Born November 9, 1818, in Orel Province, Russia; died of cancer of the spine September 3, 1883, in Bougival, France; son of Sergei Nikolaievich (a military officer) and Varvara Petrovna (Lutovinova) Turgenev; children: Pelageia (with Avdotya Ivanov). Education: Attended University of Moscow, c. 1834; University of St. Petersburg, graduated, 1837; attended University of Berlin, 1838-41. Religion: Russian Orthodox.
Novelist and dramatist. Russian Ministry of Interior Affairs, Moscow, Russia, member of staff, 1843-45. International Literary Congress, Paris, France, vice president, 1878.
Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences (corresponding member).
Honorary Doctor of Civil Law, Oxford University, 1979.
Parasha. Rasskaz v stinkhakh, [St. Petersburg, Russia], 1843.
The Plays of Ivan Turgenev (originally published in Otechestvennye zapiski; includes Neostorozhonost, 1843, translated as Carelessness; Bezdenezh'e, 1846, translated as Broke; Kholostiak, 1849, translated as The Bachelor; Provintsialka, 1851, translated as The Country Woman; Mesyats v derevne, 1855, revised, 1875, translated as A Month in the Country [also see below]; Zavtrak u predvoditelia, 1856, translated as An Amicable Settlement; and Nakhlebnik [also see below], 1857, translated as The Family Charge;), translation by M. S. Mandell, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1924.
Razgovor. Poema, [St. Petersburg, Russia], 1845.
Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka (originally published in Otechestvennie zapiski), 1850, translated by Henry Gersoni as The Diary of a Superfluous Man in Mumu, and The Diary of a Superfluous Man, Funk & Wagnalls (New York, NY), 1884.
Zapiski okhotnika, two volumes, Universitetskoi Tipografii (Moscow, Russia), 1852, 3rd edition, Stasiulevich (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1880, translated and edited by James D. Meiklejohn as Russian Lifein the Interior; or, The Experiences of a Sportsman, A. & C. Black (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1855, translated by Richard Freeborn as Sketches from a Hunter's Album, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1990, translated by Charles and Natasha Hepburn as A Sportsman's Notebook, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Rudin (novel; originally serialized in Sovremennik), 1856, translated as Dimitri Roudine, Holt & Williams (New York, NY) 1873, translated by David McDuff as Rudin, in Rudin; On the Eve, 1999.
Povesti i rasskazy, three volumes, Prats (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1856.
Nakhlebnik (play), 1857, translated and adapted by Mike Poulton as Fortune's Fool, Samuel French (New York, NY), 2002.
Dvoryanskoie Gnezdo (novel; originally serialized in Sovremennik, 1859), translated by W. R. S. Ralston as Liza; or, A Nest of Nobles, Chapmann & Hall (London, England), 1869, Holt (New York, NY), 1873.
Nakanune (novel; originally serialized in Russkii vestnik), 1860, translated by Charles Edward Turner as On the Eve, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1871, Holt (New York, NY), 1873, translation by David McDuff published in Rudin; On the Eve, 1999.
Sochineniia I. S. Turgeneva. Ispravlennie i dopolnennie, four volumes, Osnovsky (Moscow, Russia), 1860.
Ottsi i deti (novel), Soldatenkov (Moscow, Russia), 1862, translated by Eugene Schuyler as Fathers and Sons, Leypoldt & Holt (New York, NY), 1867, translated and edited by Richard Freeborn, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991, translated by Avril Pyman as Fathers and Children, Random Century (London, England), 1991, translated and edited by Michael Katz, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
Sochineniia (1844-1864), five volumes, Salaevi (Karlsrugh, Germany), 1865, expanded edition published as Sochineniia (1844-1864), seven volumes, 1869, supplementary volume, 1871, published in eight volumes, 1874-1875, expanded as Sochineniia (1844-1880), ten volumes, Salaevi (Moscow, Russia), 1880, expanded edition published in twelve volumes, GIZ (Moscow, USSR), 1928-1934.
Dym (novel; originally serialized in Russkii Vestnik), 1867, translated by Rowland Crawley as Smoke; or, Life at Baden, Richard Bentley (London, England), 1868, translated as Smoke, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Turgenieff's Works, eight volumes, Holt (New York, NY), 1867-1885.
Pervaia Liubov', 1869, translated by Richard Freeborn as "First Love" in First Love and Other Stories, 1989.
Stepnoi korol' lir, (three-act play), 1870, S. F. Razsokhina (Moscow, Russia), 1882, translation by William Hand Browne published with Spring Floods as A Lear of the Steppe, Holt (New York, NY), 1874.
Veshinie Vody (originally published in Vestnik Evropy), 1872, translation by Sophie Michell Butts published as Spring Floods with A Lear of the Steppe, Holt (New York, NY), 1874, translated by Ivy and Tatiana Litvonov, illustrated by Valentin Popov, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Literaturnie i zhiteiskie voospomininaiia, [Russia], 1874, revised edition, 1880, translated by David Magarshack as Literary Reminiscences and Autobiographical Fragments, essay by Edmund Wilson, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2001.
Nov' (novel; originally serialized in Vestnik Evropy), 1877, published in two volumes, Gerhard (Leipzig, Germany), 1877, authorized edition translated by Thomas Sargent Perry as Virgin Soil, Holt (New York, NY), 1877, translated by Ashton Dilke, Macmillan (London, England), 1878.
Stikhotvoreniia v proze, 1883, translated as Poems in Prose, Cupples, Upham (Boston, MA), 1883.
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. Posmertnoe izdanie, ten volumes, Glazunov (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1883-1884.
Stikhotvoreniia, [St. Petersburg, Russia], 1885.
The Novels of Ivan Turgenev, twelve volumes, translated by Constance Garnett, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1894-1899, portions published as First Love; and, The Diary of a Superfluous Man, Dover (Mineola, NY), 1995, portions revised by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen as Fathers and Sons, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2001, portions published as Virgin Soil, introduction by Charlotte Hobson, New York Review Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Senilia (prose poems), 1878.
The Novels and Stories of Ivan Turgenev, sixteen volumes, translated by Isabel Hapgood, Scribners (New York, NY), 1903-1904.
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, twenty-eight volumes, A.N. SSSR (Moscow, USSR), 1960-1968, revised edition, thirty volumes, Nauka (Moscow, USSR), 1979—.
Letters, two volumes, translated and edited by David Lowe, Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1983.
Turgenev's Letters, translated and edited by A. V. Knowles, Althone Press (London, England), 1983.
Flaubert and Turgenev: A Friendship in Letters: The Complete Correspondence, edited and translated by Barbara Beaumont, Norton (New York, NY), 1985.
Perepiska I. S. Turgeneva, two volumes, Khudozhestvennaia (Moscow, USSR), 1986.
First Love, and Other Stories, translated and edited by Richard Freeborn, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
A Month in the Country, translated and edited by Richard Freeborn, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.
The Essential Turgenev, edited by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1994.
First Love, and Other Stories, translated by Isaiah Berlin, introduction by V. S. Pritchett, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Rudin; On the Eve, translated and edited by David McDuff, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor of plays and short fiction to periodicals, including Otechestvennye zapiski, Sovremennik, Eclectic, Epokha, Macmillan's, Poriadok, Russkii Vestnik, Vestnik Evropy, and Fortnightly Review. Other works include Pomeshchik, 1846; Razgovor na bol'shoi doroge (play; title means "A Conversation on the Highway"), 1850; Vecher v Sorrente (play; title means "An Evening in Sorrento"), 1882; Dream Tales and Prose Poems, 1897; Phantoms and Other Stories, 1904; A Reckless Character, and Other Stories, 1904; and The Mysterious Tales of Ivan Turgenev, 1979.
Turgenev's papers are housed in collections at the Bibliothèque National, Paris; Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg; Russian National Library, St. Petersburg; and Moscow State Literary Museum.
Turgenev's short work Pesn' torzhestvuiushchei liubvi was adapted as a ballet score and recorded by Mikhail Nosyrev as The Song of Triumphant Love, Olympia (London, England), 2000. His short story "The Country Doctor" was adapted for the stage by Simon Day, Oberon (London, England), 2002.
Although his most enduring work is the novel Fathers and Sons, Russian realist writer Ivan Turgenev changed the lives of Russian serfs with his 1852 book Zapiski okhotnika, much as American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe did the lives of America's black slaves with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Turgenev's work, translated as A Sportsman's Sketches, is an unidealized yet affecting depiction of the life of Russia's rural peasantry, and it reportedly influenced reformist Czar Alexander II in his decision to emancipate Russia's serfs in 1861. Unfortunately for Turgenev, publication of Zapiski okhotnika, as well as his openly pro-Western views, did not endear him to the less humanitarian Czar Nicholas I. As a consequence, he spent most of his adult life in Europe, returning only rarely to his native country. A contemporary of Leo Tolstoy, Fydor Dostoevsky, and an elderly Nikolai Gogol, Turgenev also authored verse, short fiction, plays, and several novels during his long career and became the first Russian author to gain a large readership outside his homeland, particularly in France, Germany, and England. Establishing friendships with other writers such as Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Henry James, Émile Zola, and Guy de Maupassant, Turgenev also promoted the works of his fellow Russians during his country's literary golden age, helping to bridge the vast cultural divide between eastern and western Europe. To Russian readers he offered an alternative to the prophetic literature of Tolstoy in his focus on realistic characters and human situations rather than allegory.
Benefits from Aristocratic Heritage and Bourgeois Affluence
Born in Russia's Orel Province in 1818, Ivan Sergeievich Turgenev was the second of three sons of a wealthy family of the Russian landed gentry. His mother, Varvara Petrovna, had inherited wealth and land from a childless uncle and made her home at the family seat of Spasskoye. An educated and ambitious woman—only French was spoken in her home—Varvara oversaw her estates and her five thousand serfs with an iron hand, and she treated her children just as harshly. His father, Sergei Nikolaievich Turgenev, was a retired colonel who hailed from a family that included a Tatar prince but little money. The Turgenev home life was less than serene, as Sergey angered his wife through his infidelities and Varvana asserted unyielding control due to her wealth.
Educated by tutors until age nine, Turgenev was sent to preparatory school in Moscow in 1827, and from there moved to Moscow University six years later, at age sixteen. He refused to identify with his aristocratic heritage: he spoke Russian, which he had learned from the family servants, and was known for his liberal political views. In 1834, the year his father died, Turgenev transferred to the University of St. Petersburg, where his father and older brother had moved, and planned to enter academia as a professor. Studying under Gogol during that author's brief flirtation with a career teaching history, he also began to write poetry reflecting the Romantic idealism of English poet Lord Byron.
After graduating, Turgenev enrolled at the University of Berlin, where he fell in love with the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, studied the classics, and read widely in philosophy, the works of G. W. F. Hegel in particular. A frequent attendee at the salon of the city's Frolov family, he met some of the greatest German intellectuals of the day, among them explorer Alexander von Humboldt. He also enjoyed a close friendship with philosopher Mikhail Bakunin, and the two students roomed together until Turgenev returned to Russia in 1841, leaving his dissertation uncompleted. Abandoning his plans to become a professor, he found a post in Russia's Ministry of Interior Affairs. Unenthusiastic about this vocation as well, Turgenev quit his civil service job after eighteen months by citing health concerns, angering his widowed mother, who promptly withdrew her financial support. His impoverished status, as well as some youthful indiscretions—Turgenev fathered a daughter with his mother's seamstress—made this a difficult time for a young man used to leading a comfortable life.
Now able to devote more time to his writing, Turgenev began to develop the subtle realist style that characterizes his mature work; he also began his habit of encouraging literate friends to read his work in draft form to gauge critical reaction. He produced both poetry and plays, his 1843 verse collection Parasha reflecting the influence of Russian poets Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. Although the work shows Turgenev's potential as a poet, he would later dismiss such efforts after discovering his true calling in prose. The same year Parasha was published, Turgenev met Pauline Viardot-Garcia, a Spanish-born vocalist who would eventually become the reigning mezzo-soprano in Europe. Although she was married and continued to take other lovers, Viardot-Garcia and Turgenev began a long-term romantic relationship that lasted until the author's death, and she also helped to raise the writer's illegitimate daughter. A tall, handsome man, Turgenev also had affairs outside this relationship, and even came close to marriage several times, although he remained devoted to Pauline's welfare throughout his life.
As Turgenev developed as an author he became increasingly fascinated with the people and culture of his native Russia, and for two years he dedicated himself to meeting many of the country's leading writers. In 1847 he went abroad to the Viardot's summer estate, determined to counter with his writing the oppression of the Russian peasants he had come to love. Beginning with the short sketch "Khor and Kalinich," he continued to produce prose pieces focusing on his encounters with rural folk, oftentimes imbuing the peasantry with a nobility greater than that of their masters. In "Bezhin lug" he portrays a group of boys gathered around a fire while keeping watch over a herd of horses; "Pevtsy" depicts a local singing competition he once witnessed. These sketches appeared in Russian periodicals at frequent intervals during these years; their publication slipped by Russian censors due to Turgenev's subtle indictment of the Russian landed class. In 1852 the twenty-two previously published sketches were printed in book form as Zapiski okhotnika, a work that has been translated variously as Russian Life in the Interior; or, The Experiences of a Sportsman (1855), Sketches from a Hunter's Album (1990), and A Sportsman's Notebook (2000).
Meanwhile, Turgenev had returned to Russia to attend the death of his estranged mother in 1850; now he was the owner of eleven estates covering over thirty thousand acres and worked by several thousand serfs. Although he retained those serfs necessary to maintain his family lands, Turgenev freed those who were unessential and attempted to make life easier for those who remained in his control. In 1850 he also completed his most popular stage play, A Month in the Country.
The publication of the Zapiski okhotnika sketches eventually drew the ire of the Russian government and created difficulties for its idealistic author. The Russian government was even more disenchanted with Turgenev after he bypassed censors and published a laudatory obituary for Gogol in November of 1852. Using Gogol's obituary as an excuse, the government had Turgenev arrested and imprisoned for a month for treason; he was then confined to Spasskoye for two years. Despite the state's reaction, the damage had already been done: Zapiski okhotnika had passed the censors and been published; it sold out within six months, although all reviews of the book were banned in Russian periodicals.
Embraces Novel Format
Released from house arrest in 1854, Turgenev returned to St. Petersburg, and in 1856 he published his first novel, Rudin, which focuses on its author's generation during the idealistic college years and has a main character modeled on Bakunin. Like much of Turgenev's other work, Rudin examines the tendency of idealists to talk but not to take active steps to implement their ideas. Free once again to travel at the end of the Crimean War, he now renewed his practice of meeting noted writers, seeking out the company of Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Leo Tolstoy, and also meeting American novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. During a trip to England in 1857 he met Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and historians Thomas Macaulay and Carlyle. Such meetings served to promote Turgenev's renown outside Russia while also introducing the international intellectual community to works by many Russian authors. In addition, he gained the approval of influential French and German reviewers who promoted his work for its style and reformist tone.
By the time Turgenev returned to Russia in 1859 he had become a celebrity due to the popularity of his novel Dvoryanskoie Gnezdo (Liza; or, A Nest of Nobles) about a young woman's efforts to find her own direction in life, and he was elected to Russia's Imperial Academy of Sciences as a corresponding member. His next novel, 1860's On the Eve, was based on the diary of a young soldier who was marked for death; the controversy that erupted following its publication divided readers along generational and economic lines. Older, more affluent readers condemned Turgenev's story, while student radicals praised it. A negative review of the novel indirectly sparked a disagreement with Tolstoy, who went so far as to threaten Turgenev with a duel. Although the less than robust Turgenev refused and communications between the two colleagues eventually resumed, their relationship remained strained until Turgenev's death.
Turgenev's 1862 novel, Fathers and Sons, is considered one of the greatest fictional works of the age. It contains a compelling portrait of Evgenii Bazarov, a young nihilist—Turgenev actually coined the term, although it would later gain a more potent meaning when attached to late-century anarchists—modeled on a well-known Russian radical who had died young. Set following the Crimean War, Fathers and Sons finds Bazarov, a medical student, traveling to the rural estate of college friend Arkadii Kirsanov where romantic entanglements pit him against Arkadii's father and uncle and challenge the validity his nihilist pronouncements; Bazarov became such a potent and visible symbol for young socialist radicals of the 1860s that many accused Turgenev of prostrating himself before the younger generation. His 1866 novel, Smoke, further fueled controversy by offending Slavophiles and all conservative religious opinion in Russia. Some criticism pointed to his many travels outside Russia, and accusations of devaluing Russian culture in favor of Western influences were leveled. In 1867 no less a personage than Fyodor Dostoevsky decried Turgenev for denigrating Mother Russia.
By the time of Dostoevsky's pronouncements against his colleague, Turgenev had moved with the Viardots to Baden-Baden, Germany, hoping to avoid the controversy his works continued to spark in Russia. With his daughter's marriage in 1863, he built a villa on the outskirts of the city, and lived there despite some financial difficulties caused by his uncle's mismanagement of his finances. When the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, he moved to England, finally making his home at Bougival, outside Paris, where he found a supportive community of intellectuals. Here he socialized with Zola, Maupassant, and Flaubert, and also penned some of his most enduringly popular novella-length fiction, such as First Love and Spring Floods. He also began work on the novel that would be published in 1877 as Nov' (Virgin Soil). The story of the young generation of the 1870s, the novel depicts this new generation as industrious, forward-thinking activists disenchanted with the empty idealism of their parents' generation; it became a best seller in Europe, but was characteristically condemned in Russia.
Growing Reputation Prompts Reconciliation
Returning to Russia following the death of his older brother, Turgenev discovered that the cultural barometer had shifted in his homeland; upon his return to St. Petersburg he was honored by friends and colleagues, and old disagreements such as that with Tolstoy were healed. He returned to Russia again in 1880, this time for the unveiling of Moscow's Pushkin Memorial. Unfortunately, he would have little time to enjoy this acclaim, as the spinal cancer that would ultimately take his life began to restrict his activities as early as 1876. Three years later, on September 3, 1883, he died at his home near Paris; a ceremony at the Gare du Nord honored him and at his interment at Volkoff Cemetery in St. Petersburg all Russia mourned the passing of one of its greatest writers.
If you enjoy the works of Ivan Turgenev
If you enjoy the works of Ivan Turgenev, you might want to check out the following books:
Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard, 1904.
Nikolai Gogol, Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, 1832.
Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time, 1840.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1874.
Summing up Turgenev's literary career, and his lasting impact on world literature, Henry James noted in an introduction to Turgenev's Fathers and Sons: "No one has had a closer vision, or a hand at once more ironic and more tender, for the individual. . . . with its minutest signs and tricks—all its heredity of idiosyncrasies, all its particulars of weakness and strength, of ugliness and beauty, of oddity and charm; and yet it is of [Turgenev's] . . . essence that he sees it in the general flood of life, steeped in its relations and contacts, struggling or submerged, a hurried particle in the stream. This gives him, with his quiet method, his extraordinary breadth" and a "rare power."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Costlow, Jane T., World within Worlds: The Novels of Ivan Turgenev, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 238: Russian Novelist in the Age of Tolstoy and Dostevsky, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 345-371.
Freeborn, Richard, Turgenev: The Novelist's Novelist, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1960.
Hershkowitz, Harry, Democratic Ideas in Turgenev's Works, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1932, reprinted, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1973.
Knowles, A. V., Ivan Turgenev, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1988.
Lowe, David, editor, Critical Essays on Ivan Turgenev, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1988.
Pritchett, V. S., The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, Random House (New York, NY), 1977.
Schairo, Leonard Bertram, Turgenev: His Life and Times, Random House (Ne York, NY), 1978.
Troyat, Henri, Turgenev, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.
Waddington, Patrick, Ivan Turgenev and Britain, Berg (Providence, RI), 1995.
Warner, Charles Dudley, editor, Ivan Turgenev (part of "Library of the World's Best Literature" series), introduction by Henry James, International Society (New York, NY), 1897.
Yarmolinsky, Avrahm, Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age, Century (New York, NY), 1926, revised edition, Orion Press (New York, NY), 1959.
Canadian-American Slavic Studies, Volume 17, number 1, 1983, pp. 13-18, 39-48.
Russian Literature, Volume 16, number 4, 1984, Peter Brang, "Turgenev and the-Isms," pp. 305-322.
Russian Review, Volume 50, number 4, 1991, pp. 437-450.
Slavonic and East European Review, Volume 61, number 4, 1983, Richard Freeborn, "Turgenev and Revolution," pp. 518-527; winter, 1998, pp. 614-632.
Stanford Slavic Studies, spring, 1991, pp. 382-400.
Transactions, Volume 16, 1983, pp. 213-224; Volume 17, 1984, pp. 253-260.*