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Turgenev, Ivan

russian reform life uncle

(Russian, 1818–83)

After the radical press criticized him for his unflattering portrayal of the nihilist student Bazarov in Fathers and Sons (1862), and the right wing accused him of glorifying nihilism, Turgenev exiled himself to Europe, spending most of the rest of his life in Paris. Abroad, he longed for reform, for the ‘westernization’ of Russia. He was the first great Russian writer to find success in Europe.

Fathers and Sons examines the conflict between the generations; the older, the landowners wishing to conserve traditional systems, and the younger having revolutionary tendencies. Turgenev intended Bazarov to be a sympathetic character, but he appears rude and abrupt, often ridiculing the simplicities of the peasants. Visiting his friend's father and uncle during the holidays, he causes problems in the family, flirting with the father's mistress, and fighting a duel with the uncle. He also falls in love with the nearby female land-owner, the fascinating and chilly Anna.

Sketches from a Hunter's Album (1847–51) describes life in the evocatively drawn Russian countryside. Turgenev demonstrates his fascination with different types— thinkers and doers, whom he calls ‘Hamlets and Don Quixotes’. In ‘Bailiff’ he describes the repressive relationship between the serfs and the corrupt eponymous official, and though the message is not spelt out, the need for reform is clear. ‘Bezhin Lea’ begins with a wonderful description of the sky during a July morning, and tells of a night spent listening to boys recounting superstitious stories. Turgenev also wrote plays, his most often performed being A Month in the Country, admired by Chekhov.

Nikolai Gogol, Boris Pasternak, George Moore. See RUSSIA  FS

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