Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Vladimir Petrovich Voldemar

Vladimir Petrovich Voldemar (vlah-DIH-mihr peh-TROH-vihch VOL-deh-mahr), the romantic sixteen-year-old protagonist and the thoughtful forty-year-old narrator. The youthful Vladimir meets Zinaida during the summer of his sixteenth year while staying with his family at their summer home. He immediately becomes infatuated with her and tries to live this first love according to the dictates of the romantic novels he has read. He dreams of winning Zinaida’s love with acts of heroism and idealizes the object of his affection. He eventually discovers that his father has become Zinaida’s domineering lover. Disillusioned and confused by this revelation, particularly by the vision of his father reprimanding Zinaida with a riding crop as though she were an unruly mount, the young Vladimir cannot comprehend the brutal passion his father and Zinaida share. As the novella’s narrator, the middle-aged Vladimir is able in retrospect to sympathize with the lawless lovers, but it is obvious that he has never experienced such love.

Piotr Vassilich Voldemar

Piotr Vassilich Voldemar (pyohtr vah-SIH-lihch), Vladimir’s dashing father and Zinaida’s lover. Known for his skill at breaking horses, Piotr Vassilich is equally adept at managing people. A complete believer in the power of will,...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Turgenev modestly claimed that a lack of imagination always forced him to work from known characters. He also wrote that First Love was largely autobiographical, based on an affair his father carried on with a beautiful neighbor. To whatever extent the novella accurately portrays the adolescent experiences of Turgenev, the subtle exploration of character is central to First Love, which focuses on the love triangle of Piotr, Vladimir, and Zinaida.

Piotr believes in will and the power of the individual to act. He rejects responsibilities to family or to abstract codes of behavior. He is a creature of passion, but he never seems out of control. Just as he has a rare knack for breaking horses, he is able to dominate the people and situations around him. In a rare communicative moment, Piotr advises his son to “[t]ake for yourself what you can, and don’t be ruled by others; to belong to oneself—the whole savour of life lies in that....” His willful independence parallels that of Bazarov in Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons, 1867), the novel Turgenev finished soon after publishing First Love. Unlike Bazarov, Turgenev’s best-known protagonist, who adheres to a nihilistic rationalism, Piotr pursues the ephemeral ideal of passion. Eventually this unending pursuit consumes him, as his deathbed warning indicates.

Like Piotr, Zinaida is a willful character. Part saint and part temptress, she uses her beauty to...

(The entire section is 606 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hart, Pierre R. “The Passionate Page: Turgenev’s First Love and Dostoevsky’s The Little Hero,” in New Perspectives on Nineteenth-century Russian Prose, 1982.

Mirsky, Dmitry S. A History of Russian Literature, 1949.

Pritchett, V.S. The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, 1977.

Schapiro, Leonard. Turgenev: His Life and Times, 1979.