In Turgenev's "First Love", the father of the narrator Vladimir had been having an affair with a young woman Zinaída. After Vladimir's mother discovers the affair, the family moves to town, apparently to break off the affair.
But near the end of the novella, Vladimir observes another encounter between his father and Zinaida:
my father ... was leaning his breast on the window-sill [outside the house], while in the house, half concealed by the curtain, sat ... Zinaída.
... My father appeared to be insisting upon something. Zinaída would not consent. .... Then the words became audible: “Vous devez vous séparer de cette.”... Zinaída drew herself up and stretched out her hand.... Suddenly, before my very eyes, an incredible thing came to pass: ... my father raised the riding-whip...and the sound of a sharp blow on that arm, which was bare to the elbow, rang out. ...Zinaída started, gazed in silence at my father, and slowly raising her arm to her lips, kissed the mark which glowed scarlet upon it.
The French “Vous devez vous séparer de cette.” translates as "You must separate yourself from this." I can imagine three possible interpretations:
- The father is reaffirming to his former mistress that the affair is over. "This" is their relationship.
- Zinaida has found a new love, or at least companion, but the father wishes to continue the affair. "This" is Zinaida's new relationship.
- One webpage suggested that Zinaida had become pregnant from the affair. So perhaps "this" is the baby; the father is insisting that she not keep it. (The webpage suggestsed only the pregnancy, not this interpretation.)
If (1) is right, then why did the father go see Zinaida at all? If (2), then why the blow with whip? This seems calculated to drive her away. And why would she kiss the welt? (3) relies on the assumption of the pregnancy, for which the webpage offers this evidence:
Shortly afterwards Vladimir’s father dies suddenly of a stroke, following which his mother sends a large sum of money to Moscow, the implication presumably being that Zinaida had a child as a result of the liaison.
Plausible but not definitive. Also, I don't see Zinaida kissing the welt in these circumstances.
Was this scene meant to be ambiguous, or does the text (or other evidence) more strongly support one of these interpretations---or maybe another one entirely?