Category Archives: Turgenev, Ivan

First Love: Read from November 23 to 26, 2015

The final image of the novel, of the old lady in rags and dying on a hard floor with a sack under her head as she fights to stay alive despite a lifetime of misery gives the novel a greater perspective than just a young man sadly in love with a woman he won’t have. The novel speaks to a greater need for people to live, at all costs and at any price, no matter the amount of pain it inflicts.

I have to admit to not feeling as close to Vladimir as I would have liked. Not because I didn’t share any of his experiences – what young man hasn’t – but there was a strange formality in him that seemed at odds with his age. I understand he was well bred and that his manners contrast beautifully with the situation of his love, but even when he was most mad, in the garden at midnight, I never really felt like I was with him. Had this been a slightly more modern novel – say written in the 1910’s or 20’s – there might have been a needed sexual undercurrent that is sorely missing here. I can’t blame Turgenev since we have to consider when the novel was written, but still it’s an element of human nature that is important.

Zinaida, however, though we never get the novel from her point of view, I felt much closer to. Her character is the real strength of the novel because we learn so much about her through her actions and the actions of everyone around her. She is a flirt, she is manipulative, she is poor (having once been wealthy), but she is not a bad person. In fact I felt more empathy to her than I did towards Tolstoy’s Anna – they were similar women, but Zinaida felt more … within reach. She wanted to be in love, not just be loved. And who doesn’t want that? All her suitors were dolts, except for the one man who did have her.

I liked the image of his father’s horse, the near wild Electric. This mirrored the father quite poetically and gave substance to his feelings in a way we could understand.

All-in-all this is a very sad novel, but it does speak to how we struggle in life to live and how imperfect we are. Yes we may know the right things to do, but passion is almost always stronger than logic.

60% done with First Love

I might be missing the mark, but I assume because the family is in such dire economic straits that the princess must marry in order to save the family but she’s been given a degree of freedom to choose a suitor, though probably not as much freedom as she would like since it will have to be someone with money. His First Love will be for someone who will not have any love at all.

33% done with First Love

I’ll have to think a bit more about why the narrator needed to first write down his story, but somehow intuitively I understand.

She’s using him because she doesn’t want any of them and he’s the perfect excuse to toy with everyone. Funny how girls always know how to navigate men.

The lightening storm so far away – a Sparrow Storm – is how far away from love he really is, but the energy is there in him.

Spring Torrents: Read from June 02 to 05, 2013

The impression I get from this novel is that it is written by an incredibly gifted author whose talents, sadly, have left him. Yet there are flashes of brilliance here and there, and perhaps that’s why Turgenev wrote the novel in the first place, perhaps he was overcome with a flash of inspiration that he eventually had to see to the bitter end, just like our ‘hero’.

To read the novel in such a meta way would make this a brilliant novel, but after what I thought was a promising start, quickly becomes a bit tedious, empty of real feeling, and of not much consequence.

I think the biggest problem with the novel is that we never really know Sanin. Yes he’s very good looking and this has quite the effect on the people around him (young women), and we know he’s given to flights of quick passion that keeps the plot moving along, but aside from that he’s sort of an empty shell. And of course that is exactly what Turgenev wanted to give us, Sanin is supposed to be a young, handsome, wealthy, and utterly shallow person. However, that does not make for the most interesting character to follow around through every page of a novel. So at the whim of everyone else around him is he that almost nothing really happens aside from total chance (his initial meeting of Gemma, the gust of wind, the meeting of Polozov; all chance).

Yet again, from a meta point of view, Turgenev must have known that this is exactly the story he wanted to tell. He wanted to take a shallow young landowner (one who owned serfs, otherwise known as slaves) and turn him into a fool and a slave. He wanted to turn social convention on its head; to have Maria marry a homosexual so that she can carouse about Europe with her fortune left solely to her from her peasant father. Turgenev was making fun of the young Russian landowners and their wealth. That’s why so much of the novel revolves around the theater : everything is a performance (and not a very good one) and only the best actors can fool the audience.

However, even with all this subtext, Turgenev just didn’t really have his heart in this one. Something was missing; he was an actor reciting his lines well enough, but his elbows were pointed straight to the audience as he spoke and the audience wished they were somewhere else.

And what of this ending? To America? After all that time? It’s an interesting ending, I think, but we just don’t know and feel attached to Sanin well enough to even care, let alone understand why after 30 years of apathy (money making apathy to be sure, but apathy none-the-less) why he’d run off to America to see Maria. Does he think he still has his looks? Is that what the photograph of Maria’s daughter was hinting at? Did he think he could buy his way into favor? Seems to be the real novel should start at this point and follow him across the ocean and see what happens.

Oh well, I really wanted to love this novel, but I don’t. It’s good, for sure, but nothing very special aside from a few brilliant moments and the excellent writing. To bad too because this could have been quite the masterpiece (and there IS plenty of meat to chew on here), but Turgenev just didn’t have his heart in it. ‘Cele ne ture pas a consequence’ indeed.

42% done with Spring Torrents

Ippolit is one of the most fascinating inventions in literature that I can think of. To come across a gay, but married to a millionaire woman, a man so lazy that just talking tires him, with the juice of an orange dripping down his chin towards his Buddha belly, who clothes shops for his beautiful young wife … well it’s fun to meet this character in such a novel.

He REALLY reminds me of Otho from Beetlejuice.

28% done with Spring Torrents

It didn’t occur to me last night when Turgenev waited to tell us what Sanin looks like that this was actually going to be the main theme of the novel.

Sanin is not someone who has ever thought about hos his actions have consequences. He’s never thought beyond anyone but himself before, yet now, in a torrent, ‘love’ hurricanes in and he’s swept up in it, and it’s not going to end well for a lot of people.

13% done with Spring Torrents

To me it’s more impressive to tell a simple story well than it is to tell an exciting one well.

Turgenev’s novel here is a very simple story, but his ability to keep you interested in what’s going on, to tease out details slowly and carefully (such as the masterstroke of not telling us what Sanin looks like until after we’ve met everyone else) is what makes him the greatest of the Russian novelists.

87% done with Fathers and Sons

It’s funny how similar Bazarov and Pavel are, though come to it from opposite directions.

Pavel, constrained by society once tried to ‘live’ but now is pretty much a walking, wounded corpse. Bazarov knows great love but denies everything and too is a walking and wounded corpse. He’s even constrained by his own society, though he’d never admit it.

No wonder they tried to let the other kill them.

72% done with Fathers and Sons

The scene where Vassily and Arina sit on the steps and watch their son, Bazarov, ride off is one of the most beautiful, sad, and touching scenes I’ve ever read.

She rests her gray head against his gray head, she compares her beloved son to a falcon that swoops in then away for good, and compares them as two old mushrooms in the hollow of a tree who live for each other.

I hope to be that in love one day too.

35% done with Fathers and Sons

This is the first time I’ve read a novel where the age of one of the main characters was not only the same as mine, but was a matter of importance to the story.

Nikolai worries that he is no longer part of the current generation. He tries to keep up with the times, attempts to be modern, yet his son and his son’s friend, nihilist Bazarov, make him feel left behind.

It’s a strange feeling; I can relate.

25% done with Fathers and Sons

The little scene where Pavel examines the bad photographs of Fenitchka and and Nikolai has a very ‘modern’ feel to it; it’s very unlike anything I read so far from Tolstoy, Gogol, or Dostoyevsky.

There’s no explanation given to us what these photos ‘mean’ of ‘an eyeless face wearing a forced smile, in a dingy frame’. We will have to make it out ourselves, we’ll have to see better, see everyone better; like Pavel.

16% done with Fathers and Sons

You can almost feel the slow embrace of spring warmth slipping over you as you ride along in the carriage at the beginning of this novel. Beautifully written.

The set up is quite good and I’m already itching to find out when it will come to an argument between grubby, nihilistic Bazarov and dandy, dapper, old-guard Pavel.

I’m always fascinated how an author can create real characters so alive so quickly.