Lermontov's Bela and the Circassian Expulsion by Jeff Gatrall

Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (1814 - 1841) was a Russian Romantic writer, poet and painter, sometimes called "the poet of the Caucasus".

Jeff Gatrall
Montclair State University, Modern languages and Literatures, Faculty Member

An Inconvenient Footnote:
Lermontov’s “Bela” and the Circassian Expulsion
Jefferson J. A. Gatrall
Circassians, my warrior people,
Be ready at any hour
For death’s sacrifice…
Черкесы, мой народ военный,
Готовы будьте всякий час
На жертву смерти…
Lermontov, “Circassians” (Cherkesy)

I’ve taught Lermontov’s Hero of Our Time many times, both in Russian and translation. Each October at Montclair State University, I introduce a new group of students to the novel in a course on Russian Prose and Drama. This course is not only a requirement for the Russian minors in my department, Modern Languages and Literatures; it is also one of a handful of General Education courses that satisfy the World Literature requirement for all undergraduates at the university. As it turns out, this cross-listing was approved only a few years before my arrival.

The proposal had met with considerable resistance from other departments on the curriculum committee. The argument that finally won over the committee was as follows: Russian literature counts as World Literature because Russia is West and East simultaneously. I wholeheartedly agree with this tidy resolution to a centuries-old debate. Nowhere on my current syllabus is the need for a cross-cultural approach to teaching more evident than in the case of “Bela.” 

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