The Dream by Ivan Turgenev

The Dream, written by Ivan Turgenev in the late 19th century (the precise date is unknown), is a short story bordering on a novella and my first read of 2021. Turgenev is my favourite writer, which really doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and I couldn’t imagine starting a new year with any other author. Over the past few years I have been making my way through his completed works and so far have read 20 of his books/short stories. It definitely will be something I will continue throughout this year. Although he and I are as different as two people can be I constantly find ways to relate to his stories time and time again.

The Dream is an experimental tale that isn’t what most people would think is a something written by a Russian writer in the 19th century. It has elements of the oriental and the supernatural which was a common theme in Turgenev’s later in life work and can only be described as the written word version of a mysterious fog. It is quite similar in tone to another of his short stories, A Song of Love Triumphant, which is also a slightly terrifying oriental story about two friends that he dedicated to his real life closest friend – Gustave Flaubert.

The Dream opens with the unnamed narrator giving the reader background about his life so far and his mother and their at times complicated relationship. His father passed away when he was 7 and he and his mother live a secluded life with two servants. The narrator has vivid dreams and dreams of a mysterious man in a dark cloak with black eyes who he thinks is his father (not the same man who he grew up with knowing as his father). It later is revealed there were dark circumstances surrounding his conception. The story doesn’t end with any sort of finality and is left rather open ended but I think that is where Turgenev excelled.

All in all The Dream is a great little story packed with mystery and suspense and charm. I’d definitely recommend it for anyone who likes Russian literature in general or short stories.

Ivan Turgenev later in life

The Song of Love Triumphant by Ivan Turgenev / Old Review

It’s not much of a secret that Ivan Turgenev is one of my favourite writers. I decided late last year that I would make my way through his novels, short stories and plays. I chose to start with one of his short stories, The Song of Love Triumphant, because I read somewhere he dedicated it to his dear friend (and another favourite writer of mine) Gustave Flaubert and it did not disappoint. It’s quite a different piece of writing compared to Turgenev’s other short stories, very experimental, but it’s a really fascinating insight into Turgenev’s state of mind later in his life.

The Song of Love Triumphant (sometimes referred to as the Song of Triumphant Love) was written in 1881 which was two years before he died. It’s a work that splits critics and the general reading public alike. Some think it’s a creative masterpiece and some dismiss it as a purely imaginative story with no real substance. I saw it as somewhere in between those two extremes. It’s not Turgenev’s best work but it is very moving and creative and different. The story is heavily based on his life long love for Pauline Vardot, an opera singer and their unique connection that spurned decades. Pauline was married at the time they met but it seems they all come to some arrangement as Turgenev followed them around Europe and lived close to them for a very long time. At one point he lived in a room in their house and at another point built a chalet in their garden and lived there for a while. It was even said Pauline’s two children were Turgenev’s children – a popular public theory that was never proved.

Louis Viardot after reading The Song of Love Triumphant

The Song of Love Triumphant is set in Ferrara during the Renaissance and is both a look into Renaissance Italy and the fascination in the West with Oriental culture. It follows the story of two friends, Fabio and Muzzio, who were a painter and a musician respectively and their love for the same woman, Valeria. Valeria eventually chooses Fabio and Muzzio travels around the East for five years to recover from the disappointment. When he returns he stays with Valeria and Fabio which is really where the story starts. Muzzio has aquired ‘supernatural’ instruments while he has been in the East and at night he plays a tune on his new violin ‘The Song of Triumphant Love’ which mesmerisies Valeria and she has an erotic dream which Muzzio has as well. The next night Muzzio plays the tune again but this time Fabio follows the tune and ‘fatal’ events ensue. Muzzio somehow survives the attack (its implied he was brought back to life by his attendant) and they quickly leave Fabio and Valeria to live their life peacefully. The story ends with Valeria feeling the “stirring of life” in her womb and the narrator ends the story with an unfinished question.

The Song of Love Triumphant is a funny little tale. It’s very experimental and not like Turgenev’s usual stories which is why I found it so compelling. As with all of Turgenev’s stories and novels I’ve read so far this story was exceptionally well written and the writing evokes emotion in you in a way that takes you back to a time or a person or a place in your own life. Turgenev was said to be a very gentle person, someone who was attached to nature and light, and you can really feel that in this story.