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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Ariane, a Russian Girl

Claude Anet

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To purchase Ariane, a Russian Girl

Title: Ariane, a Russian Girl
Author: Claude Anet
Genre: Novel
Written: 1920 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 169 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ariane, a Russian Girl - US
Ariane, a Russian Girl - UK
Ariane, a Russian Girl - Canada
Ariane, jeune fille russe - Canada
Ariane, jeune fille russe - France
Ariane: Liebe am Nachmittag - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
DVD: Love in the Afternoon - US
Love in the Afternoon - UK
  • French title: Ariane, jeune fille russe
  • Translated by Mitchell Abidor
  • Previously translated, as Ariane, by Guy Chapman (1927); also published as (as movie tie-in) as Love in the Afternoon
  • Ariane, jeune fille russe has been filmed several times, most famously in 1957 as Love in the Afternoon, directed by Billy Wilder, and starring Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier

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Our Assessment:

B : artfully presented but also odd romance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Athenæum . 10/9/1920 F.R.
The Living Age* . 1/8/1927 .
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 20/3/1927 Edwin Clark
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/8/2023 Gemma Sieff
The Spectator . 29/7/2023 Bryan Karetnyk
The Times . 6/7/1920 .

(* review of a different translation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "How delightful to discover a novel written by an artist who is nothing but an artist ! And how rare ! (...) Ariane, Jeune Fille Russe may not be a great novel, but it is a good one: it is admirably written, it is composed en maitre, and from the first page it is absorbing. It is an extraordinary book, and it is extraordinary because Ariane is an extraordinary girl." - F.R., The Athenæum

  • "Although laid in Russia, the setting is immaterial; but the characterization is vivid and convincing, for the author discards superficialities and emphasizes fundamentals. (...) (T)he novel itself shows us modern French fiction at its best." - The Living Age

  • "A detached, minute, limited tale begins, which is sustained by the conflicts to be found in love. (...) Its point of view is thoroughly Continental. It achieves a perverse application of normal sentiments. (...) Obviously, Ariane is a novel for the urbane. To stupid folks who have nothing better to do than mind other people's business, this struggle of two individuals to find happiness will be unintelligible and profane. It is written, however, with the fine perception and artistic craft that stands for polished French fiction. It is a provocative, stimulating book." - Edwin Clark, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The era is fuzzy and the tone of the book is gossipy. Rumor and innuendo are its central preoccupations. (...) Ariane tortures Constantin by alluding to other men; he tortures himself by imagining the sordid details; she casts doubt on her own stories; he tells her to be quiet; she laughs or cries; they make love; rinse and repeat. The book ends with a reconciliation of sorts that feels both overwrought and flimsy. Ariane is a slim novel. That Anet devotes so much of it to these retreads implies that they are fundamentally irresolvable." - Gemma Sief, The New York Times Book Review

  • "By turns passionate, callous and not a little unnerving, Ariane is an astonishingly fresh object lesson in the perils of permissive morality, one that time and again invokes the reader’s own assumptions and prejudices, only to confound them. Yet for all the overt sensationalism of the plot, there is genuine tragedy in the details, and much beauty and artistry in the telling. (...) Now revived vigorously and credibly in English by the translator Mitchell Abidor, this exquisite novella will speak to new audiences, who will, I suspect, marvel at how little things have changed in more than a century." - Bryan Karetnyk, The Spectator

  • "A moral might be drawn, but never by M. Anet, who is too fastidious an artist to spoil his story by comment. He tells it dispassionately, without irony, in a succinct, almost staccato style, which is the very style for the fastidious reader." - The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Ariane of the title is first introduced as a precocious seventeen-year-old girl -- "imperious, willful, witty, intelligent" -- finishing high school in the south of Russia. Lauded as: "A brilliant child" when she takes her final exam, she has ambition -- first and foremost, to go to Moscow to study. Her absent father, meanwhile, thinks she should get married as soon as possible (acknowledging her intelligence, he writes her that: "you'll use your intelligence when you're married in raising your children"), but Ariane has different ideas about what woman can and should do in society.
       A confident Ariane already knows her power over men -- and has the examples of first her rather free-spirited mother and then her Aunt Varvara, who had been raising her since the death of her mother (and among whose principles was remaining: "faithful to her lover until the day a new man attracted her"). While her aunt eventually offers to pay for her studies, Ariane makes her own plans -- insisting:

I've made arrangements. I am and always will be free.
       As she suggests to her circle:
But if a man I don't love, for the few hours he'll have my body, assures me the possibility of a rich and spiritual life, isn't it my duty to accept this bargain ? Don't I remain honest and faithful to myself by accepting the deal and paying with the only coin I possess ? The world might condemn me, but what's the world ?
       It's not that Ariane is poor -- she stands to come into a large inheritance, though only when she is older -- and in fact she belongs to: "the wealthy and enlightened bourgeoisie". She sets her own terms but does come to an arrangement with the retired Michel Ivanovich Bogdanov -- "well read, refined, and of a curious turn", but also associated with a recent scandal, the suicide of "One of the most charming of the society girls", only slightly older than Ariane, the previous year. Ariane asks Bogdanov: "Will you be my banker ?" and he is more than willing -- though there are some conditions. It sure looks like she's made a devil's bargain .....
       Moscow itself at first disappoints some, but then she meets Constantin Michel ("'That's not a name,' she said. 'And yet it's mine.'") -- and they become lovers. Their intimacy has a peculiar aspect, as:
He never forced Ariane into his bed: she came there of her own free volition, but when she lay in the sheets she seemed to die inside.
       Not only inside: when she first agrees to sleep with him she sets conditions: "There'll be no light and I'll lie here as if I were dead". Nevertheless, they remain closely romantically involved -- even as Ariane treats their relationship as if it must inevitably be only a temporary one, satisfying and drawn out but still only a fling. She sums up:
We've formed a temporary association in the quest for pleasure, and I won't hide it from you: you've given it to me.
       Ariane complains about the double standard that applies to men and women, where a man is admired for having many lovers while a woman is considered: "the lowest of the low" if she does. She argues that: "Women's morality must triumph, and that's what I'm working at ...". And so it also seems that their affair is doomed to come to an end at some point, both expecting to move on to new lovers sooner or later .....
       Anet's Russia is an odd, out-of-time place, with nothing of the Revolution really in the air (much less on the ground) except perhaps the most rarefied form of its spirit -- despite the fact that he was familiar with the conditions of the time (he began to write the book in Arkhangelsk in 1918). Here Russia is: "a country where people live freely, liberated from all conventions, indifferent to what people may say" -- and certainly that's very much the attitude Ariane seems to take. Even Constantin is worried that her reputation might suffer if the full extent of their relationship were known, but Ariane affects an air of indifference, and consistently really does seem not to care what others think.
       She remains a puzzling creature to Constantin -- "Who in God's name am I involved with ?" he asks early on, and Ariane does her best that he can't readily figure it (or rather, her) out.
       But: are things perhaps not quite as clear cut as they seem ? For all Ariane's bravado, is the teenager perhaps more traditional in hopes, outlook, and even her actions than she lets on ? Certainly, Ariane, a Russian Girl isn't a traditional romantic tale -- but is it ultimately nevertheless one ?
       Anet spins his tale quite artfully, teasing the reader with his free-spirited protagonist who, despite her protestations ("Child ! How impertinent ! I'm seventeen !"), might have more of the innocent girl to her than she wants to admit after all. (The French title has her a 'jeune fille russe' -- a young Russian girl --, rather than simply a 'Russian girl', as in the English title.) Regardless, Ariane, a Russian Girl is an odd work, hinting at the sensationalistic (and occasionally offering it outright, as in Ariane's insistence: "I'll lie here as if I were dead") that often also tends to the creepy.
       Part of the fun and success of the novel is found in how Anet dances around much of the more intimate action, and what good use he makes of avoiding being too explicit. Ariane, a Russian Girl is a love story, but of a -- certainly for its times -- rather novel sort, and while cleverly presented perhaps tries a bit too hard, making it difficult for readers to become fully invested in this romance.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 June 2023

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Ariane, a Russian Girl: Reviews: Ariane, a Russian Girl - the films: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Claude Anet (actually Jean Schopfer) lived 1868 to 1931.

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© 2023 the complete review

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