Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

Islaev estate

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Islaev estate (ees-LA-ev). Country estate of a rich landowner, Arkady Islaev, located in an unspecified part of Russia. Ivan Turgenev uses a tranquil country setting because he is familiar with it, despite his frequent world travels, and also because he wants to contrast it with the emotional turmoil within practically all the characters. Although the play is subtitled a comedy, it depicts serious conflicts of several love relationships, mostly unrequited, that belie the quiet and beautiful settings of nature. Drawing rooms, a card table, the ballroom, the gardens, a shady pavilion—all point to a leisurely life in the country.

It is ironic that, when love’s passions reach a boiling point, “like a sudden storm on a fine day,” several characters leave for Moscow, as if fleeing from rustic country life. This seems to confirm the critic Georg Brandes’s seeing nature in Turgenev’s works as la grande indifférente. After several characters leave the estate, the quiet life returns. Those that remain, especially Islaev’s wife Natalia Petrovna, who had caused most of the turmoil with her infatuation with the young student Belaev, her jealousy and her desire to break the monotony of her life, are forced to find a rapport with nature again. With its lyrical mood and scarcity of action, A Month in the Country is a forerunner of Anton Chekhov’s plays.

Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653

The hope for reform and the tensions of revolution serve as the political backdrop against which much of Turgenev's work was created. From the 1820s and into the 1880s, Russia's government and its people were embroiled in the tenuous process of distinguishing an identity on the world stage. Nicholas I's reign, which spanned from 1825 to 1855, was characterized primarily by the idea that Russia should be independent from and uninvolved with the European West and its ideas. Nicholas I's highly nationalistic approach to government was coupled with his belief in having his government as centralized as possible. In his attempt to consolidate his power, Nicholas I expanded the role of the secret service and increased censorship.

During Nicholas I's rule, society was segmented by two growing forms of thought. While this segmentation was encouraged in academic circles where like-minded people met in discussion groups, mainstream thought was also divided along the same lines. The two primary groups were comprised of the Philosophical Idealists, or the Slavophiles, and the Westerners. According to Herbert J. Ellison in History of Russia, the Philosophical Idealists of the 1830s ‘‘conceived of Russia as a vigorous new civilization coming rapidly to maturity and leadership beside a declining Europe.’’ While the Slavophiles favored a nationalistic approach to government, "they were opposed to the actual tyranny of the imperial regime,'' according to Sidney Harcave in Russia: A History.

On the other side of the spectrum, as Ellison noted, ‘‘The Westerners of the 1840s and 1850s ... recommend[ed] the Western path of development for the future’’ and were not as nationalistic. In general, the Westerners saw a decided value in continuing to emulate the West. They supposed that Russia had not achieved the level of development that the West had and were critical of censorship and the great economic and social disparities between the serfs and the nobility.

Not surprisingly, the artists of this time were impacted by the political climate. While censorship certainly had a negative effect on the writing of many authors, Russia's cultural output during Nicholas I's reign did not suffer on the whole. According to Ellison, "the reign of Nicholas I was in many ways a period of extraordinary...

(The entire section contains 2693 words.)

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Critical Essays


Teaching Guide