In the 19th-century book A Hero Of Our Time, Russian author Mikhail Lermontov describes the life of a selfish, nihilistic Casanova who can’t seem to satisfy his itch for adventure and women. The protagonist lived not like a child of God but a beast, and allowed his fallen human nature to hurt others for fun and games. This book is the diary of every modern man who aims to live his life according to his passions, and sadly I recognized a lot of the behaviors and sentiments in my own past.

The world can never satisfy your boredom

As a young man, as soon as I got my freedom I threw myself wildly into all the pleasures that money can buy, and soon got tired of them, needless to say. Then I went in for society high-life and before long I was tired of that too. I fell in love with women of fashion and was loved in return. But their love merely stirred my imagination and vanity, my heart remained empty. I took to reading and study, but grew tired of that too. I saw I had no need of learning to win fame of happiness, for the happiest people are the ignoramuses, and fame is a matter of luck and you only need to be smart to get it. I got bored after that.


If you like, I’m still in love with her. I’m grateful to her for a few moments of relative bliss. I’d give my life for her. But she bores me. I don’t know whether I’m a fool or a scoundrel, but one thing I am sure of is that I’m just as much to be pitied as she is, perhaps even more. My soul’s been corrupted by society. My imagination knows no peace, my heart no satisfaction. I’m never satisfied. I grow used to sorrow as easily as I do to pleasure, and my life gets emptier every day. The only thing left for me is to travel. As soon as I can I’ll leave. Not for Europe, though, not on your life. I’ll go to America, Arabia, India. With luck I’ll die somewhere on the way. At least I can be sure that with storms and bad roads to help this final solace will last me a while.

Seducing a woman through suffering

I met her in Chelakhov’s shop yesterday. She was haggling over the price of a Persian rug and pleading with mama not to begrudge her it, as it would look so nice in her study. I offered forty roubles more and bought it from under her nose. I was rewarded with a superb look of fury. Near dinner time I had my horse walked specially past her windows with the rug draped over him. Werner was visiting them at the time and told me that the effect of this scene was most dramatic.


‘Tell me, does it amuse you very much to torture me? I ought to hate you. Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve brought me nothing but suffering…’

Her voice trembled, she leaned towards me and lowered her head upon my breast. Perhaps that’s why you loved me, I thought. Moments of happiness one forgets, but sorrow never.

Women who don’t serve the good fall in love with evil men

I really can’t think why she is so fond of me, especially since she’s the only woman who’s ever properly understood me and all my petty weaknesses and unhealthy passions. Can evil be so attractive?


I remember one woman who loved me simply because I was in love with someone else. There’s nothing more paradoxical than the female mind, and you can never convince a woman of anything—you have to arrange matters so that they convince themselves. The chain of reasoning they employ to overcome their own prejudices is extremely original, and if you want to master their dialectic you have to turn all the textbook rules of logic upside-down. For example, a normal approach would be: ‘This man loves me, but I’m married, so I mustn’t love him’. But a woman’s approach would be: ‘I mustn’t love him, because I’m married, but he loves me, so…’I have to use dots here, for now the voice of reason is silent, and it’s mainly the tongue, eyes and heart (if there is one) which do all the talking.

The narcissistic man runs away from commitment

However much I loved a woman, the first hint that she expected me to marry her would banish my love for good. My heart would turn to stone, its warmth gone for ever. I’ll make any sacrifice except this one. I’ll hazard my life, even my honour, twenty times, but I will not sell my freedom.

Why do I value it so much? What use is it to me? What am I preparing myself for? What do I expect from the future? Absolutely nothing.

I have this innate fear, this uncanny premonition. After all, some people are unaccountably afraid of spiders, cockroaches and mice.

The inner hell of a godless existence

I’ve been going over my past, and I can’t help wondering why I’ve lived, for what purpose I was born. There must have been some purpose, I must have had some high object in life, for I feel unbounded strength within me. But I never discovered it and was carried away by the allurements of empty, unrewarding passions. I was tempered in their flames and came out cold and hard as steel, but I’d lost for ever the fire of noble endeavor, that finest flower of life. How many times since then have I been the axe in the hands of fate? Like an engine of execution, I’ve descended on the heads of the condemned, often without malice, but always without pity. My love has brought no one happiness, for I’ve never sacrificed a thing for those I’ve loved. I’ve loved for myself, for my own pleasure, I’ve only tried to satisfy a strange inner need. I’ve fed on their feelings, love, joys and sufferings, and always wanted more. I’m like a starving man who falls asleep exhausted and sees rich food and sparking wines before him. He rapturously falls on these phantom gifts of the imagination and feels better, but the moment he wakes up his dream disappear and he’s left more hungry and desperate than before.

And perhaps tomorrow I’ll die, and then there’ll be no one who could ever really understand me. Some will think me worse, others better than in fact I am. Some will say I was a good fellow, others that I was a swine. Neither will be right. So why bother to live? One just goes on living out of curiosity, waiting for something new. It’s absurd and annoying.

I’m afraid to ask if A Hero Of Our Time is autobiographical because Mikhail Lermontov was known to be a passionate man who caused scandal during his sprees. One time, he went too far needling a man who challenged him to a duel. He was shot in the heart at age 26. May we learn how not to live from his engaging novel.

Learn More: A Hero Of Our Time on Amazon