This essay attempts a reading of Ivan Turgenev’s First Love as a case study within a broader inquiry into the social imaginary of Russian realist fiction. One way to formulate the central question of the essay is to ask what happens when, on some deep structural level, an ostensibly realist text turns out to be oriented not to the problematics of civil society (contractarian) aggregation but rather, like tragic drama, to the coercive logics of the state? Put another way, what happens when a realist narrative, with all of its inherited civil-society paraphernalia (as an ostensible tale of competitive and desiring socialization), enters the force field of a state-oriented social imaginary and becomes warped within it? With these questions in mind, the essay takes up First Love, interpreting it as a political allegorization of an ostensibly straightforward coming-of-age story.

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