Ivan Turgenev Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
ph_0111201597-Turgenev.jpg Ivan Turgenev Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Turgenev combined the lyrical with the realistic in fiction that had a powerful influence on social conditions in his own time and on later writers such as Anton Chekhov and Henry James, who truly ushered in the modern period in literature.

Early Life

Ivan Turgenev was born November 9, 1818, in Orel, Russia, to Varvara Petrovna, a wealthy landowner, and Sergey Turgenev, a cavalry officer. According to Turgenev’s own comments, he was an enthusiastic reader at an early age, reading not only the fiction and poetry of Russian writers but also the English fiction of Charles Dickens.

His family moved to Moscow in 1827, and in 1833 Turgenev entered the University of Moscow, which he attended for one year, when, upon another family move to St. Petersburg, he entered the university there. He was graduated in 1837 and went to Berlin, where he was enrolled at the University of Berlin, studying philosophy for three years. Upon returning to St. Petersburg in 1841 and failing to find an academic position, he secured a minor post with the Ministry of the Interior. While traveling in Europe in 1843, he met Pauline Viardot, a French singer, who became his lifelong love and inspiration.

Turgenev retired from the civil service in 1845 and began to devote himself full-time to writing poetry. Because his mother disapproved of this decision as well as of his infatuation with Viardot, a married woman, she cut off his allowance. Turgenev followed Viardot, who tolerated his infatuation, to Europe to be near her. He returned to Russia in 1850 because of his mother’s serious illness. When she died, he was left the heir of a substantial fortune and was thus able to follow his literary interests, which at this time he very successfully shifted from poetry to fiction. In 1847, he had begun the writing of the short stories which, in 1852, were to be published as one of his greatest works, Zapiski okhotnika (Russian Life in the Interior, 1855; better known as A Sportsman’s Sketches, 1932).

Life’s Work

When A Sportsman’s Sketches were being published in periodical form, they created a social uproar in Russia, for they presented the serf as more than a mere slave and, in fact, as often more human and genuine than the landowners themselves. Because the stories were seen as a protest against the serf system, the authorities began to watch Turgenev closely. In 1852, when he wrote an enthusiastic obituary notice on the death of his fellow writer Nikolai Gogol, he met further disapproval; the authorities banished him to his country estate, where he was forced to stay for a year and a half.

When he returned to St. Petersburg, after the publication of A Sportsman’s Sketches in book form, he found himself to be the leading light of St. Petersburg literary culture. A Sportsman’s Sketches has often been considered historically important for the influence it had on the abolition of the serf system in Russia; in fact, the book has even been compared in this regard to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly (1852). Yet the aesthetic and critical importance of the stories, the reason many of them continue to be read, lies in their unique blend of the lyrical and the realistic. Such stories as “Bezhin Meadow” and “The Country Doctor,” two of the most familiar in the collection, create a dreamlike and sometimes surrealistic world, even as they manage to remain solidly grounded in phenomenal experience. As a short-story writer, Turgenev historically stands somewhere between the folktale fantasy of Nikolai Gogol and the nightmare reality of Franz Kafka.

For the next few years after the success of A Sportsman’s Sketches, Turgenev, who felt inspired by travel, was forced to stay at home because of the Crimean War. Moreover, many biographers suggest that he was in a deep depression because of the impossibility of his tireless love for Viardot. As a result, he published little during this period, with the exception of his short novel Rudin (Dmitri Roudine, 1873; better known as Rudin, 1947), which appeared in 1856. In a drastic shift—which may have resulted partly from his freedom to travel and partly from his acceptance of the Viardot situation—within the next five years Turgenev alternated between traveling on the Continent and writing some of his most respected works, including the novels Dvoryanskoye gnezdo (1859; Liza, 1869; better known as A House of Gentlefolk, 1894) and Nakanune (1860; On the Eve, 1871), the novella Pervaya lyubov (1860; First Love, 1884), and the essay “Gamlet i Don Kikhot” (1860; “Hamlet and Don Quixote,” 1930). He also finished his best-known novel, Ottsy i deti (Fathers and Sons, 1867), in 1861 and...

(The entire section is 2023 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born in Orel, Russia, on November 9, 1818, into a family of wealthy landed gentry. His childhood was spent on his mother’s estate. His father, Sergey Turgenev, was a member of an impoverished noble family, and his father’s marriage to the wealthy and domineering Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova was primarily one of convenience. Sergey Turgenev left the management of both the family and the estate to his wife, leaving himself free to pursue his lifelong passion—women. Both parents served as obvious models for many of the characters in Turgenev’s plays and novels.

At an early age, young Turgenev witnessed the injustices and harsh punishments of Russia’s feudal system, administered by his mother to the serfs on her estate. Such an environment aroused in him a strong compassion for the victims of his mother’s tyranny. The ignorance and backwardness that Turgenev observed in this outdated rural society may in part have caused his preference for European civilization and his reluctance to spend much time either on his estate or indeed in any part of Russia. In spite of this, the beauty of his ancestral countryside ignited in him a lasting love of Russia’s rural landscapes, such as the ponds, gardens, and lime groves on the estate, so lyrically depicted in many of his works.

As was typical of the nineteenth century Russian gentry, the education of the young Turgenev was entrusted to a series of foreign tutors until the family moved in 1827 to Moscow, where he was enrolled at the Weydenhammer Preparatory School. There he first came under the influence of the “pseudosublime” school of Russian literature when he began to read such Russian Romantics as the novelist-playwright Mikhail Zogoskin and the poet Vladimir Benediktov. In the fall of 1829, Turgenev and his brother Nikolai...

(The entire section is 751 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born on November 9, 1818, in the central Russian town of Orel, into a small gentry family. His father was a loving, easygoing country squire, while his mother was an overbearing woman of whom Turgenev had many unpleasant memories. He spent his childhood at the family estate, Spasskoe, which he visited every summer even after the family moved to Moscow. He received tutoring at home and later was graduated from the University of St. Petersburg in 1837. He continued his studies in Berlin, acquiring a master’s degree in philosophy. His stay in Berlin marks the beginning of a lifelong shuffle between his homeland and the European countries, especially France, Germany, England, and Italy. On one visit to France, he met a French woman, Pauline Viardot, with whom he had a close relationship the rest of his life despite her being married. After serving briefly in the Ministry of Interior, he lived the remainder of his life off his estate income following his parents’ death.

Turgenev started to write early, and in 1843, at the age of twenty-five, he published a long narrative poem, Parasha, written in imitation of Alexander Pushkin. He soon abandoned poetry for prose, although his reverence for Pushkin and the poetic slant remained constant in his writings. His stories about the dismal life of Russian peasants were much more successful, attracting the attention of readers and critics alike. When the collection of those...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born in Orel, Russia, and spent his early childhood on his mother’s estate in Spasskoye. His father, Sergey Turgenev, a former cavalry officer, belonged to the nobility—the fallen nobility—and had acquired solvency with his marriage to a rich heiress, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova. Unfortunately, this lady was unhappy, matching energy with despotism, loveless toward her husband and harsh toward her servants and three sons. Ivan’s passion for reading sometimes managed to keep him out of the reach of her capricious cruelty. German and French tutors taught him their languages, and he listened eagerly when an old servant read to him from Gavriil Derzhavin, Lermontov, Pushkin, and others.


(The entire section is 1053 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (toor-GAYN-yuhf) was born in Orel, Russia, on November 9, 1818. His mother, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinov, was a cruel and malicious woman of great wealth. His father, Sergey Turgenev, six years younger than his mother, was a handsome and charming cavalry officer who was descended from an old and distinguished but relatively impoverished family. Turgenev’s parents became acquainted when his father visited Spasskoye, Varvara’s estate, looking to buy horses for military use. Sergey Turgenev married Varvara Petrovna Lutovinov to save his family from financial ruin. Until he died in 1834, he was regularly unfaithful to his cruel but adoring wife.

In fairness to Turgenev’s mother, it must be...

(The entire section is 959 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ivan Turgenev demonstrated that Russian literature could be written and judged by the standards that obtained in Western Europe. If he was not as profound a thinker as his contemporaries Fyodor Dostoevski and Leo Tolstoy, he was as great an artist and, in his own way, as perceptive concerning the difficulties of the human condition. His novels and stories are not ponderous things to read. He moved easily in literary circles in France and England and even attracted attention from the American novelist Henry James, who wrote an essay expressing admiration for Turgenev’s craftsmanship. Turgenev is still read more than one hundred years after his death.

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (tewr-GYAYN-yuhf), the first of the great Russian novelists to be read widely in Europe, was born in Orel, Russia, in 1818. He was the second of three sons born to his unhappily married parents: harsh and tyrannical Varvara Petrovna Lutovinov, who had inherited large estates at twenty-six after an unhappy childhood, and cold, handsome, philandering Sergey Nikolayeyvich Turgenev, an impecunious young cavalry officer who had married this woman six years his senior for her money. The child, who was to be known as the most European of the great Russian masters, first saw Europe at the age of four with his family and its entourage.

Turgenev spent his earliest years in the elegance of the family...

(The entire section is 1366 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Drama for Students)

Ivan Turgenev was born to Sergey Nikolaevich Turgenev and Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova on October 20, 1818, in the town of Orel, located 200...

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Novels for Students)
Ivan Turgenev Published by Gale Cengage

Turgenev was born on October 28, 1818, in Orel, a provincial town in Russia. His mother, Varvara Petrovna, had inherited a large amount of...

(The entire section is 496 words.)