Wednesday, 17 November 1999

Ivan Turgenev: First Love (1860)

Translation: Isaiah Berlin
Edition: Penguin, 1980
Review number: 391

First Love, a novelette rather than a full length novel, is a study of adolescent love. When sixteen year old Woldemar first falls in love, he experiences a passionate desire for the daughter of his family's new next door neighbour. A beautiful girl, Zinaida does not lack other suitors, and we are taken through Woldemar's rapidly changing emotions: exaltation, jealousy, despair, hatred, renunciation and renewed devotion. His fervour is only heightened by Zinaida's capriciousness and the way in which she plays off each would-be lover against the others. Then, Woldemar is devastated to discover that the successful rival is his own father, a truly shattering revelation.

Turgenev's depiction of the agonies of an unrequited first love is vivid and convincing. The dramatic climax is perhaps rather less so, even though skilfully prepared (Woldemar is aware of, though he does not understand, increased tension between his parents, for example). The translation is vivid and lively, perhaps more so than many Penguin Classics which as a series tend towards stodginess.

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