Home > 19th Century, Lermontov Mikhail, Novel, Russian Literature > Princess Ligovskaya by Mikhail Lermontov

Princess Ligovskaya by Mikhail Lermontov

Princess Ligovskaya by Mikhail Lermontov. 1836. I haven’t found the English translation.  

I came across this little book published by Folio in their 2€ collection a few months ago. (I find the cover rather silly, btw). Two things made me buy it: first, I wanted to try Lermontov before reading A Heroe of Our Time; second, it had the same theme as Journey into the past by Stefan Zweig and South of the Border, West of the Sun, by Harukimi Murakami, ie the come back of an old romance after years of separation.

A little disclaimer before starting. I read non-English books in French translations. The problem with Russian literature is that names aren’t transcribed into French the same way as they are in English. For example, the princess is named Ligovskoï in French and Ligovskaya in English. I suspect the English is more faithful to the Russian than the French. When I can, I try to find the English spelling, but here I couldn’t find an English version. This book doesn’t seem listed on Lermontov’s page at Wikipedia but it is mentioned in the text as a record of his doomed love for Barbara Lopukhina. Well, it’ll give to the Anglophone reader an idea of how it sounds for a French one.  

According to the foreword of my French edition, Princess Ligovskaya is an uncompleted novel written by Lermontov and his friend Sviatoslav Raïevski in 1836, before A Hero of Out Time (1839-1841). Lermontov died in 1841 and I don’t know why he never resumed writing this novel. Was it started as an outlet for his unfortunate love and abandoned when the pain had soothed?  

Princess Ligovskaya opens with a Balzacian scene of a young civil servant on foot roughly jostled by an officer on horse. The officer is Grégoire Alexandrovitch Piétchorine and I suppose it would be Pechorin in English, like in A Hero of Our Time. His friends call him Georges (In French). This scene is important as it gives us an insight of Piétchorine’s temper and at the same time settles an enmity between the two men.

Piétchorine lives with his mother and his sister and is a member of the upper classes in Saint Petersburg. He is courting the now fading Elisabeth Nikolaïevna, but it’s more a game for him than true love or even financial interest. When he gets home, his valet gives him a card from Prince and Princess Ligovskoï who have left Moscow to spend some time in Petersburg. He reacts violently, burns the card and becomes restless. We quickly understand that he used to be in love with Viéra Dmitrievna, now married to Prince Ligovskoï and that it hurts him to see her. Follow their encounters at the theatre and later at a diner.

That’s for the plot.

It left me really frustrated and a bit angry at Lermontov. I wish he had taken the time or the pain to complete this novel. It is so full of promises. He had a vivid tone, I imagine him walking briskly through life, with a sharp mind and an impertinent conversation. The descriptions of the Russian high society are lively and full of irony. The scene at the theatre reminded me of Balzac, in the description of clothing and the way people behave according to their social class. I could image the swish of gowns, the gossips in the boxes, the people watching, the buzz of conversation in the interval, the fancy crowd in the stairs at the end of the play. His prose sounds so French. The long description of Elisabeth Nikolaïevna’s fate as an ageing single woman reminded me of Jane Austen. He throws an uncompromising look at this poor young woman nobody wants to court with a serious wish to marry her. It is not without cruelty but also with lucidity: women’s fates were really like a lottery game. Either they picked a good number i.e. a decent husband or they didn’t and were miserable.

Unfortunately, the renewal of the acquaintance between Pietchorine and Viéra Dmitrievna is barely touched upon, evidence that this text was meant to be a long novel and not a novella. I would have wanted to know more. Again, I thought of Balzac when reading the passage where they meet at a diner. We can guess their respective misery is due more to a lot of misunderstanding than to one of them falling out of love with the other. Their passion smoulders, it wouldn’t need a lot to kindle it.

After finishing this book, I don’t really know how Lermontov would have covered the same topic as Zweig and Murakami. But I sure know I want to read A Hero of Our Time.

  1. July 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    His prose sounds so French – Lermontov, like all educated Russians, spoke and read French as much or more than he spoke Russian. Even English literature – Scott, Byron – was mostly read in French translations.

    I may not “hear” the connection when I read an English translation of the Russian, but I am not surprised that you can “hear” it in a French version. I am sure it is a real part of Lermontov’s style.

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    • July 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm

      Actually I knew that but I found it even more striking in his prose. I haven’t read Tourgeniev so far but I expect the same experience. That’s also on my TBR.
      In this novel when he describes Russian aristocrats he mentions several times that their Russian is not good enough to properly follow a conversation. It seems incredible to me they could live in Russia and not know the language of their own country.

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  2. July 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    And with that last comment, you nail the ‘Russian’ problem on the head–a nation of aristocrats and intelligentsia completely divorced from the Russian people and the Russian culture.

    I MUST read this in English. Horrible cover, but this sounds like the perfect follow up to Hero of Our Time. Love is a sport for Pechorin as he toys with women. Is it competitiveness, boredom or a mean streak? I suspect all three.

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    • July 5, 2011 at 8:06 am

      When I was reading – enlightened by your posts on Dostoevski, so I owe you — I thought about that too and that’s why I noticed that piece of information in the descriptions. Someone’s language is deeply linked with their identity. People cling to their native language and fight for it (like in Quebec, Luxembourg and in France, dialects in Brittany or in the South) Not speaking the language of your people when you’re in the ruling (is that word correct?) class can only lead to disaster.

      I hope you can find it in English. I couldn’t but you have better sources than me. I’ll read your posts about A Hero of Our Time after I read it. Which will happen I don’t know when, my TBR is huge.

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  3. July 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

    What a shame indeed! It sounds very promising but maybe parts of it are taken up in A Hero of Our Time which I also got on my TBR pile and also in French. Maybe a readalong later this year? The cover isn’t too well chosen. I must admit I find those Russian babushkas somewhow fascinating but if you have ever seen some of the absolutely stunning pieces of miniaturist art that exist…

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    • July 5, 2011 at 10:14 am

      A Hero of Our Time which I also got on my TBR pile and also in French. Maybe a readalong later this year?

      Absolutely! I’ll be delighted to read it with you. Not before September though.

      I think the cover is badly chosen considering the topic and setting: everything takes place in the high society and people wear the same clothes as in Paris or London, except for the fur coats.
      Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen babushkas in museums (I’ve never been to Russia).

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  4. July 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Yes, the choice of the word “ruling” (as in ruling class) is correct. The good news is that I did manage to find an old used copy which contains some of Lermontov’s poetry as well, so this is a good find. Like you, not sure when I can get to it, but I will.

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    • July 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      I’m glad you could find a copy. I’ll wait for your review to know the names of the characters in English.

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  5. July 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    A very interesting find. I admit I have a bias against unfinished books, but the copy which comes with the poetry sounds like it might well be worth while.

    I am looking forward to the A Hero of Our Time readalong.

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    • July 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      I didn’t know it was an unfinished book when I bought it otherwise I think I would have let it in the bookstore. I’m not a huge fan of unfinnished books either.
      I hope you can find the same edition than Guy’s, he seemed happy with it.

      I’m looking forward to that readalong too. I thought I wasn’t good at reading on demand but it’s so interesting to share on a book with someone who has it fresh in mind too that the pleasure overcomes the inconvenience of deadlines to respect.

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  6. July 12, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I had never thought beyond A Hero of Our Time (which is on my TBR too) so I found your post both interesting and surprising.

    I am with both you and Max on unfinished novels. I am still slightly miffed by a recent novel which only mentioned its unfinished status in a footnote halfway through.

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    • July 13, 2011 at 8:50 am

      Do you want to join Caroline and I for a readalong of A Hero of Our Time ? Probably not before October though.

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  1. October 31, 2011 at 1:06 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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