Ivan Turgenev, 1818-1883

Portrait

Biographical note

Russian novelist and playwright. His novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction.

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. Turgenev himself considered the book to be his most important contribution to Russian literature; and Tolstoy, among others, agreed wholeheartedly, adding that Turgenev's evocations of nature in these stories were unsurpassed.

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. Many radical critics at the time 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 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. 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].

Works

Novels

Short stories

Plays

  • A Month in the Country [Mesiats v Derevne (Месяц в деревне)] [1855 ; translated by Constance Garnett]
  • A Rash thing to do [Neostorozhnost (Неосторожность)] [1843]
  • It tears where it is thin [Gde Tonko Tam i Rvetsya (Где тонко, там и рвется)] [1847]
  • Breakfast at the Chief's [Zavtrak u Predvoditelia (Завтрак у предводителя)] [1849/1856]
  • A Conversation on the Highway [Razgovor na Bol'shoi Doroge (Разговор на большой дороге)] [1850/1851]
  • Lack of Money [Bezdenezh'e (Безденежье)] [1846/1852]
  • A Provincial Lady [Provintsialka (Провинциалка)] [1851]
  • The Hanger-On; Fortune's Fool; The Family Charge [Nakhlebnik (Нахлебник)] [1857/1862]
  • An Evening in Sorrento [Vecher v Sorrento (Вечер в Сорренто)] [1882]
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