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Three novellas by Turgenev

November 29, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Three novellas by Ivan Turgenev

My November reading didn’t go according to plan, I didn’t have the energy to read Concrete by Bernhard or The Confusion of Young Törless by Musil. I’m still at this uncomfortable stage where reading glasses are too much and small prints are too difficult to read at night. And my copies of Concrete and The Confusion of Young Törless are in small prints, not to mention the fact that Bernhard decided to forego paragraphs. The pages of his book look like concrete walls of words. No participation in German Lit Month this year, then.

I’m doing better with Novellas in November. I even managed to post this in the right week!

I did manage to read three novellas by Ivan Turgenev, all included in one book. The first one is An Unhappy Girl (1869) translated by Constance Garnett, whose French title is L’abandonnée. It is translated by Louis Viardot, who knew the author but no Russian. You can find the English translation here on Project Gutenberg. I browsed through it, lots of French sentences in some passages. They were not in italic in my copy, as it’s customary to signal French words or sentences in the original.

The narrator of the story is Piotr Gavrilovitch and he was 18 in 1835 when he got acquainted with Suzanne Ivanovna through his friend Fustov. She was living with her stepfather and his family and Fustov was courting her. Her fate is sad as she was the illegitimate daughter of a country aristocrat who took care of her but never acknowledged her as his daughter, even privately. When he died, she became a pawn in her step-father’s game to wealth.

The second story is Yakov Pasynkov. (1855), whose French title is Jacques Passinkov. It’s translated by Xavier Marmier, a name I’d never heard of but according to Wikipedia, what a man!

In this story, three young men are in love with the same young lady, Sophie Zlotnitski and the story is told by one of them, years later. It is the sad story of unrequited love and secret love never revealed.

The last story is Andreï Kolosov (1844), translated into French by Ernest Jaubert, another translator I didn’t know of.

The narrator, Nicolas Alexandrovitch goes to the country with his friend Andrei Kolosov. They go to the Semenitch household, because Kolosov is courting their daughter Varia. The narrator is a sort of wingman, he has to entertain Varia’s father while his friend spends time with the young girl. But things don’t go as planned in this scenario…

The three stories have common points, they’re about love and friendship.

Suzanne spent her life in the pursuit of love, her father’s, Michel’s and Fustov’s. Love may be fickle and petter out. It can be a blaze and die down after the conquest is done. It can be a slow, constant and hidden fire. It can be worth dying for. In all cases, the girls’ happiness depends on the boys’ behavior. They are recipients of young love, bask in it only to have it pulled under their feet by a father, a jealous brother or an inconstant lover who falls out of love. Women seem to have deeper feelings than men, according to Turgenev.

The stories all feature young men in their youth and their friendship with comrades. Gavrilovitch and Fustov are good friends, like the narrator and Pasynkov or Nicolas Alexandrovitch and Kolosov. As such, they assist their friend in their attempt at wooing a girl. They are sorts of chaperones, allowing their friends to spend time with their lady. In each case, it backfires and the friend’s meddling make things worse. This friendship has different texture in each story. It’s skin deep between Gavrilovitch and Fustov. The narrator looks up to Pasynkov as a better version of himself and it’s almost a bromance between N. Alexandrovitch and Kolosov.

Flaubert considered Turgenev’s stories were masterpieces. I’m not a literary critic and read only for pleasure. I sure admired them but didn’t enjoy myself that much reading them. I can’t pinpoint why, though.

PS: When writing in English about Russian books read in French translation, names are a hurdle. They’re not spelled the same way in English and in French. For example, Piotr Gavrilovitch is Pierre Gavrilovitch in the French translation. I’ll never understand why they translate first names. Another example: Pasynkov is Passinkov in French.

  1. November 29, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    LOL re translating names: *Still* reconstructing my lost Excel reading file (‘m up to 2015) I came across an author called Jean Fornasiero and since I track my books by gender, I’m going to have to hunt out whether this is a French Jean (male) or an English one (female) or Spanish or Italian or something else in which case I have no clue!


    • November 29, 2020 at 9:44 pm

      I hope the new Excel file is in the cloud and that you won’t have to do it again!
      I really don’t understand why they translate the first names of characters. How can Pierre Gavrilovitch sound Russian?


  2. November 29, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Now, I should have thought of a Russian novella for November! Though I must admit I often struggle to engage with Turgenev – something he doesn’t completely grip me…


    • November 29, 2020 at 9:45 pm

      I wasn’t so fond of Fathers and Son either. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one struggling with Turgenev.

      Liked by 1 person

    • November 30, 2020 at 1:22 am

      I have never read Turgenev but you have inspired me. Hopefully by the end of my summer holidays (ie. mid January) I will have read at least one. And no, don’t translate then names – people and place names anchor the story in its place of origin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 30, 2020 at 7:48 am

        Looking forward to your review of the Turgenev you’ll read.
        Yes, the translation of names gives a strange vibe to books.


  3. November 29, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    “This will be fun,” I think. I’ve read lots of Turgenev, so maybe I will have something to say here.”

    No, I’ve not read any of these! Although they sound like Turgenev stories I have read. “sad story of unrequited and secret love” – he returns to that idea, certainly.

    I did not realize Turgenev was writing fiction in the 1840s. These are probably not the stories Flaubert thought were masterpieces, if that is any help.


  4. November 29, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    I quite enjoyed his “Sketches from a hunter’s album”, but I also have Orlando Figes’ The Europeans on my shelf: it tells the story of Louis Viardot, of his wife Pauline and of Pauline’s lover … Turgenev. And also of European culture in the age of the telegraph and the railway. I’m truly looking forward to reading it.


    • November 29, 2020 at 10:17 pm

      I’m very interested in The Europeans, it sounds fascinating. It’s only available in English, isn’t it?


      • November 30, 2020 at 2:55 pm

        I think so. It was only published last year in the UK. I would be surprised if there wasn’t a French translation at some point.


        • November 30, 2020 at 10:05 pm

          I’ll look into the English version.


  5. November 29, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    Going to pur some Turgenev on my list for next year!


  6. December 4, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    I read him once – Fathers and Sons – but he didn’t grab me as much as other Russian authors so I never went looking for anything else by him


    • December 5, 2020 at 9:19 am

      That’s exactly how I feel. But I think that the book Passage à L’Est mentioned in her comment must be a fascinating read.


  1. November 29, 2020 at 7:02 pm
  2. November 29, 2020 at 9:31 pm

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