Study Guide

A House of Gentlefolk

by Ivan Turgenev

A House of Gentlefolk Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Marya, since the death of her husband, has become a social leader in her small provincial town. Her daughter Liza speaks French quite well and plays the piano. Her other children have the best tutors available. She takes great delight in receiving guests, especially Panshin, who holds an important position in Moscow. Her evening gatherings are always entertaining when Panshin is there to quote his own poetry.

It is rumored that Lavretzky is returning to the district. Although he is a cousin of the house, Marya scarcely knows how to treat him, for Lavretzky made an unfortunate marriage. He is now separated from his pretty wife, who is reputed to be fast and flighty. Lavretzky’s visit creates no difficulties, however. He is a rather silent, affable man, and he notices Liza with interest. Liza is a religious-minded and beautiful girl of nineteen. It is very evident that the brilliant Panshin is courting her with the full approval of her mother. On the evening of his visit, Lavretzky is not impressed with Panshin’s rendition of his musical romance, but the ladies are ecstatic.

The following day Lavretzky goes on to his small country estate. The place is run-down because it has been uninhabited since his sister’s death. Lavretzky, content to sink into a quiet country life, orders the gardens cleaned up, moves in some newer furniture, and begins to take an interest in the crops. He seems suspended in a real Russian atmosphere, close to the land. His new life is particularly pleasing after his residence in France and the painful separation from his wife.

Lavretzky had an unusual upbringing. His father, disappointed by his failure to inherit an aunt’s fortune, decided to make his son a strong man, even a Spartan. At twelve years of age, Lavretzky was dressed in Highland kilts and trained in gymnastics and horsemanship. He was given only one meal a day, and he took cold showers at four in the morning. Along with the physical culture intended to produce a natural man according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s doctrines, the father indoctrinated his son with Voltaire’s philosophy.

Lavretzky’s father died after enduring great pain for two years. During this time, he lost his bravery and atheistic independence, and, at the end, he was a sniveling wreck. His death was a release to Lavretzky, then twenty-three years old, who immediately enrolled in a university in Moscow. At the opera one night, he met Varvara, the beautiful daughter of a retired general who lives mostly by his wits. At first, Varvara’s parents have little use for Lavretzky, whom they take to be an unimportant student. When they learn that he comes of a good family and is a landed proprietor, they favor an early marriage. Because Varvara wants to travel, Lavretzky winds up his affairs and installs his new father-in-law as overseer of his properties.

In Paris, Varvara begins a dizzy social whirl. Her adoring husband is content merely to be at her...

(The entire section is 1211 words.)