Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In general, Russian criticism of Turgenev’s time, more oriented as it was toward social commentary than artistic analysis, paid far more attention to the series of topical novels Turgenev produced during this period in his career, such as Rudin (1856; Dimitri Roudine, 1873; better known as Rudin, 1947), On the Eve, and Fathers and Sons than to such novellas as Asya and First Love, which deal with purely private themes. (In contrast, with the exception of Fathers and Sons, late twentieth century readers often prefer these shorter works to the novels in which the topical material, much of it now outdated, is not always well integrated with the plot.) Asya, however, was something of an exception, for the leading radical critic and ideologue, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, used it as the text for a famous article entitled “The Russian at the Rendez-vous” in 1962. Chernyshevsky’s conclusion is that the Russian gentry, typified by N.N. and Gagin, are too lazy, shiftless, and incompetent to provide leadership for the country, which is entering a new era of progress and social change. This article became one of the classic texts of the radical Left.

Though many admired the story’s psychological subtlety and lyricism, other critics have found the book fundamentally flawed. The character of Asya herself strikes some readers as contrived and artificial. The story’s greatest...

(The entire section is 513 words.)