Turgenev In the history of Russians in London, Ivan Turgenev in many ways acts as a transitional figure, because although most of his visits were quite short except during the Franco-Prussian war, when he decamped to England for a yearthey were frequent, and span a much longer period than those of his contemporaries. He first visited London in Julyand his final visit was in October In between, in the period from tohe was in London at least on an annual basis, and his regular visits resumed after his stay.
The first Russian writer to be widely celebrated in the West, Turgenev managed to be hated by the radicals as well as by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky for his dedicated Westernism, bland liberalism, aesthetic elegance, and tendency to nostalgia and self-pity. The dominant figure of his mother throughout his boyhood and early manhood probably provided the example for the dominance exercised by the heroines in his major fiction.
The Spasskoye estate itself came to have a twofold meaning for the young Turgenev, as an island of gentry civilization in rural Russia and as a symbol of the injustice he saw inherent in the servile state of the peasantry.
Turgenev was to be the only Russian writer with avowedly European outlook and sympathies. Though he was given an education of sorts at home, in Moscow schools, and at the universities of both Moscow and St.
He returned home as a confirmed believer in the superiority of the West and of the need for Russia to follow a course of Westernization. Though Turgenev had composed derivative verse and a poetic dramaStenoin the style of the English poet Lord Byron, the first of his works to attract attention was a long poem, Parasha, published in Despite the influence of Belinsky, he remained a writer of remarkable detachment, possessed of a cool and sometimes ironic objectivity.
Turgenev was not a man of grand passions, although the love story was to provide the most common formula for his fiction, and a love for the renowned singer Pauline Viardotwhom he first met inwas to dominate his entire life. His relation with Viardot usually has been considered platonicyet some of his letters, often as brilliant in their observation and as felicitous in their manner as anything he wrote, suggest the existence of a greater intimacy.
Generally, though, they reveal him as the fond and devoted admirer, in which role he was for the most part content. He never married, though in he had had an illegitimate daughter by a peasant woman at Spasskoye; he later entrusted the upbringing of the child to Viardot.
During the s, Turgenev wrote more long poems, including A Conversation, Andrey, and The Landowner, and some criticism.
Having failed to obtain a professorship at the University of St. Petersburg and having abandoned work in the government service, he began to publish short works in prose. Simultaneously, he tried his hand at writing plays, some, like A Poor Gentlemanrather obviously imitative of the Russian master Nikolay Gogol.
Of these, The Bachelor was the only one staged at this time, the others falling afoul of the official censors. Others of a more intimately penetrating character, such as One May Spin a Thread Too Finelyled to the detailed psychological studies in his dramatic masterpiece, A Month in the Country This was not staged professionally until Without precedent in the Russian theatre, it required for its appreciation by critics and audiences the prior success after of the plays of Anton Chekhov at the Moscow Art Theatre.
It was there inunder the great director Konstantin Stanislavskythat it was revealed as one of the major works of the Russian theatre. Many of the sketches portrayed various types of landowners or episodes, drawn from his experience, of the life of the manorial, serf-owning Russian gentry.
Turgenev could never pretend to be much more than an understanding stranger toward the peasants about whom he wrote, yet through his compassionate, lucid observation, he created portraits of enormous vitality and wide impact.
Not only did they make the predominantly upper class reading public aware of the human qualities of the peasantry, but they also may have been influential in provoking the sentiment for reform that led eventually to the emancipation of the serfs in When the first collected edition appeared, after appearing separately in various issues of the Sovremennik, Turgenev was arrested, detained for a month in St.
Petersburg, then given 18 months of enforced residence at Spasskoye. The ostensible pretext for such official harrassment was an obituary of Gogol, which he had published against censorship regulations. Time and national events, moreover, were impinging upon him. The two novels that he published during the s— Rudin and Home of the Gentry —are permeated by a spirit of ironic nostalgia for the weaknesses and futilities so manifest in this generation of a decade earlier.
But when she challenges him to live up to his words, he fails her. The vaster implications about Russian society as a whole and about the role of the Russian intelligentsia are present as shading at the edges of the picture rather than as colours or details in the foreground.The main reason for Turgenev’s frequent stays in London, despite an apparent ambivalence about aspects of English culture, was his long-standing relationship with Pauline Viardot, the opera singer.
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