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Last Updated April 24, 2024.

Love’s Ability to Alter

Vladamir Petrovich Voldemar is a middle-aged man reflecting on the first time he fell in love as a sixteen-year-old boy. Before he meets Zinaïda Alexandrovna Zasyekin, he admits that the idea of the love of a woman has yet to take root in his psyche. When he first kisses Zinaïda’s hand, however, he falls helplessly in love. 

No matter how Zinaïda strings him along and plays with his heart, Vladimir cannot help but be entranced by his passion for her. He loses track of his studies, stops playing games in the garden, and begins to disobey his mother’s orders because his love makes him feel as if nothing else matters.

Love’s ability to alter does not only affect the young Vladamir; it takes the reigns of his father and the other suitors as well. Piotr Vassilich Voldemar is a stern and emotionless man in a loveless marriage until he begins an affair with Zinaïda. The affair matters more to Piotr than his family, and he is willing to risk everything to sustain his passions. Vladimir states early on that Piotr is “serene, self-confident, and commanding,” yet as the story progresses, Piotr buckles underneath the weight of his love, becoming violent, weeping, and eventually dying due to his heartache.

By the end of the story, Vladimir admits that in the one month he spent infatuated with Zinaïdan, he grows much older and forever changed.

Love’s Subjectivity

All the men in the story recklessly and hopelessly love Zinaïda regardless of how she mistreats them or strings them along. She rejects, admonishes, and fools each of them in different ways throughout the story. Her negative treatment, however, does not dilute the power that the moments she shares affection for each of them have upon the men of the story.

While speaking with Vladamir about her attraction towards Count Malevsky Zinaïda states:

"I can’t care for people I have to look down upon. I must have someone who can master me… But, merciful heavens, I hope I may never come across anyone like that! I don’t want to be caught in anyone’s claws, not for anything."

She does not want to spend the rest of her life with any of the men who chase after her; she instead desires each unique way that they fulfill her needs. She does not desire love; she desires their yearning. 

When she eventually falls in love with Piotr, it throws her into fits of mania and depression that confuse Vladamir. She is not satisfied with falling in love but is instead upset because of what it might mean for how she wants to live her life. One day, in an act of projected frustration, she pulls a clump of Vladamir’s hair out without explanation. When she eventually rejects a continued relationship with Piotr, she accepts a lashing from him, presumably because she is not afraid of the symbolic pain of love.

In First Love, whether it is Zinaïda, Vladimir, Piotr, or any of the other suitors, the beloved is not the true object of desire of the lover. The object of desire sparked by love is unique for each character. For Zinaïda, love is being wanted. For Piotr, love is reckless desire. For the suitors, love is a game, a battle, a sickness, a badge of honor, and a poem. For Vladamir, love is the willingness to let go completely.

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