with a pistol, but a cold, impotent desperation, concealed under a polite exterior and a good-natured smile. I became a moral cripple; I had lost one half of my soul, for it had shriveled, dried up and died, and I had cut it off and cast it away, while the other half stirred and lived, adapted to serve every comer. No one noticed this, because no one suspected there had been another half. Now, however, you have awakened memories of it in me, and what I have just done is to read its epitaph to you. Many regard all epitaphs as ridiculous, but I do not, particularly when I remember what rests beneath them.

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