“First Love” by Ivan Turgenev
(First publication: 1860 / This edition: Penguin Classics 2014)
Taken during a beach vacation at Krabi. I love orchids.
‘My son’, he wrote, ‘beware of the love of women;
beware of the ecstasy—that slow poison.‘ (p.103)
Ivan Turgenev…I ordered this book a week or so before I moved out of Tokyo. I had seen him here and there on social media, but always about his book “Fathers and Sons”. Curious, I decided to check out his works and since “First Love” is a short novel, I felt it was a good choice for my first Turgenev. (Also, it was kind of an impulse purchase—a part of me just wanted to make the best use of my free-trial Amazon Prime period, haha)
I was expecting a teenage first-love story of some sort; maybe a cheesy, “girly” classic novel, judging from the cover. I was thinking I’d be in for a Nicholas Sparks-type of book. The story wasn’t exactly exciting or intense per se, but it was different from what I expected. The story follows a young boy who becomes infatuated with a woman—a princess—who had just moved in next door. She has many suitors and plays games with them to turn them against each other while they try to “win” her. She knows her power and all her suitors’ weaknesses—sort of a trait of a Dominant, actually, since they willingly submit. Despite knowing her ways, the young boy becomes hopelessly lovesick and so, she becomes his “first love”. (The first quote/excerpt I included at the end of this post will give you a taste of what she’s like.) There’s a twist at the end—which I kind of anticipated—but I won’t spoil it here for those who haven’t read it.
Now that I’m reflecting on it more, I feel that the story is, in some ways, similar to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s “Venus in Furs”—just a lot less extreme and less BDSM. The princess in “First Love” just plays and teases, but the lady in “Venus in Furs” actually executes. (my review of “Venus in Furs” here)
Though it’s a short novel (106 pages), I got a bit bored halfway through. The writing’s beautiful, but I think I just felt exhausted and annoyed at the princess’ ways of deliberately putting men to misery by teasing incessantly. (Or maybe I was just physically exhausted from my day out at sea.) It’s been about two and a half months since I read it and the story’s still fresh in my mind though, so it’s a memorable story. I scored at a book sale a copy of “Fathers and Sons” that I still have yet to read, so hopefully that one will be more exciting.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:
She found it amusing to excite alternate hopes and fears in them; to twist them according to her whim. She called this, ‘knocking people against each other; they did not even think of resistance, but gladly submitted to her. In her whole being, vital and beautiful, there was a peculiarly fascinating mixture of cunning and insouciance, artifice and simplicity, gentleness and gaiety. over everything she did and said, over every movement, there hovered a subtle, exquisite enchantment. Everything expressed the unique, peculiar force of the life which played within her. Her face, too, was constantly changing. It, too, was always in play. It seemed at almost the same instant mocking, pensive and passionate. And infinite variety of feelings, light and swift, succeeded each other like shadows of clouds on a windy summer day, in her eyes and on her lips. (p.53)
To sacrifice oneself is the height of bliss—for some people. (p.95)
I didn’t want to know whether I was loved, and I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was not. (p.92)