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Famous Like Me > Writer > T > Ivan Turgenev

Profile of Ivan Turgenev on Famous Like Me

Name: Ivan Turgenev  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 9th November 1818
Place of Birth: Oryol, Russia
Profession: Writer
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Ivan Turgenev, photo by Félix Nadar (1820-1910)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (Ива́н Серге́jевич Турге́нев, November 9, 1818, Orel, Russia - September 3, 1883, Bougival, near Paris, France ) was a major Russian novelist and playwright. Although his reputation has suffered some setbacks during the last century, the novel Fathers and Sons should still be regarded as one of the defining works of the 19th-century fiction.

Early life

Turgenev was born into an old and wealthy family at Orel, Russia, in the province of the same name, on October 28, 1818. His father Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev, the colonel of a cavalry regiment, died when he was sixteen years of age, leaving Ivan and his brother Nicholas to be brought up under the care of their emotional and abusive mother, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, who owned large estates and many serfs. It is reported that Varvara once smothered one of her serfs. Events such as these would have a profound impact on Turgenev's characterization of serfs in his work, and eventually, through Tsar Aleksandr II's reading of A Sportsmans's Sketches, lead to the freeing of the serfs by the Edict of Emancipation in 1861. After the normal schooling for a child of a gentleman's family, Ivan studied for a year at the University of Moscow, then at the University of St Petersburg focusing on the classics, Russian literature and philology. He was finally sent in 1838 to the University of Berlin to study philosophy (comprised mostly of Hegel) and history. Turgenev was generally impressed with the more modern society he witnessed in Western Europe, and he went back home a "Westernizer", as opposed to a "Slavophile", who believed that Russia could improve itself by imitating the West and abolishing outdated institutions such as serfdom.

For his first acquaintance with the literature of his country the future novelist was indebted to one of the family's serfs, who read to him verses from the Rossiad of Kheraskov, a once celebrated poet of the eighteenth century. Turgenev's early attempts in literature, consisting of poems and sketches, had indications of genius and were favorably spoken of by Belinsky, then the leading Russian critic, for whom Turgenev ever cherished a warm regard.

First works

Turgenev first made his name with the striking sketches A Sportsman's Sketches (Записки охотника), also known as Sketches From a Hunter's Album or Notes of a Hunter, in which the deplorable conditions of the peasants was described with mild realism and deeply poetic compassion. Based on the author's own observations while sport hunting birds and hares in his mother's estate of Spasskoye, the work appeared in a collected form in 1852. It was read by all classes, including the Russian Czar himself, and it undoubtedly hastened the emancipation of the serfs. Turgenev had always sympathized with the muzhiks; he had often witnessed the cruelties of his mother, a narrow-minded and vindictive woman. According to Nabokov and Tolstoy, A Sportsman Sketches contain the finest pages ever written by Turgenev.

In 1852, between Turgenev's Sketches and his first important novels, he wrote his now notorious obtiuary to his idol Gogol in the St. Petersburg Gazette. The key passage reads: 'Gogol is dead!...what Russian heart is not shaken by those three words?...He is gone, that man whom we now have the right, the bitter right given to us by death, to call great.' The censor of St. Petersburg did not approve of this idolotry and banned its publication, but Turgenev managed to fool the Moscow censor into printing it. These underhanded tactics landed the young writer in prison for a month, and he was forced into exile at his estate for nearly two years.

His next work was A Nest of Nobles (Дворянское гнездо)in 1859, and was followed the next year by On the Eve (Накануне), a tale which contains one of his most beautiful female characters, Helen. 'On the Eve'(of reform), with Turgenev's portrayal of Bulgarian Revolutionary Dmitri, would have been very exciting politically to many contemporaneous readers.

In 1862 Fathers and Sons (Отцы и дети)was published, an admirably-structured novel in which the author famously described the revolutionary doctrines then beginning to spread in Russia. His ledgendary character and formulaic nihilist Basarov is heralded by many as one of the finest characters of the 19th Century novel. Although many contemporary critics consider it a classic, unfortunately 19th Century Russian critics did not take to "Fathers and Sons." The stinging criticism, especially from younger radicals, deeply disappointed Turgenev and he wrote very little in the years following Fathers and Sons.

Turgenev's life in Europe

During the latter part of his life, Turgenev did not reside much in Russia; he lived either at Baden-Baden or Paris, often in proximity to the family of the celebrated singer Pauline Viardot, for whom the author harboured a life-long but futile admiration. Turgenev never married, although as a young man he had a daughter with one of his family's serfs. Tall and broad in physical stature, Turgenev's personality was timid, restrained and soft-spoken. His closest literary friend was Gustave Flaubert. Turgenev 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 the 4th of September 1883.

Turgenev's later novels, with their antiquated language and stilted situations, are sometimes considered inferior to his earlier efforts. Smoke (Дым) was published in 1867 and his last work of any length, Virgin Soil (Новь), was published in 1877. Aside from his longer stories, many shorter ones were produced, some of great beauty and full of subtle psychological analysis, such as Torrents of Spring (Вешние воды), First Love, Asya and others. These were later collected into three volumes. The last works of the great novelist were Poetry in Prose and Clara Milich, which appeared in the European Messenger.


Unquestionably Turgenev may be considered one of the great Victorian novelists, worthy to be ranked with Thackeray, Hawthorne, and Henry James; he has many affinities with the genius of the latter. His studies of human nature are profound, and he has the wide sympathies which are considered essential to genius of the highest order. A melancholy, almost pessimistic, tone pervades his writings, a morbid self-analysis which seems natural to the Slavonic mindset. Yet, ideologically speaking, Turgenev remained the Russian liberal who wanted to see progressive change in authoritarian and technologically backward Russia yet was also opposed to the new political radicalism which was emerging. The closing chapter of Fathers and Sons, his great masterful statement on this radicalism, is one of the saddest and at the same time truest pages in the entire collection of existing novels.

This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain.



  • 1857 - Rudin
  • 1859 - Дворянское гнездо (Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo or Home of the Gentry, A Nest of Gentlefolk, or A Nest of Nobles)
  • 1860 - Накануне (Nakanune or On the Eve)
  • 1862 - Отцы и дети (Ottsy i Deti or Fathers and Sons)
  • 1867 - Дым (Dym or Smoke)
  • 1877 - Новь (Virgin Soil)

Short stories

  • 1850 - Dnevnik Lishnego Cheloveka (The Diary of a Superfluous Man)
  • 1851 - Provintsialka (The Provincial Lady)
  • 1852 - Записки охотника (Zapiski Okhotnika or A Sportsman's Sketches)
  • 1858 - Acia (Asia )
  • 1860 - Pervaia Liubov' (First Love)
  • 1870 - Stepnoy Korol' Lir (A Lear of the Steppes)
  • 1872 - Вешние воды (Veshinye Vody or Torrents of Spring or Spring Torrents)
  • 1881 - Pesn' Torzhestvuiushchei Liubvi (The Song of the Triumphant Love)
  • 1882 - Klara Milich (The Mysterious Tales)


  • 1849/1856 - Zavtrak u Predvoditelia
  • 1850/1851 - Razgovor na Bol'shoi Doroge (A Conversation on the Highway)
  • 1846/1852 - Bezdenezh'e (The Poor Gentleman)
  • 1857/1862 - Nakhlebnik (The Family Charge)
  • 1855/1872 - Mesiats v Derevne (A Month in the Country)
  • 1882 - Vecher V Sorrente (An Evening in Sorrento)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Ivan Turgenev