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Ivan Turgenev’s ON THE EVE (1860. trans. Gilbert Gardiner) is set in 1853 just before the war involving Russia and the Ottoman, British and French empires. The Crimean War broke out that year.  At first ‘On the Eve, which is quite a short novel, seems to be a social comedy about the gentry living near Moscow.  The chief characters are Elena and two young men, Bersyenev and Shubin who appear to be interested in her.  We meet Elena’s mother and father and her eccentric uncle. Their lives are quiet and devoted to country pastimes.  Into their milieu arrives Insarov, a fiercely patriotic Bulgarian, who is forever planning to return home, feeling the need to assist his country in its struggle. Insarov's arrival is quietly disruptive. Elena falls in love with Insarov, and the rest of the novel is about the couple’s blossoming love, the family’s and friennds varying degrees of hostility, and the couple’s desperate solution to their problems.  Turgenev handles all this beautifully, gradually allowing the quiet comedy of the book’s first half, with its sparkling and philosophical conversations, to darken and turn tragic and sad. The quiet privileged lives of the Elena and her family are subtly contrasted with distant rumblings. As Elena and Insarov travel away from Russia the tone of the novel changes. Turgenev’s characters are brilliantly drawn and alive and often amusing.  There are some splendid scenes like the family’s picnic outing, and Elena and Insarov’s visit to the opera ‘La Traviata’ in Venice which evokes feelings of doom and mortality in Elena.  The Venice scenes are a wonderful climax to the novel, the descriptions of Venice itself being particularly fine. Turgenev’s descriptive passages are always well done. ( the writer Trigorin makes this point in Chekhov’s ‘Seagull’)  ‘On the Eve’ is a lovely and involving novel. It occurred to me that it would dramatise very well. Or make a good film.

That is the translation I have, Mike, in an old Penguin Classics edition - I don't know what other translations are available, but from your comments, this one must be at least acceptable. I have read it before, but that was about 40 years ago, so I have only the haziest of impressions of the book. It is pretty high on my (virtual) list of books to be read at an early date, but right now I have too many things on the go to allow me to begin yet another book. I will come back to your comments at the appropriate time.

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