That Calm Light

Ivan Turgenev was a Russian writer and contemporary of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. He wasn't as big on religion/philosophy and working it into texts as Leo or D., preferring a more naturalistic style of writing that had more in common with a sentimental fellow like French writer Gustave Flaubert. I've been reading his collection First Love and Other Stories and was particularly struck (or transported) by the following passage from the story "Asya". It's interesting to note two things: A) the narrator is in a sleepy German town, not Russia and B) nobody named Gretchen is ever actually named in the story or hinted at, though apparently Turgenev was a fan of the heroine Gretchen in Faust.

I loved wandering about the town at that time. The moon, it seemed, would stare down fixedly at it out of a clear sky, and the town would sense this gaze and keep still and peaceful, bathed in its light, that calm light which was at the same time so quietly exciting to the soul. The weather-cock on a high Gothic bell tower gleamed the colour of pale gold. The wavelets on the lustrous blackness of the little river were criss-crossed with the same gold colour. Tiny candles (German economy!) burned modestly in the narrow windows beneath the slate roofs. Vines mysteriously poked out their curled tendrils from behind stone walls. Something darted in the shadow round the ancient well in the three-cornered square, the sleepy whistle of a night watchman resounded suddenly, a well-meaning dog growled, and the air literally caressed the face and the lime-trees smelt so sweet that one’s lungs breathed deeper and deeper and the word ‘Gretchen’ came to one’s lips, half cry, half question.


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