Twilight of Love

21 December 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the books that P suggested I read when I started on this project was Twilight of Love by Robert Dessaix. It’s a beautiful and touching book that meanders through the life of Turgenev as Dessaix visits the writer’s homes in Germany, France and Russia. It’s almost a travel book, almost a biography, almost a memoir, and as much about Dessaix as it is about Turgenev. He ponders mortality, civilisation, belief and above all, love, and whether it is possible truly to love and how we all find our own ways of loving.

Turgenev’s own way of loving was a lifelong, more or less chaste devotion to the singer Pauline Viardot, whose husband seemed to tolerate her devoted troubadour with considerable kindness. I was naturally struck by the superficial similarity to Brahms’ passion for Clara Schumann and highly amused to learn from Dessaix that in fact Clara Schumann and Pauline Viardot were close friends.

I’ve never been that bothered by Turgenev;  I read Fathers and Sons in my first year at university and wasn’t particularly impressed, although after reading Dessaix, I am inspired to take time and revisit Turgenev at some point. He’ll probably be a good antidote to the excesses of Dostoevsky. (They loathed each other, and Dessaix equally loathes Dostoevsky, although even he can’t help weighing in on the Grand Inquisitor).

I wouldn’t be so bold as to take Dessaix as a model for what I’m trying to do but he’s inspired me, and in different ways, comforted me. I tried to write about the messages that Dessaix draws from Turgenev about finding happiness, but everything I wrote came out sounding rather banal, like something from a self-help book, and he’s so much more eloquent, so all I can say is go and read the book and find out.

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