Novella a Day in May #9

First Love – Ivan Turgenev (1860, trans. Isiah Berlin, 1950) 106 pages

This short tale of thwarted first love, told by a man, Vladimir Petrovich, looking back on the summer of 1833 when he was 16, manages to be both moving and funny. I felt for the pain of the young boy, whilst simultaneously rolling my eyes at the self-importance of teenagers (a bit how I feel watching Romeo and Juliet these days – kids!)

A young man is on the brink of adulthood, having just said goodbye to is tutor, when Princess Zasyekin moves in next door. The princess is uncouth and her house shabby:

“She took snuff as noisily as ever, and fidgeted and turned about on her chair as much as before. It never seemed to have entered her head that she was a princess.”

However, her daughter Zinaida is beautiful and poised, and has suitors in abundance. She teases them all, keeping them in a state of anticipation whilst remaining just out of reach. The young Petrovich is no different:

“But through the tears and the melancholy, inspired by the music of the verse or the beauty of the evening, there always rose upwards, like the grasses of early spring, shoots of happy feeling, of young and surging life.”

Yet there is always the sense that things are happening with Zinaida that our protagonist is too green to recognise. She seems genuinely fond of him and at one point even tells him so after he nearly breaks his neck jumping from a high wall (told you – kids!) yet there is something worldly and slightly damaged about her which Petrovich cannot begin to understand.

 “My arms were smarting from the nettles, my back ached, my head swam, but at that moment I experienced a sense of bliss such as I never again felt in the whole of my life. It flowed like a delicious pain through all my limbs and finally resolved itself in rapturous leaps and cries. Yes, indeed, I was still a child.”

First Love reminded me of The Go-Between and Great Expectations whilst being resolutely its own tale. In a short space it conveys a detailed, effective portrait of the awakening of a young person to both the love and corruption that the adult world has to offer.

25 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May #9

      • Yes, I had to laugh, I think my teens were relatively quiet in comparison, locked up with nuns and rarely seeing beyond the walls of our school, which we’d nicknamed Colditz – absolutely no interactions with boys, but very little learning or development in that respect either. I kind of prefer the teenage angst model, at least they have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes, for as we know parental advice does little to teach them.

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  1. Yep, when I rule the world, teenage hormones will be banned – but I think I’ll re-start the trend for snuff-taking. Not sure you can tempt me back into Russians when I’ve so recently escaped their clutches…

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  2. I just had a quick read-through of all the novellas you’ve been reading so far. You don’t seem to be having trouble finding good ones! Do you own them all, or are some from the library?
    And there’s a nice variety. I especially feel drawn to the Shirley Jackson (which is shameful that I haven’t read it yet), Barbara Comyns, and the Chiara (which sounds like fun).
    At the end of the month, I would love to know which were your favourites!

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  3. I first read First Love when I was probably still a teenager myself, but I like and appreciate it much more now.
    That’s quite a challenge you’ve set yourself, good luck and most of all: happy reading! 😊

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  4. I must admit, I’m a bit partial to literary and cinematic teenage angst – partly because even though I’ve been asked in the past week if I have grandchildren *gulp* I feel as inept at being a grown-up as I did aged 15. As I’m also a bit partial to Turgenev, this sounds like another must-read. (Now would be a good time to start posting about some duds – well, until pay-day at least!)

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    • If you like teenagers and Turgenev this is perfect for you!

      Grandchildren?! I think we’re about the same age, so I know theoretically it’s possible, but really! Bloomin’ cheek! And yes, there’s a sort of wisdom associated with grandparents, yet even if I am old enough to be in that role I feel like I’m muddling through life & I doubt that will change! I may start trying to cultivate an air of wisdom so people don’t realise 😀

      I only post about books I like, so no duds I’m afraid. Having money for food and shelter is so overrated 😉

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  5. Pingback: Novella a Day in May #31 | madame bibi lophile recommends

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