(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Ivan Turgenev commences his novel with an introduction to local society in a provincial backwater. Several scenes are presented with the sole purpose of introducing the reader to the various characters of the novel and the type of life they lead, isolated from the intellectual currents of the cities and fellow members of the nobility. Daria Lasunskaia is the center of social life in the area; her favor or disfavor determines one’s position in society. She rules her household with the same heavy hand; her daughter is being reared very strictly at home, under the guidance of Daria and a prissy French governess. Natalia Lasunskaia, however, has a mind of her own; she reads current tracts about philosophy and social issues and seems ready to revolt against her narrow upbringing. Mikhailo Lezhniov is a neighboring landowner, as yet unmarried, and a university graduate who also loves working the land. He is an honest, direct person who does not like society life, especially the constricted sort found at Daria’s estate. A number of minor local personages are introduced in the initial scenes: unmarried women, eccentric bachelors, tutors, and hangers-on. The picture presented is not flattering; life in the Russian provinces is boring, shaped by social constraints. The almost daily gatherings at Daria’s are oppressive but represent the only social intercourse available to the local gentry.

Into this stagnant world appears Dmitri Rudin, ostensibly on business, but actually a vagabond who travels about from estate to estate until his hosts tire of him. Rudin is an idealistic radical whose stock-in-trade is witty conversation, full of social commentary and philosophical observation. The local gentry is electrified by his presence, which breathes life into their gatherings. Daria is amused by his wittiness, Natalia reveres him as an idealist and begins to fall in love with him, and other members of the circle react favorably to him as a breath of fresh air. The minority opinion is represented by one local landowner who resents not being the wittiest member of the circle any longer, and by Mikhailo Lezhniov, who remembers Rudin from university days. In fact, Rudin is intelligent and witty; he is superior to most of the...

(The entire section is 909 words.)