Ivan Turgenev Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111201597-Turgenev.jpg Ivan Turgenev Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ivan Turgenev’s place among the luminaries of Russian literature is ensured by both his artistic and his historical importance. The outstanding characteristics of Turgenev’s canon are his highly crafted style, his psychological characterization, and his ability to articulate the concerns of his age. The aesthetics of his early efforts in poetry carried over into his prose in its lyric grace and spare, lucid style. In the manner of Jane Austen or Henry James, Turgenev held up a mirror to his society by creating probing psychological portraits of representative members of that society. So accurate were his portraits that the terms he used to describe them passed into the common currency of Russian literature. The “superfluous man” embodied in the protagonist of his first novel, Rudin (1856; English translation, 1873), was recognized by Turgenev’s audience as a type that abounded not only on the pages of Turgenev’s drama and fiction but also on the pages of much nineteenth century Russian literature, and the “nihilist” hero of Fathers and Sons embodied an entire generation determined to tear down the foundations of Russian society rather than slowly to reform it.

The plots of Turgenev’s novels and plays are love stories, but underlying his work throughout his literary career was his concern for the destiny of his country. Just as that concern influenced his writing, so his writing influenced the intellectual thought of Russia. Turgenev believed that Russia’s future lay in assimilating the best of Western European culture through intelligent, liberal reform. By portraying the members of the Russian intelligentsia with an ironic detachment that revealed the frequently ineffectual nature of their...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to A Sportsman’s Sketches, Ivan Turgenev published several other short stories and novellas individually. His main contribution, however, was six novels, some of which are among the best written in Russian, especially Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons, 1867). He also wrote poems, poems in prose, and plays, one of which, Mesyats v derevne (1855; A Month in the Country, 1924), is still staged regularly in Russian theaters.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ivan Turgenev’s opus is not particularly large, yet with about four dozen stories and novellas and his brief novels, he became one of the best writers not only in Russian but also in world literature. Turgenev was a leading force in the Russian realistic movement of the second half of the nineteenth century. Together with Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevski, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov, he built the reputation that Russian literature enjoys in the world. Perhaps more than other writers, he was responsible for acquainting foreign readers with Russian literature, and because he spent most of his adult life abroad, he was an esteemed figure in the international literary life.

Turgenev was also instrumental in arousing the sensitivity and consciousness of his compatriots, because he dealt with such burning social issues as the plight of Russian peasantry, in A Sportsman’s Sketches; the “superfluous man” in Russian society, in “The Diary of a Superfluous Man”; the fixation of Russians with revolution, in Rudin (1856; English translation, 1947); the decaying nobility in Dvoryanskoye gnezdo (1859; Liza, 1869; better known as A House of Gentlefolk, 1894); and the age-old conflict between generations, in Fathers and Sons.

Turgenev also excelled in his style, especially in the use of the language. Albert Jay Nock called him “incomparably the greatest of artists in fiction,” and Virginia Woolf termed his works as being “curiously of our own time, undecayed and complete in themselves.” His reputation, despite some fluctuations, endures.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The literary reputation of Ivan Turgenev (tewr-GYAYN-yuhf) rests primarily on his narrative prose works, which, aside from his novels, include novelettes, novellas, and short stories, the latter a genre in which he excelled and became prolific. In 1847, he began putting together a collection of stories that was published in 1852 bearing the title Zapiski okhotnika (Russian Life in the Interior, 1855; better known as A Sportsman’s Sketches, 1932), highly admired by Leo Tolstoy, which includes many of Turgenev’s well-known pieces. Turgenev’s naturalism was well adapted to the portrayal of the life of poor countryfolk—enough to evoke compassion while inciting indignation at their lot.

Turgenev tried his hand at drama, too, achieving reasonable success with Gde tonko, tam i rvyotsya (pr. 1912; Where It Is Thin, There It Breaks, 1924), Kholostyak (pr. 1849; The Bachelor, 1924), Provintsialka (pr. 1851; A Provincial Lady, 1934), and especially Mesyats v derevne (pb. 1855; A Month in the Country, 1924), a play whose innovations in many ways adumbrate those of Anton Chekhov.

Turgenev began writing poetry as a student and had some verses published in 1838. Toward the end of his life, he assembled a collection of his poetic works titled Senilia (1882, 1930; better known as Stikhotvoreniya v proze; Poems in Prose, 1883, 1945). The total profile of Turgenev’s literary activities encompasses other forms as well, including opera libretti, essays, articles, autobiographical pieces and memoirs, and even a semiscientific study on nightingales.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In the world of letters, Ivan Turgenev stands out as a naturalist, although not in the hammering manner of Émile Zola, the depressing manner of Thomas Hardy, or the milder, veristic manner of Giovanni Verga. Even if the words “idealization” and “sentimentality” are often used in connection with Turgenev, his “Nature school” tonality has neither the idealizing tendency of Sergei Aksakov nor the sentimental tendency of Dmitrii Vasil’evich Grigorovich, both of whom were his compatriots and contemporaries. On the surface, these qualities are there; when one digs further, they are not. If, on one hand, the reader luxuriates in Turgenev’s intensely felt descriptions of nature, he or she is, on the other hand, struck by...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Where did Ivan Turgenev stand in the struggle of Russian intellectuals between Slavophiles and Westerners?

What influences on Turgenev’s life led him to his concern for Russian serfs?

How did Turgenev contribute to the understanding and betterment of serfs?

Does Bazarov in Fathers and Sons foretell the materialism that would infect Russian society in the following century?

Did Russian critics’ difficulty in judging Bazarov arise from a weakness in Turgenev’s characterization or from concerns that they brought to the novel?


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Allen, Elizabeth Cheresh. Beyond Realism: Turgenev’s Poetics of Secular Salvation. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. Argues that readers should not turn to Turgenev merely for transparent narratives of nineteenth century Russian life; attempts to expose the unique imaginative vision and literary patterns in Turgenev’s work. Discusses Turgenev’s development of narrative techniques in A Sportsman’s Sketches, analyzing several of the major stories, such as “Bezhin Meadow” and “The Singers.”

Brodianski, Nina. “Turgenev’s Short Stories: A Reevaluation.” Slavonic and East European Review...

(The entire section is 968 words.)