Ironic-Byronic Influence in Lermontov’s Tambovskaja Kaznačejša

The failure of past assessments of Lermontov’s Tambovskaja Kaznačejša in producing a satisfying analysis is remarkable. In an effort to come to a greater understanding of the work within the context of Lermontov’s oeuvre, I attempt, in my paper, an analysis of Tambovskaja Kaznačejša through the lens of the ironic-Byronic tradition established in Beppo. For although the literature available on Byron’s influence on Lermontov is extensive, almost nothing has been written on the impact of Byron’s later ironical works, despite evidence that Lermontov adopted numerous devices and techniques from Byron in composing this ironical narrative poem. The primary goal of this paper is to discover how Lermontov adapts and develops Byron’s form and devices. To this end I examine the ways in which both authors violate romantic conventions. I limit my examination of Beppo’s influence on Tambovskaja Kaznačejša to five general points of comparison: genre choice, setting, techniques of digression and omission, the author-narrator personas and the depiction of the heroes and heroines in both works. Through an examination of these categories we can see how both authors set themselves up the task of breaking down convention and escaping the artificiality of, what seemed to them, romantic genres which had outlived their age. Yet, despite numerous similarities, Byron and Lermontov use this same form to break down distinctly different conventions. Whereas Byron focuses more on the depoeticization of his heroine and a debunking of his orientalist and metaphysical legacy, Lermontov places more emphasis on disappointing his readers’ genre expectations. In this aspect Lermontov goes further than Byron, refusing to even provide a real ending to his poem.

Both Tambovskaja Kaznačejša and Beppo are clearly highly metapoetical. Rejecting the primacy of the story, the authors focus on their own telling, creating author-narrator characters who are more developed and arguably more compelling than the works’ “heroes.” The authors do not tease and mock their readers out of contempt. Through their poetical works they attempt to educate them, to force them to be more rigorous in their reading. Seen in this way, these texts serve as a sort of initiation of skilled readers into a more exclusive segment of the reading public, capable of both discerning and appreciating romantic irony.