Wednesday, 18 March 2009

First Love

"Love is strange. Love is beautiful. Love is dangerous. Love is never what you expect it to be. Here Penguin brings you the most seductive, inspiring and surprising writing on love in all of its infinite variety ... United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love’s endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love…" (Penguin Books)

Great Loves and Great Novellas, Penguin published a beautiful collection of twenty seminal literary works on love in 2007. So far I have read two in this form, First Love by Ivan Turgenev and Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, and another, Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan, in an earlier Penguin edition many years ago. They make beautiful books: light, classically designed paper cover with beautiful words inside. Giovanni's Room I read a few weeks ago and found to be evocatively tragic, haunting and beautifully written; First Love was an engaging read last night in bed but it didn't, for me, possess the intensity of the Baldwin evocation of love.

With a very brief prologue concerning the post dinner part conversation between the host and two friends about their first loves and the refusal of one guest, Vladimir Petrovich, to recount the story aloud -as he would not do it justice in the telling- and subsequent documenting of the story in written form instead (reminding me of the opening of Henry James' Turn of the Screw), the scene is set for the recollection of a devastating first love. Vladimir, aged sixteen, is holidaying in the country with his parents whilst studying for the entrance exam to Moscow University when he meets and falls in love with Zinaida, the beautiful twenty year old neighbour next door who is the daughter of an impoverished Russian princess. Zinaida is attractive and charming with a host of suitors with whom she flirts and plays games that include forfeits of kisses. Vladimir is infatuated with her, as only teenagers -of both sexes- can be infatuated in the throes of first love: naive, crushing, absorbing obsession and plays page to her queen. The novella moves through his immature infatuation to the impotent jealousy, "Jealous Othello, ready for murder, was suddenly transformed into a schoolboy" of a child who realises the object of his affection is in love with an adult; the identity of Zinaida's love is a betrayal, one I won't reveal.
The novella certainly brought back memories of consuming, crushing and ultimately childish first love.


StuckInABook said...

I bought the whole set a while ago at The Book People online booksellers - so far have only read the Nabokov 'Mary', but such a beautiful set and lots of potentially wonderful items.


Paperback Reader said...

What a great deal for a beautiful collection! I heartily recommend the three that I've read.

Paperback Reader said...

I have to thank you, Simon: I received the truly beautiful boxset of First Loves for my birthday!