Ivan S. Turgenev
About the Author
Novelist, poet, and playwright, known for his detailed descriptions about the everyday live in Russia in the 19th century. Turgenev portrayed realistically the peasantry and the rising intelligentsia in its attempt to move the country into a new age. Although Turgenev has been overshadowed by his contemporaries Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy, he remains one of the major figures of the 19th-century Russian literature.
Ivan Turgenev was born in Oryol, in the Ukraine region of Russia, into a wealthy family. His childhood was lonely. Especially he was afraid of his strict mother, who beat him constantly. Turgenev studied at St. Petersburg (1834-37), Berlin Universities (1838-41), and completed his master's exam in St Petersburg. At the age of 19 Turgenev traveled to Germany. He was on a steamer when it caught fire and rumors spread in Russia that he had acted cowardly. This revealing experience, which followed the author throughout his life, formed later the basis for his story A Fire at Sea. In 1841 Turgenev started his career at the Russian civil service. He worked for the Ministry of Interior (1843-45) for a short time. After the success of two of his story-poems, Turgenev devoted himself to literature, country pursuits, and travel. He had a relationship with the opera singer Pauline Garcia Viardot, living near her or at times with her and her husband the rest of his life. Turgenev travelled to France with them in 1845-46 and 1847-50. Viardot remained Turgenev's great and unfulfilled love; in his youth he had had one or two affairs with servant-girls, and produced an illegitimate daughter, Paulinette.
During his studies in Berlin, Turgenev had became confirmed for the need of Westernization of Russia. Lacking the interest in religious issues like his two great compatriots, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, he represented the social side of reform movement. In a letter he wrote about Tolstoy's 'charlatanism' and even from his death-bed he begged Tolstoy to cast away his prophet's mantle. Dostoyevsky, on the other had, caricatured Turgenev as Karmazinov in The Possessed. Turgenev's solution was not revolution, mystical nationalism, or spiritual renewal but in the industriousness of the confident, methodical builders embodied by the engineer Vassily Fedotitch Solomin, a side character, in Virgin Soil. The 'positive hero' was a new type of personality, who will liberate Russia from her backwardness. In the center of the book, full of discussions about progression, literature, aesthetic life, emancipation, beauty, patriotic principles, etc., is a love story, in which a young woman must choose her of way in life.
In the 1840s Turgenev wrote poems, criticism, and short stories under the influence of Nikolay Gogol. With the short-story cycle A Sportsman's Sketches, he (1852) made his reputation. It is said that the work contributed to the Tsar Alexander II's decision to liberate the serfs. The short pieces were written from a point of view of a young nobleman who learn to appreciate the wisdom of the peasants who live on his family's estates. However, Turgenev's opinions brought him a month of detention in St. Petersburg and 18 months of house arrest. In 1855 he met Leo Tolstoy, who had returned to St. Petersburg from the siege of Sebastopol. Tolstoy had not published his great works, Turgenev recognized his literary genius - "I'm not exaggerating when I say that he'll become a great writer," he wrote to Tolstoy's sister. In 1857 he traveled with Nikolay Nekrasov and Tolstoy to Paris, and showed the younger novelist all the sights. "Turgenev is a bore," Tolstoy recorded in his diary in Dijon. The relationship between these two great writers remained tense, although they never broke contacts and has also family ties. Turgenev's mother had given birth in 1833 to a natural daughter, whose father was rumored to be Dr. Andrey Bers. He became Tolstoy's father-in-law. When Turgenev visited Tolstoy at Yasnaya Poloyana, he demonstrated a can-can to the children. "Turgevev, can-can. Sad," was Tolstoy's reaction.
Following the thoughts of the influential critic Vissarion Belinsky, who defended sociological realism in literature, Turgenev abandoned Romantic idealism for a more realistic style. During the period of 1853-62 Turgenev wrote some of his finest stories and novellas and the first four of his six novels: Rudin (1856), Dvorianskoe Gnedo (1859), Nakanune (1860) and Ottsy I Deti (1862). In these works central themes were the beauty of early love, failure to reach one's dreams, and frustrated love, which partly reflected the author's lifelong passion for Pauline. Another woman who deeply influenced Turgenev was his mother. She ruled her 5,000 serfs capriciously with a whip. Her strong personality left traces on his work.
Hostile reaction to Fathers and Sons (1862) prompted Turgenev's decision to leave Russia. As a consequence he also lost the majority of his readers. The novel examined the conflict between the older generation, reluctant to accept reforms, and the idealistic youth. In the central character, Bazarov, Turgenev drew a classical portrait of the mid-nineteenth-century nihilist - the word was invented by the author. Later the temperament of nihilist found a number of different manifestations: the terrorist, the anarchist, the atheist, the materialist, and the Communist. Fathers and Sons was set during the six-year period of social ferment, from Russia's defeat in the Crimean War to the Emancipation of the Serfs. The central character is the young medical student and nihilist Evgenii Bazarov, who has been described as the 'first Bolshevik' in Russian literature. "I share no man's opinions; I have my own." Against the radicals of the new generation (the 'sons') Turgenev sets the older generation (the 'fathers'), who are represented in the novel by the landowner Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov and his brother Pavel. Bazarov makes a journey to the Kirsanov estate to meet his friend Arkadii, Nikolai's son. Arkadii falls in love with Anna Odintsova, the beautiful landowner, who rejects Bazarov. When Bazarov flirts with the young peasant-girl Fenechka, Nikolai's mistress and the mother of his child, Pavel challenges him to a duel. Pavel is wounded in the leg, Bazarov returns to his home and helps his father who is a doctor. Bazarov dies as a result of his failure to cauterize a cut that he suffers while performing an autopsy on a peasant who had died from typhus.
Turgenev lived first in Germany, then moved to London, where Fathers and Sons had had great success. He settled finally in Paris, where he lived with the Viardots from 1871 until his death. He became a corresponding member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1860 and Doctor of Civil Law at the Oxford University (1879).
Among Turgenev's close friend's in France was the writer Gustave Flaubert, with whom he had similar social and aesthetic ideals. They both rejected extremist right and left and stuck to nonjudgmental if somewhat pessimistic depiction of the world. Struggling with his last, unfinished work, he wrote to Flaubert: "On certain days I feel crushed by this burden. It seems to me that I have no more marrow in my bones, and I carry on like an old post horse, worn out but courageous." Turgenev died in Bougival, near Paris, on September 3, 1883. His remains were taken to Russia and buried in the Volkoff Cemetery, St.Petersburg. Turgenev's later works include novellas A King Lear of the Steppes (1870) and Spring Torrents, which rank with First Love (1860) as his finest achievements in the genre. His last published work was a collection of meditations and anecdotes, entitled Poems in Prose (1883).
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