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  • Date :
  • 11/8/2003

Ivan Turgenev

(9Nov 1818-3 Sep 1883)

Novelist, poet, and playwright, known for his detailed descriptions about the everyday live inRussia 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 andLeo Tolstoy, he remains one of the major figures of the 19th-century Russian literature.

"A nihilist is a man who does not bow to any authorities, who does not take any principle on trust, no matter with what respect that principle is surrounded." (fromFathers and Sons, 1862)

Ivan Turgenev was born in Oryol, in theUkraine 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 storyA 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.
During his studies inBerlin, 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 inThe 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.
"You have only to look at Solomin. A head as clear as the day and a body as strong as an ox. Isn't that a wonder in itself? Why, any man with us in Russia who has had any brains, or feelings, or a conscience, has always been a physical wreck. Solomin's heart aches just as ours does; he hates the same things that we hate, but his nerves are of iron and his body is under his full control. He's a splendid man, I tell you! Why, think of it! here is a man with ideals, and no nonsense about him; educated and from the people, simple, yet all there . . . What more do you want?" (FromVirgin Soil)
In the 1840s Turgenev wrote poems, criticism, and short stories under the influence ofNikolay Gogol. With the short-story cycleA 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 inSt. 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 inDijon. 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.

"Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four." (fromFathers and Sons)

Hostile reaction toFathers and Sons (1862) prompted Turgenev's decision to leaveRussia. 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-centurynihilist - 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 Sonswas 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 inGermany, then moved to London, whereFathers and Sonshad 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).

"The whole life of Andreï Nikolaevitch was passed in the prompt performance of all the ceremonies established from remote times, in strict conformity with all the customs of the ancient, orthodox, holy Russian existence. He rose and went to bed, ate and drank and bathed, was merry or angry (though the second, in truth, rarely happened), even smoked his pipe and played cards (two great innovations!), not as it occurred to him to do after his own fashion, but after the law and ordinance of his fathers -- exactly and formally." (from Turgenev's 'Desperate', 1888, written in Bougival, 1881)

Among Turgenev's close friend's in France was the writerGustave 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, onSeptember 3, 1883. His remains were taken toRussia and buried in theVolkoff Cemetery, St.Petersburg. Turgenev's later works include novellasA King Lear of the Steppes (1870) andSpring Torrents, which rank withFirst 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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