Study Guide

Spring in Fialta Themes

  • Memory and the Past

    "Spring in Fialta" explores the nature of memory through its first person narrator, who recalls for his readers a series of past events. The story is essentially a series of memories, each laid on top of the next and together creating a composite narrative. We see that memory is selective, manipulative, and not to be trusted. In many ways, memory conceals; we can’t possibly hope to get an accurate idea of the past through one man’s spotty recollection. On the other hand, memory illuminates, since with it comes the benefit of retrospect, heightened awareness, and understanding that are clear only after the fact.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Does memory reveal the truth, or conceal it in "Spring in Fialta"?
    2. Do we get a sense from the narrative of how removed Victor is from the happenings he describes? He starts off by introducing this "day in the early thirties" in Fialta; does his recollection seem recent, or sometime far in the past?
    3. Is there any reasoning to what Victor remembers and what he does not? Why, for example, does he remember the line about dark-haired girls all smelling like "burnt-leaf"?

    Chew on This

    "Spring in Fialta" is primarily about the process of memory. Victor’s actual relationship with Nina is less important than the way in which he remembers it, the consequences of recollection, and the nostalgic qualities of his narrative.

  • Transience

    "Spring in Fialta" explores the pain of missed opportunities, of "what could have been"s, and of the briefest of encounters with a woman who "had always either just arrived or was about to leave." The relationship on which the story focuses is indeed a transient one, built from a series of ephemeral meetings that are over as quickly and randomly as they began. Victor, the narrator of "Spring in Fialta," struggles to find meaning in these encounters despite their brevity. One of the story’s possible conclusions is that life is as transient as the series of moments which comprise it.

    Questions About Transience

    1. The changing weather in Fialta reflects the changing everything else in the story: Nina’s attitude toward Victor, her presence in his life, her being alive at all, Ferdinand’s inkwell predilections, etc. Every character and every element of the setting seems to reflect the transience of life – does Victor as well? Does his prose? His feelings? His perspective on Nina? Or is he the one element of constancy we’ve got here?
    2. Nina is always running in and out of Victor’s life. Is this the fault of fate, or of chance, or is Nina simply inconstant and fickle? How much of her messy relationship with Victor is under her control?
    3. Nina’s time with Victor has always been fleeting, at most a few hours at a time. How is it possible that he feels so intensely for her despite the brevity of their meetings?
    4. Why is it that Segur and Ferdinand are allowed to live at the end of "Spring in Fialta," but Nina is killed?

    Chew on This

    Victor only thinks he loves Nina because her ephemeral nature makes a relationship impossible. He wants what he can’t have.

    "Spring in Fialta" argues that life is made up of a series of moments, just as Nina and Victor’s relationship is the composite of all their momentary encounters.

  • Fate and Free Will

    "Spring in Fialta" focuses on a series of bizarre, random encounters between two individuals – so many, in fact, that it seems impossible to be the result of chance alone. The narrator is forced to wonder just what fate has in mind in bringing this pair together, over and over, by the oddest means and in the most unexpected places. The idea of fate thus pervades the story, rendering all of "Spring in Fialta" mystically deterministic (inevitable as a result of past events). Adding to this, the story’s ending is given away at the start. Because we know where we’re heading in the narrative, "Spring in Fialta" not only explores fatalism, but is fatalistic itself.

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Think about the way that time is manipulated in "Spring in Fialta." How does this contribute to the story’s fatalistic tone?
    2. Is the fatalism we see in "Spring in Fialta" only the result of its being told in retrospect? For example, check out the scene by the yellow car where Victor has a premonition. Can we trust that this really was a premonition, seeing as he’s telling us the tale from his memory? Was Nina really "fated" to keep her meeting with the "eternal sleeping car," or does it only seem that way to Victor now?
    3. The word "doomed" comes to mind when we think about Victor’s relationship with Nina. But is this more to do with her impending death, or her ephemeral, train-bound nature? Is the thought of a real relationship impossible because Nina’s going to die, or because Nina is incapable of really loving Victor?
    4. What is the difference between "chance" and "fate" in "Spring in Fialta?" Which is responsible for Victor’s many meetings with Nina?

    Chew on This

    Nina and Victor are both victims of circumstance in "Spring in Fialta." Victor can not be blamed for his infidelities any more than Nina can be blamed for her death.

    Nina’s fickle nature is to blame for all the tragedies of "Spring in Fialta," from Victor’s heartbreak to her own death.

  • Love

    It’s unclear whether "love" is the right word to use in "Spring in Fialta." The story focuses on the adulterous "relationship" between two married people, so the feelings are a bit ambiguous. In this work, we see that love is never clear-cut, never easy, and always painful. Being happy, even with a marriage and family, is never enough, since there’s that persistent feeling of "what if?" that accompanies even the briefest of chance encounters.

    Questions About Love

    1. Do we get a clear sense of Victor’s feelings for his wife and children? He calls them "an island of happiness always present in the clear north of [his] being, always floating beside [him], […] but yet keeping on the outside of [him] most of the time." What does this mean?
    2. You’ve heard our arguments in the character analyses, but what do you think? How does Nina feel about Victor? And what exactly does he feel for her?
    3. What is the nature of Nina’s relationship with her husband Ferdinand? Do they love each other? How do you know? Can we trust Victor’s depiction of their marriage?

    Chew on This

    Love is a destructive force in "Spring in Fialta."

  • Sadness

    Sadness has a lot to do with love in "Spring in Fialta," or at least a lot to do with that messy, ambiguous feeling of longing that we may or may not choose to label with the four-letter "L" word. Every chance romantic encounter is followed by a good-bye, a desire for more, a sense of jealousy and frustrated possessiveness. Sadness pervades the reflective tone of the story, and in this way is also tied to memory. Nostalgia in itself involves melancholy, so this story, composed of a series of recollections, explores the ache of memory.

    Questions About Sadness

    1. Does Victor’s involvement with Nina cause him more pain or more happiness? In short…is she worth it?
    2. Victor says he feels that "something lovely, delicate, and unrepeatable [is] being wasted" in the time he spends with Nina. What does he mean?
    3. Victor nixes any possibility of a real relationship with Nina because "it would be penetrated […] with a passionate, intolerable bitterness and every moment of it would be aware of a past, teeming with protean partners." Does the past embitter Victor’s narrative? Or has he moved on from his melancholy? In other words, is narrator Victor still as heartbroken as the Victor standing "on the train station of Mlech"?

    Chew on This

    Nina’s death is not tragic because her life is over, but rather because Victor’s relationship with her has ended.

    The comic playfulness in "Spring in Fialta" undermines the story’s tragedy.