Jelena, the Woman of My Dream

Review

The story (1962) belongs to the inter-war period. It is the expression of an abstract idea in concrete terms, suggesting the force with which quite abstract notions and vague impressions can impose themselves on the imagination, demanding to be recognized as no less real than “reality”.

This is the story about disappearing woman – a story which in other contexts has seemed puzzling, if not downright insubstantial, but which is greatly improved by being viewed as an allegory of the life of art. Jelena like Eurydice is a supremely beautiful woman, but the narrator does not live for her illusory visits because he desires her, but because life itself is transformed when she arrives. Life is infinitely rich and significant in her presence, and he is happy with no cause; without her, he despairs, in a wasteland of insignificance. She is really all the artist’s nighttime visions contained in a single figure, and she is gloriously beautiful than anything that could actually exist. The narrator concedes from the start that she is only an illusion, but this is a fact he has recovered from ‘like an illness you only catch once in a lifetime’ and his whole imaginative efforts is to glimpse the illusion as often as possible – to win his Eurydice again and again over the threshold between dreams and realities. Orpheus must continually expect her, or she will never come. She is always and only the product of the artist’s lyre. As such she is immortal, for art is immortal; but if he views her as daylight reality she slips back over the threshold, and becomes part of that world of transience where Hades has entire dominion.