Sunday, August 20, 2006

First Love by Turgenev

First Love is a novella written by the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. I had read his Fathers and Sons a few years back. It was a great love story too though it is more famous for the first coinage of the word "nihilist" in literature. First Love is also quite good, very well written though a tad conventional at times. Sixteen year old Vladimir falls in love at first sight with a pretty girl five years senior to him who has just moved to his neighbourhood with her mother. The pretty girl already has a few suitors competing for her attention and young Vladimir soon finds himself plunging into the painful world of unrequited passion and desire. The novella is actually an account of how he goes through all the familiar emotions of passionate love--attraction, devotion, jealousy, anger, despair, renunciation and then back to devotion and so on in a circle. But he does get out of the vicious circle unlike Goethe's Werther, of whom I was reminded more than once when I was reading it. The story is actually narrated by him to his friends some thirty years later who are sharing their experiences of first love. The other two didn't have anything remarkable to share! There was one thing amused me slightly. I learned that the accursed line, "let's be just good friends", which has broken so many adolescent hearts was popular with nineteenth century Russian girls too! Haha!!

Anyway, it is written in a beautiful prose and is quite small (just over fifty pages) and a great account of the agonies and the ecstasies, the miseries and the splendours of sexual infatuation. All these things have been turned into a cliche in this postmodern and artificial world but reading a great writer still makes you hopeful about the existence of real and honest feelings, which are not mediated by the shallowness and vulgarities of our commercial age. I am thinking of the numerous romantic novels and movies which explore similar territories. Anyway, do check it out if you can!

One sample paragaph from the book. The romantic hero is just out on his horse in the beginning of the story and trying to understand his feelings...

I had a horse to ride; I used to saddle it myself and set off alone for long rides, break into a rapid gallop and fancy myself a knight at a tournament. How gaily the wind whistled in my ears! or turning my face towards the sky, I would absorb its shining radiance and blue into my soul, that opened wide to welcome it.

I remember that at that time the image of woman, the vision of love, scarcely ever arose in definite shape in my brain; but in all I thought, in all I felt, lay hidden a half-conscious, shamefaced presentiment of something new, unutterably sweet--in a word, something feminine....

This presentiment, this expectation, permeated my whole being; I breathed in it, it coursed through my veins with every drop of blood ... and very soon it was destined to come true.


anurag said...

"let's be just good friends"

I think after Eve, every girl is saying this, Eve didnt because she did not have much choice :))

..familiar emotions of passionate love--attraction, devotion, jealousy, anger, despair, renunciation and then back to devotion and so on in a circle

The order of emotion is so correct !

Alok said...

Ummm. Good point about Adam and Eve ;)

shiva said...

Ever since I saw this blog, I have been visiting and reading whenever I get time and your posts have already enriched me with their insights into several authors.

I liked dostoevsky and Anton Chekov's stories.

This post makes me think, I should hunt more russian literature.

And I like the way you give some extracts from books. It serves to offer a glimpse into the style and at times content too...