What is love?

Wanting to find something short to read I scanned my bookshelf and came across Ivan Turgenev’s First Love. Not your typical boy-meets-girl love story as the author gives us a surprise twist towards the end. But it’s much than just a love story, certainly not the sort of story the host had in mind when in the opening passage we find him and two guests – Sergey Nicolayevich and Vladimir Petrovich – and the host declares the evening’s subject of discussion: “Each of us is to tell the story of his first love.”

Sergey begins but his is merely a paragraph long as his first love was when at the young age of six he fell in love with his nurse. Next, the host is coaxed into joining in and, as it turns out, his tale is just as brief: his first love was nothing “remarkable” and he didn’t find love until he met his present wife. “But I must admit, gentlemen,” he adds, “that when I brought up the topic of first love, I was really relying on you old bachelors…”  And so their attention turns to Vladimir Petrovich. Vladimir indeed has a tale to share but he confesses that he is not a good story teller. Instead, he insists that he write his story down and when they meet again they read his “First Love”.

It begins as a typical love story, as boy (Vladimir) meets Princess Zasyekin their neighbor at his parent’s summer house. She is older than him; his mother dislikes both her and her mother, the old Princess.  But soon Vladimir realizes that Princess Zasyekin is also in love, but with whom he wonders? The novel is about love and passion and, in the end, the transience of life. In a way, I see now, all three love stories are the same. While Vladimir’s tale can fill the pages of a book they are all, in the end, in the words of the narrator, “a brief storm that came and went so swiftly one morning in the spring”.

His father, who plays a pivotal role, gives him some advice, though a tad bit late in the story: “My son,” he says, “beware of the love of women; beware of that ecstasy – that slow poison.”

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