1902 Encyclopedia > Ivan Sergeievich Turgenev

Ivan Sergeievich Turgenev
Russian writer

IVAN TOURGUENIEFF [TURGENEV] (1818-1883), the descendant of an old Russian family, was born at Orel, in the government of the same name, in 1818. His father, the colonel of a cavalry regiment, died when our author was sixteen years of age, leaving two sons, Nicholas and Ivan, who were brought up under the care of their mother, the heiress of the Litvinoffs, a lady who owned large estates and many serfs. Ivan studied for a year at the university of Moscow, then at St Petersburg, and was finally sent in 1843 to Berlin. His education at home had been conducted by German and French tutors, and was altogether foreign his mother only speaking Russian to her servants as became a great lady of the old school. For his first acquaintance with the literature of his country the future novelist was indebted to a serf of the family, who used one-celebrated poet of last century. Tourguenieff’s early attempts in literature, consisting of poem and trifling sketches, may be passed over here; they were not without indications of genius, and were favourably spoken of Bielinski, then the leading Russian critic, for whom Tourguenieff [Turgenev] ever cherished a warm regard. Our author first made a name by his striking sketches "The Papers of a Sportsman" (Zapiski Okhotnika), in which the miserable condition of the peasants was described with startling realism. The work appeared in a collected form in 1852. It was read by all classes, including the emperor himself, and it undoubtedly hurried on the great work of emancipation. Tourguenieff [Turgenev] had always sympathized with the muzhiks; he had often been witness of the cruelties of his mother, a narrow-minded and vindictive woman. In some interesting papers recently contributed to the "European Messenger" (Viestnik Europi) by a lady brought up in the household of Mme Tourguenieff [Turgenev], sad details are given illustrative of her character. Thus the dumb porter of gigantic stature, drawn with such power in Mumu, one of our author’s later sketches, was a real person. We are, moreover, told of his mother that she could never understand how it was that her son become an author, and thought that he had degraded himself. How could Tourguenieff [Turgenev] submit himself to be criticized?

Ivan Turgenev image

Ivan Turgenev
(Photo by Félix Nadar)

The next production of the novelist was "A Nest of Nobles" (Dvorianskoe Gniezdo), a singular pathetic story, which greatly increased his reputation. This appeared in 1859, and was followed the next year by "On the Eve" (Nakanuné),æa tale which contains one of his most beautiful female characters, Helen. In 1862 was published "Fathers and Children" (Otzi I Dieti), in which the author admirably described the nihilistic doctrines then beginning to spread in Russia, he himself inventing the world nihilism, which seem likely to become permanent. In 1867 appeared "Smoke" (Dim), and in 1877 his last work any length, "Virgin Soil" (Nov). besides his longer stories, many shorter ones were produced, some of great beauty and full of subtile psychological analysis, such as Rudin, "The Diary of a Useless Man" (Dnevnik Lishnago Chelovieka), and others. These were afterwards collected into three volumes. The last works of the great novelist were "Poetry in Prose" and "Clara Milich," which appeared in the pages of the "European Messenger."

Tourguenieff [Turgenev], during the latter part of his life, and not reside much in Russia; he lived either at Baden Baden or Paris, and chiefly with the family of the celebrated singer Vardot Garcia, to the members of which he was much attached. He occasionally visited England, and in 1879 the degree of D.C.L. was conferred upon him by the university of Oxford. He died at Bougival, near Paris, on September 4, 1883; according to his wish, his remains were taken to St Petersburg, and buried in the Volkoff cemetery, near those of the critic Bielinski.

Unquestionably Tourguenieff [Turgenev] may be considered one of the greatest novelists of our own or nay other times, and worthy to be ranked with Thackeray, Dickens, and George Eliot: with the genius of the last of these he has many affinities. His studies of human nature are profound, and he has the wide sympathies which are essential to genius of the highest order. A melancholy, almost pessimist, feeling pervades his writings, but perhaps this is always found in those who have truly listened to the "still, sad music of humanity." This morbid self-analysis seems natural to the Slavonic mind, and Tourguenieff [Turgenev] has given abundant proof of possessing it. The closing chapter of "A Nest of Nobles" is one of the saddest and at the same time truest pages in the whole range of exiting nobles.

The writings of Tourguenieff [Turgenev] have been made familiar to persons unacquainted with Russian by French translations. There are some versions in English, but two worthy of notice are the translation of the "Nest of Nobles" under the name of "Lisa," by Mr Ralston, and "Virgin Soil," by the late Mr Ashton Dilke.

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