First Love – Ivan Turgenev, Constance Garnett (Translator)


‘That’s love,’ I said to myself again, as I sat at night before my writing-table, on which books and papers had begun to make their appearance; ‘that’s passion! . . . To think of not revolting, of bearing a blow from any one whatever . . . even the dearest hand! But it seems one can, if one loves . . . While I . . . I imagined . . . ’ (Garnett’s translation.)

‘That’s what love is’, I told myself again, sitting at night in front of my desk on which books and notebooks had begun to appear. ‘That’s real passion! Not to object, to bear a blow of any kind, even from someone you love very much – is that possible? It’s possible, it seems, if you’re in love… But I’d – I’d imagine…’ (Freeborn’s translation.)

Good grief.

3532I judged a book by its title; it saddens me to say that my intuition didn’t fail me this time. Fortunately, I read Asya before this novella – so it’s easier to talk about this one first since there was almost no connection. Otherwise, I would have had second thoughts and probably avoided Turgenev’s prose until November. Oh, his prose! His absolutely exquisite prose with which he explored the complexity of love, the whirl of emotions, the innocence of youth. His poetic language gave me the strength to keep reading this story.

I have to be honest: if it weren’t for the last chapter, I would’ve given this book a 2-star rating. Maybe my nature was too determined to reject so much mushiness this time, but still, there are many things and concepts to which I couldn’t relate. My idea of love doesn’t include losing individuality, giving up the right to have personal space nor the blind devotion that makes one lose all perspective. In that sense, I think it’s only natural that I can’t identify with these stories, since even when I was a teenager, I wasn’t prone to such violent outbursts of affection. I end up bored, let alone if I don’t find the writing engaging or remotely enjoyable.
On the other hand, I couldn’t sympathize with almost any character – perhaps the servants who had to put up with their caprices. I mean, could the female protagonist be any more insufferable? Could the men be any more pathetic? Could this depiction of love be any more different from what I have in mind? Could you stop talking like Chandler?

A story in which an intelligent man (whose amount of wealth we don’t know) falls in love with an intelligent woman (whose degree of beauty is not mentioned) just doesn’t entice anyone, huh?
Yeah, I know, that was a stupid thing to write. It’s late, I think I had too much coffee and fell into a state of rapturous delirium.

Most of my friends on here loved this novella, but I’m done for now (I may relapse, who knows) with the juvenile and pointless phase of feeling bad because I didn’t like so much what my friends loved – hello, personality. That being said, my curiosity went as far as using the Goodreads’ filter to take a look at the number of people who didn’t enjoyed this book so much.


I could have been among those 475 and their two “it was ok” stars. The last chapter made me open another door and join another group. However, I read the “2-star group” reviews. I was a little relieved. And then slightly frightened.

There’s an episode in which a poem written in 1825 by Alexander Pushkin is mentioned. I looked for it and wanted to share it.
The intensity of passion and oblivion in small doses.

Beneath the blue sky of her native land
She languished, faded…
Faded finally, and above me surely
The young shade already hovered;
But there is an unapproachable line between us.
In vain I tried to awaken emotion:
From indifferent lips I heard the news of death,
And received it with indifference.
So this is whom my fiery soul loved
With such painful intensity,
With such tender, agonizing heartache,
With such madness and such torment!
Where now the tortures, where the love? Alas!
For the poor, gullible shade,
For the sweet memory of irretrievable days
In my soul I find neither tears no reproaches.

* Note: I read Constance Garnett and Richard Freeborn’s translations. I prefer the latter.
** Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

2 thoughts on “First Love – Ivan Turgenev, Constance Garnett (Translator)

  1. Thank you so much for this honest and captivating appraisal of your reading experience. I feel endless empathy with you concerning your notion of love. I am tempted to read this work despite the mushiness, just to be able to experience the poetic prose you allude to. I also greatly appreciated the juxtaposition of the different translations you open your write-up with. Lastly, thank you for helping me to choose which translation to read! I opt for Freeborn. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you found this review somewhat helpful regarding translations! And that you also agree with that idea of love I mentioned. I wouldn’t want to deter anyone from reading this book; it didn’t work for me but that’s just my experience. I’d love to read your thoughts. Many thanks for your kind words. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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