[F] Turgenev, Ivan: First Love (translated by Isaiah Berlin)
“O youth! youth! you go your way heedless, uncaring—as if you owned all the treasures of the world,” laments the narrator of First Love, as he looks back on the moment when youth forever slips from his grasp. A story that straddles the threshold between innocence and wisdom, Turgenev’s novella, published in 1860, remains one of the finest examples of the form. Though it was dismissed by many critics of the time as not “weighty” compared to the Russian master’s more famous, politically topical work, its influence on writers of the following generation—Flaubert, Maupassant, Chekhov, Henry James—was profound. A work of seemingly simple surfaces, it’s as complex and moving as most books three times its length, and even a hundred and fifty years later, it feels as fresh and startling as any work written today. In our discussion, we will pay special attention to retrospective narration, internal versus external conflict, characterization of secondary characters, and the structure of mystery and revelation.