May 7, 2007

On First Loves and Broken Hearts

I re-read Ivan Turgenev's First Love yesterday, a novel I read perhaps a dozen years ago. The nineteenth-century narrative follows the unrequited love that a 16-year-old young man develops for a mesmerizing Russian princess who moves nearby.

What makes this tale of romance so compelling is not the story, which is timeless, but the descriptions Turgenev used to capture that all-encompassing, overwhelming rush of emotions that accompany a person's first experience with love. Consider this Turgenev passage in which the protagonist, Vladimir, describes his state of being after falling for Zinaida:
In Zinaida's absence I pined: I could not concentrate: I could not do the simplest thing. For whole days I did nothing but think intensely about her. I pined away, but her presence brought me no relief. I was jealous and felt conscious of my worthlessness. I was stupidly sulky, and stupidly abject; yet an irresistible force drew me towards her, and it was always with an involuntary shiver of happiness that I went through the door of her room.
Turgenev's brilliant prose also captures the agony of rejection after Vladimir learns that he and Zinaida will never become a pair of lovers, and even a cynical middle-aged man such as I have become can identify with the pain this young man felt.

I remember the powerful rush of emotions that accompanies a first love, and I remember how crushed I was when that young woman broke up with me. Of course, a person inexperienced in love never knows when the relationship is faltering.

Yet I am sometimes skeptical when one of my own teenagers goes through this cycle of romance and breakup, forgetting for the moment how powerful these emotions are for young adults. It is useful to revisit these topics in a novel such as First Love , if only for a person to be compassionate about the joys and heartaches experienced by those we love.

1 comment:

mist1 said...

I fell in love with my first love more quickly than I fell out of love with him. Sometimes, I'm just not sure that it was love at all.

I do remember the first pair of shoes that I ever loved. I get a little teary eyed just thinking about them.