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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

First Love

Ivan Turgenev

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase First Love

Title: First Love
Author: Ivan Turgenev
Genre: Novel
Written: 1860 (Eng. 1897)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: First Love - US
First Love - UK
First Love - Canada
First Love - India
Premier amour - France
Erste Liebe - Deutschland
Primo amore - Italia
Primer amor - España
  • Russian title: Первая любовь
  • Translated by Constance Garnett
  • Also available in translations by Isaiah Berlin (1950) and Richard Freeborn (1999)

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Our Assessment:

A- : simple and very effective tale of young love

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 4/3/2011 Hisham Matar
The NY Times Book Rev. A 17/7/1983 John Bayley
Sunday Times . 27/8/1950 Raymond Mortimer
TLS . 7/7/1950 Erik de Mauny

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ivan Turgenev's novella First Love is one of the most perfect things ever written. It is a gesture of artistic defiance to the urgencies of the age -- which demanded of an artist as Russian as Turgenev to "lift the nation" -- yet it remains an authentic attendance to those urgencies: the old order versus the new" - Hisham Matar, The Guardian

  • "(T)he tale that exploits most effectively Turgenev's gifts of pathos and humor, insight and self-awareness -- the strengths of his own passivity, so to speak -- is First Love. It is a masterpiece that shows the curious literalism of Turgenev's talent. He is best when eschewing all fancy stuff and describing exactly what happened, as he does in First Love" - John Bayley, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Passion in all its forms always excited Turgenev, but he was happiest portraying its earliest intimations; fulfilment made him uneasy. That is why First Love or Spring Waters are such perfect stories of their kind." - Erik de Mauny, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       First Love begins with a late-night round of three men sharing stories of their first loves -- but one, Vladimir Petrovitch, says he can't recount his story there, preferring to write it down and return with it, as he then does, two weeks later; the rest of the novella is his first-love-account.
       Vladimir tells of when he was sixteen, in the summer of 1833. An only child of ill-matched parents -- his "still young and very handsome" father having married a woman ten years older ("from mercenary considerations") -- he's meant to be studying, preparing for university, but no one is pressuring him very hard and he enjoys great freedoms. Not that he takes much advantage: his pleasures are solitary ones, nature or his books.
       Things change when Princess Zayeskin and her daughter, Zinaïda, take the place next door. The Princess has fairly little that's noble about her and is in rather dire straits, but Zinaïda captivates Vladimir from the first glimpse he gets of her: "I felt an excitement I had never known before".
       Already twenty-one, and with a circle of admirers that she keeps around to entertain her, Zinaïda toys with boy, even as he is head over heels in love with her. Zinaïda likes to play games, and Vladimir isn't quite sure where the games begin and end. In his naïveté he doesn't quite see it, but Zinaïda is torn too, and obviously a reason she likes having him around is because of the complete innocence he represents.
       Turgenev captures both these characters exceptionally well in his simple descriptions and scenes. Most remarkable is how he weaves in the suggestive but subtle hints of what else is going on: Vladimir is blinded by his passion, and though he notes a variety of details of what is happening around him he fails to see the full picture. Truth must almost literally trip over him before he realizes it.
       Love can be difficult to present in fiction, and puppy-love is notoriously so, but Turgenev finds a near-perfect balance here. First Love remains a classic of first love -- in part also because Zinaïda is more than a mere object for adolescent projection. A fully realized character, she is undergoing something that the young Vladimir can't fathom but which Turgenev provides considerable insight into.
       Zinaïda can do as she wishes with the young lad, but she also unburdens herself -- even if he can do nothing with her casual asides such as:

I must have someone who can master me .... But, merciful heavens, I hope I may never come across anyone like that !
       Vladimir can take hope from this: completely subservient, he knows he can never master her -- and can perhaps convince himself that that's not what she wants at all. But charmed though Zinaïda seems to be -- no one has any doubt that she'll do just fine in life, despite her down-on-her-luck mother -- she's also strikingly vulnerable.
       First love is, of course, crushed here, and that more soundly and roundly than usual. The turn the story takes comes as no great surprise -- Vladimir may be blind and deaf to the signs, but they're clear enough to the reader -- but is still powerful in Turgenev's presentation.
       First Love is a gushing, adolescent tale, but it's also an entirely mature work of fiction. A remarkably balanced and resonant novella.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 October 2013

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First Love: Reviews: Ivan Turgenev: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Ivan Turgenev (Иван Сергеевич Тургенев; Ivan Tourgueniev, Iwan Turgenjew, Ivan Turgueniev) lived 1818 to 1883.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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