Ivan Turgenev, a Russian poet, playwright, novelist and short story writer is the brilliant mind behind the highly autobiographical novella, First Love. It was published in March of 1860.
Neskootchny is the central setting of the novella. It is a place in the countryside just outside of Moscow, where the protagonist’s family, Vladimir Petrovich and his love interest Zinaida and her mother live in the summer.
The 40-year-old Vladimir tells the story of his first love to his two companions after having supper, casting his memory back a quarter of a century.
At age sixteen while living in the country house, Vladimir meets twenty-one-year-old Zinaida Alexandrovna Zasyekina, the daughter of a noble but very poor family living on the connecting property. Zinaida is a lovely and lively young woman and Vladimir slowly comes to realize his feelings towards her are emotions of love. Zinaida toys with him mercilessly, teases him about his obvious feelings for her, enticing him with indications of a romantic affection then pushing him away and treating him with patronizing, sisterly affection.
Adding to Vladimir’s frustration of being treated so inconsistently are the several suitors who come calling on Zinaida every evening. They are all older than Vladimir and superior to him in either fortune or social class. She plays them all off one another, but occasionally hints that she favors Vladimir. On these occasions, the young man’s heart swells and his joy almost makes him forget that his love is unrequited.
After a while, Zinaida seems depressed, the small group of admirers become aware of this sudden change in her and it grows apparent to Vladimir the reason for her change is that she is in love.
Beneath her façade, he can see that she truly is in love, but not with him. Nor is it one of the other suitors, although at first he suspects it is one of them. The definitive heartbreak for Vladimir is that Zinaida’s secret love turns out to be Vladimir’s own father whom he idolizes very much. This newfound knowledge explains the quarrels Vladimir witnessed his parents having, which were more than usual, and eventually the Petrovich family returns to town.
Shortly afterwards Vladimir’s father dies abruptly of a stroke, his mother sends a large sum of money to Moscow, the insinuation seemingly being that Zinaida had a child as a result of the affair. Several years later, Vladimir finds out Zinaida died in childbirth.
In conclusion, Vladimir is introduced to the complications of adult behavior, which consist of loss and betrayal through his first attachment yet it helps him mature and cope with such feelings. Furthermore, the author shows we can never fully know other people who they are, however intimate we are. As for the title, it turns out both Vladimir and Zinaida experience first love, though not with each other.