On the Eve

Turgenev’s novel is set on the eve of the Crimean War, but the title refers no less to the experience of the young heroine Yelena, whom we follow from adolescent indecision to steely resolve. There is nothing contrived in this portrait. When, halfway through the story, Yelena asks, ‘What’s the point of youth? What am I living for? Why do I have a soul? What is all this for?’, her suffering is palpable. It accounts for her attraction to the Bulgarian patriot Insarov: ‘When he talks about his homeland, he grows and grows, his looks become finer and his voice like steel, and it seems then that there is no one in the world before whom he would lower his gaze. And he not only talks – he has done things and will do things.’ Yelena, too, ends up doing things. A powerful account of growth and resolution.