A House of Gentlefolk

by Ivan Turgenev

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504


O-. Russian town in which the principal events of the novel take place. Turgenev never gives a full name for the town, suggesting that it may be a real place, and that he is protecting the privacy of its inhabitants. However, it may be an entirely imaginary town, a composite of his observations of many such towns throughout central Russia, in which case he may merely be using the device of an incomplete name to create verisimilitude. O-is the capital of a gubernia, a prerevolutionary province, and as such is a fair-sized municipality, large enough to have outlying areas called suburbs in which many of the more fashionable families have homes. Although O-is located well away from Russia’s capital, St. Petersburg, and the imperial court, members of its upper class pride themselves in their culture and their familiarity with Western customs.


*Moscow. Traditional Russian capital. Although it is not the political capital of Russia at the time in which Turgenev’s novel is set, it is in many ways more immediate and important to the characters of this novel than the actual political capital of St. Petersburg in the far northwest of Russia. The characters live close enough to Moscow to visit it on a regular basis, and the city is a much greater presence in their consciousness than the distant northern capital and its imperial court. Turgenev also takes the narrative to Moscow in a way he never does St. Petersburg, and there the younger Lavretsky sees a girl who will completely change the course of his life.

*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Capital of Imperial Russia. Created in 1712 by the order of Czar Peter the Great to be his “window on the West,” it is a very un-Russian city with its grid of streets and stone buildings. Here the Russian nobility speak French and follow the manners of Paris and Berlin. However, the city is usually glimpsed from afar in this novel, as a place to which a character may go or has returned from. Even Fyodor Ivanovich’s lengthy stay there with his wife, Varvara Pavlovna, is glossed over in narrative summary, rather than being shown in actual scenes. However, in many ways this period is critical to the plot, since it is among St. Petersburg’s high society that Varvara Pavlovna becomes engrossed and is led to prefer frittering away her life in Paris, abandoning her husband, thereby setting the stage for the final tragic misunderstanding that blights Fyodor Ivanovich’s hopes for happiness, with either her or Liza.


Lavriky (LAH-vree-kee). Estate not far from the town of O-that is the principal patrimony of the Lavretskys. It is a sizable estate but is portrayed as having been largely ruined by Ivan Petrovich’s liberal management. When Petrovich is stricken with a sudden mysterious illness that progressively debilitates him and ultimately kills him, his more traditional sister, Glafira Petrovna, takes over the task of managing the estate. Turgenev portrays this change as restoring proper order to the estate.


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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 256

Costlow, Jane T. Worlds Within Worlds: The Novels of Ivan Turgenev. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Costlow examines A House of Gentlefolk as Turgenev’s vision of Russian history and of individuals within that history.

Knowles, A. V. Ivan Turgenev. Boston: Twayne, 1988. In a brief discussion (pp. 55-60), of the novel, also known as Home of the Gentry, Knowles notes that the novel is the least often read of Turgenev’s novels despite its many excellent features that show Turgenev at his most characteristic.

Seeley, Frank Friedeberg. “The ‘Turgenev heroine’: A Nest of...

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Gentry.” In Turgenev: A Reading of His Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Seeley focuses (pp. 183-198) on Turgenev’s romantic and idealistic female characters, seeing Liza as the prototype of the author’s ideal, who compensates through poetry and music for the lack of love and understanding in her life.

Woodward, James B. Metaphysical Conflict: A Study of the Major Novels of Ivan Turgenev. Munich: Otto Sagner, 1990. Woodward probes (pp. 41-78) the personal relationships between characters in A House of Gentlefolk and traces the debate and conflict between Slavophiles and Westernists in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Adds to the understanding of social and cultural problems of the period.

Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age. New York: Collier Books, 1961. Yarmolinsky identifies the time, place, and conditions of Turgenev’s writing of A House of Gentlefolk. Notes that the author wanted to show the vulgar side of Westernism and to have the Slavophile Lavretzky triumph over his opponent.


Critical Essays