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Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Turgenev, 1872 portrait by Vasily Perov
Born October 28, 1818(1818-10-28)
Oryol, Russian Empire
Died September 3, 1883 (aged 64)
Bougival, Seine-et-Oise
Occupation Novelist and Playwright
Genres Realism
Notable work(s) Fathers and SonsA Month in the Country

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (Russian: Иван Сергеевич Тургенев, IPA: [ɪˈvan sʲɪrˈɡʲeɪvʲɪtɕ turˈɡʲenʲɪf]) (November 9 [O.S. October 28] 1818 – September 3 [O.S. August 22] 1883) was a Russian novelist and playwright. His novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction.



Turgenev was born into a wealthy landed family of the Russian aristocracy in Oryol, Russia, on 28 October 1818. His father, Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev, a colonel in the Imperial Russian cavalry, was a chronic philanderer. Ivan's mother, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, was a wealthy heiress, who had had an unhappy childhood and suffered in her marriage. Ivan's father died when Ivan was sixteen, leaving him and his brother Nicholas to be brought up by their abusive mother. After the standard schooling for a son of a gentleman, Turgenev studied for one year at the University of Moscow and then moved to the University of Saint Petersburg, focusing on Classics, Russian literature, and philology. He was sent in 1838 to the University of Berlin to study philosophy, particularly Hegel, and history. Turgenev was impressed with German society and returned home believing that Russia could best improve itself by incorporating ideas from the Age of Enlightenment. Like many of his educated contemporaries, he was particularly opposed to serfdom.

When Turgenev was a child, a family serf had read to him verses from the Rossiad of Mikhail Kheraskov, a celebrated poet of the 18th century. Turgenev's early attempts in literature, poems, and sketches gave indications of genius and were favorably spoken of by Vissarion Belinsky, then the leading Russian literary critic. During the latter part of his life, Turgenev did not reside much in Russia: he lived either at Baden-Baden or Paris, often in proximity to the family of the celebrated singer Pauline Viardot, with whom he had a lifelong affair.

Turgenev never married, although he had a daughter with one of his family's serfs. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but was timid, restrained, and soft-spoken. His closest literary friend was Gustave Flaubert. His relations with Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky were often strained, as the two were, for various reasons, dismayed by Turgenev's seeming preference for Western Europe. His rocky friendship with Tolstoy in 1861 wrought such animosity that Tolstoy challenged Turgenev to a duel, afterwards apologizing. The two did not speak for 17 years. Dostoyevsky parodies Turgenev in his novel The Devils (1872) through the character of the vain novelist Karmazinov, who is anxious to ingratiate himself with the radical youth. However, in 1880, Dostoyevsky's speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument brought about a reconciliation of sorts with Turgenev, who, like many in the audience, was moved to tears by his rival's eloquent tribute to the Russian spirit.

Turgenev upon receiving his Honorary Doctorate at Oxford in 1879

Turgenev occasionally visited England, and in 1879 the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law was conferred upon him by the University of Oxford.

Turgenev died at Bougival, near Paris, on 4 September 1883. On his death bed he pleaded with Tolstoy: "My friend, return to literature!" After this Tolstoy wrote such works as The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Kreutzer Sonata.


Turgenev first made his name with A Sportsman's Sketches (Записки охотника), also known as Sketches from a Hunter's Album or Notes of a Hunter, a collection of short stories, based on his observations of peasant life and nature, while hunting in the forests around his mother's estate of Spasskoye. Most of the stories were published in a single volume in 1852, with others being added in later editions. The book is credited with having influenced public opinion in favour of the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Turgenev himself considered the book to be his most important contribution to Russian literature; It is reported that Pravda, [1] and Tolstoy, among others, agreed wholeheartedly, adding that Turgenev's evocations of nature in these stories were unsurpassed.[2] One of the stories in A Sportsman's Sketches, known as "Bezhin Lea" or "Byezhin Prairie", was later to become the basis for the controversial film Bezhin Meadow (1937) - directed by Sergei Eisenstein.

In the 1840s and early 1850s, during the rule of Tsar Nicholas I, the political climate in Russia was stifling for many writers. This is evident in the despair and subsequent death of Gogol, and the oppression, persecution, and arrests of artists, scientists, and writers, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky. During this time, thousands of Russian intellectuals, members of the intelligentsia, emigrated to Europe. Among them were Alexander Herzen and Turgenev himself, although the latter's decision to settle abroad probably had more to do with his fateful love for Pauline Viardot than anything else.

In 1852, when his first major novels of Russian society were still to come, Turgenev wrote an obituary for Nikolai Gogol, intended for publication in the Saint Petersburg Gazette. The key passage reads: "Gogol is dead!... What Russian heart is not shaken by those three words?... He is gone, that man whom we now have the right (the bitter right, given to us by death) to call great." The censor of Saint Petersburg did not approve of this and banned publication, but the Moscow censor allowed it to be published in a newspaper in that city. The censor was dismissed; but Turgenev was held responsible for the incident, imprisoned for a month, and then exiled to his country estate for nearly two years.

Pauline Viardot in the 1840s. Drawing by P.F. Sokolov

While he was still in Russia in the early 1850s, Turgenev wrote several novellas (povesti in Russian): "The Diary of a Superfluous Man ("Дневник лишнего человека"), Faust ("Фауст"), The Lull ("Затишье"), expressing the anxieties and hopes of Russians of his generation.

In 1854 he moved to Western Europe, and during the following year produced the novel Rudin ("Рудин"), the story of a man in his thirties, who is unable to put his talents and idealism to any use in the Russia of Nicholas I. Rudin is also full of nostalgia for the idealistic student circles of the 1840s.

In 1858 Turgenev wrote the novel A Nest of the Gentry ("Дворянское гнездо", published 1859) also full of nostalgia for the irretrievable past and of love for the Russian countryside. It contains one of his most memorable female characters, Liza, whom Dostoyevsky paid tribute to in his Pushkin speech of 1880, alongside Tatiana and Tolstoy's Natasha Rostova.

Alexander II ascended the Russian throne in 1855, and the political climate became more relaxed. In 1859, inspired by reports of positive social changes, Turgenev wrote the novel On the Eve ("Накануне"), portraying the Bulgarian revolutionary Insarov.

The following year saw the publication of one of his finest novellas, First Love ("Первая любовь"), which was based on bitter-sweet childhood memories, and the delivery of his speech ("Hamlet and Don Quixote", at a public reading in Saint Petersburg) in aid of writers and scholars suffering hardship. The vision presented therein of man torn between the self-centred scepticism of Hamlet and the idealistic generosity of Don Quixote is one that can be said to pervade Turgenev's own works. It is worth noting that Dostoyevsky, who had just returned from exile in Siberia, was present at this speech, for eight years later he was to write The Idiot, a novel whose tragic hero, Prince Myshkin, resembles Don Quixote in many respects.[3] Turgenev, whose knowledge of Spanish, thanks to his contact with Pauline Viardot and her family, was good enough for him to have considered translating Cervantes's novel into Russian, played an important role in introducing this immortal figure of world literature into the Russian context.

Fathers and Sons ("Отцы и дети"), Turgenev's most famous and enduring novel, appeared in 1862. Its leading character, Bazarov, was in turns heralded and reviled as either a glorification or a parody of the 'new men' of the 1860s. However, the issues treated in the novel transcend the merely contemporary. Many radical critics at the time (with the notable exception of Dimitri Pisarev) did not take Fathers and Sons seriously; and, after the relative critical failure of his masterpiece, Turgenev was disillusioned and started to write less.

Turgenev's next novel, Smoke ("Дым"), was published in 1867 and was again received less than enthusiastically in his native country, as well as triggering a quarrel with Dostoyevsky in Baden-Baden.

His last substantial work attempting to do justice to the problems of contemporary Russian society, Virgin Soil ("Новь"), was published in 1877.

Stories of a more personal nature, such as Torrents of Spring ("Вешние воды"), King Lear of the Steppes ("Степной король Лир"), and The Song of Triumphant Love ("Песнь торжествующей любви"), were also written in these autumnal years of his life. Other last works included the Poems in Prose and "Clara Milich" ("After Death"), which appeared in the journal European Messenger.

"The conscious use of art for ends extraneous to itself was detestable to him... He knew that the Russian reader wanted to be told what to believe and how to live, expected to be provided with clearly contrasted values, clearly distinguishable heroes and villains... Turgenev remained cautious and sceptical; the reader is left in suspense, in a state of doubt: problems are raised, and for the most part left unanswered" - Isaiah Berlin, Lecture on Fathers and Children[4]

Turgenev wrote on themes similar to those found in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but he did not approve of the religious and moral preoccupations that his two great contemporaries brought to their artistic creation. Turgenev was closer in temperament to his friends Gustave Flaubert and Theodor Storm, the North German poet and master of the novella form, who also often dwelt on memories of the past and evoked the beauty of nature.[5]


Turgenev's artistic purity made him a favorite of like-minded novelists of the next generation, such as Henry James and Joseph Conrad, both of whom greatly preferred Turgenev to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. James, who wrote no fewer than five critical essays on Turgenev's work, claimed that "his merit of form is of the first order" (1873) and praised his "exquisite delicacy", which "makes too many of his rivals appear to hold us, in comparison, by violent means, and introduce us, in comparison, to vulgar things" (1896).[6] The notoriously critical Vladimir Nabokov praised Turgenev's "plastic musical flowing prose", but criticized his "labored epilogues" and "banal handling of plots". Nabokov stated that Turgenev "is not a great writer, though a pleasant one", and ranked him fourth among nineteenth-century Russian prose writers, behind Tolstoy, Gogol, and Anton Chekhov, but ahead of Dostoyevsky.[7] His idealistic ideas about love, specifically the devotion a wife should show her husband, were cynically referred to by characters in Chekhov's "An Anonymous Story."

Simone Lance, a literature lecturer at UC Berkeley actually prefers Turgenev's later works to his original classics of nihilism. Citing 'Virgin Soil' as her prime example she ruthlessly cuts aparts arguments of the mid 20th Century critics of Turgenev (and in fact of Gogol) who see his works as inferior to that of his more religious, philosophical or troubled contemporaries Tolstoy and Dostoevesky.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


Selected novels

  • 1857 - Rudin (Рудин), English translation: Rudin
  • 1859 - Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo (Дворянское гнездо), English translation: A Nest of Gentlefolk
  • 1860 - Nakanune (Накануне), English translation: On the Eve
  • 1862 - Otzy i Deti (Отцы и дети); English translation: Fathers and Sons
  • 1867 - Dym (Дым); English translation: Smoke
  • 1877 - Nov (Новь); English translation: Virgin Soil

Selected shorter fiction

  • 1850 - Dnevnik Lishnego Cheloveka (Дневник лишнего человека); novella, English translation: The Diary of a Superfluous Man
  • 1852 - Zapiski Okhotnika (Записки охотника); collection of stories, English translations: A Sportsman's Sketches, The Hunter's Sketches
  • 1855 - Yakov Pasynkov (Яков Пасынков); novella
  • 1855 - Faust (Фауст); novella
  • 1858 - Asya (Aся); novella, English translation: Asya
  • 1860 - Pervaia Liubov (Первая любовь); novella, English translation: First Love
  • 1870 - Stepnoy Korol' Lir (Степной король Лир); novella, English translation: King Lear of the Steppes
  • 1872 - Veshnie Vody (Вешние воды); English translation: Torrents of Spring
  • 1881 - Pesn' Torzhestvuyushey Lyubvi (Песнь торжествующей любви); novella, English translation: The Song of Triumphant Love
  • 1883 - Klara Milich (Клара Милич); novella, English translation: The Mysterious Tales

Selected plays

  • 1843 - Neostorozhnost (Неосторожность); A Rash Thing to Do
  • 1847 - Gde Tonko Tam i Rvetsya (Где тонко, там и рвется)
  • 1849/1856 - Zavtrak u Predvoditelia (Завтрак у предводителя)
  • 1850/1851 - Razgovor na Bol'shoi Doroge (Разговор на большой дороге); A Conversation on the Highway
  • 1846/1852 - Bezdenezh'e (Безденежье)
  • 1851 - Provintsialka (Провинциалка); English translation: A Provincial Lady
  • 1857/1862 - Nakhlebnik (Нахлебник); English translation: The Hanger-On; Fortune's Fool; The Family Charge
  • 1855/1872 - Mesiats v Derevne (Месяц в деревне); English translation: A Month in the Country
  • 1882 - Vecher v Sorrento (Вечер в Сорренто); An Evening in Sorrento


  1. ^ Pravda 1988: 308
  2. ^ Tolstoy said after Turgenev's death: "His stories of peasant life will forever remain a valuable contribution to Russian literature. I have always valued them highly. And in this respect none of us can stand comparison with him. Take, for example, Living Relic (Живые мощи), Loner (Бирюк), and so on. All these are unique stories. And as for his nature descriptions, these are true pearls, beyond the reach of any other writer!" Quoted by K. N. Lomunov, "Turgenev i Lev Tolstoi: Tvorcheskie vzaimootnosheniia", in S. E. Shatalov (ed.), I. S. Turgenev v sovremennom mire (Moscow: Nauka, 1987).
  3. ^ See the "Influences" section in the Infobox of the article on Dostoyevsky for a reference to a study dealing with precisely this issue.
  4. ^ Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers, (Penguin 1994), p 264-305
  5. ^ See Karl Ernst Laage, Theodor Storm. Biographie (Heide: Boyens, 1999).
  6. ^ See Henry James, European Writers & The Prefaces (The Library of America: New York, 1984).
  7. ^ See Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature (HBJ, San Diego: 1981).

See also

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (Russian: Ива́н Серге́евич Турге́нев IPA: [ɪˈvan sʲɪrˈgʲeɪvʲɪtɕ turˈgʲenʲɪf]) (November 9 [O.S. October 28, 1818September 3 [O.S. August 22] 1883) was a Russian novelist and playwright. His novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction.


Father and Sons (1862)

Translated by Richard Hare. Full text here

  • "Naturally," observed Nikolai Petrovich, "you were born here, so everything is bound to strike you with a special —"

    "Really, Daddy, it makes absolutely no difference where a person is born."

    "Still —"

    "No, it makes no difference at all."

    • Ch. 3
  • "What is Bazarov?" Arkady smiled. "Would you like me to tell you, uncle, what he really is?"

    "Please do, nephew."

    "He is a nihilist!"

    "What?" asked Nikolai Petrovich, while Pavel Petrovich lifted his knife in the air with a small piece of butter on the tip and remained motionless.

    "He is a nihilist," repeated Arkady.

    "A nihilist," said Nikolai Petrovich. "That comes from the Latin nihil, nothing, as far as I can judge; the word must mean a man who... who recognizes nothing?"

    "Say — who respects nothing," interposed Pavel Petrovich and lowered his knife with the butter on it.

    "Who regards everything from the critical point of view," said Arkady.

    "Isn't that exactly the same thing?" asked Pavel Petrovich.

    "No, it's not the same thing. A nihilist is a person who does not bow down to any authority, who does not accept any principle on faith, however much that principle may be revered."

    "Well, and is that good?" asked Pavel Petrovich. "That depends, uncle dear. For some it is good, for others very bad."

    "Indeed. Well, I see that's not in our line. We old-fashioned people think that without principles, taken as you say on faith, one can't take a step or even breathe. Vous avez changé tout cela; may God grant you health and a general's rank, and we shall be content to look on and admire your... what was the name?"

    "Nihilists," said Arkady, pronouncing very distinctly.

    "Yes, there used to be Hegelists and now there are nihilists. We shall see how you will manage to exist in the empty airless void; and now ring, please, brother Nikolai, it's time for me to drink my cocoa."

    • Ch. 5
  • "For myself, I detest the fellow, and think him a charlatan. I am certain that, in spite of his frogs, he is making no real progress in physics."
    • Ch. 10

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Simple English

Ivan Turgenev
Born November 9, 1818(1818-11-09)
Oryol, Russian Empire
Died September 3, 1883 (aged 64)
Bougival, Paris
Occupation Novelist and Playwright
Genres Realism
Notable work(s) Fathers and Sons

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (November 9, 1818 - September 3, 1883) was a Russian writer, most famous for his novel Fathers and Sons.


Turgenev was born into a rich land-owning family in Oryol, Russia, on 9 November 1818. His father died when Turgenev was sixteen. He and his brother Nicholas were brought up by their mother. She did not treat them well.

Turgenev went to the University of Moscow for one year and then moved to the University of Saint Petersburg, where he studied Classics and Russian Literature. In 1838 he went to the University of Berlin to study Philosophy and History. Turgenev liked Germany and thought Russia should change their social system to be more like Germany’s.

The 1840s and 1850s were hard times for writers and artists in Russia. The political system did not allow them to express themselves as they wanted to. Many intelligent Russians left the country and went to England, France and Germany. In 1852 Turgenev himself was put in prison for a month for praising Nikolai Gogol – a famous Russian writer who had been criticised by the ruling powers in the country. In 1854, Turgenev moved to Western Europe and started writing his novel Rudin, which complained about the Russia of the 1840s and 1850s.

The political system in Russia changed in 1855 when Alexander II took over power from his father Nicholas I. Writers and artists had more freedom from this time. In 1860 one of Turgenev’s most famous novels, First Love, was published.

In 1862, Fathers and Sons, Turgenev’s most famous novel, appeared. Many people did not like the novel which upset Turgenev and he began to write less.

Smoke was published in 1867, but again was not popular in Russia.

In 1879, he received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford in England.

In later life, Turgenev did not live in Russia much. He lived either at Baden-Baden or Paris, often near the singer Pauline Viardot, who he was having an affair with. He never married, but he did have a daughter with one of his family’s servants.

Turgenev died near Paris on 3 September 1883. On his deathbed he told Leo Tolstoy to start writing again.

Turgenev had an awkward relationship with two other famous Russian writers – Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky criticised Turgenev for liking Western Europe and it’s literature more than Russian Literature. Turgenev was also close to the French writer Gustave Flaubert.

Main Works

  • 1857 - Rudin (Рудин), English translation: Rudin
  • 1859 - Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo (Дворянское гнездо), English translation: A Nest of Gentlefolk
  • 1860 - Nakanune (Накануне), English translation: On the Eve
  • 1862 - Otzy i Deti (Отцы и дети); English translation: Fathers and Sons
  • 1867 - Dym (Дым); English translation: Smoke
  • 1877 - Nov (Новь); English translation: Virgin Soil

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