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|Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)|
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.
"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." (from Fathers and Sons, 1862)
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, Varvara Petrona (née Lutovinova), who beat him constantly. His father, Sergei Nikolaevich, was a cavalry officer. He had some literary contacts, such as Vasilii Andreevich Zhukovsky, a poet, and the historical novelist Mikhail Nikolaevich Zagoskin. After retiring he moved with his family to Spasskoe and then to Moscow.
While spending time in a dacha outside Moscow, Turgenev fell in love with a young woman. Quite soon it turned out that she had many other suitors, including Turgenev's own father. The incident later inspired the story 'Pervaia liubov' (First Love). Turgenev studied at St. Petersburg (1834-37), where Nikolai Gogol was briefly his professor of history, 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 a ketch entitled 'Un incendie en mer' (A Fire at Sea). In 1841 Turgenev started his career at the Russian civil service. For a short time, he worked for the Ministry of Interior (1843-45).
Following the success of two of his story-poems, Turgenev left his post at the ministry, devoted himself to literature, country pursuits, and travel. 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. Dostoevsky, on the other had, caricatured Turgenevin The Possessed as Karmazinov. 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?" (from Virgin Soil)
In the 1840s Turgenev wrote poems, criticism, and short stories under the influence of Nikolai 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 the point of view of a young nobleman, who learns to appreciate the wisdom of the peasants living on his family's estates. However, Turgenev's opinions brought him a month of detention in St. Petersburg and 18 months of house arrest.
Turgenev had a life-long fixation with the opera singer Pauline Garcia Viardot, living near her or at times with her and her husband. At best, she was described as plain; one contemporary said that she was "personally hideous beyond compare." In 1845-46 and 1847-50 Turgenev travelled to France with the Viardots. Pauline, who had a number of romantic attachments outside her marriage, 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, originally named Pelageia but later renamed Paulinette. She was sent to France to be raised with the Viardot children. Pauline retired from the stage at the age of forty-two and settled in Baden-Baden, where he taught singers from all over the world. She also composed a series of operettas to Turgenev's librettos.
Mumu (1855) was about the cruelties of a serf society. In the short story a deaf and dumb peasant giant is forced to drown his dog, Mumu, his only source of happiness. John Galsworthy later said that "no more stirring protest against tyrannical cruelty was ever penned in terms of art." A Sportsman's Sketches was translated without the author's permission into French by Ernest Charrère, who introduced a new character into the tales. Turgenev protested in the Journal de Saint-Pétersbourg. James Meiklejohn's English translation from 1855, entitled Russian Life in the Interior; or, the Experiences of a Sportsman was based on this dubious French version.
In 1855 Turgenev met Leo Tolstoy, who had returned to St. Petersburg from the siege of Sebastopol. Tolstoy had not published his great works, but 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, Turgenev abandoned Romantic idealism for a more realistic style. Belinsky defended sociological realism in literature; Turgenev portrayed him in Yakov Pasynkov (1855). Between 1853-62 Turgenev wrote some of his finest stories and novellas and the first four of his six novels: Rudin (1856), Dvoryanskoe gnezdo (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." (from Fathers and Sons)
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 introduced by the author, who himself was accused of causing civil unrest. Later the temperament of a 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." The figure of Bazarov was conceived in in the Isle of Wright, where Turgenev had spent three weeks in 1860, but the energetic student Belyayev in his play, A Month in the Country, already anticipated the type.
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 in Germany and France, and visited Russia regularly, but he also spent some time in England, where he met many prominent figures, including Thomas Carlyle, William Makepeace Thackeray, Thomas Macaulay, Benjamin Disraeli and Florence Nightingale. Fathers and Sons had a great success in London. He settled finally in Paris, where he lived with the Viardots from 1871 until his death. Turgenev was a corresponding member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. In 1879 he was made Doctor of Civil Law at the Oxford University.
"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 friends in France was the writer Gustave Flaubert, with whom he shared 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, Turgenev 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. He had suffered from cancer of the spine, and once begged his friend Guy de Mausassant for a revolver. Pauline was by his side through his agony and pain. 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).
For further reading: Two Russian Reformers, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy by John Arthur Thomas Lloyd (1910); Turgenev, the Man, His Art, and His Age by Avrahm Yarmolinsky (1977); Turgenev: His Life and Times by Leonard Schapiro (1982); The Russian Revolutionary Novel: Turgenev to Pasternak by Richard Freeborn (1985); Ivan Turgenev by A.V. Knowles (1988); Turgenev: A Biography by Henry Troyat (1988); Worlds Within Worlds: The Novels of Ivan Turgenev by Jane T. Costlow (1990); Beyond Realism: Turgenev's Poetics of Secular Salvation by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen (1992); Turgenev and Britain by Waddington, et al. (1995); Turgenev's 'Fathers and Sons' by James Woodward (1996); Turgenev and Pavlovsky: A Friendship and a Correspondence by Patrick Waddington (1997); Ivan Turgenev, ed. by Harold Bloon (2003); Consequences of Consciousness: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy by Donna Tussing Orwin (2007) - See also: Guy de Maupassant, Isaiah Berlin