(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Family Happiness is divided into two parts. In the first, Masha, a girl of seventeen whose mother has just died, relates the story of her romance with her guardian, Sergei Mikhailych, a man of thirty-six and a former friend of her father (who has died some years earlier). The romance culminates in their engagement and marriage. The second part concerns Masha’s married life. The couple’s relationship temporarily deteriorates, as Masha is corrupted by the false values of high society in St. Petersburg but is eventually restored on a new, “realistic” plane of serenity (or perhaps merely resignation and habit).

The first part of the novel is lyrical and evocative, as it proceeds with acute psychological subtlety to depict the growth of an intense man-woman relationship. There are formidable obstacles to be overcome, since the problem here, unlike that in the conventional boy-girl encounter, is not the formation of an entirely new relationship but the transformation of an old one. Masha must cease to think of Sergei Mikhailych as a surrogate father and must substitute him for the youthful, melancholy, romantic hero of her fantasies; and Sergei correspondingly must learn to regard Masha as his equal and no longer as a child. Sergei must also abandon his mocking and suspicious attitude toward “romance” itself and take Masha seriously as a woman, at the same time as he learns to view himself as an acceptable suitor for her de-spite the gap in their ages. These adjustments take considerable time. The underlying sexual attraction is impeded, mainly by Sergei’s...

(The entire section is 650 words.)