Bryn Hammond's Reviews > On the Eve

On the Eve by Ivan Turgenev
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's review
Jan 21, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: novelists-or-shorts

This was the Turgenev that spoke most directly to me when I was young, which makes for a peculiarly intense reading experience now: Yelena and Insarov are as if people known to me, I believe in them entirely; and indeed the whole novel comes alive to me in that rare way…

A dangerous novel to do this with, as it is Turgenev at his most gloomy. Although he took the plot from life, he wants to use it to dash our spirits with the futility of effort – for he had these moods of pessimistic metaphysics. I’ll admit that doesn’t commonly come across to me in his writing. Perhaps I resist his lessons; if so it’s his own fault – he paints Yelena and Insarov too richly in their heroic energies, hope and passion, to philosophise futility of effort at me at the end.

I can see why this one annoyed fellow Russians who loved Russianness, for instance Dostoyevsky. To say ‘there are no human beings yet’ in Russia is going a bit far; particularly when you give us Bersenev, Yelena’s Russian suitor, an awkward scholar and future professor, who is eminently human and likeable. Also, Turgenev, answer me this: if Russia is such a dump that the human species has yet to be found in it, how can you make your young women the most splendid people on earth? Caught you out there. Liza in Home of the Gentry was the Turgenev girl Dostoyevsky thought his greatest achievement; for me, Yelena. She managed to cause controversy too, and I must say I was startled at how bold he makes bold to make her.

Critics, at the time and since, like to mock Insarov, the Bulgarian freedom-fighter... just as the silly-headed artist does in the book. I can only say I’d be spoilt for choice between Bersenev and Insarov, but that Yelena chose well, as she does everything well.
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