Ivan Turgenev achieved literary renown predominantly through his novels and short stories, although he also produced accomplished works in the genres of poetry and drama. His first literary success came with the publication of the long poem Parasha (1843). Turgenev’s next resounding success came nearly a decade later with the publication of Zapiski okhotnika (1852; Russian Life in the Interior, 1855; better known as A Sportsman’s Sketches, 1932), a collection of short stories depicting life in nineteenth century rural Russia. A Sportsman’s Sketches met with widespread acclaim both for its objective, realistic portrayal of rural characters and for its role in arousing the indignation of the Russian intelligentsia over the mistreatment of serfs by the Russian nobility. It is probable that this book had a significant effect on Czar Alexander II, who liberated the serfs in 1861.
In his novels, Turgenev continued to portray realistically the men and women who characterized his society. He explored the concerns of the Russian intelligentsia by addressing specific problems, usually through a love story. His most famous novel is also the one which aroused the most controversy: Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons, 1867) angered both conservatives and radicals in its depiction of the conflict between the older, reactionary generation and the younger, revolutionary generation. The “nihilist” hero, Evgeni Bazarov, pleased partisans of neither side, and this work signaled Turgenev’s demise as a major contributing force in the Russian literature of his age.
In addition to his poetry, drama, and fiction, Turgenev was the author of essays, articles, autobiographical works, and opera librettos.