On the Eve by Ivan Turgenev.

On the Eve (Наканýне) is Ivan Turgenev's third novel (following Home of the Gentry, 1859) and was first published in 1860. As the title suggests, the book has the sense of being on the edge of something, a bridge between the old Russian and, perhaps, the new. As Turgenev began writing On the Eve the Battle of Solferino took place in Italy (24th June 1859), a part of the second War of Italian Independence. It led to the unification of Italy (Risorgimento) which had thus far been divided between Italy, France, Austria, and Spain. The battle was fought by Italy's allies France (under Napoleon III, of whom Émile Zola had much to say!) and a part of Italy - Sardinia (under Victor Emmanuel II) against Austria (under Emperor Franz Joseph I). The allies were successful, and marked the start of a new era. As this went on, the emancipation of the serfs (Крестьянская реформа 1861 года) in Russia was about to take place (it would happen a year after the publication of On the Eve), a liberal reform under  Alexander II of Russia that abolished serfdom, which had existed in Russia since the 11th Century. Like Italy, Russia too was on the cusp of a new world.

On the Eve is set in the summer 1853, just months before the Crimean War in which Russia (under Nicholas I and later Alexander II) fought against France (under Napoléon III), Britain (under Queen Victoria), the Ottoman Empire (under Abdulmejid I), and Sardinia (under Victor Emmanuel II). It focuses on Elena Stakhova, the daughter of Nikolai Artyomevich Stahov, a retired lieutenant, and his wife Anna Vassilyevna. It is a simple enough story: Elena has two suitors, Pavel Yakovlevich Shubin, a sculptor, and Andrei Petrovich Bersyenev, a student at Moscow University, whilst her father wishes her to marry Yegor Andreyevich Kurnatovsky, the chief secretary at the Senate. He, Elena's father, is an idle man who has had many mistresses and her parent's unhappy marriage makes her wary if not unwilling to enter into any such contract, however she comes to fall in love with Bersyenev's friend, Dmitri Nikanorovich Insarov, a revolutionary Bulgarian student. His passion and patriotism attracts her not only in itself but also as a contrast to her relatively mundane life. The two secretly marry, infuriating her parents, however it ends in tragedy.

Despite the shortness of this novel and its simple plot, this is a very rich and complex portrayal of a young woman, seen through the eyes of her relatives, those who love her, and those who don't, and her struggle being on the cusp of a new life both personally and, for her country, politically. On the Eve is an intense psychological drama, but Turgenev writes simply, reminding me of Chaucer in a way: the simplicity of the prose (or poetry in Chaucer's case) is all the more beautiful and evocative. Throughout the novel there is the real sense of change, which brings not only a glorious sense of anticipation but also a degree fear, and Turgenev captures this so poignantly. I haven't read a great deal of Turgenev, but I'm yet to read a novel by him I didn't love.

The Battle of Sinop (Синопский бой 18 ноября 1853 года (ночь после боя) by Ivan Aivazovsky (1853), a battle which began the Crimean War.

Comments

  1. hmmm.... i've always assumed i wasn't bright enough to read Turgenev; but maybe...

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    1. I'm sure you are! Besides, in my case I read books anyway *despite* knowing I'm probably not bright enough for them. Still enjoy most of them :)

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  2. Added to my TBR. I enjoyed Fathers and Sons, and this sounds pretty interesting, too!

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    1. I enjoyed Fathers and Sons too! That was a good one. I should read more Turgenev... :)

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  3. Great review of an interesting book! Ages ago I fancied reading all (sic!)important Russian writers, but didn't get beyond Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky at the time. As for Turgenev, I only read one of his novellas, namely First Love from 1860, and wasn't particularly impressed by it. Obviously, I still need to find the Russian author with whom I click. No, that's not entirely true. I loved Going under by Lydia Chukovskaya and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was really impressive too. Maybe it's rather the literary period - nineteenth century - that isn't really my cup of tea.

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    1. Thank you :) I do like reading Russian lit, but not read much - some Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gogol, Chekhov, Goncharov, Solzhenitsyn, and Aksakof - no more than that, and I'm afraid I couldn't even *name* another Russian author, but now I'm off to look up Chukovskaya - thanks for that tip! :)

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    2. It's true that the names of Russian authors, notably of twentieth-century and contemporary ones, seldom spring to mind... at least not to mine. ;-)

      Despite my desire for geographical diversity I also haven't reviewed many on my blog yet, just the inevitable Alexander Pushkin because he's my birthday twin (The Queen of Spades), the above mentioned Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) and a forgotten Soviet WWW II classic by Vera Panova (The Train). For this year's Back to the Classics Challenge I virtually excavated a classic about the Russo-Japanese war: Tsushima by Alexey Novikov-Priboy, but it isn't due before July. Let's hope that it's good!

      I keep my fingers crossed that you'll find a book by Lydia Chukovskaya, but last time I checked the English editions (like the German ones) were out of print and quite unavailable.

      LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany

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    3. I keep meaning to read The Queen of Spades, I do have it... Loved Eugene Onegin!

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