The Points of View Challenge – The Tryst – Ivan Turgenev

Ivan TurgenevIvan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818 – 1883)

Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright and translator.

The Tryst, first published in Contemporary Magazine (Совреме́нник) in 1850, then in the collection Hunter’s Notes (Записки охотника) in 1852.

Available to read online here – please note, this is a different translation from that published in the Points of View volume.

This is the third of four stories in the volume Points of View to be given the style classification by Moffett and McElheny of Memoir, or Observer Narration. From their introduction: “The stories selected for this group demonstrate some of the different relationships a narrator may have to events and main characters; these relationships determine how he gains information. He may be a confidant of the protagonists; he may be merely an eye-witness to their actions; he may be a member of some group or community in which they’re generally known, in which case he behaves like the chorus in Greek drama.”

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the story yet and want to before you read the summary of it below, stop now!


The Tryst


Hunter's SketchesOur unnamed narrator finds himself resting in a birch grove in autumn. All around him are the beautiful, sensuous sights and sounds of nature at its most perfect; verdant, lush, almost over-ripe in its sheer stunning presence. He drifts off to sleep and wakes up later and spies a peasant girl sitting in this lavish environment – but she is crying, and her delicate white skin stands out against the green grove. The narrator remains hidden, but eventually, another figure enters the scene – an arrogant, posturing young man, whose “face, rosy, fresh, brazen, belonged to that category of faces which, insofar as I have been able to observe, almost always move men to indignation and, regrettably, are very often found pleasing by women.”

The girl, Akulina, is relieved to see the boy, Victor Alexandrych, but he brusquely tells her he will be leaving tomorrow with his master. Stunned into sadness, Akulina begs him to stay but he callously shows no interest in her feelings and tells her to stop talking nonsense. She gives him a garland of cornflowers, but he shows no interest in them. Desperate to hear a kind word from him, he disdains every opportunity to soothe her sorrow. He patronises her for her lack of education, says she cannot possibly imagine what life is like in glamorous Petersburg, says it’s impossible for them to marry and eventually shrugs his shoulders and walks off in silence, leaving the cornflowers behind. A chill comes over the birch grove; the leaves now seem dry and lifeless, and nature’s colours have turned grey. The narrator starts to approach Akulina but she runs off. His final comment on the incident: “I came home; but for a long time the image of poor Akulina would not leave my mind, and her cornflowers, withered long since, are still treasured by me…”

The incident that Turgenev describes is simple enough. A meeting between two young people, she is clearly in love, and he is only in love with himself. He never has any intention of behaving honourably to the girl and she is just left to rue her unhappy affections. But we see it all through the eyes of the narrator, and he is biased from the start – finding Akulina fetching and pure, and “very far from bad-looking”. Victor Alexandrych, on the other hand, “did not create a pleasing impression on me. He was, judging by all the signs, the spoiled valet of some young, rich seigneur.” And whilst there’s no doubt that the boy mistreats the girl in this tryst, you must wonder if the narrator has an ulterior motive in framing the story in the way he does.

Turgenev gives us a superb contrast between the description of nature at its most fecund before the meeting, and then dry and lifeless afterwards – which clearly symbolises the optimism and positivity about their relationship before the meeting, and how it is dead and buried after she has been so badly let down. I also like how he suggests that the narrator has been so affected by what he saw that even today, some time after the event, he still treasures the memory of Akulina. “Treasure” is a strong word!

Brief, thoughtful, and packed with gorgeous descriptions, this is a juicy nugget of the short story genre, that suggests just as much (if not more) than it actually says. Not exactly enjoyable, but certainly memorable and I really admire Turgenev’s construction and use of language.

The next story in the anthology is the fourth and final classified by Moffett and McElheny as memoir, or observer narration, Johnny Bear by John Steinbeck.

Review – A Month in the Country, Chichester Festival Theatre, October 9th

A Month in the CountryEvery year we take an annual pilgrimage to Chichester to see a production at the Festival Theatre. This is our fifth year – and I reckon this is the second best production we’ve seen there. (The two part dramatisation of Nicholas Nickleby is still tops.)

When you enter the theatre you’re in for a treat. The stage appears enormous! You see the back of the Islayev house, and the garden – and the trees! Trees shoot up from the back of the stage and their branches overhang the auditorium right up to the back row, welcoming you into this idyllic environment. You get to see inside the house, through windows, pathways round the back, and the details of the garden – real plants, a real water pump (with real water!) This is the kind of realistic staging you can imagine would have been the norm in the Victorian era. And it feels luscious.

Then you have what turns out to be a damn good story. I’ve not seen or read this play before, and I was very impressed. A bored lady of the house with a wandering eye is bewitched by the enthusiastic and unsophisticated charms of the young tutor brought in to teach her son. Unfortunately, so is her 17 year old ward, who age-wise is a much more suitable match. Problems ensue.

Janie DeeIt’s a marvellous production. Janie Dee plays Natalya, her soul aflame with love that she knows she really shouldn’t consider, with complete conviction. You get every nuance of her emotions from her expressive eyes, the twitches of her mouth, her languid/coy/come-on body postures. Wonderful. James McArdleJames McArdle, as the target of her affection Aleksey, does an excellent line in gauche enthusiasm, faltering delivery and youthful charm, a Turgenevian David Tennant. You can see how he has been completely overwhelmed by his surroundings and fallen in too deep, without being able to do anything about it. Michael FeastMichael Feast, as the family friend Michel, who has held a candle for Natalya for decades by the sound of it, is by turn impressively forlorn, confused, distressed and decisive. Kenneth CranhamKenneth Cranham, blustering about as the incompetent and corrupt Doctor Shpigelsky, and looking like Stinky Pete from Toy Story, also gives a first-rate performance. In fact there are no weak links in the cast at all.

I don’t know if it is the brilliance of Turgenev or Brian Friel who has adapted the work for this production, but I really enjoyed the use of soliloquies for Michel and Natalya, asking themselves about their inner feelings and reactions to a situation in a way that I know I do frequently. Very believable.

I also very much enjoyed the use of British regional accents to emphasise who’s “in” and who isn’t. Teddy KempnerThe well-to-do members of the household have splendid clipped southern English accents, whereas the servants are from Lancashire; and the incomer Aleksey is pure Glasgow. The other accent employed was over-the-top German by Teddy Kempner as Herr Schaaf, which was appropriate for a role whose main reason it seemed to me was to laugh at his misuse of language.

Another marvellous aspect of this production is the terrific lighting. The lighting plot takes us through all times of the day and night and plays an important part in the realism of the design. Especially Natalya and Aleksey in the moonlit garden – you could almost touch the moonlight halo that framed their bodies, incredibly effective. It’s officially fabulous.

It’s a super production that certainly deserves a life hereafter.