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.