Ivan Turgenev

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Ivan Turgenev, photo by  (1820-1910)
Ivan Turgenev, photo by Flix Nadar (1820-1910)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (Ива́н Серге́евич Турге́нев, November 9, 1818, Orel, Russia - September 3, 1883, Bougival, near Paris, France ) was a major Russian novelist and playwright. Although his reputation has suffered some setbacks during the last century, the novel Fathers and Sons should still be regarded as one of the defining works of the 19th-century fiction.


Early life

Turgenev was born into an old and wealthy family at Orel, Russia, in the province of the same name, on October 28, 1818. His father Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev, the colonel of a cavalry regiment, died when our author was sixteen years of age, leaving two sons, Nicholas and Ivan, who were brought up under the care of their emotional and abusive mother Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, a lady who owned large estates and many serfs. After the normal schooling for a child of a gentleman's family, Ivan studied for a year at the University of Moscow, then at the University of St Petersburg focusing on the classics, Russian literature and philology, and was finally sent in 1838 to the University of Berlin to study philosophy, comprised mostly of Hegel, and history. Turgenev, as a young Russian studying abroad, was generally impressed with the more modern society he witnessed in Western Europe and he went back home a "Westernizer", as opposed to a "Slavophile", who believed that Russia can improve itself only by imitating the West and abolishing outdated institutions such as serfdom.

For his first acquaintance with the literature of his country the future novelist was indebted to a serf of the family, who used to read to him verses from the Rossiad of Kheraskov, a once celebrated poet of the eighteenth century. Turgenev's early attempts in literature, consisting of poems and trifling sketches, may be passed over here; they were not without indications of genius, and were favorably spoken of by Belinsky, then the leading Russian critic, for whom Turgenev ever cherished a warm regard.

First works

Turgenev first made his name with the striking sketches A Sportsman's Sketches (Записки охотника), also known as Sketches From a Hunter's Album or Notes of a Hunter, in which the deplorable conditions of the peasants was described with mild realism and deeply poetic compassion. Based on the author's own observations while sport hunting birds and hares in his mother's estate of Spasskoye, the work appeared in a collected form in 1852. It was read by all classes, including the Russian Czar himself, and it undoubtedly hurried on the great work of emancipation. Turgenev had always sympathized with the muzhiks; he had often been witness of the cruelties of his mother, a narrow-minded and vindictive woman. According to Nabokov and Tolstoy, A Sportsman Sketches contain the finest pages ever written by Turgenev.

His next work was A Nest of Nobles (Дворянское гнездо)in 1859, and was followed the next year by On the Eve (Накануне), a tale which contains one of his most beautiful female characters, Helen. In 1862 was published Fathers and Sons (Отцы и дети), an admirably-structured novel in which the author famously described the revolutionary doctrines then beginning to spread in Russia. According to some writers he invented the word nihilism.

Turgenev's life in Europe

During the latter part of his life, Turgenev did not reside much in Russia; he lived either at Baden-Baden or Paris, and often in proximity to the family of the celebrated singer Pauline Viardot, for whom the author harboured a life-long but futile admiration. Aside from supporting an illegitimate daughter he had produced during his younger years with one of his mother's female serfs, Turgenev never married. Although tall and broad in physical stature, Turgenev's personality was timid, restrained and soft-spoken. His closest literary friend was Gustave Flaubert. Turgenev occasionally visited England, and in 1879 the degree of D.C.L. was conferred upon him by the University of Oxford. He died at Bougival, near Paris, on the 4th of September 1883.

Turgenev's later novels, with their antiquated language and stilted situations, are sometimes considered inferior to his earlier efforts. In 1867 appeared Smoke (Дым), and in 1877 his last work of any length, Virgin Soil (Новь). Besides his longer stories, many shorter ones were produced, some of great beauty and full of subtle psychological analysis, such as Torrents of Spring (Вешние воды), First Love, Asya and others. These were afterwards collected into three volumes. The last works of the great novelist were Poetry in Prose and Clara Milich, which appeared in the European Messenger.


Unquestionably Turgenev may be considered one of the great Victorian novelists, worthy to be ranked with Thackeray, Hawthorne, and Henry James; with the genius of the last of these he has many affinities. His studies of human nature are profound, and he has the wide sympathies which are essential to genius of the highest order. A melancholy, almost pessimist, feeling pervades his writings, a morbid self-analysis which seems natural to the Slavonic mind. Yet, ideologically speaking, Turgenev remained the Russian liberal who wanted to see progressive change in authoritarian and technologically backward Russia but yet was also opposed to the new political radicalism that was emerging. The closing chapter of Fathers and Sons, his great masterful statement on this radicalism, is one of the saddest and at the same time truest pages in the whole range of existing novels.



Short stories


See also

External link

da:Ivan Turgenjev de:Iwan Sergejewitsch Turgenew eo:Ivan TURGENEV fr:Ivan Tourgueniev he:איוואן סרגייביץ' טורגנייב nl:Ivan Toergenjev ja:イワン・ツルゲーネフ pt:Ivan Turgeniev fi:Ivan Turgenev sv:Ivan Turgenjev ru:Тургенев, Иван Сергеевич uk:Турґенєв Іван Сергійович zh:屠格涅夫


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