Ivan Turgenev Essay - Turgenev, Ivan (Short Story Criticism)

Turgenev, Ivan (Short Story Criticism)


Ivan Turgenev 1818-1883

(Full name Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev; also transliterated as Sergeyevitch, Sergheïevitch, Serguéivitch, Serguèvitch, Serguiéiévitch, and Sergyéevitch; also Toorgenef, Tourghenief, Tourguénief, Turgeneff, Turgenieff, and Turgéniew) Russian short fiction writer, novelist, playwright, poet, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism of Turgenev's short fiction works from 1990 to 1997. For discussion of Turgenev's short fiction career prior to 1990, see SSC, Volume 7.

The first Russian author to achieve widespread international fame, Turgenev was designated his country's premier novelist by nineteenth-century Westerners and is today classified with Fedor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy as one of the triumvirate of great Russian fiction writers of the nineteenth century. Although the success of his novels has in some ways obscured the popular and critical reputation of his short stories and novellas, many of his best-known works are written in the short fiction form. Turgenev's novels generally utilize third-person narration and reflect deep concern with the politics of his homeland, depicting Russia's tumultuous political environment from the 1840s to the 1870s; his short fiction, usually written in the first person, often focuses on the everyday lives of peasants and love affairs of aristocrats. Turgenev's fiction in both genres is noted for its psychological truth, descriptive beauty, and haunting pathos.

Biographical Information

Turgenev was born in the city of Orel into a wealthy family. When he was nine years old, the family left its country estate for Moscow, where he attended various boarding schools before entering Moscow University in 1833. In 1834 Turgenev transferred to the University of St. Petersburg. Upon graduation, he decided to study abroad, and in 1838 he enrolled at the University of Berlin in Germany. During the next several years Turgenev studied Latin, Greek, and philosophy, but never finished his degree. Turgenev returned to Russia in 1841, but he spent the remainder of his life moving between his homeland and Western Europe. Although Turgenev had begun writing poetry as a student in St. Petersburg, publishing his first verses in 1838, biographers generally cite the narrative poem Parasha, published in 1843, as the beginning of his literary career. When Turgenev wrote an admiring obituary of Nikolay Gogol that was refused publication by St. Petersburg censors in 1852, he instead published the piece in Moscow. He was arrested and jailed for a month, then placed under house arrest for nearly two years. Although ostensibly arrested for excessive approval of a suspect author, Turgenev was more likely detained as the author of the controversial Zapiski okhotnika (1852; A Sportsman's Sketches). When the serfs were freed in 1861, many credited this volume with having helped to effect their emancipation.

Following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Turgenev traveled to England, later moving to Paris before settling in his summer estate on the Seine at Bougival. During the last fifteen years of his life, Turgenev returned to the short story as his predominant form. His later stories repeatedly focus on the effect of fate or the supernatural upon helpless individuals, and Turgenev often concurred in his correspondence with the opinions of various critics that these later works were trivial and lacking in social importance. He died on August 22, 1883, in France of spinal cancer.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Between the years 1847 and 1852, Turgenev wrote a series of related pieces that were eventually collected and published in book form as A Sportsman's Sketches. In these sketches, which range from brief, slices of life to fully realized stories, Turgenev drew on his experiences at his family's country estate and expressed his love for the land and people of rural Russia by adopting the persona of an aristocratic hunter in the country. Common to the volume is the theme of the injustice of Russian serfdom. Because of this omnipresent concern, A Sportsman's Sketches is frequently compared with Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852. Unlike the American novel, however, Turgenev's work is understated; its moral message implied rather than overt. At their first publication, Turgenev's stories proved enormously popular with the general populace, albeit not so with government officials. Published in 1858, his novella, Asya (Annouchka), addresses the infeasibility of mutual love and may have some basis in Turgenev's friendship with Mikhail Bakunin at the University of Berlin, with whom he lived closely for a year before courting his friend's sister. In Asya, a young man known as N. N. becomes close friends with a young man named Gagin, whose half-sister, Asya, the illegitimate daughter of Gagin's father and a serf girl, tries to interject herself between the two in a desperate plea for attention. Torn between his close friendship with Gagin and his growing attraction to Asya, N. N. comes to understand Asya's loneliness and frustration. Pervaya lyubov' (1860; First Love), is a novella that details the love of a sixteen-year-old boy for Zinaida, a devious but alluring lover of power and personal freedom who keeps her weak-willed suitors in suspense by toying with their affections.

Critical Reception

Throughout the twentieth century, Turgenev's literary reputation has remained generally stable. Modern commentators agree that Turgenev's fiction is distinguished by solid literary craftsmanship, vivid descriptions, and convincing characterizations. Commentators also note that his characters, who are identifiable as both unique human beings and representatives of universal human qualities, are drawn with a psychological penetration made more effective by the suggestive use of word and action, rather than the overt exposition of the narrator. Critics often contend that Turgenev was particularly adept at portraying women in love and at creating an unsentimentalized atmosphere of pathos in his unhappy love stories. Scholars suggest that Turgenev's fiction reveals its author's own sense of the futility of life, but add that Turgenev tempered his essentially pessimistic outlook with an appreciation of life's beauty.

Principal Works

Zapiski okhotnika [Russian Life in the Interior; or, The Experiences of a Sportsman; also published as Tales from the Note-Book of a Sportsman and as A Sportsman's Sketches] 1852

Asya [Annouchka] 1858

Pervaya lyubov' [First Love] 1860

Veshnie vody [Spring Floods; also published as Spring Torrents] 1872

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. 10 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, plays, poetry, criticism, and letters) 1891

The Novels of Ivan Turgenev. 12 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, and poetry) 1894-99

The Novels and Stories of Ivan Turgenieff. 16 vols. [translated by Isabel Hapgood] 1903-04

A Nest of Gentlefolk, and Other Stories (novel and short stories) 1959

Selected Tales 1960

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem. 28 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, plays, poetry, criticism, and letters) 1960-68

First Love and Other Stories [edited and translated by Richard Freeborn] 1989

Sketches from a Hunter's Album [translated by Freeborn] 1990

A Sportsman's Notebook [introduced by Max Egremont] 1992

The Jew and Other Stories [introduced by Edward Garnett and translated by Constance Garnett] 2000

A Desperate Character and Other Stories 2002

Parasha (poetry) 1843

Rudin [Dmitri Roudine] (novel) 1856

Dvoryanskoe gnezdo [Liza; also published as A House of Gentlefolk] (novel) 1859

Nakanune [On the Eve] (novel) 1860

Ottsy i deti [Fathers and Sons] (novel) 1862

Dym [Smoke] (novel) 1867

Mesyats v derevne [A Month in the Country] (play) 1872

Nov' [Virgin Soil] (novel) 1877

Stikhotvoreniya v proze [Poems in Prose] (poetry) 1882

The Plays of Ivan S. Turgenev (plays) 1924

Literary Reminiscences and Autobiographical Fragments (sketches and essays) 1958

Turgenev's Letters (letters) 1983


William E. Sheidley (essay date summer 1990)

SOURCE: Sheidley, William E. “‘Born in Imitation of Someone Else’: Reading Turgenev's ‘Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District’ as a Version of Hamlet.Studies in Short Fiction 27, no. 3 (summer 1990): 391-98.

[In the following essay, Sheidley argues that the character of Vasily in “Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District” embodies the Hamletic type described in Turgenev's essay “Hamlet and Don Quixote.”]

A number of characters in Ivan Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches (1852) exemplify the “Hamlet type” that Turgenev later defined in his famous essay “Hamlet and Don Quixote” (1860).1 As the opposing pole to the selfless,...

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Sander Brouwer (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Brouwer, Sander. “Turgenev's Sportsman's Sketches as an Artistic Whole.” In Semantic Analysis of Literary Texts, edited by Eric De Haard, Thomas Langerak, and Willem G. Weststeijn, pp. 67-84. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990.

[In the following essay, Brouwer emphasizes The Sportsman's Sketches as an artistic whole through the collection's unifying themes.]


When acquainting ourselves with the critical literature on stories from The Sportsman's Sketches, we soon discover that, although this work is among Turgenev's most eulogized and most discussed, investigations into its artistic nature, into the poetics of the work...

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Jane T. Costlow (essay date summer 1991)

SOURCE: Costlow, Jane T. “Speaking the Sorrow of Women: Turgenev's ‘Neschastnaia’ and Evgeniia Tur's ‘Antonina.’” Slavic Review 50, no. 2 (summer 1991): 328-35.

[In the following essay, Costlow explores the influence of Evgeniia Tur's Antonina on Turgenev's “Neschastnaia.”]

In a letter of 1868 to Pavel Annenkov, Ivan Turgenev spoke of “Neschastnaia,” the story that he had just finished writing, as “moia posledniaia dochka.”1 Authorship and paternity are conflated in this phrase, as are story and heroine: The melancholy Russian has given birth to a daughter.

Turgenev's statement of affiliation both hints at and...

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Irene Masing-Delic (essay date October 1991)

SOURCE: Masing-Delic, Irene. “Philosophy, Myth, and Art in Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter.Russian Review 50, no. 4 (October 1991): 437-50.

[In the following essay, Masing-Delic discusses Turgenev as both a Slavophile and an admirer of Western culture in light of the sketches in A Sportsman's Sketches or Notes of a Hunter.]

In “Hamlet from Shchigry District,” one of the sketches in Ivan Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter [A Sportsman's Sketches] (1852), the narrator's unknown interlocutor refuses to give his name, merely calling himself a provincial Hamlet. The reason is that he bitterly resents what he calls his lack of originality. He...

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Frank Friedeberg Seeley (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Seeley, Frank Friedeberg. “First Stories.” In Turgenev: A Reading of His Fiction, pp. 84-100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Seeley traces Turgenev's development as a short story writer through an examination of his early short stories.]

Turgenev's ‘remarkable decade’ (1843-52) saw first the brief, four-year efflorescence of his narrative poetry; simultaneously, but extending beyond that, his ten-year-long experimentation with play-writing that culminated in the psychological drama A Month in the Country; and thirdly, his struggles with the genre in which he was to achieve his greatest triumphs: the prose...

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Frank Friedeberg Seeley (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Seeley, Frank Friedeberg. “Love and the Superfluous Man.” In Turgenev: A Reading of His Fiction, pp. 137-60. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Seeley explores the dominant motif of the superfluous man in Turgenev's stories written from 1853 to 1862.]

In the decade from 1843 to 1852, superfluous men, or forerunners of the type, appear in only six of Turgenev's literary works (poems, plays, sketches and stories). In only two of the six is the superfluous man indisputably a protagonist, and only in the last of them does the type receive a name. It was only gradually that the type took shape: the earlier specimens are...

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Patrick Waddington (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Waddington, Patrick. “Two Authors of Strange Stories: Bulwer-Lytton and Turgenev.” New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1992): 31-54.

[In the following essay, Waddington investigates the possible influence of the British author Edward Bulwer-Lytton on Turgenev's fantastical fiction.]

My subject is the possible influence of Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-73) upon Ivan Turgenev (1818-83). The most natural starting-point is a shared title: A Strange Story. Both men published works with this name, Bulwer-Lytton in 1861-62 and Turgenev in 1869-70. Turgenev's tale ‘Strannaya istoriya’ is so obviously different from the Bulwer novel that many might assume the...

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Edgar L. Frost (essay date spring 1992)

SOURCE: Frost, Edgar L. “Hidden Truths: The Subtle Imagery of ZIVYI MOSI.” Slavic and East European Journal 36, no. 1 (spring 1992): 36-56.

[In the following essay, Frost examines the imagery in “Living Relics,” maintaining that “Turgenev's craftsmanship in weaving a complex network of subtle images merits fuller attention than it has heretofore received.”]

In December of 1873, Turgenev dug around in some of his old papers and came up with something he described as “very short and bordering on not very good” (Turgenev, 606). Within a few weeks, however, the author had revised “Living Relics” (“Zuvyi mоsu,” 1874) and had a rough copy ready. His...

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Margaret Dalton (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Dalton, Margaret. “Common Romantic Motifs: Karolina Pavlova's ‘Dvojnaja žizn’ and Ivan Turgenev's ‘Faust.’” In Alexander Lipson: In Memoriam, pp. 50-8. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers, 1993.

[In the following essay, Dalton finds parallels between Karolina Pavlova's “A Double Life” and Turgenev's “Faust.”]

At first glance a comparison between one of the few prose works1 by a prominent nineteenth-century poetess, and a story by a representative of so-called Russian realist fiction hardly seems justified.2 Pavlova's society tale, “A Double Life” (published in 1848), describes the dream experiences of the heroine,...

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Joseph L. Conrad (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Conrad, Joseph L. “Chekhov's ‘Vologya’: Transformations of Turgenev's ‘First Love.’” In Reading Chekhov's Text, edited by Robert Louis Jackson, pp. 157-68. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, Conrad determines the influence of Turgenev's First Love on Anton Chekhov's “Volodya.”]

In light of the considerable Russian-language scholarship tying Anton Chekhov's works to those of Ivan Turgenev, it is curious that no connection has yet been made between “Volodya” (1887) and First Love (1860). Numerous Western studies have illuminated the Tolstoy-Chekhov link, but less attention has been paid to...

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Robert Lagerberg (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Lagerberg, Robert. “Images of Night and Day in Turgenev's Pervaia liubov'.New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1994): 57-68.

[In the following essay, Lagerberg surveys the critical assessments of First Love and discusses the images of light and dark in the narrative.]

Critical assessments of the conclusion to Turgenev's story Pervaia liubov' (First Love) (the death of the old woman and also the absent frame), although few in number, have varied from the positive to the negative. An unequivocally positive response to the episode of the dying woman is provided solely by Victor Ripp: “[…] The description of her pathetic demise […]...

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Jane T. Costlow (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Costlow, Jane T. “Love, Attachment, and the ‘Objects of Our Regard’: Ivan Turgenev's ‘The Meeting’ and Aleksandra Markelova's ‘In the Work Corner.’” In Freedom and Responsibility in Russian Literature: Essays in Honor of Robert Louis Jackson, edited by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen and Gary Saul Morson, pp. 42-52. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Costlow explores the concept of attachment in Turgenev's “The Meeting” and Aleksandra Markelova's “In the Work Corner.”]

Inscribed in a rambling, meditative letter of May 1848 is a brief descriptive passage in which Ivan Turgenev lovingly renders the arrested...

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Robert Louis Jackson (essay date 1996-1997)

SOURCE: Jackson, Robert Louis.1 “Turgenev's ‘Knock … Knock … Knock! …’: The Riddle of the Story.” Transactions of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A. 28, no. 3 (1996-1997): 353-76.

[In the following essay, Jackson rejects the unfavorable critical reviews of “Knock … Knock … Knock! …,” calling Turgenev's story one of the strongest in Russian literature.]

We regard each other quite indifferently, that is, when we are in a good mood … We do not know how to love or respect one another, we have not developed within us an attentiveness to human beings. Long ago it was said about us, and quite...

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Jane Costlow (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Costlow, Jane. “Abusing the Erotic: Women in Turgenev's ‘First Love.’” In Engendering Slavic Literatures, edited by Pamela Chester and Sibelan Forrester, pp. 3-12. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Costlow discusses the erotic elements of Turgenev's First Love.]

At the midpoint of his novella of doomed infatuation—a work acclaimed as its author's most “enchanting and brilliant story”1—Turgenev dramatizes the initiation into sexual knowledge that is the story's central concern. Vladimir, the story's hero, clambers onto a garden wall only to leap down at the command of his beloved Zinaida. “You keep...

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Richard Gregg (essay date summer 1997)

SOURCE: Gregg, Richard. “Turgenev and Hawthorne: The Life-Giving Satyr and the Fallen Faun.” Slavic and East European Journal 41, no. 2 (summer 1997): 258-70.

[In the following essay, Gregg investigates the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Turgenev's later short fiction.]


In temperament, background and—in the loosest sense—philosophy Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ivan Turgenev might seem to stand at the antipodes. True, the fiction of both writers reflects a largely pessimistic view of the human condition. But if in his most characteristic works the reclusive New Englander avoided realistic modes of representation, turned to the haunts...

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Further Reading


Seeley, Frank Friedeberg. Turgenev: A Reading of His Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 380 p.

Full-length critical study of Turgenev's fiction.

Additional coverage of Turgenev's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 238; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors and Novelists; Drama Criticism, Vol. 7; Drama for Students, Vol. 6; European Writers, Vol. 6;...

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