Lermontov, Mikhail (1814-1841). The Demon.
Original manuscript in pencil and ink. 21,5cm. 80pp. Hardbound paper covered boards, leather spine. 80pages. “Demon” annotated and corrected in pencil.
Alongside Pushkins “Eugene Onegin” Lermontov’s “The Demon” is widely considered as being one of the two major works in Russian poetry of the nineteenth century.
Having started work on the poem from the tender age of 14 Lermontov’s first line “Печальный Демон, дух изгнанья” (Sad demon, spirit of exile) written in 1829 survived into the final version but through the coming years he would return to the poem over and again, reworking his idea with greater use of symbolism, deeper psychological characterisation and transforming the poem with every re-write. Desiring of publishing the poem Lermontov perfected his text while taking into consideration the strict protocol demanded by the censors. In spite of his efforts censorship issues would ensure the poem was never published in his lifetime.
What we do have today exists only from a very small number of exceedingly rare copies of the text that had limited circulation. Each of these copies hold their own story and fortunately, because of the restricted distribution, it is possible to trace their existence. Copies of “The Demon” were usually of the poem during various drafts but were even sometimes blended versions from different drafts.
The major interest of this samizdat is that it is a copy of no known version of the poem; that the text reproduces, with a few light variations, the dialogue on God between Tamara and the Demon in Chapter 10 is particularly worthy of highlighting. In 1839 “The Demon” were authorised for publication by the censor but for reasons unknown never actually made it to publication. The editor-in-chief Andreï Kraevskii of “Otechestvennye Zapiski” and another editor there, Vissarion Belinskii were ardent supporters of Lermontov but unfortunately when another attempt was made at publication in 1842 authorisation was not given for even the publication of selected passages. Further attempts were made to publicise “The Demon” and legitimise its publication; 28 copies were published in Karlsruhe in 1856 with the intention of putting the poem in the hands of people high-placed enough to influence the overturn of the censor’s veto, another print run took place the same year in Berlin and then again another later in the same year in Karlsruhe. Ultimately though these efforts were futile and the first Russian edition would not be see the light of day until 1860.
At the start of 1839 the poem had attracted some attention in high society close to the Imperial Court and a version of the poem, corrected on certain points and excising the infamous dialogue on God, was placed into the hands of the Empress herself. The poem was read on the 8th and 9th of February and subsequently returned to the author. Following this rejection Lermontov reworked the poem to the point of exhaustion to no official avail.
Professors Abramovich and Anichkov, the most reputed of Lermontov scholars, agree that there are 17 manuscript copies of eight different versions of the poem. The majority of these copies are to be found today in Russian museums and archives and ours would seem to be the only copy outside of these institutions. An imperial source for our copy would be improbable as ours contains the dialogue on God, however Belinskii and Kraevskii possessed copies complete with this passage. From this we can consider that our copy could have been produced by someone close to the two men, supporting this further would be the inclusion on other pages of other poets published in “Otechestvennye Zapiski” and that the poem was here given its original title “An Oriental Tale” a title known only to Belinskii and Kraevskii, “The Demon” added later almost as a subtitle. The hypothesis that this version comes directly from Belinskii or Kraevskii is supported again by the fact that our version does not correspond with any other known copy.
To place the importance of this text one needs only to show that the oldest edition of this poem present in any institution or library around the world dates from 1874. Our provenance is the same as that of the 1827 “Voinarovskii” in our collection.