Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 754

Turgenev was and is a controversial author. As his brief stay in prison attests, his politics, which were often evident in his writing, placed him in a rather precarious position with a good portion of his contemporaries—particularly those in power. Turgenev supported the ideas of reform and westernization and detested serfdom. For these reasons, he fell into disfavor with many; however, for as much as he inspired dislike, Turgenev was equally liked by others. For those who agreed with his ideas, Turgenev was a master storyteller who had a unique facility for weaving realism with carefully developed characters and well-crafted prose.

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As might be expected in the politically charged environment of nineteenth-century Russia, his champions and detractors were more often than not divided by their political leanings rather than their staunch literary convictions. Outside of Russia, readers and critics found Turgenev's works instructive and readily accessible, making him popular in the West as well. As A. V. Knowles noted in Ivan Turgenev, the playwright was ‘‘the first Russian novelist to achieve international recognition.’’ During the mid-1800s, Turgenev reached his highest literary moments by locating the middle ground wherein his fans and previous skeptics could find cause to approve of him and his work.

The public's reception of A Month in the Country reflected the finicky tastes of his contemporary audiences. The play was finished in 1850, published in 1855, and performed for the first time in Moscow in 1872. Immediately after its release, the officialdom banned any performances of it, and after its debut in Moscow, it was not warmly embraced. Seven years later, however, when a young actress, Marya Savina, chose to star in the play, Russia's theater-going community changed its mind and the play began to be regularly performed—and enjoyed.

According to Knowles, "A production of 1909 at the Moscow Art Theatre with Stanislavsky directing and playing the part of Rakitin and Chekhov's widow Olga Knipper an Natalya Petrovna made it famous and established the interpretation it is usually given today.... Stanislavksy saw it as a psychological study and played down its social or political aspects.’’ While Turgenev's political content, real or implied, caused some of his critics and the officialdom to reject his works on principle, his psychological explorations have come to be one of his signatures in more contemporary times. A Month in the Country originally suffered because of its implicit social commentary; however, it has now become more widely accepted and recognized for its literary merit rather than for its political overtones. As Knowles confirmed, "A Month in the Country is still successfully and regularly produced’’ today.

Turgenev's fame and notoriety have persisted into subsequent eras. His literary achievements and his portrayal of Russia's tumultuous nineteenth century have left him regarded both as one of Russia's finest literary figures and as one of its lesser achievers. He is most often praised for his keen character development, his knack for description...

(The entire section contains 754 words.)

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