Finished Poor Folk a couple days ago on my Kindle (a birthday present that I love!!!!!). It was Dostoevsky’s first novel, written in the form of letters between two second cousins twice removed, Makar and Varvara (kind of a cool name, no?). At first I didn’t know they were cousins, and thought they were lovers–and certainly parts of it read like that. But more generally the story is their struggles to remain afloat despite illness and lack of work after the war. But it’s also a love story, as they’re always trying to take care of the other first, trying to spare what little they have for each other, and trying to delight the other as much as possible with fun money for tobacco or scraps of linen. It was desperate, flailing, and poignant–the ending rather shocked me–and the last few pages were my favorite part, when Makar describes his unwavering devotion to Varvara even after she is gone. I have always enjoyed love lost stories a la Romeo and Juliet, and this one was no exception.
Reading through it made me think about the process by which we learn to love someone, how long it takes, and what we learn about ourselves along the way. The beginning is where (I think) you learn the least, because you’re just so enamored by the fact that someone wants to know you, and have you all to themselves, to band together with you and conquer the world that everything else seems to fog over. It’s intense and familial as you start to cultivate that feeling that you just belong together, which is really nice. And eventually you start making choices that inevitably impact each other, sometimes not positively, and you start learning the things that aren’t so nice about the other person. You may wonder if there’s not someone better, though you doubt whether you are good enough to catch them even if they existed. One fear of mine is that after I get married I will get stuck on a path I didn’t intend to be on, and that then I’ll feel like I’ve made a mistake because I didn’t turn out to be the person I imagine becoming in the future. But I guess that’s when you need to rely on God to remain faithful by remembering that he always has your best interests at heart if you only trust and follow him. And so really learning to love another person is the natural reaction that flows out of that trust in God, which (at least for me) is a constant battle. I fully expect to get butterflies in my stomach, or feel that well known feeling of my chest tightening, when I am 80 and coming down to the breakfast table to greet my love, but I know there will also be times when I don’t get those sensations. But even when those feelings aren’t present, I’m looking forward to changing, as an individual, and as a couple. I think it’s really neat to watch people’s relationships evolve (I’m thinking now more about friends), and with time you can see that the vast majority become more honest, more supportive–which makes complete sense given that those two people have continually chosen to love each other, and that choice more fully permeates the heart. Anyway, a fun read to contemplate love, though I’ve completely ignored perhaps the biggest theme of poverty here, which is thought-provoking as well.