On the Eve

By Ivan Turgenev.

This was a reread and I liked it as much second time around almost twenty years after the first time.

I couldn’t remember the ending but I think it ended well – from a novelistic point of view (not necessarily for the characters). You find yourself drawn into the machinations and the characters, Turgenev is a master of the insular within a context.

There was much to consider. I like this paragraph:

‘Have you noticed,’ began Bersenyev, eking out his words with gesticulations, ‘what a strange feeling nature produces in us? Everything in nature is so complete, so defined, I mean to say, so content with itself, and we understand that and admire it, and at the same time, in me at least, it always excites a kind of restlessness, a kind of uneasiness, even melancholy. What is the meaning of it? Is it that in the face of nature we are more vividly conscious of all our incompleteness, our indefiniteness, or have we little of that content with which nature is satisfied, but something else–I mean to say, what we need, nature has not?’

 

 

 

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Virgin Soil

By Ivan Turgenev.

One thing I like about Turgenev is that it is like renewing an acquaintance or conversation whenever you return him. With most of his work he never clearly comes down on one side something he was criticised for regularly. I think this is a real strength, he presents ideas, characters and situations and leaves it to the reader. This novel directly deals with the revolutionary networks in Russia in the 1870s. He presents the young revolutionaries in a sympathetic light but also brings to light contradictions, namely that most of them are of the middle class and as such they can’t relate to the working people. There are exceptions though in every case – but Turgenev poses the question. He is unsparing in his criticism of the right-wing reactionaries however – Kollomietzev is exposed warts and all but the obviously right-wing mayor is shown as a decent man. Turgenev is equivocal. This old saying was quite apt: “Moscow lies at the foot of Russia and everything rolls down to her” – you could substitute it with London and Britain, possibly.

 

 

 

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The Rendezvous

By Ivan Turgenev.

A very nice little study. This, in the scheme of things, is a song rather than an album. The characters are well drawn as you would expect from Turgenev – but the possible back-story (and future) makes this even more engaging. Downloadable from Gutenberg and Openlibrary.org.

 

 

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Rudin

By Ivan Turgenev.

This is thought one of Turgenev’s lesser works but I found it very engaging. The Characters were all very well drawn and there were some great lines:

A man who has lived and has not grown tolerant towards others does not deserve to meet with tolerance himself. And who can say he does not need tolerance?

The figure of Rudin should be much more well-known in lierature – a man of intellect and potential with the inability to act. Maybe not exactly the type of the ‘superfluous man’ but similar.

 

 

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Smoke

By Ivan Turgenev.

Turgenev received much criticism because of this novel. It’s easy to see why because he exposed the faults of all parts of Russian society while maintaining his distance by living in the resort town of Baden Baden in Germany – where most of this novel is set. No one is exempt – the European Russians, aristocracy, reactionary slavophiles and revolutionaries.

Turgenev is very much a personal writer – but the political ferment of the 1840s, 50s and 60s meant he had to include these elements. Turgenev highlights the faults of all the groupings and ends up pleasing no one. At heart this is a novel about love and the personal. You could say that the victor is subjective truth – without giving too much away.

This novel apparently caused a rift between Dostoevsky and Turgenev. Dostoevsky was a complex character and while his novels are full of acute psychological perception but he held very reactionary views. Possibly he felt attacked by Turgenev’s novel but it may also be because he owed Turgenev money. Here are the two accounts:

Dostoevsky on Turgenev, 1867:

I went to see him in the morning at 12 o’clock and found him at lunch. I tell you frankly: even before this I didn’t like the man personally. Most unpleasant of all, I owe him money from 1857 from Wiesbaden… Also I don’t like his aristocratic, pharisaic embrace when he advances to kiss you, but presents his cheek. Terrible, as though he were a General.

Turgenev on Dostoevsky, 1871:

He came to see me in Baden… not to pay back the money he had borrowed from me, but to curse me because of Smoke which, according to his ideas, ought to be burned by the executioner. I listened to his philippic in silence — and what am I finding out now? That I seem to have expressed every kind of offensive opinion… It would be out and out slander if Dostoevsky were not mad which I do not doubt in the slightest… But my God, what a petty dirty gossip.

I think Smoke has stood the test of time. The politics add colour to the action of the novel but it is the story that is important and it is affecting. Excellent.

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Torrents of Spring and Mumu

By Ivan Turgenev.

I have read this before but I really can’t remember when. It is interesting that Hemingway has a book of the same name – perhaps as homage to Turgenev. Turgenev’s novella is very affecting and a book that once you start, must be finished. Turgenev really is a master at analysing relationships and creating emotion in the reader. This is one of the most perfect novellas or short pieces I have read for a while.

Mumu is an interesting story as well, it is much shorter but no less profound and filled with melancholy. It tells of the trials of the peasant Gerasim serving a gentrified household. Ultimately, his return to the countryside is shown to be a more satisfactory life, despite the hardships, than the false atmosphere and people of the house.

Turgenev is interested in people and their relationships and love – the personal over the public. Reading these after War and Peace makes these themes of Turgenevs seem more pronounced. War and Peace had a grant scheme or context while Turgenev’s novella shows a microcosm of life which affects the participants profoundly and changes the course of their existence – no less important than the grand battle at Borodino for those involved. Turgenev seems to have received a lot of criticism for his inward focus but his writing had real strength in this area and if you add a dash of politics (which Torrents of Spring doesn’t have) you can see why his novels are still read today.

Torrents of Spring is really worth reading, the characters are quite exceptional and it was was a nice change following War and Peace.

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First Love and The Diary of a Superfluous Man

fl By Ivan Turgenev.

These were two very good novellas; both permeated with melancholy and self analysis. The translation seemed a little old fashioned as it was 80-100years old by Constance Garnet. It may be worthwhile to read a more current translation just to see how they sit.

I think I enjoyed ‘First Love’ more as it was longer and had more breadth. The characters seemed to be fleshed out a little more – probably due to the novella’s length.

The two of them both asked deep questions and, as is usual with Turgenev, leave it up to the reader mostly to draw their own conclusions. The Superfluous man – was he unlucky or did he choose to be superfluous? Can human nature be changed and what are all the factors that influence it? Can form even be imposed on questions like this? With True Love – the story is like a dream as the central participants don’t have much of a beginning and then their lives and the story are cut short leaving you to ask – what was the point of that? Which is what Turgenev was hinting at. It is almost as though they never existed except as a story recounted by gentlemen having a drink years later. Turgenev is worth reading. I think I will need to work through his remaining novels and maybe reread Fathers and Sons.

Soundtrack: The Wild Nothing – Live in Dreams.

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Liza: Or, A Nest of Nobles

lizaBy Ivan Turgenev

I enjoyed this story: it was well written and melancholy. Despite being published in 1858 it felt more modern than Anna Karenina which I read immediately before. Varvara Petrovna can be almost seen as a prototype for Anna and it would be interesting to find out if Tolstoy was influenced by this character. The novel is supposedly Turgenev’s least controversial and his most read up until the end of the nineteenth century. There is nothing too complex here; simply a good story which has a fair dose of melancholy. Things are left unsaid which I like – it works nicely with the analysis of ‘potential’ as a theme. Worth reading if you have read Turgenev previously, but you may be better reading one of his major works like ‘All is the Eve’ or ‘Fathers and Sons’ if you haven’t encountered him before.

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