50 pages 1 hour read

Mikhail Lermontov

A Hero Of Our Time

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1838

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Historical Context: Social Change in Early 19th-Century Russia

Lermontov wrote A Hero of Our Time in 1840, when Russia was undergoing significant political and social change. The first half of the 19th century saw the expansion of Russian territory under Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825), particularly with the Russo-Persian War (1801-1813), in which Russia gained control of much of the Caucasus region. Napoleon stopped Alexander I’s expansion into Eastern Europe during the Patriotic War of 1812, in what became one of the most famous military campaigns in history. However, the region would remain contested throughout the 19th century.

Though Russia and France were political enemies, the Russian nobility had adopted elements of French culture and Enlightenment ideals under Catherine the Great in the late 1700s. Alexander I continued to encourage Enlightenment ideals, which put the Russian upper classes in even closer contact with Europe. It was common for the Russian nobility to speak at least some French, and young Russian men of the nobility began studying in France. As a result, they adopted its liberal, democratic values, including the idea of abolishing serfdom.

This French influence led to the Decembrist Revolt in 1825, in which a liberal element of the Russian military fought against the succession of Nicholas I to the throne after Alexander I’s death.