Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

During his youth Turgenev was heavily influenced by German romantic idealism. In Rudin, the first of the author’s novels after a successful career as a writer of short stories, the central character is a typical romantic idealist. Turgenev seems to be engaging in self-criticism as he portrays Rudin to be a failure; that period of life is over, and the author repudiates his earlier views. By softening the portrait toward the end of the novel, perhaps the author demonstrates a lingering fondness for the character of the romantic idealist, if not for the ideas.

Turgenev may also be reacting to a heightened sense of Russian nationalism resulting from the Crimean War. When Lezhniov states that Rudin is not really malicious but rather a victim of his time who does not understand Russia, he seems to be rejecting a cosmopolitan sense toward which Turgenev is sympathetic in ordinary circumstances, and to which he returned in later life. In this sense, Rudin may represent an atypical period of the author’s life.

Rudin is considered to be one of Turgenev’s best short novels. In a sense it serves as a dry run for his later works, in which he dealt with the question of reform versus revolution. Rudin is one of the many works which Turgenev wrote about social and political issues during the 1850’s, and the writer is given credit by historians for being influential upon the process of reform in Russia. Turgenev continues the tradition, begun by Alexander Pushkin, of portraying strong heroines who are disappointed by weaker men. Perhaps Turgenev’s most lasting contribution is his ability to re-create life in the Russian countryside, exposing both its negative and positive aspects.