A GREAT LOVE by Alexandra Koliontai


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Translator Porter, author of an uneven Kollontai biography (1980), begins this book of Kollontai fiction--the 100-page title novella and two tiny stories--with a detailed introduction: there is ""overwhelming evidence,"" she demonstrates, that A Great Love is a roman & clef about Lenin's extramarital liaison with Inessa Armand, a French-born Bolshevik. And that historical context is vital here--because the novella itself is extremely weak as fiction and only slightly stronger as a feminist tract. Set in 1905 Paris, this is the story of Natasha, a devoted Party Worker who falls miserably in love with exile-revolutionary Semyon Semyonovich. Though married to fragile, conventional Anyuta, ""Senya"" returns Natasha's love with off-hand passion--in a series of assignations. But, along with her bubbling adoration, Natasha feels wave upon wave of bitter frustration: Senya ""never recognized her sexual needs as a woman""; he treats her as a plaything, not as an intellectual equal; he continues to dutifully attend his wife's needs, never making a single sacrifice for Natasha; much like the husband in A Doll's House, he's casually insulting and cruel. So Natasha does much crying--""crying from the depths of her soul, crying for one more dream destroyed, one more irreperable [sic] insult, one more wound to her tired heart."" And finally, after separations and reunions galore, she tells him goodbye (""You take absolutely no account of my needs. I find that a strange kind of equality, I must say""), giving herself ""body and soul"" to her work. . . while Kollontai--in case you missed the point--ends up with: ""So learn from this, all you men who have made women suffer through your blindness. . . if you injure a woman's heart you will kill her love!"" Hardly a subtle message--especially when delivered in repetitive, poorly-prosed confrontations. But the roman à clef aspects may intrigue some Lenin-watchers, and undiscriminating feminists might want to add this to the role-model shelf.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: Norton