The Thermodynamics of Desire in Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter
Critics have long recognized that Ivan's Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter (Zapiski okhotnika) is only nominally a work about hunting, and that it is concerned, at a deeper level, with much more important issues (serfdom, narrative form, and so on). This essay argues that Turgenev's cycle of stories is indeed about okhota, but not just in the traditional sense of the word: it is centrally (though not exclusively) a book about desire. Turgenev is fascinated by desire and longing (okhota) in its many different manifestations (sexual-biological, psychic-emotional, spiritual, aesthetic), by its slow simmer and burn, its cultivation, suppression, release, dissipation. Again and again throughout the cycle his narrator-okhotnik positions himself, both literally and figuratively, “in cover” (na taige)–a vantage point whence he can study (and vicariously participate in) the romantic longing of his various targets. The essay explores implications of this paradigmatic pattern in a number of the stories (most importantly, and in the most detail, in “Yermolai and the Miller's Wife” and “Living Relic”). It argues, furthermore, that Turgenev's preoccupation in Notes of a Hunter with the nature and dynamics of desire was highly personal in its origins (it reflects his longing for Pauline Viardot), yet also universal in its implications: he drew deeply on his own experience to articulate a model of existential and affective conduct that resonated quietly but profoundly in Russian literature in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Newlin, Tom. 2013. "The Thermodynamics of Desire in Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter." Russian Review 72(3): 365–89.