Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'Is she very pretty?'




(Ingres, The Grand Odalisque)

The free and easy deportment of Madame Polozov would probably for the first moment have disconcerted Sanin--though he was not quite a novice and had knocked about the world a little--if he had not again seen in this very freedom and familiarity a good omen for his undertaking. 'We must humour this rich lady's caprices,' he decided inwardly; and as unconstrainedly as she had questioned him he answered, 'Yes; I am going to be married.'

'To whom? To a foreigner?'

'Yes.'

'Did you get acquainted with her lately? In Frankfort?'

'Yes.'

'And what is she? May I know?'

'Certainly. She is a confectioner's daughter.'

Maria Nikolaevna opened her eyes wide and lifted her eyebrows.

'Why, this is delightful,' she commented in a drawling voice; 'this is exquisite! I imagined that young men like you were not to be met with anywhere in these days. A confectioner's daughter!'

'I see that surprises you,' observed Sanin with some dignity; 'but in the first place, I have none of these prejudices ...'

'In the first place, it doesn't surprise me in the least,' Maria Nikolaevna interrupted; 'I have no prejudices either. I'm the daughter of a peasant myself. There! what can you say to that? What does surprise and delight me is to have come across a man who's not afraid to love. You do love her, I suppose?'

'Yes.'

'Is she very pretty?'

Sanin was slightly stung by this last question.... However, there was no drawing back.

'You know, Maria Nikolaevna,' he began, 'every man thinks the face of his beloved better than all others; but my betrothed is really beautiful.'

'Really? In what style? Italian? antique?'

'Yes; she has very regular features.'

'You have not got her portrait with you?'

'No.' (At that time photography was not yet talked off. Daguerrotypes had hardly begun to be common.)

'What's her name?'

'Her name is Gemma.'

'And yours?'

'Dimitri.'

'And your father's?'

'Pavlovitch.'

'Do you know,' Maria Nikolaevna said, still in the same drawling voice, 'I like you very much, Dimitri Pavlovitch. You must be an excellent fellow. Give me your hand. Let us be friends.'

She pressed his hand tightly in her beautiful, white, strong fingers. Her hand was a little smaller than his hand, but much warmer and smoother and whiter and more full of life.

'Only, do you know what strikes me?'

'What?'

'You won't be angry? No? You say she is betrothed to you. But was that ... was that quite necessary?'

Sanin frowned. 'I don't understand you, Maria Nikolaevna.'

Maria Nikolaevna gave a soft low laugh, and shaking her head tossed back the hair that was falling on her cheeks. 'Decidedly--he's delightful,' she commented half pensively, half carelessly. 'A perfect knight! After that, there's no believing in the people who maintain that the race of idealists is extinct!'

Ivan Turgenev, The Torrents of Spring, translated by Constance Garnett

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