Turgenev, Ivan (Sergeevich)

views updated

TURGENEV, Ivan (Sergeevich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Orel, 28 October 1818. Education: Home; briefly at Armenian Institute and Weidenhammer's boarding school in Moscow; University of Moscow, 1833-34; University of St. Petersburg, 1834-37; University of Berlin, 1838-41; completed master's exam in St. Petersburg, 1842. Career: Civil servant in Ministry of the Interior, 1843-45; then mainly interested in country pursuits, especially hunting; went to France with the singer Pauline Viardot and her husband, 1845-46, and again in 1847-50; exiled to his country estate for a "faulty" obituary of Gogol, 1852-53; in Western Europe again for long spells after 1856, often in Baden-Baden after 1863, and in Paris with the Viardots, 1871-83. Awards: Dr. of Civil Laws: Oxford University, 1879. Member: Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1860 (corresponding member). Died: 3 September 1883.



Novels. 15 vols., 1894-99.

The Borzoi Turgenev, edited by Harry Stevens. 1950.

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem. 28 vols., 1960-68.

The Essential Turgenev. 1994.

Short Stories

Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka (novella). 1850; as Diary of a Super-fluous Man, 1984. Zapiski okhotnika. 1852; as Russian Life in the Interior, 1855; as Annals of a Sportsman, 1885; as A Sportsman's Sketches, 1932; as Sketches from a Hunter's Album, 1990; as A Huntsman's Sketches, 1992.

Povesti i rasskazy [Tales and Stories]. 1856.

Rudin (novella). 1856; as Dmitri Roudine, 1873.

Asia (novella). 1858; as Annouchka, 1884; as Asya, in Three Novellas about Love, 1990.

Dvorianskoe gnezdo (novella). 1859; as A Nest of Gentlefolk, 1869; as Lisa, 1872; as Home of the Gentry, 1970.

Nakanune (novella). 1860; as On the Eve, 1871.

Pervaia liubov' (novella). 1860; as First Love, 1884; in First Love and Other Stories, 1982.

Dym (novella). 1867; as Smoke, 1868.

Neschastnaia (novella). 1869; as An Unfortunate Woman, 1886.

Stepnoi Korol' Lir (novella). 1870; as A Lear of the Steppe, with Spring Floods, 1874.

Veshnie vody (novella). 1872; as Spring Floods, with A Lear of the Steppe, 1874; as Spring Torrents, in Three Novellas about Love, 1990; as Aguas Primaverales, 1994.

First Love and Other Stories. 1982.

Three Novellas about Love (includes Asya, First Love, and Spring

Torrents). 1990.


Ottsy i deti. 1862; as Fathers and Sons, 1867; edited by Ralph E. Matlaw, 1989; as Fathers and Children, 1991.

Nov'. 1877; as Virgin Soil, 1877.

Klara Milich. 1883.


Neostorozhrost' [Carelessness]. 1843.

Bezdenezh'e [Lack of Money]. 1846.

Gde tonko, tam i rvet'sia (produced 1851). 1848; as Where It's Thin, There It Tears, in Plays, 1924.

Zavtrak s predvoditelia [Lunch with the Marshal of the Nobility] (produced 1849). 1856.

Kholostiak (produced 1849). 1849; as The Bachelor, in Plays, 1924.

Razgovor na bolshoi doroge (produced 1850). 1851; as A Conversation on the Highway, in Plays, 1924.

Provintsialka (produced 1851). 1851; as The Provincial Lady, in Plays, 1924.

Mesiats v derevne (produced 1872). 1855; as A Month in the Country, in Plays, 1924; as A Month in the Country, edited by Richard Freeborn, 1991.

Nakhlebnik (produced 1857). 1857; as The Family Charge, in Plays, 1924.

Vecher v Sorrente (produced 1884). 1891; as An Evening in Sorrento, in Plays, 1924.

Plays. 1924.


Parasha. 1843.

Razgovor [The Conversation]. 1845.

Andrei. 1846.

Pomeshchik [The Landowner]. 1846.

Senilia. 1878; as Stikhotvoreniia v proze, 1882; as Poems in Prose, 1883; as Senilia: Poems in Prose, 1890.


Sobranie sochinenii. 5 vols., 1860-61, and later editions.

Literaturnye i zhiteiskie vospominaniia. 1874; revised edition, 1880; as Literary Reminiscences and Autobiographical Fragments, 1958.

Nouvelle correspondance inédite, edited by Alexandre Zviguilsky. 2 vols., 1971-72.

Lettres inédites à Pauline Viardot et à sa famille, edited by Alexandre Zviguilsky. 1972.

Letters (selection), edited by A.V. Knowles. 1983.

Letters (selection), edited by David Lowe. 2 vols., 1983.

Flaubert and Turgenev: A Friendship in Letters: The Complete Correspondence, edited by Barbara Beaumont. 1985.

Flaubert-Ivan Turgenev: Correspondance, edited by Alexandre Zviguilsky, 1989.



Turgenev in English: A Checklist of Works by and about Him by Rissa Yachnin and David H. Stam, 1962; Turgenev: A Bibliography of Books 1843-1982 by and about Turgenev by Nicholas G. Zekulin, 1985.

Critical Studies:

Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age by A. Yarmolinsky, 1959; Turgenev, The Novelist's Novelist: A Study by Richard Freeborn, 1963; Turgenev: The Portrait Game edited by Marion Mainwaring, 1973; Hamlet and Don Quixote: Turgenev's Ambivalent Vision by Eva Kagan-Kans, 1975; The Clement Vision: Poetic Realism in Turgenev and James by Dale E. Peterson, 1976; The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev by V.S. Pritchett, 1977; Turgenev: His Life and Times by Leonard Schapiro, 1978; Turgenev's Russia: From "Notes of a Hunter" to "Fathers and Sons" by Victor Ripp, 1980; Turgenev and England, 1980, and Turgenev and George Sand, 1981, both by Patrick Waddington; Turgenev by Henri Troyat, 1985, translated by Nancy Amphoux, 1988; Turgenev by A.V. Knowles, 1988; Worlds Within Worlds: The Novels of Turgenev by Jane T. Costlow, 1990; Beyond Realism: Turgenev's Poetics of Secular Salvation by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, 1992; Turgenev and the Context of English Literature 1850-1900 by Glyn Turton, 1992; Character in the Short Prose of Ivan Sergeevic Turgenev by Sander Brouwer, 1996.

* * *

Ivan Turgenev started his literary career as mainly a poet, and this early discipline helped him develop a lyrical tone and a stylistic elegance that became permanent qualities of his writing. Through the early 1850s he wrote a number of plays, including at least one, Me siats v derevne (A Month in the Country), that remains in the standard repertory today. From the later 1840s on, however, he concentrated more and more on prose narrative, especially after he became famous in 1852 for his widely influential collection Zapiski okhotnika (A Sportsman's Sketches, also A Huntsman's Sketches), which portrayed the life of serfs—in the days before their emancipation—so vividly and sympathetically that the volume is said to have helped bring about that emancipation in 1861. These "sketches" are primarily just that: snapshots, as it were, of individual peasants and some of their owners. In many ways the volume amounted to a temporary experiment; Turgenev seldom thereafter wrote about the underclasses, and he soon abandoned the snapshot technique in favor of more developed narratives: novellas, novels, and short stories in the modern sense. Certain qualities in A Sportsman's Sketches do point toward his later, more characteristic, and fully imaginative work. Such pieces as "Bezhin Meadow," for example, are sketches but have overtones also of the short story form, and the combination in the Sportsman volume of intense interest in individual lives and character with social-political commentary, along with the author's penchant for using nature as tonal atmosphere and powerfully evocative symbol, anticipates what we find in many of his major works to come.

Distinguishing Turgenev's novels from his short fiction is problematical; in a sense all his fiction is short. Only two of the six works he himself chose to call novels—Ottsy i deti (Fathers and Sons) and Nor' (Virgin Soil)—attain the length we normally expect in novels, and the other four—Rudin, Dvorianskoe gnezdo (Home of the Gentry), Na Kanune (On the Eve), and Dym (Smoke)—range, so far as sheer length is concerned, along the spectrum running from short novel to novella. Veshnie Vody (Torrents of Spring), if we look at length in itself, could have been called a novel. Quite a few of Turgenev's works are of fairly standard novella length, including Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka (Diary of a Superfluous Man), Asia (Asya), Pervaia liubov' (First Love), Neschastnaia (An Unfortunate Woman), and Stepnoi Korol' Lir (A Lear of the Steppes). Although he also wrote a considerable number of short stories proper, even they tend often to be long—"Mumu" (1852), for example, his best-known story, is a study in pathos centering on a deaf-mute peasant who, having lost his beloved when she is forced into a marriage, takes a pet dog as a surrogate and finally is forced by his cruel owner to drown it.

We can probably best focus on Turgenev's achievement in short fiction by looking at the works of intermediate length, longer than the true short stories and shorter than the two full-length novels. That the classification by scale should be so difficult, that an intermediate length should be so common for him, is itself revelatory of two important things about Turgenev: that "blockbuster" spiritual or social panorama-novels in the vein of his contemporaries Dostoevskii and Tolstoi were not his vein, and that Turgenev needed, for his characteristic psychological amplitude and subtlety, a larger canvas to work on than the short story proper normally affords.

The often-drawn contrast of Turgenev with Dostoevskii and Tolstoi is, though, in some ways misleading, despite obvious differences in the size of their canvases, for all three are visionary realists, mimetically rendering the texture of human experience but infusing into that texture an arresting hyper-vividness. The special area of Turgenev's visionary power is partly nature but, more especially, the subjective experience of romantic love. In such works as First Love, Asya, and Smoke he evokes the feeling with piercing intensity, rendering the euphoria of love's dawning and the poignancy of lost love about as powerfully as that can be done. Turgenev's commentators repeatedly remind us that romantic love in his world is, invariably, sadly impermanent, which is true enough but not in itself very surprising or interesting; after all we are talking about romantic love, not love in general. Romantic love in Turgenev is not so much a link between persons as a voucher for the supercharged energy that life in general can have at its most intense, for better and worse, and Turgenev seems to imply that such intensity cannot in any arena of human existence be maintained for more than brief lightning-flashes. The sadness of love's impermanence is the sadness of the perishability of all life's visionary experiences. When Gregorii Litvinov, protagonist of Smoke, abandons his fiancée Tatiana for a glamorous young woman named Irina who had already, in the past, thrown him over once, he moves from the value-system defined by love in general into the different kind of system—beautiful, terrible, daemonic, visionary—defined by the specifically romantic variety of love. This is what the works we call love stories are all about, and to recognize the distinction is to see how irrelevant are the objections one sometimes hears to the effect that happy endings in love stories ignore the inevitable stresses that lie beyond the wedding. Smoke, in fact, does have a "happy" ending: Gregorii and Tatiana do come together again some years after their broken engagement. But what we have is no longer romantic love. As for the enchantress Irina, she ends in the lonely gaiety of the social whirl she has preferred over Gregorii, which obviously is not romantic love either. To judge whether she or Gregorii ends up happier is, for the visionary purposes of the love story, of no consequence at all.

Turgenev's characters, though highly individualized in a way, include several recurrent types. He once identified what he considered two archetypal categories of people: the Hamlets (indecisive, introspective, paralyzed) and the Don Quixotes (adventuresome, impulsive, questing). In his Diary of a Superfluous Man he introduced a specimen of ineffectual maleness that popularized a vogue, especially in Russian literature; the title protagonist of Rudin, gifted with inspiring eloquence but unable to follow through and commit himself when the heroine, Natalia, offers herself to him, is such a type. Indeed Turgenev's women are almost invariably strong, far stronger than his men, more endowed with vital energy, more capable of commitment, and, even when deeply flawed in character—like Irina in Smoke or Maria, the aggressive temptress in Torrents of Spring—more compelling.

Perhaps the prototype of Turgenev's strong women is Elena, the idealistic heroine of On the Eve; defying her conventional parents, she throws in her lot with Insarov, a Bulgarian exile and nationalist. She leaves with him for his country on the eve of its imminent revolution. He dies before he can go into action, but Elena goes forward on her own, into a dangerous but heroic future. (It is no wonder that the American novelist Henry James, also preoccupied with forceful young women, extravagantly admired On the Eve, as he admired Turgenev generally.)

The characteristic combination in Turgenev's work of love story with political-social commentary is sometimes organically effective, sometimes not. In Smoke the two strands seem almost independent of each other; in Rudin they are connected, but a little loosely; in On the Eve, where the heroine's boldness as lover blends with her boldness in the service of a cause, the blend is a more successful fusion.

—Brian Wilkie

See the essays on "Bezhin Meadow" and First Love.