Chapter 8: Spring Torrents
Spring Torrents is one of Turgenevs finest novels, and in Polozova, we have the most convincing, and certainly the most bold, portrait of that typical Turgenevan figure the femme fatale. Nevertheless the relationship of Spring Torrents to earlier novels, particularly to Smoke and On the Eve suggested to some contemporary critics that Turgenev was merely repeating himself, and was guilty of self-plagiarism. An anonymous reviewer in Russkii mir (No.8, 10th Jan.1872) pointing to such similarities and, concerned about the new note of frankness, wrote: So, it turns out that Mr. Turgenev, has not only stolen his own literary property himself, but in all sorts of ways has even disfigured it, and turned it into a caricature of fairly doubtful tone.1
In basic outline the plot is certainly similar to that of Smoke; in both novels a young Russian in a German spa town is torn between love for two women his fiancée and a persistently seductive femme fatale. In both novels the hero rejects his fiancée, but, unlike Litvinov, Sanin (the hero of Spring Torrents) lacks the strength of will to resist the role of hanger-on in the household of a married woman, only to be discarded like worn out clothing [11, 50]. Yet even so, at the end of the novel, he appears once more to seek the role of hanger-on in the household of his former fiancée, Gemma. Such motifs, therefore, derive not merely from Smoke they touch on the authors own life.2
At the same time, the novel contains elements reminiscent of On the Eve. The pleasure party at Soden, spoilt by the unwelcome attentions of boorish Germans, recalls the Tsaritsyno incident in the earlier novel, but here it is the Russian, not the foreigner, who intervenes to save the heroines honour.3 Nevertheless, here, as in On the Eve, political activity is relegated to the foreigner: it is Gemmas young brother Emile who, as one of Garibaldis band of a thousand in Sicily, will die the death of a hero for the freedom of Italy [11, 156].4
Such a death also recalls the ending of Rudin, where the figure of the heroic freedom fighter, although Russian, was not allowed to die as such (he was mistaken for a Pole). Spring Torrents is set in the same period (the early 1840s), and there is a sense in which Sanin may be seen as a rewriting of the figure of the superfluous man typified by Rudin, and the use of autobiographical material could confirm such a view: Autobiographical material was also used in Spring Torrents on this basis Turgenev here created a new variant of the "superfluous man", a nobleman member of the intelligentsia who had fruitlessly squandered his youthful forces [11, 451].
Sanin is characterised by his freshness, and looking back from the perspective of the early seventies at earlier Russian attempts to create positive heroes, the author in the novel himself comments:
The simile of the apple tree reminds the reader of that earlier man of the forties, Rudin, who also could be described as curly kudriaviy (i.e. leafy, ornate). Sanin, however, is fresh; he has been recently grafted, and the freshness of this type of hero perhaps resides in the fact that for him revolution has been shifted from the political plane to the purely erotic:5
Once again the imagery of the barricade, the banner and the confrontation with death all suggest a rewriting of Rudin, but in purely personal and emotional terms.
In a letter to Polonskii Turgenev himself acknowledges the lack of political content in his new novel: My story (between ourselves) will hardly please: it is a story about love related at length in which there is no hint of anything either social, political or contemporary. If I am mistaken, so much the better [L.9, 195]. Turgenev is not quite right in denying the presence of any social hint in his novel. Sanin has the liberal conscience of the man of the forties and is troubled by serf-owning:
However, the pain which he feels is precisely because that other revolution the revolution of first love can only be furthered by such a sale: he needs the money to marry Gemma.
Nor can it be said that politics is entirely absent from the novel. The emigré family, into which Sanin hopes to marry, has strong political roots. Gemmas father, Giovanni Battista, moved to Frankfurt in 1815, presumably to escape the Austrian domination of his native town, Vicenza, and perhaps was a member of the Carbonari union. Certainly his wife refers to him as a republican, as she points to his portrait, which was also painted by a republican, but in a manner which makes him look more like a brigand [11, 17]. Pantaleone, the family servant-cum-confidant, is his great admirer; for him he is un grand uomo [11, 17] and there is also a hint that Pantaleone in his turn had to flee because of involvement in the 1831 uprising against the DEste family in Modena; for we are told that he did not wish to leave Italy then there happened unfortunate circumstances, he himself was incautious [11, 21].6
Gemma s mother frequently refers to her daughter as a republican [11, 7; 30; 69] and when Mme Roselli and Pantaleone cross swords over the future career of her son, Pantaleone arguing, rather illogically, that his father would not have become a shopkeeper (even though in fact he was a confectioner) Gemma, too, enters the fray, exclaiming: What if Emile should feel he were a patriot, and wish to devote all his energies to the freedom of Italy, then, of course, one could sacrifice a secure future for such a high and holy cause, but not for the theatre! [11, 30]. At this Frau Leonore begs her daughter not to lead her brother astray, but to be content with the fact that she herself is such an out and out republican. Nevertheless, Emile follows in a family tradition and ends a martyr for the cause of Italian liberation.
One of the severest critics of Spring Torrents, L.N. Andropov, complained of the lack of a Russian principle in the novel,7 and if he had in mind the reflection of political and social problems to be found in other Turgenevan novels, it is certainly true that, even more glaringly than in On the Eve, political issues are alienated from the Russian protagonists and transferred to foreign émigrés. Yet political events in Europe in 1870-71, as Turgenev was writing his novel, impinged on his own personal life. These were the years of the Franco-Prussian War, the triumph of Prussian militarism and the abortive attempt to establish a communist society in Paris. Turgenev, who had earlier told Dostoevsky that he considered himself a German, found the new mood of German militarism and triumphalism uncomfortable and could no longer tolerate living in Baden-Baden. He moved to Paris in November 1871 with the Viardots.8
If in Smoke Russians abroad had been subjected to the scrutiny of German eyes (even German servants could laugh at the foolishness of Russian generals), the situation in Spring Torrents is almost reversed; it is as though, in his portrayal of Germans here, Turgenev is atoning for the Germanophile Westernism of the earlier novel. He now points to a lack of honesty: Germans exploit the naïve good nature of their Russian visitors by raising their prices, and the author himself adds his own footnote: Formerly, yes, and perhaps this has not ceased even now, when many Russians appeared in Frankfurt from the beginning of May, the prices rose in all shops and were called "Russen-, or, alas, Narren Preise" [11, 28]. Even criticism of German food comes from the author himself:
The Russian bon viveur, Polozov, is equally scathing about German food, and comically contrasts the German inability to cook fish with their desire to unite the fatherland: Oh these Germans, what donkeys! They do not know how to cook fish. What, it seems, could be simpler? And then they go on - the fatherland must be united, they say. Waiter, take this abomination away! [11, 101].
Even more damaging to German pride are the authorial comments on the low artistic level of the German theatre, which open chapter 39:
The home-grown play, which Sanin and Maria Nikolaevna witness, induces (in the authors words) Asiatic boredom [11, 130]; deceived lovers howl like dogs, and the one comic moment is a sneeze on stage [11, 132]. Maria Nikolaevna herself comments: The least considered of French actors in the least considered of little provincial towns is a better actor and more natural, than the top German celebrity [11, 130]. She has already told Sanin that she is about to go to Paris and that she is fed up with the Germans, who are stupid when they try to be clever, and unintentionally clever when being foolish [11, 127]. It is easy to see in this anti-German bias the mood of the author, who himself was leaving Baden-Baden for Paris, disillusioned by the events of the Franco-Prussian War. Turgenev had to defend himself against the charge, made by his German translator, L. Pietsch, that he had attacked the German theatre to please the French [L.9, 303; 431], but there is more than a suggestion in some of these gibes that the author is using the French as a yardstick to cut the Germans down to size. It is even present in Sanins view of Klüber as a lover, in whose attitude to Gemma he fails to detect those special marks of courtship, that the French call "empressement" [11, 39].
There may have been personal reasons behind Turgenevs pillorying of the only two contemporary representatives of German culture mentioned in the novel: the theatre director F.E. Dervient and the music critic R. Pohl,9 but his chief shafts of satire are directed at the German bourgeoisie in the figure of Gemmas fiancé, Herr Klüber. When Klübers name is first mentioned, Sanin thinks he detects a derisive expression in Gemmas eyes [11, 25] and her dissatisfaction with him, which seems apparent to Sanin, during their walk in Soden, turns to shame at his behaviour and his ensuing tirade after the incident in the tavern [11, 45].
The mockery implicit in Gemmas first reaction to her fiancés name is more explicit in comments given in inverted commas by the author himself. Klübers attention to clothing, he suggests, is such that everyone must inevitably feel that: "in this man both his underwear and his spiritual qualities are first class" [11. 26], but that his sense of social etiquette conflicts with his business drive, as it was impossible not to understand that: "this man had taken a seat from politeness and would immediately take wing!", and, indeed, he shortly did take wing, and after bashfully shuffling his feet a couple of times as though dancing, he announced, that, to his regret, he could stay no longer, as he was hurrying to his shop business before all else! [11, 27]. The unpleasantness at Soden reveals narrow bourgeois values predicated on money. Klüber exacts his retribution obliquely by refusing to tip the waiter.
Andropovs criticism that the novel shows foreigners in a good light and blackens Russians [11, 464] scarcely holds up. By comparison with Smoke the portraits of Russians abroad seem mild. Although Wiesbaden, as a casino town, is a magnet for Sanins fellow countrymen, gambling scarcely features in the novel. Maria Nikolaevnas reference to the Russian prince, who stakes a thaler at the tables, and secretly makes the sign of the cross is merely comic; it has none of the social point explicit in the portrait of prince Koko in Smoke [9, 124]. Admittedly the author allows himself the occasional ironic aside on the Russian character, as when he suggests that Sanin, like every true Russian, gladly seized the first excuse that came up, merely so that he himself should not be placed in a position of having to do something [11, 27], or that his hero yields to the bad habit of curiosity characteristic of all Russians [11, 121]; but such light-hearted observations are far removed from the scathing condemnations of Smoke, and merely serve to stress the typicality of his hero. On the other hand, Sanin does much to vindicate to a foreign audience the qualities of Russian art so roundly dismissed by Potugin in Smoke. He sings Glinkas rendering of a Pushkin poem, which he also declaims in Russian, and then translates. These efforts are rapturously received by the ladies [11, 19] (even though there is also a hint of comedy in Frau Leonores attempts perceive Russian words as Italian).
Frau Leonore confesses that up to this point she had imagined Russia as eternal snow, everyone goes about in fur coats and everybody is a soldier [11, 19], so that when Sanin fights a duel over her daughter this preconceived idea provides a ready explanation: I do not censure you in the least! You are entirely different; you , like all Russians, are a military man [11, 68]. The representative nature of generals, as Russians abroad, which was so devastatingly examined in Smoke, has become in Turgenevs next novel a mere cliché in the mouth of an Italian observer. Yet the military cliché has its positive sides too. Pantaleone, in the middle of a game of cards, suddenly pronounces that the Russians are the most magnanimous, brave and decisive people in the world! [11, 54], and on the day of the duel itself he wakes Sanin early, because in his view The Russians always preempt their enemies! [11, 58].
There is, however, one aspect of Russian life, which Turgenev himself cannot condone: the owning of serfs. Pantaleone, who increasingly, it seems, takes on the role of a conscience, suddenly appears in the doorway as Sanin is discussing the sale of his estate, and utters his word of condemnation; barbari! [11, 96]. Pantaleones censure is reinforced by the author himself, when, later in the novel in his negotiations with Maria Nikolaevna, his hero has to fix a price on each peasant head and it evokes the authorial aside: O Pantaleone, Pantaleone, where are you? This is when you should once more exclaim: Barbari! [11, 124].
Andropovs stricture on Turgenevs portrayal of Russians centres more on the main characters themselves. Sanin he dismisses as a worthless fellow (drian chelovek) and Maria Nikolaevna is petit bourgeois, a woman hopelessly depraved [11, 464]. It seems difficult to disagree with the latter judgement, yet, artistically, she is one of Turgenevs most realistic portraits of a figure that dominates his fiction the femme fatale. Hostile critics at the time were not slow to see in her the lineaments of Pauline Viardot. Burenin on the pages of the satirical publication The Spark (Iskra) published a parody of the novel with a scurrilous epilogue hinting at the relationship between Turgenev and Pauline Viardot.10 Turgenev had obviously left himself open to such jibes, even alluding in his novel to Viardots own father, and teacher, Manuel García, for whom Pantaleone feels unbounded respect, referring to him as il gran Garcia [11, 21; 60]. Moreover, it seems significant that Turgenev did not, as was his wont, read the manuscript of this novel to Pauline for her comments before publication, even though he was living in her house at the time.11
Maria Nikolaevna conducts herself as a mature, self-possessed woman, and the portrait is convincing, yet the reader is surprised to learn that she is no more then twenty-two years old. In a letter to Flauberts niece, C. Commanville, Turgenev suggested that the relationship between Maria Nikolaevna and his hero was based on his own experiences: As for the second part, which is neither well motivated, nor really necessary, I let myself be carried away by memories.12 Turgenev, according to I. Ia. Pavlovskii, pointed to the truthfulness of his novel, claiming that the prototype of Maria Nikolaevna was, in fact, Princess Trubetskaia, a gipsy by birth, but transformed in his novel into a society lady of plebeian origin: This novel is, after all, the truth. I experienced it and lived through it personally. It is my own story. Mme Polozova is the incarnation of Princess Trubetskaia, whom I knew very well. In her time she created quite a stir in Paris; they still remember her there.13
The claim that Turgenev had personally experienced events in his novel is borne out by another memoirist, L. Friedländer, who points to the opening of Spring Torrents as an example of writing linked to the authors own life:
Both Pavlovskii and Friedländer suggest that Pantaleone, too, had a real life prototype in an Italian living in the Trubetskoi household.
If the authors reported statements about his novel suggest the presence of an autobiographical element in the portrayal of Sanin, the opening of chapter 14 gives us a physical and psychological description of his hero. He has Turgenevs slightly mincing gait and tendency to lisp; his external features are attractive, but the expression of his face, which is naively jolly, trusting, frank, but on first view a little bit stupid suggests a rather spoilt son of rural gentry a daddys boy (otetskii syn) [11, 37]. In build, as well as in social origins, he is not unlike the author himself, and Turgenev stresses the complaisance of his heros nature (and softness, softness, softness [11, 37]). We have already seen that like every true Russian Sanin seizes on any excuse for inaction [11, 27], and further authorial remarks suggest that once a process has begun, he is unable to put an end to it himself: weak people never finish things themselves they always wait for an end [11, 132]. Such people can only vent their frustration in private: Weak people, talking to themselves, readily use strong expressions [11, 140]. Typically, for a Turgenevan hero, he is identified with a tree (the apple), but there is another image which the author thinks even more apt that of a three-year-old horse just being broken in an image realised in the final chapters of the novel, when Sanin is broken in by the superb horsewoman Maria Nikolaevna.
As he is described in chapter 14 Sanin is said to have the smile of a child. The childishness is apparent in his readiness to indulge in games. Even the serious matter of the duel is surrounded by elements of play. Dönhofs second, second lieutenant Von Richter, turns out to be very young himself almost a boy [11, 46], and after his visit, rather than face the gravity of the situation, Sanin seems more struck by its absurdity, breaking into a silly song about dancing with a second lieutenant a ditty once sung by a mad aunt [11, 47]. His own second, Pantaleone, enters the part as though it were a role in opera, and the duel itself appears to be fought without any serious attempt to wound. The absurdity of the situation is later carried on in a comic dream, in which the duel is recast as one between Sanin and Klüber, while Pantaleone has become a noisy parrot in a tree. Yet the dream has its own psychological relevance: Sanins real opponent is in fact Klüber, and the parrot of his dream, Pantaleone in the waking world repeats embarrassingly clichéd praise of his hero[11, 67].
Shortly afterwards Sanin spends the day with Gemmas young brother, Emile, and they amuse themselves in childish fashion by throwing stones down hill, until cursed by an unseen man below. Sanin attempts a more serious occupation a philosophical discussion on fate but soon yields to the temptation of play, only to be embarrassed, when Dönhof and Von Richter observe him at a game of leapfrog with his young friend. [11, 80; 81].
At the Rosellis, like a child with a sweet shop, Sanin enjoys more than once playing the shopkeeper (however incompetently) [11, 32; 96-7], but as with the duel, he is also faced here with a serious reality; marriage to Gemma will also involve a change of status: from Russian nobleman to German bourgeois selling confectionary will no longer be a light hearted game. He is expected to sell his estate in order to finance the business, and even before she has heard of the possible deal with Polozova, his future mother-in-law, along with Gemma, is already measuring up the shop and planning what improvements can be made with Sanin's money [11, 103].15 The irony of the situation, in which Sanin finds himself, is highlighted by the circumstances of the duel itself. The true German bourgeois, the shopkeeper Klüber, does not dare to confront the officers who have insulted his fiancée,16 whereas the outsider, Sanin, reacts with the instincts of a true nobleman, yet the consequences of this noble act threaten to turn him, too, into a German shopkeeper: by proving his nobility - he will end up a bourgeois.
The irony is further continued in his confrontation with Maria Nikolaevna, who presents him with a mirror image of the social change implicit in his relationship with Gemma: Maria Nikolaevna, the daughter of merchant, has turned herself into a lady of high society. It is she who reveals his inadequacies as a gentleman landowner, his lack of knowledge of agricultural terms used by his peasants, and yet it is she who ultimately preserves his social position by charming him away from Gemma, offering him the dubious role of man of society, but in the end saving his estate. Thus Gemmas arousal of the gentleman within Sanin finally threatens it with negation; whereas Maria Nikolaevna, subjecting his social position to rigorous scrutiny, succeeds in confirming it.
It is obvious that there is much that is soft, not only in Sanins social role, but also in his emotional life. He easily falls under the spell of two quite contrasting women; he abandons his planned journey home after a chance meeting with Gemma, and at the end of chapter 10 appears to wonder at himself for having done so, asking: What is this? A dream? A fairy tale? [11, 32]. After only a brief time spent with Maria Nikolaevna her image begins to penetrate his imagination eclipsing that of Gemma [11, 125]. The idea of some sort of spell comes to the fore again just before his final seduction. Maria Nikolaevna ask him if he believes in folk love charms (prisukha) [11, 146] and he himself begins to feel that he has been bewitched: Everything within him was confused his nerves were as taut as the strings of an instrument. He was right when he said he could not recognise himself He was in fact bewitched [11, 147].17
Sanins first love, Gemma, has the exotic appeal of an Italian beauty; she reminds Sanin of the country he has just left. The coloration of her skin and her hair is as though painted by an Italian master: the wavy, glossiness of her hair, like that of Alloris Judith in the Pitti Palace [11, 13]. Later her fingers evoke another Italian masterpiece: He could not tear his eyes away from her fingers, long, supple and clearly separated, like Raphaels Fornarina [11, 29], and yet we are told: even in Italy he had not met anyone like her [11, 13].
In Italian, gemma, apart from its meaning of jewel, also means bud, and there is something about her of the young unformed flower. Immaturity is suggested physically by the hint of down on her upper lip [11, 13], and psychologically by her inability to cope with the love scenes, when she reads aloud the comedies of the Frankfurt writer Malz [11, 23].
Nevertheless, the first feature, to which the author calls attention when describing her physical beauty, seems somewhat disconcerting: Her nose was rather big, but of a beautiful aquiline type [11, 13]. The word orlinyi in Russian has a more direct impact than aquiline it is eagle-like, yet this association with a bird of prey seems more appropriate for her rival Maria Nikolaevna, who at the moment of her triumph is compared to a hawk at the kill [11, 148]. Even the reference to Alloris Judith is not all it seems in the picture she is, after all, holding a severed head.18 However unworthy of her Klüber might be, Gemma is just as capable of abandoning her fiancé for a new love, as is Sanin of abandoning her for Maria Nikolaevna. There is a strength of character here which disconcerts her mother and leads her repeatedly to call her a republican. It is the only explanation she can find for her daughters sudden decision to break with Klüber: She is a stubborn republican, and defies the opinion of others [11, 69].
In her relations with Sanin, Gemma is depicted sympathetically even poetically, as she sits with him on the bench surrounded by lilac in the park [11, 83], or with a basket of cherries in her own garden. She is straight-forward and sincere, and is even prepared to change her faith for Sanin. As a token of this she gives him her little garnet cross, which later will evoke so many memories [11, 97].
As though in contrast to the bud-like Gemma, Turgenev calls attention to Maria Nikolaevnas full flowering female body (tsvetushchee zhenskoe telo) [11, 110]. He stresses what appears to be a lack of beauty, and features which betray her plebeian origin: a low forehead, her rather fleshy, upturned nose (not the aquiline nose of Gemma), nor, like her rival, can she boast of a delicate skin [11, 110]. Yet in Sanins imagination such features keep superimposing themselves over those of his fiancée. Gemmas eyes (dark grey, the pupils rimmed with black, marvellous, triumphant eyes [11, 13]) are eclipsed by the rapacious (khishchnye) eyes of Maria Nikolaevna. Gemmas hair, so reminiscent of a classical Italian painting, is blotted out by snake-like plaits [11, 126]. The image is almost that of a Medusa figure, and later he will even think of her as a snake: "A snake! Oh she is a snake!", Sanin thought in the meanwhile, "but what a beautiful snake!" [11, 136] (an image already used by Turgenev for another femme fatale Odintsova [8, 295]). Before her final seduction of Sanin she feels the need to put her hair back into these very same plaits, on the rather improbable excuse that her flowing locks might shock a nearby woodcutter [11, 146]. Yet when her seduction has been accomplished, the snake-like imagery is transferred from her hair to a smile: triumph snaked round her lips (na gubakh zmeilos torzhestvo) [11, 148].19
As for Gemma, in her readings from Malz, we are told that - with the exception of the love scenes she did indeed read superbly [11, 23]. By contrast Maria Nikolaevna claims to be unable to read out loud, yet she feels no embarrassment about love scenes, telling Sanin about her juvenile affairs with a monastery servant and a Swiss tutor [11, 131; 135). She says she has no talents, can scarcely write, cannot play the piano, draw or sew: What you have, you see. Yet the statement is deceptive; her character is more complicated than she would have Sanin believe.
She cannot stand hypocrisy, empty phrase-making and lying, and seems to revel in her humble origins [11, 128]. Sanin is aware that already in her life she has experienced far more than the vast majority of women of similar age [11, 128]. In Russian, she often affects demotic pronunciation and turns of phrase [11, 115; 121) and yet to Sanins astonishment, she also speaks excellent French. One of her favourite sayings is: Ça ne tire pas à conséquence [11, 135; 136]; for, as she herself explains, she never gives much thought to the consequences of her actions [11, 135]. Yet, for all her affectation of straight-forwardness and simplicity, her speech is full of innuendo and insinuation. Thus when Sanin enquires about a French count, she has just greeted, Maria Nikolaevna replies: Him? A little Frenchman theres a whole lot of them knocking about here He courts me. Then slyly adds too (tozhe) [11, 121].
Despite her profession of almost universal ignorance, she shows herself well versed in the practical matters of running an estate, and questions Sanin so rigorously about his own that he feels he is at an examination: And this examination lasted a good hour and a half. Sanin experienced all the feelings of a defendant, sitting on a narrow bench in front of a strict and penetrating judge. "Yes, this is an interrogation!" he whispered to himself dejectedly [11, 123]. Yet it is not Maria Nikolaevnas sternness that Sanin has to fear:
Sanin, whose immaturity, as we have seen, finds expression in games, is now caught up in a much more adult, and far more cynical game. Maria Nikolaevna has obviously made a bet with her husband that she will seduce him. A young fiancé under the spell of first love [11, 129] is obviously a challenge to her powers, and when they both return from their ride in the country, her husband needs no verbal confirmation to realise that he has lost the bet [11, 148].
Her complaisant husband is no more than a social convenience, affording her freedom of action. She addresses him by the comic name of doughnut (pyshka a word that can also mean chubby child). She orders him about and plays jokes on him. At the end of chapter 37, as Sanin is leaving, he hears laughter behind him and notices in the mirror that Maria Nikolaevna has tipped her husbands fez over his eyes, and that he is floundering helplessly waving his arms about [11, 125]. At the same time Maria Nikolaevna values her husbands taste in choosing whatever purchases she needs:
This exchange speaks volumes about their relationship: Maria Nikolaevnas delight at her husbands ability to fulfil her errands and commands, and his eschewal of physical contact and preference for food.
It is Polozov who brings Sanin to his wife, with the vague promise of business hands, which will facilitate the offer of Sanins hand in marriage to Gemma, and in Maria Nikolaevnas seduction of Sanin the language of hands plays an important role. Indeed, Polozovs formulation of the business proposal seems to have an ominous undertow: Go to my wife. She, if she wants, will dissolve all your troubles in her hands[11, 102]. Literally this phrase may be read as with her hands: vsiu bedu tvoiu rukami razvedet (ironically the verb razvesti also means to divorce). Setting out for Wiesbaden, Sanin tells Gemma, that he is leaving his soul behind with her, and offers Frau Leonore his hand in parting:
In his classical allusion to the shield Sanin seeks to imply that his undertaking could be crowned in success, or end in utter defeat. Yet the image of the shield is not without its own ironic implications, given the nature of subsequent events. Thus he feels that he is protected by the triple armour of Gemmas image [11, 110], when confronted by the charms of Maria Nikolaevna, who, we are told could not boast of any elegance of hands or feet [11, 110].20 Nevertheless, it is these hands which will be his undoing.
That same evening, she dismisses her husband, and after questioning Sanin about his fiancée, offers him her hand in friendship: She firmly clasped his hand in her beautiful, white, strong fingers. Her hand was a little smaller than his, but much warmer, smoother, softer, more full of life [11, 114]. This hand may be seen in contrast to the more statuesque ruki (hands/arms) of Gemma which haunt his imagination in chapter 21 the marble ruki of an Olympian goddess [11, 57], and in offering this hand of friendship, Maria Nikolaevna goes on to suggest that his marriage to Gemma is not really necessary. Then with these beautiful, white, strong fingers she taps the cuff of Sanins coat to emphasise the fact that she does not take any advice from her husband [11, 115], and with these same fingers puts sugar in Sanins tea, even though there are tongs lying close by (116).
The following day Maria Nikolaevna takes Sanin for a walk, and reminding him that his fiancée is not there to see him, again offers her hand/arm, which sank slowly and softly on to his, slid along it, and seemed to cling to it [11, 119]. Nevertheless, she pretends to be indignant at the thought that she might be flirting with him: "Just a moment, just a moment. You have not understood me. I do not wish to flirt with you". Maria Nikolaevna shrugged her shoulders. "He has a fiancée, like an antique statue, and I am going to flirt with him?! But you have goods, and I am a merchant" [11, 119].
The protestation that she is seeking, not to conduct an affaire, but affairs rings hollow. Indeed the very phraseology she uses to suggest that she has business in mind: you have goods and I am a merchant is reminiscent of the set formula used by traditional matchmakers bargaining, not over goods, but the prospect of concluding a sexual union.
Her campaign becomes more intense during their visit to the theatre, and when she asks Sanin to hand her her lorgnette, she quickly, though hardly perceptibly, seizes his hand in both of hers [11, 136]. Returning in the coach, she asks Sanin to agree to a ride in the country the following day. She obviously has other things in mind, but once more she stresses the business side of their relationship: I shall keep my promise. Here is my hand, without a glove, the right one, the business one. Take it and trust its handshake [11, 139]. This offer of her right hand, the business hand, stands in obvious contrast to Sanins own earlier offer to Frau Lenore of his left hand, the hand nearer the heart [11, 104], and Sanin, who in the course of his earlier love, had realised that not once had he yet kissed Gemmas hand, now appears to abandon all restraint: Sanin, not able properly to account for what he was doing himself, raised this hand to his lips [11, 139]. As he is getting out of the carriage he thinks he feels the impact of another kiss on his own cheek.
In this scene Maria Nikolaevna had offered Sanin a right hand without a glove, but immediately before his final seduction, she feels it necessary to expose both her hands:
In her final triumph, Sanin is entirely in her hands, as is, almost literally, clear, when he says that he will follow her wherever she goes: and he fell towards the hands of his sovereign mistress. She released them, placed them on his head and with all her ten fingers seized his hair. Moving through it slowly she twisted this unprotesting hair. She herself straightened up, and a smile of triumph snaked round her lips [11, 148].
* * * * * *
As in Smoke, nature in the novel is not that of the Russian countryside. It nevertheless, plays a symbolic role. Even in the town, trees seem to cast a romantic shade over Sanins first acquaintance with Gemma:
We have already seen that Sanin himself is identified with an apple tree [11, 37], and trees assume a symbolic presence at critical moments in his life. Before the duel a lime tree, he comes across, seems somehow full of meaning:
He appears to interpret the omen in terms of his own possible death in the forthcoming duel, but he immediately shrugs off the impressions the tree has evoked, and is further diverted by the comic anxiety of his second, Pantaleone. At the duel itself neither Sanin nor his opponent is hurt. The omen appears to resolve itself in bathos - it is merely a tree, that suffers: The first to fire was Sanin he missed. His bullet loudly ricocheted off a tree. Baron Dönhof fired immediately after him intentionally to one side and in the air [11, 63].
When all is over, Sanin falls into a deep sleep, which recasts the duel in a comic, but highly suggestive, light. Klüber is now his opponent, and his second, Pantaleone, is perched on a fir tree as a noisy parrot, whose cry of raz-raz-raz! Raz-raz-raz! is identified in the waking world with the advent of Frau Leonore, announcing the break up of Gemmas betrothal to Klüber. [11, 67].
The lime tree is, perhaps, less an omen of the duel itself than of its consequences. In Russian the tree (lipa) is feminine; it is dying, her leaves are withering after being felled by an unexpected squall of wind that very same squall, which had thrown Sanin and Gemma into one anothers arms the day before. Yet this sudden, freak love will leave Gemma a broken woman, and when Sanin becomes involved with Polozova, he will jump over her, as he had jumped over the lime tree, and go on his way.
Just as trees and the romantic shade they cast form a backdrop for Sanins first encounter with Gemma, so, too, they provide a more ominous natural setting for his seduction by Maria Nikolaevna. As they ride into the mountains, we are told:
Before the seduction itself Maria Nikolaevna appears to find her bearings from a tree she has marked: I have the feeling, that it is as though I know this place. Just have a look behind that broad oak, Sanin. Is there a red, wooden cross standing there, or not? [11, 146].
These two signposts on the path to seduction, the broad oak and the red, wooden cross, are cruder yet stronger symbols than the fallen lime tree and Gemmas own little, red garnet cross.
The passion Sanin feels for both women is given physical expression in terms of the forces of nature. The sudden hot squall of wind, which in chapter 20 suddenly blows up out of a cloudless sky and throws Sanin and Gemma together, becomes a psychological metaphor at the end of chapter 23:
The image recurs after they have finally plighted their love:
The natural force which brings Sanin and Maria Nikolaevna together, although far less mysterious, is more ominous: it is thunder driving them to seek shelter - and physical love.
Other natural symbols surround Sanins two amours. As he goes to sleep before the meeting with Gemma which will prove decisive, Sanins heart is likened to a butterfly: It beat so gently, as a butterfly beats its wings, bending down to a flower, and bathed in summer sunshine [11, 82]. It is an image used by Turgenev before, to describe the emotional life of Litvinov [9, 254], and a certain restless insubstantiality in the case of Baron Muffel [6, 243] and Shubin [8, 60; 82]. Here the imagery is more lyrical - the butterfly bending to the flower is bathed in sunlight. Nevertheless, the lovers tryst on the following day is characterised by the hint of rain [11, 82-3].
The setting is typical for such tête-à-têtes in Turgenev. Gemma leads him to a bench behind a clump of lilac, yet their declaration of love is not without its interruptions. It is first of all disturbed by the strange figure of some foreign traveller with a bag over his shoulder. It is, of course, unexpected travel which will disrupt the engagement they are about to conclude, just as it is travel which has brought it about, as Sanin explains:
Gemma is right to question such constancy, and the hollowness of the words eternally and forever is underscored by another ironic intrusion, which disturbs both literally and psychologically a gardeners spade scraping away a mere two paces from where they are sitting. At this point they leave.
Water is the image, with which the novel first confronts us. It is present in the title and in the epigraph: Joyful years,/Happy days - /Like the waters of spring/They have rushed away [11, 7]. Here the themes are set of the passing of youth, and of looking back on ones life. In the short introductory section to the novel, Sanin too looks back on his life and water imagery is uppermost in his mind, as he muses on the sea of life:
Such threatening, dark shapes are connected with the events of his earlier life, which he is now about to recall. Later in the novel (chapter 43) they threaten to overwhelm him again:
Yet at the beginning of the experiences he records, the stream of life had seemed quite different: Great charm is to be found in the monotonously quiet and even flow of life. He surrendered to it with pleasure, not demanding anything special from today, but not thinking of the morrow, and not remembering yesterday [11,35].
In this context his sudden, unexpected acquaintance with Gemma suggests a far more reassuring image of the boat: He would soon part from her and probably for ever; but while the very same barque, as in Uhlands poem was carrying them along lifes placid streams, then: Rejoice, enjoy yourself, O traveller! And to the happy traveller everything did seem pleasant and nice [11, 35].22 Yet as his relationship with Gemma develops, these calm streams become more turbulent:
This image of a plunge into the sea is again in his mind after his declaration of love on the park bench: If at that moment she had said to him "Throw yourself into the sea Would you?", she would not have got as far as the last word, before he would have hurtled headlong into the abyss [11, 86].
Later Maria Nikolaevna uses the same imagery to taunt him with the suddenness of his resolve to marry:
When Sanin retorts that some people who throw themselves into the water are capable of swimming, and then raises the question of her own marriage, she embarrasses him further by making explicit what he had not said on this score, and mockingly ends with the words: Thats what you wanted to say, you, who are capable of swimming [11, 133]. The suppression of ideas and the allusiveness of this exchange are perhaps even greater than may appear on the surface. The reference to the inability to swim evokes the irony with which Lermontov in Taman surrounded the hero of our time. Pechorin, the lady-killer, was defeated by a similar gipsy-like seductress, who left him in a boat without oars, weakly confessing his inability to swim. At the end of the novel, Sanin is an older, broken man, and he decides to search for news of Gemma in Frankfurt. It is at this point that the Pechorin-like allusions receive their final twist; for the man who thought he was capable of swimming is now likened to a drowning man clutching at straws [11, 152].
Although boat imagery in Turgenevs novel is linked to his romantic passion for Gemma, water, nevertheless, recurs in a suggestive image as a prelude to his seduction by Maria Nikolaevna. She deliberately leads her horse through pools in marshy ground with the cry: Let us play [childrens] games! (Davaite shkolnichat!), but these are not the innocent games played with Emile; Maria Nikolaevna is a huntress, and she immediately asks him if he knows what hunting through splashes (okhotitsia po bryzgam) means [11, 143]. He does. It is a term for hunting while Spring water is still on the fields a term which links pursuit (and the hunting theme of Dido and Aeneas) to the novels very title.23
The language of flowers is also evident in the novels symbolic structure. The surname of Gemma (bud) is Roselli: the rose is intimately connected with her in Sanins mind. At the opening of the novel it is the faded rose that evokes the chain of memories which constitutes the novel itself [11, 9]. The rose is both a symbol and a catalyst for love. Gemmas rose is stolen by the drunken Dönhof, retrieved by Sanin as a point of honour, when her own fiancé fails the test [11, 43], then discreetly returned to her on their return home [11, 45]. At a highly significant moment, when the sudden squall of wind throws them together, Gemma takes the faded rose from her corsage and gives it back to Sanin. On the following morning the rose is just as much on his mind as the forthcoming duel:
In chapter 25, before he writes his declaration of love to Gemma, he kisses the rose, and significantly the experience ends in pain: He remembered about the rose, which he had been carrying about in his pocket from the day before: he seized it and with such feverish force pressed it to his lips, that he could not help screwing his face up from the pain [11, 76].
The rose not only defines the attitude of Sanin to Gemma, but also that of Dönhof and Klüber toward her. Indeed, these negative characters are defined by their attitude to nature in general. For Dönhof the rose is something to be seized, and for Gemmas narrow minded fiancé the same condescending behaviour of an instructor which he shows towards Gemma, is paralleled by his attitude to the natural surroundings of Soden on which, as a kind of strait-jacket, he seeks to impose his views of what is romantic:
Polozov, Maria Nikolaevnas saturnine husband, is even more negative in his attitude to nature. On the scenic journey from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden, we are told: He did not once look out of the window: he was not interested in picturesque views and even announced that "Nature was death to him!" [11, 106].
The attitude of his wife, Maria Nikolaevna, is completely different, nature seems to be her element. She leads Sanin off into the country to complete his seduction, and quotes a German verse equating mountains with freedom: Let us go there, to the mountains, to the mountains: "In die Berge, wo die Freiheit thront!" [11, 143]. At the same time she likens herself to an Hungarian king, pledged at his coronation to rule over the four points of the compass [11, 143],24 and Sanin feels that she wishes to be mistress of nature itself: She was looking fixedly, straight ahead of her, and it seemed as though her soul wished to possess everything she saw the earth, the sky, the sun, even the very air, and that she regretted only one thing - there were too few dangers; she wished to conquer them all! [11, 144].
A similar defining role to that of nature is played in the novel by literary quotation and allusion, but here Turgenevs procedures in presenting such material will differ from character to character. The poetic qualities of Sanins feeling of enchantment in the presence of Gemma are, as we have seen, suggested through reference to a poem by Uhland [11, 35; 37], and on the eve of the declaration of love on the park bench, the author himself offers a comment, quoting from the Russian poet Mei: He slept; but he could have said about himself in the words of the poet: "I sleep But my sensitive heart sleeps not" [11, 82].25 Yet there is also irony apparent in Turgenevs use of literary allusion. Sanin, taking leave of Gemma, and knowing that he is to fight a duel for her in the morning, recalls a similar moment in literature: Lenskys farewell to Olga in Pushkins Eugene Onegin [11, 55].26 The comparison is not a happy one Lensky will be killed, but more apposite is the relationship between the two lovers, which Pushkin presents as not entirely genuine a passion based on superficial romantic values. If Sanin, through literary analogy and quotation, attempts a degree of self-awareness and self-definition, the author, through these very same means, casts a critical eye on his hero.
Naivety is more apparent in Gemmas attitude to literature. Her reading of Malz, as we have seen, betrays her inability to cope with love scenes [11, 23]. She does not like Hoffmann, vaguely aware of a lack of poetry in his works, yet her strictures on him: Its all fairy tales, all this has been written for children [11, 34] provide an unconsciously ironic comment on the spell she and her family have already cast on Sanin, who in the preceding chapter had felt that he had entered a fairy tale: What is this? A dream? A fairy tale? And how was it that he was here? [11, 32]. Significantly, the only tale of Hoffmann to appeal to Gemma, Die Irrungen, is a sort of fairy-tale recasting of events in her own relationship with Sanin. In what appears to be a sweet shop, a young man meets a young foreign woman of outstanding beauty, who appears to be in thrall to a mysterious and strange, evil, old man. He falls in love with her at first sight, and her glances seem to beg deliverance from the old man, but when the hero leaves the shop for a moment, they have both disappeared, and he spends the rest of his life in a fruitless search for her. He cannot forget her. Significantly it is only the beginning of this tale which appeals to Gemma; she has, either not read its ending, or has forgotten it [11, 34]. Literature, therefore, serves to define Gemmas character in a more externalised, even uncomprehending, way than is the case with Sanin, who seeks more consciously and subjectively to relate literature to life.
In Gemmas account of Die Irrungen there is a sense in which her fiancé, Klüber, might be equated with the mysterious old man, yet only superficially so. For Klüber himself literary points of reference scarcely exist: they are reduced to his reading of a platitudinous collection of would-be humorous anecdotes, Knallerbsen, oder Du sollst und wirst lachen! [11, 40], the very subtitle of which with its mandatory tone, even in matters of humour (You must and will laugh), accords with the usual authoritarian severity [11, 39] that characterises the man himself.
The strong element of caricature present in the portrayal of Polozov is also suggested through literary allusion. We see this in oblique references to the great Russian satirist, Gogol. Thus the stout Polozov, prepared for his journey at the end of chapter 32, has wedged his ears with cotton wool, even though it is summer time [11, 105]. This comic detail clearly recalls the precautions of another, overweight traveller (and trencherman) Storchenko, in Gogols bizarre story Ivan Shponka and his Aunty. Once they have arrived at the hotel in Wiesbaden, Sanin is later amazed by the immobility displayed by his friend: Polozov sat motionless, like an idol; he did not even turn his face in his direction, he did not move even an eyebrow, he made no sound. The spectacle was truly majestic! [11, 109]. Such solid impassivity recalls another of Gogols depictions of a glutton of heavily built proportions Sobakevich in Dead Souls, who, with his wife, sits in like manner in the presence of Chichikov (even such phraseology as he did not move even an eyebrow is the same). But Turgenev chooses a quotation from Griboedovs Woe from Wit to comment on Polozovs eating habits, when he remarks: Polozov ate slowly "with feeling, sense and slow deliberation" [11, 111].27 There is a further reference to Griboedovs play, when Polozov brings the obituary of one of his wifes admirers to her attention. In it Prince Gromoboi is referred to as a man of counsel (muzh soveta), to which Maria Nikolaevna reacts by punning on the word muzh (which in less elevated language simply means husband): What man of counsel was he! He was simply the husband of Tatiana Iurevna. [11, 128]. The reference to Tatiana Iurevna is highly resonant: she is the non-appearing figure of authority, the utterance of whose name concludes Griboedovs comedy, a principal theme of which is the subservience of husbands to their wives. Slyly and obliquely, through mention of this name, Turgenev manages to suggest the relevance for the men in Maria Nikolaevnas life of a central quotation in Griboedovs play: A little-boy husband, a servant husband, one of his wifes pages/ Is the high ideal of all Moscow husbands the very position which Polozov occupies in respect to his own wife.28 In contrast to the conscious and subjective use of the literary quotations which characterise Sanin, and the external nature of such material in the presentation of Gemma, literary allusion surrounding Polozov is internalised. It is as though the character himself has absorbed literary references to become an amalgam of prototypes and clichés.
The presentation of his wife through literary allusion is quite different. Turgenev contents himself with two references to establish the physical and psychological presence of his femme fatale. The first challenges a statement on beauty in a poem by Pushkin A Beautiful Woman (Krasavitsa), 1832, [11, 111]; the second refers to le terrible don de la familiarité mentioned by Cardinal Retz [11, 120].29 What is more striking is the way in which, unlike the other characters, Maria Nikolaevna is in complete charge of her literary quotations, and insinuatingly exploits them. We see this when she turns Sanins assertion on the ability of some to swim in the sea of marriage, into a mocking allusion to the plight of Pechorin in Taman [11, 133]. On the other hand, she herself seems to echo Lermontovs self-willed hero, when shortly before she had confessed (like Pechorin) that a gipsy had foretold for her a violent death [11, 131]; for she herself is a female Pechorin a conqueror of hearts.30 All this takes place against a literary background; they are attending a performance of a sentimental and badly acted German play. The falseness of its love plot is thrown into relief by Maria Nikolaevnas frank discussion of her own earlier love life. Sanin realises that it is freedom which she prizes above all else [11, 134], and later in their ride through the country, she will extol this freedom in a snatch of German verse (In die Berge, wo die Freiheit thront! [11, 143]).31 It is during this ride that her literary allusions become more pointed: like Bürgers heroine Leonora she is in a mad ride with a corpse: "Sanin!", she shouted, "Its like in Bürgers Leonora! Only you are not dead, are you? Not dead? I am alive!" [11, 144]. She certainly is very much alive, and unlike the Bürger poem, it is not the corpse carrying away Leonora, but she, the dauntless horsewoman, carrying off the corpse a young man dead to all else in the world.
In contrast to Gemma, whose recounting of the plot of Die Irrungen merely seems to express unconsciously held fears, and her own inability to act, Maria Nikolaevna makes her literary plots come true. Her knowledge of Latin, as she had already told Sanin, derives from one of her very first lovers, the Swiss tutor Gaston: I read the Aeneid with him, a boring thing, but there are good passages. Do you remember, when Dido is in the forest with Aeneas ?[11, 131].
It is clear that she is basing her own seduction of Sanin on the classical story of the sudden love of Dido and Aeneas, sheltering from a thunderstorm while out hunting, and when, as if to complete the plot, thunder is actually heard, she is delighted:
Dido and Aeneas had found shelter in a cave. Maria Nikolaevna leads Sanin to a watchmans hut (karaulka): and suddenly finding herself at the entrance of the hut, she turned to Sanin and whispered: Aeneas? [11, 148]. Yet Maria Nikolaevna pursues her reenactment of the story of Dido and Aeneas only up to a point. In Virgils account the end is tragedy not for Aeneas but for Dido herself. In the further course of their relationship Maria Nikolaevna reverses the roles: she is the betrayer not the betrayed.
There are also references to opera in the novel. In contrast to the narrow-minded, unromantic, practical outlook of Germans such as Klüber, the Roselli family is emotional and demonstrative in a more operatic way. We see this particularly in the mother, Frau Leonore, and the servant-cum-confidant, Pantaleone. Sanins own irruption into their world is dramatic, almost operatic, as is the event which causes it, and changes the whole course of his life the sudden and inexplicable illness of Emile. Later that evening, in getting better acquainted with this providential saviour of her son, Frau Leonore appears only to understand the significance of his name by reference to opera: They also very much liked his name: "Dimitrii". The older of the ladies remarked that in her youth she had heard that fine opera "Demetrio e Polibio", but that "Dimitrii" was much better than "Demetrio" [11, 17].32
The following day, as he grows closer to Gemma, the playing of a street musician inspires her softly to sing the beautiful melody of Weber, in which Max expresses all the bewilderment of first love [11, 33], and she confesses that, for all that she is Italian, she likes such music more than anything else. It is not just the theme of first love, which Webers opera Der Freischütz suggests as relevant to her own relationship with Sanin: there is also the theme of roses. In the opera Max fires at a white dove, which is, in fact, his lover, Agathe, but she is saved by a chaplet of roses blessed by a pious hermit. The rose, however, cannot save Gemma, and it is perhaps significant that later, as he is in danger of betraying her, Sanin thinks of her as his pure, unsullied little dove [11, 125].
There is, indeed, an operatic quality in the development of this first love, with its duel, and its passion flaring up dramatically in a whirlwind. Another storm occurs when Sanin declares his intentions to Gemmas mother, but, as after the earlier whirlwind, a calm then ensues.He finds unexpected eloquence: He would scarcely have been able to explain his intentions and his feelings with such passion and conviction to Gemma herself. These feelings were the most genuine, the feelings the most pure, as those of Almaviva in The Barber of Seville [11, 91].
There is obvious authorial irony in this comparison.33 Yet in The Barber of Seville count Almaviva is the serious lover of a girl, whose name suggests a rose Rosina. There is, however, a sequel to Beaumarchais play (and Rossinis opera); in The Marriage of Figaro Almaviva is unfaithful to Rosina, and seeks to seduce the fiancée of Figaro himself. Turgenevs novel, like the Figaro sequence itself, is in two parts, and it seems significant that before Maria Nikolaevna launches her attack on marriage and a serious attempt at seduction in the privacy of a box at the theatre, the play opens with the overture from Mozarts opera The Marriage of Figaro [11, 130].
One might, of course, argue that Turgenev himself knew all about the operatic nature of love, through his own liaison with the opera singer Pauline Viardot. Indeed, her fathers name is referred to with veneration by the most operatic member of this Italian family Pantaleone.34 He recalls his experience of singing alongside the great man in another opera about love and infidelity, Rossinis Othello, but, unfortunately, the attempts to recreate the voice of his past are both pathetic and comic [11, 21-2]. When Pantaleone is called upon to act as Sanins second, although he has had no such experience before, his former career comes to his aid, and he played the role of second, precisely as a role [11, 51].
The operatic qualities of a duel, in which no one is hurt, are further underlined by Pantaleones view of Sanin as a figure of retribution: he is the statue of the Commendatore in Mozarts Don Giovanne [11, 65], and in his account of the duel to the anxious Emile, Pantaleone himself assumes the pose of the statue in order to dramatise the event. When Sanin learns that Pantaleone has also told Gemma about the duel, he fears that once again he will have been compared to the statue of the Commendatore [11, 72]. He is right to be uneasy at being cast in such operatic roles; indeed, later, Pantaleone is more likely to see him as Don Juan, when he himself, like a statuesque figure of retribution, appears before him in Frankfurt [11, 149-150].
At the end of the novel, Sanin surprises all his friends by suddenly leaving St Petersburg, his newly appointed apartments, and, most surprising of all, his subscription to the Italian opera: In which Mme Patti herself was taking part she herself, Mme Patti herself! [11, 151]. One may wonder, whether by this gesture Sanin is renouncing opera for good, or is his search for Gemma merely the third strand in the operatic cycle?
Fate is another theme of the novel. We are told that the squall of wind which throws Sanin and Gemma together makes the very starlight tremble [11, 56], and that the memory of this night under the swarming stars (pod luchami roivshikhsia zvezd) is etched into his memory [11, 70]. Stars and fate seem linked in Sanins life. When he has written his declaration of love to Gemma, he is at a loss to know how he may deliver it, until by chance he meets Emile in the street: "Its not for nothing that they say that every lover has a star", thought Sanin, and he called to Emile [11, 77]. The reply he receives via the same emissary bans him from Gemmas presence for a whole day. During this period of waiting he seeks consolation in the company of her brother, but fate, once again, is obviously on his mind, for we learn that: At the beginning of their walk Sanin, as the elder and therefore more sober-minded, started to talk about the nature of fate, or the preordaining of destiny, and the meaning and nature of mans calling [11, 80]. Soon, however, the conversation takes a less serious turn.
Yet fate, in the form of chance encounters, has a hand in the destruction of his relationship with Gemma. He unexpectedly recognises an old schoolmate, Ippolit Polozov, in the street, and seems somehow to think that this has been preordained: "Is this not my star again in action?" flashed through Sanins thoughts [11, 98]. As a plan hatches in his head to make a quick sale of his estate to Polozovs wife, and thus expedite his marriage to Gemma, he decides to take a chance: Why shouldnt I try? Perhaps it is still my star that is working It is decided! I shall try! [11, 100]. These words in the light of subsequent events are highly ironic: fate is at work, but his life is about to take another and unexpected turn.
In Polozovs wife Sanin will meet a woman who does not submit passively to fate, but shapes, not only her own life, but the lives of others. The philosophical nub of the novel turns on this femme fatale. We have seen, that in earlier novels Turgenev has been concerned with the problem of egoism the duality of self-love/self-respect, a dichotomy very relevant to the ethic of the liberal nobleman. In Spring Torrents he has shifted his emphasis to a contingent area, but one already implied in his earlier depictions of the femme fatale the dichotomy of Freedom and the Will. As a femme émancipée, Maria Nikolaevna tells Sanin that in marrying Polozov she knew she would be free; she would be a free cossack (volnyi kazak). The adjective volnyi and the associated noun volia encapsulate the dichotomy freedom/will (in Russian the word volia can mean both freedom and will and therefore blurs the two concepts). Individual freedom may, in effect, be the exercising of egotistical will. Here is a dichotomy which haunts Russian literature.35
The problem of freedom, perceived as will, is obviously linked to Turgenevs previous concern with egoism. At the beginning of their ride through the German countryside Maria Nikolaevna tells Sanin: If you have managed to achieve something you wanted to do, something that seemed impossible, well then, O Soul, make use of it to the absolute limits!. She then makes a gesture implying that she herself has achieved these limits, and continues: and how good a person then feels himself to be! Look at me now how good I am! I think I could embrace the whole world. Yet, no, not the whole world! That person there I would not embrace [11, 141]. She points to an old man dressed like a beggar, who is making his way past them. She is not prepared to embrace him, she says, but she is prepared to make him happy, and she throws him her purse. Getting her own way makes her feel good, but such feelings are entirely self-centred. Her act of seeming charity is egotistical. She gallops off, so as not to hear the old mans gratitude; it would spoil her pleasure, as she explains: You see, I did not do it for him, but for myself. How dare he thank me [11, 142]. Although she stresses the egoism behind the act, it is at one and the same time an expression of her wilfulness and her freedom from conventional norms.
In their box at the theatre Sanin had guessed what Maria Nikolaevna loved above all else:
Nevertheless, this lover of freedom and hater of servitude had already revealed her sense of dominance over her companion, by prefacing her confession with the words: I understand you, and have already promised you, that I will let you go completely free. Now listen to my confession [11, 134]. Her freedom is predicated on her will, and in human relationships this means the need to subordinate others. It is the central feature of her relationship with her husband. In chapter 36 she exclaims:
Such dominance, it appears, even extends to the inanimate world. She asserts that freedom rules in the hills, but, as we have seen, it is really she who wishes to be in command of nature [11, 144].
In the private room behind the box at the theatre Maria Nikolaevna tells Sanin: Do you know what: it is impossible to impose chains on me, but, you know, I myself do not impose chains. I love freedom and do not acknowledge responsibilities - and not just for myself alone [11, 136].36 The statement is disingenuous, both emotionally and symbolically: Maria Nikolaevna imposes on her lovers iron rings to wear on their fingers, which appear to link them in a chain. Thus, later, to his chagrin Sanin notices on the finger of Dönhof exactly the same sort of iron ring, as Maria Nikolaevna had given him !!! [11, 149].
As a supplicant, hoping for a quick sale of his estate, Sanin is already in a subordinate position. He is dependent on the will of Maria Nikolaevna. He has to accompany her to the theatre, but secretly hopes that she might at least let him go the following day [11, 125]. He uses the same verb (otpustit) which Maria Nikolaevna will later use as a promise, before she delivers her confession; she will let him go free to all points of the compass (na vse chetyre storony : literally on all four sides) [11, 134]. During their ride in the country this latter phrase will be given a further ominous twist, when she likens herself to an Hungarian king assuming power at his coronation, and points with her whip to all four sides, with the words Everything is ours [11, 143].
As they approach the place of seduction, she is entirely in command, whereas he has lost all volia (will/freedom): She moved ahead in commanding fashion, and he followed her obediently and submissively, without a spark of will (volia), his heart in his mouth [11, 147]. From now on he is no longer a supplicant, but a slave, and later he recalls the moment: when he had surrendered himself at her feet, and when his servitude had begun [11, 149].37 He recalls how at Maria Nikolaevnas command he had made up to Ippolit Sidorych, ingratiating himself with him, and paid court to Dönhof [11, 149].
He leaves with Maria Nikolaevna and her husband for Paris, and on the journey his humiliation is complete: Ippolit Sidorych was eating a pear, which he, Sanin, had peeled for him, and Maria Nikolaevna was looking at him and smiling with that grin, which, as an enserfed person, he knew so well, the grin of an owner, a master [11, 150].38 Sanin who had come to Maria Nikolaevna as a free agent anxious to sell his estate, but full of scruples about the sale of bonded serfs, is now himself in a similar position to those he had intended to sell: he feels that he has become a bonded serf (zakreposhchennyi chelovek), a mere property to be owned. In Paris he is aware of all the humiliations, all the vile torments of a slave, who is not allowed either to be jealous, or to complain, and who will finally be discarded, like worn out clothing... [11, 150]. Yet, through what is perhaps a strange quirk of the authors own psychology, Sanin at the end of the novel is offered salvation in a similar form of serfdom he is to become the hanger-on of another marriage abroad that of Gemma in far away America.
The plot of Spring Torrents is driven by memory. It is the rediscovery of Gemmas little garnet cross, which evokes the recollections forming the bulk of the novel. Thus in essence the plot itself is a prolonged flashback, and marks a development in Turgenevs technique. Until now his use of the flashback had been merely a grafting on to the plot, often causing an interruption in the plot line, which could at times appear clumsy. It is only the penultimate chapter that returns the reader to the fictional present, some thirty years later, and the coherent chain of memories breaks off, only because recalling them is too painful:39
Nevertheless, he is still unable to quell the pressure of memory, and scraps of recollected incidents fill in the rest of his life in a more impressionistic way, until he recalls his return to St Petersburg and his poisoned, wasted life there, his bitter, fruitless repentance, and equally fruitless and bitter attempt to forget a punishment, which is like paying off an incalculable debt a copeck at a time [11, 150]. If the attempt to forget is his punishment, the rediscovery of the little cross brings back memory in a flood, which, like the waters of Spring, refresh and prepare for new life. Even earlier the little cross had been a token of memory to which he had vainly clung. Early in his relationship with Maria Nikolaevna he had sensed danger, and alone in his room had kissed Gemmas little cross a thousand times [11, 125].
Maria Nikolaevna is also concerned with the question of memory. Before she directs Sanin to that other cross, red not with the gems of Gemma, but of crude red wood, the cross on the path to his seduction, Maria Nikolaevna asks him a pertinent, but ambiguous question: Sanin, are you capable of forgetting? [11, 146]. In his naivety, Sanin thinks that she is referring to the incident of the day before, when there had been an apparent exchange of kisses in the carriage [11, 139]. But Maria Nikolaevnas question has much wider implications: is Sanin capable of forgetting Gemma?; will he be capable of forgetting what is about to happen?; is he, in fact, free in the sense that she herself is free? The answer, of course, is no Sanin, not only becomes Maria Nikolaevnas slave, he becomes, too, a slave of memory itself in that unhappy life of attempted forgetting he later leads in St Petersburg.
Gemma, too, in her own way poses the question of memory. As we have seen, the only tale of Hoffmann she likes is Die Irrungen, and in her account of the tale (with its strong echoes of the plot of the novel itself) she appears to add her own ending to the story of the young man in the sweet shop: The beautiful girl disappears for ever for him, and he is unable to forget her beseeching glance, and is tormented by the thought, that, perhaps, all the happiness in his life had slipped from his hands...[11, 34]. To which the author himself adds the comment: Hoffmann hardly finishes his tale in this fashion; but this is how it was formed and remained in Gemmas memory [11, 34]. It is Gemmas added ending to the Hoffmann tale, which becomes the ending of Turgenevs own novel Sanin himself is not able to forget the beautiful girl in the confectioners shop. He too is tormented by the thought that, perhaps, all the happiness in his life has slipped through his hands. He decides to search for Gemma again.
The plot-line of the novel has three phases: Sanins love for Gemma; his passion for Maria Nikolaevna; and the final search for Gemma which takes him to America. Each of these three strands is linked by the secondary figure of Dönhof. It is the duel with Dönhof which brings Sanin and Gemma together, and Sanins immaturity is later witnessed by him, in the games he plays with Emile. To Sanins surprise Dönhof turns up in Wiesbaden, but when Sanin asks Maria Nikolaevna if he is a close acquaintance, it is Dönhofs own maturity which is questioned in this relationship: With him? With that boy?. He runs errands for me [11, 139], and as if to complete the earlier parallel she jokes that it would be an interesting idea if he and Dönhof were to fight another duel over her. Yet, it is really she who fights duels of an amorous kind and once she has won, Sanin is reduced to the status of Dönhof, and is expected to treat him with respect, as a fellow brother of the iron ring. In the third stage of the novel Dönhof again plays a crucial role, acting as the catalyst bringing Sanin and Gemma together; for it is through Dönhof that he traces Gemma. Thus a figure, who has twice been a rival, ends up as Sanins counsellor.
The novel is based on shifting allegiances and changing roles. The central shift is that of Sanin from love for Gemma to passion for Maria Nikolaevna, and back again. But Gemma herself renounces Klüber for Sanin and finally marries Slocum.40 Sanin, who has fought a duel with Dönhof, dreams that he is actually fighting a duel with Klüber. Pantaleone turns from being Sanins champion and admirer into a critic and embodiment of his conscience - the conscience that appears to affect Sanin at the end of chapter 40.
In Gemmas account of the plot of Die Irrungen the young girl is accompanied by a mysterious, sinister old man, from whom she appears to beg deliverance. If the symbolism of this story has relevance for the novel itself, it would appear, in general terms, to suggest her relationship with Klüber, but as the novel progresses, the true old man and mysterious guardian appears more and more to be Pantaleone. He it is who follows Gemmas every footstep. He is noticed by Sanin at the rendezvous in the park, with an identification suggesting an echo from the Hoffmann tale: What? That is surely not our old man? [11, 87]. As Sanin leaves for Wiesbaden, Pantaleone shouts after him, appearing to threaten him with his fist. He is an even more sinister figure, when he confronts Sanin in his Wiesbaden hotel and utters his maledizione [11, 150], and later stands threateningly at a street corner, menacingly witnessing Sanins flight to Paris [11, 150].
If, like his hero Sanin, Turgenev in Spring Torrents had abandoned Russia for the purely emotional life lived beyond its borders, in his next, and last, novel, he would return to his old preoccupation with Russian political and social developments, and the fate of his country. Virgin Soil is Turgenevs attempt to portray the political and emotional factors behind the impulse of the younger generation to go to the people.
1 Quoted in [11, 465]. In assembling his novels for publication in 1880 Turgenev omits Spring Torrents and does not even mention it in his introduction to the collection [12, 303].It is perhaps because of this that Richard Freeborn does not include it in his study of Turgenevs novels (The Novelists Novelist). One of the best critical studies of the novel is to be found in the essay appended to Leonard Schapiros translation of Spring Torrents: Critical Essay, Spring Torrents: Its place and significance in the Life and Work of Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, Turgenevs Spring Torrents, trans. Leonard Schapiro (with notes and a critical essay), London, 1972, pp.161-212. Even he refers to it as a minor work (p.178), but also categorises it along with Smoke as from the literary point of view [ ] one of the most perfect of all Turgenevs works, (p.201).
2 The unexpected appeal to help a fainting brother, and the heros infatuation for the sister clearly reflects an incident in Turgenevs own life. [11, 460]. See also: Schapiro Crit. Essay, p.206. According to Schapiro Sanin in certain respects stands for Turgenev. he both is, and is not, Turgenev. He is Turgenev caricatured by Turgenev.Ibid., pp.161, 211. See also: Seeley, pp.300-301.
3 Turgenev himself, in similar manner, had challenged the boorish behaviour of German officers at a Swiss pension in 1864. See: Schapiro, Crit. Essay, pp.206-7.
4 For an account of the significance of Garibaldi for the Russians see: Anita Bluma, Garibaldi kak fantom russkoi literatury 1862 goda, Philologia: Rizhskii filologicheskii sbornik, (vypusk 3, cum Italia), Latviiskii universitet, Riga, 2000, pp.48-67.
5 The editors of PSS link this new type of hero to the decline of the revolutionary movement in the second half of the 1860s [11, 481].
6 The 'Carbonari' were a secret Italian organization founded in 1808 to fight for liberation from foreign domination and the founding of a republic [11, 476]. The unfortunate circumstances referred to are the suppression of the revolt against the DEste family by Austrian troops, and the ensuing political repression of which Panteleone appears to have been a victim [11, 476; 478].
7 L.N. Andropov, Novaia povest Turgeneva, Moskovskie vedomosti, 12, Jan., No.9, 1872 (quoted by the editors of PSS [11, 464]).
8 Turgenev had been living in Baden-Baden for seven years from1863, and from there first moved with the Viardots to London, where much of Spring Torrents was actually written.
9 Filipp Edward Dervient [ 11, 129] was director of the Karlsruhe Court Theatre. In January 1870 Pauline Viardots operetta The Last Wizard (Poslednii koldun), with libretto by Turgenev, was staged there. The fact that it was not well received in the local press, was attributed by Turgenev to the hostility of Dervient [11, 485]. The Wiesbaden critic disparagingly referred to as "a literary man" or a hired lackey (literat ili Lohn-Lakai) [11, 134] is the writer, theatre and music critic, Richard Pohl, with whom Turgenev, after a long, friendly and artistic relationship, had finally fallen out [11, 486].
10 For details of this see: [11, 467].
11 See Letter to P.B. Annenkov, 19 (31) December, 1871 [L. 9, 197]. See also: Schapiro, Crit. Essay, p.180.
12 The letter was written in French .The original reads: quant à la seconde partie qui nest ni bien motivée, ni bien nécéssaire, je me suis laissé entrâiner par des souvenirs [10,L., 136].
13 Isaak Pavlovsky, Souvenirs sur Tourguéneff, Paris, 1887, pp.88-90 (quoted [11, 461]).
14 L..Friedländer, Erinnerungen an Turgenjew, Erinnerungen, Reden und Studien, 1 Teil, Strasburg, 1905, p.196 (quoted [11, 460]).
15 Schapiro comments: Presumably, a stronger man than Sanin would have insisted on carrying Gemma off to Russia, away from the Patisserie Roselli. Crit. Essay, p.192.
16 Seeley points out that Klüber has no option, as a shop assistant he could not possibly challenge an officer. Seeley, p.295.
17 Maria Nikolaevna raising the question of prisukha reminds the reader of similar enchantment in Smoke [9, 177]. If Litvinovs judgement is clouded by smoke, Sanins mind is affected by chad -fumes, intoxication [11, 125; 132].
18 See: Schapiro, Crit. Essay, p. 210.
19 Schapiro points to Turgenevs careful editing of the use of snake imagery in his drafts for the novel. Crit. Essay, p.208.
20 In Russian the words ruka hand, and noga foot have a more extensive meaning than in English. Ruka can also mean arm and noga leg. Schapiro also points to Turgenevs editing of the use of hand in his drafts: Crit. Essay, pp.208-9.
21 Before his own death Turgenev was apparently tormented by dreams of sea monsters. See: Schapiro, Crit. Essay, p.180.
22 The poem referred to is Ludwig Uhlands Das Schifflein. The use of boat and maritime imagery has been noted before in On the Eve [8, 161] and in Smoke [9, 257; 261].
23 Dal explains bryzgi as a hunting term meaning the first spring thaw. See: Dal, Tolkovyi slovar, vol.1, p.132. See also [11, 487].
24 This refers to a ritual, which was part of the ceremonial coronation of Hungarian kings: the new king, having ridden to the summit of a hill on the banks of the Danube, made four strokes with an unsheathed sword at the four points of the compass, which indicated his readiness to defend Hungary from all enemies [11, 487].
25 The line is not quoted entirely accurately, but comes from a cycle of poems Hebrew Songs (1849) a poetic rendering of the biblical Song of Songs by the poet L.A. Mei.
26 Cf. Eugene Onegin, chapter 6, verses 20-23. Lenskys farewell is in romantic verse, and is presented by Pushkin with obvious irony.
27 A s chuvstvom, s tolkom, s rasstanovkoi . See A.S. Griboedov, Woe from Wit, Act 2, sc.1, l.4. Here, however, Famusovs words refer to reading.
28 Cf. Woe from Wit, Act 4, sc.14, ll.491-2 (Muzh-malchik, muzh sluga, iz zheninykh pazhei,/ Vysokii ideal moskovskikh vsekh muzhei). The detail of the fez[11, 109; 125] even suggests a self-quotation on Turgenevs part. It is an affectation of Pavel Ivanovich in Fathers and Children. Turgenev had even toyed with the idea of attributing to Polozov speech mannerisms (i.e.the use of diminutive names) which characterised the poetry of Nekrasov [11, 330, 459].
29 See commentary [11, 483; 484]. There are also literary allusions in the name of Polozovas dead admirer, Prince Gromoboi, who always decorated her room with camellias on her birthday [11, 128]. The motif of camellias not only suggests the courtesan of Dumas Fils novel La Dame aux Camélias, but Gromoboi is the eponymous central figure, who made a pact with the devil to become a notorious lecher, in the first of V.A. Zhukovskys ballads Twelve Sleeping Maidens (Dvenatdsat spiashchikh dev) (1810). The prince who wrote obituary verses for Turgenevs Gromoboi Prince Kovrizhkin is a polemical reference to P.A. Viazemskii [11, 484].
30 See also Seeley, p.300.
31 The source of this quotation has not been established, but it might be a distant echo of a poem by Heine. See commentary [11, 487].
32 Demetrio e Polibio an early Rossini opera first staged in Rome in 1812 [11, 476].
33 The editors of PSS see in this comparison a hint at Sanins future betrayal of Gemma [11, 482].
34 Pantaleones name is associated with the Commedia dellArte, as is also the name of the familys dog Tartaglia [11, 476]. Seeley points to the Italian linguistic and other gaffes with which Turgenev burdens Pantaleone, by way of local colour. Seeley, pp.295; 365.
35 The relationship between freedom and will is a lesson Turgenev learned from his father, as he recreates it, in literary form, in First Love (Pervaia liubov):
"Freedom [svoboda]", he repeated, "but do you know what can give a man freedom?"
The concept of volia is particularly relevant to Pechorin in A Hero of Our Time. See: Peace, The Rôle of Taman , pp.12-29. Schapiro also sees the question of will as linked to Turgenevs interest in Schopenhauer: Crit. Essay, pp.183; 184-6; 188.
36 Cf. the symbolic role of Elenas chain in On the Eve [8, 114].
37 Seeley links Polozovas desire to enslave to the circumstances of her childhood. It is hard not to suspect her drive to enslave and humiliate men of the serf-owning class is, at least unconsciously, in revenge for some childhood martyrdom. Seeley, p.299.
38 Annenkov was particularly unhappy about this detail of the pear as a mark of Sanins enslavement [11, 462-3], and there is irony in this image, whether conscious or not. We have already seen that there are certain autobiographical suggestions in the portrait of Sanin; his compliant nature is stressed (and softness, softness, softness [11, 37]). The irony emerges if we bear in mind the fact that Flaubert called Turgenev himself a soft pear. See: Schapiro, Crit. Essay, pp.192-3.
39 Schapiro points to inconsistencies in Turgenev's use of the narrative technique of reminiscence, and to the frequent authorial intrusions, but wonders whether the reader really notices them: Crit. Essay, pp.204-5.
40 Seeley sees Gemma as merely marrying an American counterpart of Herr Klüber. Seeley, p.295.
If Chernyshevsky had earlier polemicised with Turgenevs Fathers and Children in writing his novel What is to be done?, there is a possibility that Turgenev might have been polemicising with at least one aspect of Chernyshevskys novel in return. Chernyshevsky had treated the issue of free love positively in his novel, and Lopukhov having amicably yielded his wife, Vera Pavlovna, to his friend Kirsanov, goes off to America where he assumes the name of Beaumont, then comes back to live with Vera Pavlovna and her new husband. Spring Torrents appears to invert this situation. Here the theme of free love is tragic, but nevertheless Sanin can redeem something of the former relationship by going to America and entering into the married life of Gemma, who has now changed her name to Slocum.