Typically Turgenev

Russian literature from the second half of the nineteenth century aims to describe and analyse life in all its aspects. This literary movement is called realism. Turgenev was one of the three big names in this movement. How does he distinguish himself from Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky?

His elegant style

Turgenev was well read and well educated. He was a linguistic virtuoso. His writing style is simple, gracious and elegant. His unhappy childhood with his tyrannical mother were the proverbial goldmine for most of his work. In spite of that his work is not exactly depressing; it is sometimes sad, but more often full of hope and joy. He clearly took great pleasure in describing characters and situations.

Turgenev’s nature descriptions are unparalleled and for me the most attractive aspect of his work. The way in which he describes the moment just before daybreak in spring, or a summer morning in July, or the forest in late autumn is so contagious, that you want to leave the house as soon as possible to go and explore these natural wonders for yourself! It is so full of joie de vivre. And written straight from the heart. You can smell the forest, feel the sunshine and hear the larks singing.

Turgenev uses the frame construction in most of his stories and novels. The narrator looks back on an episode from his past. This gives his work a personal and sentimental quality, and makes it appear genuine.

Influence

We owe the literary term ‘superfluous man’ to Turgenev, although the most famous superfluous men, Pechorin and Onegin, already existed before Turgenev’s Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850). His most famous character is without a doubt the nihilist Bazarov from Fathers and Sons, who became the subject of heated political discussions. His Sportmanโ€™s Sketches have made a substantial contribution to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, something that he was justifiably proud of.

The same pattern

Yes, many of Turgenevโ€™s stories and novels are similar: the hero falls in love with the heroine and the heroine with the hero. And there is never a happily ever after. The hero gets cold feet, the heroine becomes a nun, or someone dies. Its probably much wiser to love nature instead and go hunting with your loyal dog. And that brings us to the second leading theme in his work: the narrator loves nature and hunting and during his rambles he meets a variety landowners and peasants. In these stories he questions the existing system of serfdom.

Why Turgenev?

Turgenev has always been overshadowed by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But I cannot emphasise it enough: that is completely unjustified. Turgenev is never a sentimental tearjerker like Dostoyevsky or an annoying know-it-all like Tolstoy. He wraps his message subtly and simply, but he gets it across, without getting carried away for pages and pages. Au contraire! Turgenev wrote mostly stories and his novels are only about 150 pages thick.

In short:

Not a lot happens in Turgenevโ€™s works. The situation at the beginning is more or less the same as the one in the end. All that remains is memories and what-ifs. The reader has to content himself with plenty of beautiful atmospheric scenes and contemplations. Even in translation you stumble over one beautiful sentence after another. You read Turgenev with your heart. His works allow you to dream away to another place and time and that makes Turgenev the ultimate bedtime novelist.

Further reading:

http://wp.me/p5zzbs-1R – Turgenev’s Eternal Love

http://wp.me/p5zzbs-6L – First Love, Acia and Torrents of Spring

http://wp.me/p5zzbs-6d – Mumu – A Quiet Protest

http://wp.me/p5zzbs-28 – A Sportsman’s Sketches by Turgenev

Photo of Turgenev from Wikipedia, other photo and text by me.

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25 thoughts on “Typically Turgenev

  1. This commentary is beautifully written. So much said in a few words. (Pithy is the operative word.)

    You make one want to read Turgenev. I read “Fathers and Sons” quite a while ago. I could tell it was well written, but it didn’t do much for me. Maybe it was the translation.

    I loved your very insightful, perspicacious comment re Turgenev’s strengths vis-a-vis major weaknesses of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

    I noticed a typo (!). It should be “His Sportsmen’s Sketches have made A substantial contribution.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Roger! Thank you again for taking the time to read my blog posts. And for spotting the typo, I corrected it immediately;-)
    I can certainly understand how Fathers and Sons can leave you slightly indifferent. I read his First Love about four times in the past 25 years and only the last time I really appreciated it. A Sportsman’s Sketches, however, was love at first sight.
    Happy reading!

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  3. ‘Turgenev has always been overshadowed by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But I cannot emphasise it enough: that is completely unjustified. Turgenev is never a sentimental tearjerker like Dostoyevsky or an annoying know-it-all like Tolstoy.’

    I agree. (I was thinking about a post on this writer just for you, since no one else would read it.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Personally Tolstoy is my favourite. But I like Turgenev almost as much. I haven’t read much Dostoyevsky lately. He is a bit too much sometimes for me. But I have to say that my posts in Dutch about Turgenev are well read, he’s quite popular here.

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  5. I’m so happy to hear that, with my blog I try to make Russian literature more accessible and enjoyable. I plan to do a whole series on all the big writers like this post about Turgenev.
    Happy reading ๐Ÿ“š

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  6. Hey Jonny! Thanks for reading my blog. I would recommend Fathers and Sons and A Sportsman’s Sketches. But most of his work is a pleasure to read, you can’t go wrong;-)
    Happy reading, Elisabeth

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “You read Turgenev with your heart. His works allow you to dream away to another place and time and that makes Turgenev the ultimate bedtime novelist.” So perfectly put! All your commentary/reviews are simply exceptional. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you! For reading my blog and taking the time to tell me what you think. I appreciate it very much and it encourages me to continue ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Like

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