"That Black, Dragon-Haunted Pass: The Mystery of Lermontov’s Caucasus"
“I was traveling along the military road back from Tiflis.”
So begins Mikhail Lermontov’s 1833 A Hero of Our Time, the classic novel of the Caucasus: the mist-shrouded, emerald mountain range that once delineated the southern stretches of the Russian Empire. For Lermontov—whose own exploits in the Caucasus were as daring, dangerous, and unabashedly romantic as those of his anti-heroic protagonist, Pechorin—the Caucasus was more than merely a frontier outpost for Russia’s colonial power. For Lermontov, as for Pushkin before him, the Caucasus was the land of passion and possibility, of amorous intrigues with beautiful women, of frenzied duels and fatal blood feuds, where even the Tsar himself could not encroach upon the long-held customs of the region’s mountain tribes.