jeudi 24 octobre 2013

First Love by Ivan Turgenev (1860)

I love well-written, autobiographically inspired novels because I believe they reveal the heart of the writer in a way that a completely invented plot and cast of characters cannot do. Ivan Turgenev's novella "First Love" is one of my favourite examples of this form. Written when he was 42, it opens with three middle aged men recounting the circumstances of their first love. Vladimir Petrovich (a thinly veiled Turgenev) is one of these gentlemen, the one whose bittersweet story is told.

The events in the story take place in the Russian countryside during one short summer when the narrator is 16 and Zinaida, the object of his desires is 21. In the first half of the novella, Vladimir describes the personalities, events and emotional games that Zinaida plays with the suitors she regularly gathers together to tease and torment. "But my blood, I remember, used to rise when Malevsky would sidle up to her like a sly fox, lean gracefully over the back of her chair, and begin to whisper into her ear with a self-satisfied and whedling little smile - while she would fold her arms and glance at him attentively, then smile at herself and shake her head". Zinaida, we can all agree, is wicked: in full view of the half dozen young men sitting at her feet, she, in turn, transfixes, arouses and humiliates each one.

At the mid point of the novella, another dimension is added to the story: the narrator convinces himself that Zinaida has fallen in love with one of her suitors and pursues any clue that will reveal who that man may be, all the while imagining how he can win her love. The man-boy says, "I saw a vision of myself saving her from the hands of her enemies; I imagined how, covered with blood, I tore her from the very jaws of some dark dungeon and then died at her feet". Poor young Vladimir, poor young Ivan, poor young us...

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire