Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
Novelist, poet, and playwright, known for his detailed descriptions about the everyday live in Russia in the 19th century. Turgenev portrayed realistically the peasantry and the rising intelligentsia in its attempt to move the country into a new age. Although Turgenev has been overshadowed by his contemporaries Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, he remains one of the major figures of the 19th-century Russian literature.
Ivan Turgenev was born in Oryol, in the Ukraine region of Russia, into a wealthy family. He studied at St. Petersburg (1834-37), Berlin Universities (1838-41), and completed his master's exam in St Petersburg. At the age of 19 Turgenev Traveled to Germany. He was on a steamer when it caught fire and rumors spread in Russia that he had acted cowardly. This revealing experience, which followed the author throughout his life, formed later the basis for his story A Fire at Sea. In 1841 Turgenev started his career at the Russian civil service. He worked for the Ministry of Interior (1843-45) for a short time. After the success of two of his story-poems and Turgenev devoted himself to literature, country pursuits and travel. He had a relationship with the opera singer Pauline Garcia Viardot, living near her or at times with her and her husband. Turgenev travelled to France with them in 1845-46 and 1847-50. Viardot remained Turgenev's great and unfulfilled love; in his youth he had had one or two affairs with servant-girls, and produced an illegitimate daughter, Paulinette.
During his studies in Berlin, Turgenev had became confirmed for the need of Westernization of Russia. Lacking the religious faith of his two great compatriots, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, he represented the moderate side of reform movement. In a letter he wrote about Tolstoy's 'charlatanism' and even from his death-bed he begged Tolstoy to cast away his prophet's mantle. Dostoyevsky, on the other had, caricatured Turgenev as Karmazinov in The Possessed. Turgenev's solution was not revolution, mystical nationalism, or spiritual renewal but in the industriousness of the confident, methodical builders embodied by the engineer Vassily Fedotitch Solomin, a side character, in Virgin Soil. The 'positive hero' was a new type of personality, who will liberate Russia from her backwardness. In the center of the book, full of discussions about progression, literature, aesthetic life, emancipation, beauty, patriotic principles, etc., is a love story, in which a young woman must choose her of way in life.
In the 1840s Turgenev wrote poems, criticism, and short stories under the influence of Nikolay Gogol. With the short-story cycle A Sportsman's Sketches, he (1852) made his reputation. It is said that the work contributed to the Tsar Alexander II's decision to liberate the serfs. The short pieces were written from a point of view of a young nobleman who learn to appreciate the wisdom of the peasants who live on his family's estates. However, Turgenev's opinions brought him a month of detention in St. Petersburg and 18 months of house arrest.
Under the influence of the critic Vissarion Belinsky Turgenev abandonment of Romantic idealism for a more realistic style. In the decade 1853-62 his fiction arrived at its full artistic maturity. He wrote some of his finest stories and novellas during this period and the first four of his six novels: RUDIN (1856), DVORIANSKOE GNEDO (1859), NAKANUNE (1860) and OTTSY I DETI (1862). Central themes were the beauty of early love, failure to reach one's dreams, and frustrated love, which reflected his lifelong passion for Pauline. Another woman who deeply influence Turgenev was his mother, who ruled her 5,000 serfs capriciously with a whip and whose dreadful personality left traces on his work.
Among Turgenev's close friend's in France was the writer Gustave Flaubert, with whom he had similar social and aesthetic ideals. They both rejected extremist right and left and stuck to nonjudgmental if somewhat pessimistic depiction of the world. Struggling with his last, unfinished work, he wrote to Flaubert: "On certain days I feel crushed by this burden. It seems to me that I have no more marrow in my bones, and I carry on like an old post horse, worn out but courageous." Turgenev died in Bougival, near Paris, on September 3, 1883. His remains were taken to Russia and buried in the Volkoff Cemetery, St.Petersburg. Turgenev's later works include novellas A King Lear of the Steppes (1870) and Spring Torrents, which rank with First Love (1860) as his finest achievements in the genre. His last published work was a collection of meditations and anecdotes, entitled Poems in Prose (1883).