He is very well-aware (and almost alarmed by) his purposelessness and a tendency towards self-destruction
(Supposedly, Lermontov himself was not the nicest person. A very wealthy and spoiled young man, he was famous for seducing women and breaking their hearts, writing rambunctious and lurid poetry after joining a cadet school, a sharp and caustic wit that could border on casual cruelty, impressive intelligence bordering on cynical arrogance, and boundless bravery in war battles leaning towards careless recklessness. But again, the man was only 26 when he died, with no chance to ever reach maturity and wisdom of age, to outgrow the swagger stage of a young rich guy with all the life ahead of him.)
“[…] This is a portrait, indeed, but not of one man: it is a portrait comprised of the vices of our entire generation, in all of their form. You will tell me again that a man cannot be this bad, and I will tell you that if you could believe in the possibility of the existence of all the tragic and romantic scoundrels, why wouldn’t you believe in the reality of Pechorin? If you enjoyed creations much more terrible and uglier, why would this character, even as an invention, not find mercy with you? ”
Pechorin certainly has a remarkable insight into his appalling character, and is quite contradictory in his complexity. He tends to be spot-on in astute recognition of human fallacies, which fuels his cynicism.
It’s interesting how the best-regarded work of the man usually thought of as a poet is a slim novel written in prose. But really, the prose is ridiculously unbelievably poetic, so perhaps it’s not strange at all.
“The dancing choirs of the stars were interwoven in wondrous patterns on the distant horizon, and, one after another, they flickered out as the wan resplendence of the east suffused the dark, lilac vault of heaven, gradually illuminating the steep mountain slopes, covered with the virgin snows. To right and left loomed grim and mysterious chasms, and masses of mist, eddying and coiling like snakes, were creeping thither along the furrows of the neighbouring cliffs, as though sentient and fearful of the approach of day.”
– It opens with “Bela”, where our narrator, while traveling through the Caucasus in the middle of the Russian multi-decade expansion to that territory, known collectively as the Caucasian Wars, meets an old army man Maxim Maximych, who tells him a story of his younger officer friend Grigory Pechorin, a world-weary rich man of twenty-five or so, and his kidnapping and seduction of a young local girl Bela five years prior, followed by the tragic end of this romance shortly before Pechorin would have been tired of this conquest.
– Then we move on to “Maxim Maximych”, a short piece where the narrator meets Pechorin himself (and what an unpleasant figure Pechorin turns out to be!) and comes into possession of Pechorin’s travel journals.
His pride in his detachment and cynicism even briefly falters when his genuine feelings for Vera lead him on a mad gallop to reach her – but that flame is extinguished quickly, and we know that from here on he goes on to carelessly destroy young Bela and her family
Three excerpts from these journals conclude the novel, after a brief interlude informing the reader that by now Pechorin is dead: – “Taman”, where pre-Caucasus Pechorin poetically runs afoul of a small band of smugglers; – “Princess Mary”, a long section chronologically preceding the events of “Bela”, where Pechorin tells us of his cruel courtship of a young noble woman done at the request of a married woman whom he actually loves, ending tragically for a former friend, the girl and Pechorin himself, who may or may not have actually fallen in some sort of love;- and finally, “The Fatalist”, a short piece on the inevitability and predetermination of destiny and death.