A HOUSE OF GENTLEFOLK

In 1859, three years after _Rudin_, appeared _A House of Gentlefolk_,
in popular estimation the most perfect of Turgenev’s works. This
verdict, repeated by many critics, was gained no less by the pathos
of Lavretsky’s love story than by the faultless character drawing,
the gentle, earnest, religious Liza[16] being balanced against the
voluptuous, worldly coquette, Varvara Pavlovna. The story which
chronicles how the latter, _la belle Madame de Lavretsky_, twists
her honest, candid husband round her finger, how at length Lavretsky
discovers her infidelities, and returns to Russia where he meets and
falls in love with Liza, and how, on the false news of his wife’s
death, they confess their mutual passion–when their dream is shattered
by the dramatic reappearance of Varvara Pavlovna–is characteristic of
Turgenev’s underlying sad philosophy.

[16] Liza, “the best impersonation possible of the average, thoroughly
good and honest Russian girl of the times.”–Kropotkin.

Both Turgenev’s temperamental melancholy and irony are seconded
by, indeed are enrooted in, his calm, piercing perception of the
ineffectual struggle of virtue in the vortex of worldly power. All
the great literature of all the ages warns us that the world is
mainly swayed by force and craft, twin children of human necessity
and appetite. Virtue, beautiful in its disinterested impulse, as the
love of truth, has always to reckon with the all-powerful law of life,
self-interest, on which the whole fabric of society is reared. Goodness
is but a frail defence against the designs of force and egoistic craft.
We see magnanimity falling before unscrupulousness; while the stupidity
of the mass of men is twisted adroitly by the worldly to their own
advantage. While Turgenev’s philosophy reinforces the experience
of the ages, his pictures of life are distinguished by the subtle
spiritual light which plays upon the egoistic basis. In his vision
“the rack of this tough world” triumphs, but his peculiarly subtle
appeal to our sense of spiritual beauty registers the common earthiness
of the triumph of force and evil. That triumph is everywhere; it is
a fundamental law of nature that worldly craft and appetite shall
prevail, whelming the finer forces, but Turgenev’s sadness and irony,
by their beauty of feeling, strengthen those spiritual valuations which
challenge the elemental law. His aesthetic method is so to place in
juxtaposition the fine shades of human worldliness that we enjoy the
spectacle of the varied strands composing a family or social pattern.
In the sketch of Lavretsky’s ancestors, for two generations, the
pattern is intricate, surprisingly varied, giving us the richest sense
of all the heterogeneous elements that combine in a family stock. In
the portraits of Varvara Pavlovna’s father and mother we recognize the
lines of heredity:

“Varvara Pavlovna’s father, Pavel Petrovitch Korobyin, a retired
major-general, had spent his whole time on duty in Petersburg. He
had had the reputation in his youth of a good dancer and driller.
Through poverty he had served as adjutant to two or three generals
of no distinction, and had married the daughter of one of them with
a dowry of twenty-five thousand roubles. He mastered all the science
of military discipline and manoeuvres to the minutest niceties, he
went on in harness, till at last, after twenty-five years’ service,
he received the rank of a general and the command of a regiment. Then
he might have relaxed his efforts and quietly secured his pecuniary
position. Indeed this was what he reckoned upon doing, but he managed
things a little incautiously. He devised a new method of speculating
with public funds–the method seemed an excellent one in itself–but
he neglected to bribe in the right place and was consequently
informed against, and a more than unpleasant, a disgraceful scandal
followed … he was advised to retire from active duty…. His bald
head, with its tufts of dyed hair, and the soiled ribbon of the order
of St. Anne, which he wore over a cravat of the colour of a raven’s
wing, began to be familiar to all the pale and listless young men
who hang morosely about the card-tables while dancing is going on.
Pavel Petrovitch knew how to gain a footing in society; he spoke
little, but from long habit, condescendingly–though of course not
when he was talking to persons of a higher rank than his own…. Of
the general’s wife there is scarcely anything to be said. Kalliopa
Karlovna, who was of German extraction, considered herself a woman of
great sensibility. She was always in a state of nervous agitation,
seemed as though she were ill-nourished, and wore a tight velvet
dress, a cap, and tarnished hollow bracelets.”

In this incisive little cameo Turgenev has told us everything about
Varvara Pavlovna’s upbringing. It is typical of Turgenev’s method, of
indicating with sparse, magic touches the _couche sociale_, so that
we see working in the individual the forces that form him as a social
type. Varvara Pavlovna, in her arts, is the worldly woman incarnate,
sensual in her cold, polished being, in her luxurious elegance, in
her inherently vulgar ambition. But Turgenev’s instinctive _justesse_
is shown in the attractiveness of Varvara Pavlovna’s bodily beauty.
Remark that the more Turgenev unmasks her coldness and falsity the
more he renders tribute to her bodily charm, to the subtle intelligence
in her dark, oval, lovely face, with its splendid eyes, which gazed
softly and attentively from under her fine brows. She is a worldly
syren, lovely and desirable in her sensual fascination. But she is not
too discriminating in the choice of her male adorers. His remembrance
of all her deceptions stings Lavretsky when in her manœuvres to be
reinstated in society she descends upon him suddenly at O—-:

“The first thing that struck him as he went into the entrance hall
was a scent of patchouli, always distasteful to him; there were some
high travelling-trunks standing there. The face of his groom, who ran
out to meet him, seemed strange to him. Not stopping to analyse his
impressions, he crossed the threshold of the drawing-room…. On his
entrance there rose from the sofa a lady in a black silk dress with
flounces, who, raising a cambric handkerchief to her pale face, made
a few paces forward, bent her carefully dressed, perfumed head, and
fell at his feet…. Then, only, he recognised her: this lady was his
wife!

“He caught his breath…. He leaned against the wall.

“‘_Théodore_, do not repulse me!’ she said in French, and her voice
cut to his heart like a knife.

“He looked at her senselessly, and yet he noticed involuntarily at
once that she had grown both whiter and fatter.

“‘_Théodore!_’ she went on, from time to time lifting her eyes and
discreetly wringing her marvellously beautiful fingers with their
rosy, polished nails. ‘_Théodore_, I have wronged you, deeply wronged
you; I will say more, I have sinned; but hear me; I am tortured by
remorse, I have grown hateful to myself, I could endure my position
no longer; how many times have I thought of turning to you, but I
feared your anger; I resolved to break every tie with the past….
_Puis, j’ai été si malade_…. I have been so ill,’ she added, and
passed her hand over her brow and cheek. ‘I took advantage of the
widely-spread rumour of my death, I gave up everything; without
resting day or night I hastened hither; I hesitated long to appear
before you, my judge … _paraître devant vous, mon juge_; but I
resolved at last, remembering your constant goodness, to come to
you; I found your address at Moscow. Believe me,’ she went on,
slowly getting up from the floor and sitting on the very edge of an
armchair. ‘I have often thought of death, and I should have found
courage to take my life … ah! life is a burden unbearable for me
now!… but the thought of my daughter, my little Ada, stopped me.
She is here, she is asleep in the next room, the poor child! She is
tired–you shall see her; she at least has done you no wrong, and I
am so unhappy, so unhappy!’ cried Madame Lavretsky, and she melted
into tears….

“… ‘I have no commands to give you,’ replied Lavretsky in the same
colourless voice; ‘you know, all is over between us … and now more
than ever; you can live where you like; and if your allowance is too
little—-‘

“‘Ah, don’t say such dreadful things,’ Varvara Pavlovna interrupted
him, ‘spare me, if only … if only for the sake of this angel.’ And
as she uttered these words, Varvara Pavlovna ran impulsively into
the next room, and returned at once with a small and very elegantly
dressed little girl in her arms. Thick flaxen curls fell over her
pretty rosy little face, and on to her large sleepy black eyes; she
smiled, and blinked her eyes at the light and laid a chubby little
hand on her mother’s neck.

“‘Ada, _vois, c’est ton père_,’ said Varvara Pavlovna, pushing the
curls back from her eyes and kissing her vigorously, ‘_prie-le avec
moi_.’

“‘_C’est ça, papa?_’ stammered the little girl lisping.

“‘_Oui, mon enfant, n’est-ce pas que tu l’aimes?_’

“But this was more than Lavretsky could stand.

“‘In what melodrama is there a scene exactly like this?’ he muttered
and went out of the room.

“Varvara Pavlovna stood still for some time in the same place,
slightly shrugged her shoulders, carried the little girl off into the
next room, undressed her and put her to bed. Then she took up a book
and sat down near the lamp, and after staying up for an hour she went
to bed herself.

“‘_Eh bien, madame?_’ queried her maid, a French woman whom she had
brought from Paris, as she unlaced her corset.

“‘_Eh bien, Justine_,’ she replied, ‘he is a good deal older, but
I fancy he is just the same good-natured fellow. Give me my gloves
for the night, and get out my grey, high-necked dress for to-morrow,
and don’t forget the mutton cutlets for Ada…. I daresay it will be
difficult to get them here; but we must try.’

“‘_A la guerre comme à la guerre_,’ replied Justine, as she put out
the candle.”

The reader should contrast with the above satiric passage, the summer
evening scene in the garden at Vassilyevskoe (chap. xxvi.), where Marya
Dmitrievna’s party sit by the pond fishing. The soft tranquillity of
the hour, the charm of this pure young girl, Liza, with “her soft,
glowing cheeks and somewhat severe profile” as “she looked at the
water, half frowning, to keep the sun out of her eyes, half smiling,”
the tender evening atmosphere, all are faintly stirred, like the
rippling surface of a stream, by a puff of wind, by Liza’s words
upon her religious thoughts on death. In this delicate, glancing
conversation, Turgenev while mirroring, as in a glass, the growing
intimacy of feeling between Liza and Lavretsky, discloses almost
imperceptibly the sunken rock on which his happiness is to strike and
suffer shipwreck–Liza’s profound instinct of self-abnegation and
self-sacrifice. Her sweet seriousness, her slowness of brain, her
very lack of words, all appear to Lavretsky enchanting. This scene
in the garden, in its tender breathing tranquillity, holds suspended
beneath the gentle, flowing stream of the lovers’ happiness, the faint,
ambiguous menace of the days to come.

In depicting the contest between Varvara Pavlovna’s worldliness
and Liza’s spirituality, how comes it that Turgenev’s _parti pris_
for Liza has not impaired the aesthetic balance? It is because he
shows us how Lavretsky’s mistake in marrying this syren has tied his
hands. The forces of worldly convention when reinforced by Liza’s
religious conviction that Varvara Pavlovna, odious as she is, is
still Lavretsky’s wife, are bound to triumph. Accordingly the more the
all-pervasive, all-conquering force of worldliness is done justice to,
and the more its brilliant, polished appearances are displayed in all
their deceptive colours, _the greater is our reaction towards spiritual
beauty_. Therefore Turgenev, with his unerring instinct, intersperses
Liza’s sad love story with scenes of the brilliant worldly comedy
played between that _comme-il-faut_ pair, Panshin, the brilliant young
official from Petersburg, Liza’s suitor, and Varvara Pavlovna.

Turgenev sees through the pretences of his worldly types at a glance.
All the inflexions of their engaging manners reflect as in a clear
mirror the evasive shades of their worldly motives. He has a peculiar
gift of so contrasting their tones of insincerity that the artificial
pattern of their intercourse gleams and glistens in its polished
falsity. As a social comedy of the purest water, how delightful are
the scenes where the foolish Marya Dmitrievna, the old counsellor
Gedeonovsky, and Panshin with his diplomatic reserve, are fascinated by
the seductive modesty of Varvara Pavlovna (chap. xxxix.). How natural
in the interplay of ironic light and shade is the picture of Varvara
Pavlovna’s conquest of her provincial audience. Note, moreover, how
in art and literature and music, what always thrills these ladies
and gentlemen is the polished, insipid, _chic morceau_. Their talk,
their manner, their aspiration are all of the surface, facile,
smooth polished, like their scented, white hands, and one listens to
their correctly modulated voices exchanging compliments and social
banalities, suavely, in the reception room, while beneath this correct
surface is self, self and worldly advantage. That is the one reality.
The world of beautiful feeling, of disinterested, generous impulse, is
on quite another plane; it is as strange and alien to their minds as
the peasant’s rough, harsh world of labour. Examine the exact relation
Panshin bears to the world in which he is so successfully playing his
part:

“Panshin’s father, a retired cavalry officer and a notorious gambler,
was a man with insinuating eyes, a battered countenance, and a
nervous twitch about the mouth. He spent his whole life hanging
about the aristocratic world; frequented the English clubs of both
capitals, and had the reputation of a smart, not very trustworthy,
but jolly good-natured fellow. In spite of his smartness, he was
almost always on the brink of ruin, and the property he left his son
was small and heavily encumbered. To make up for that, however, he
did exert himself, after his own fashion, over his son’s education.
Vladimir Nikolaitch spoke French very well, English well, and German
badly; that is the proper thing: fashionable people would be ashamed
to speak German well; but to utter an occasional–generally a
humorous–phrase in German is quite correct, _c’est même très chic_,
as the Parisians of Petersburg express themselves. By the time he
was fifteen, Vladimir knew how to enter any drawing-room without
embarrassment, how to move about in it gracefully and to leave it
at the appropriate moment. Panshin’s father gained many connections
for his son. He never lost an opportunity, while shuffling the cards
between two rubbers, or playing a successful trump, of dropping a
hint about his Volodka to any personage of importance who was a
devotee of cards. And Vladimir, too, during his residence at the
University, which he left without a very brilliant degree, formed
an acquaintance with several young men of quality, and gained an
entry into the best houses. He was received cordially everywhere:
he was very good-looking, easy in his manners, amusing, always in
good health, and ready for everything; respectful, when he ought to
be; insolent, when he dared to be; excellent company, _un charmant
garçon_. The promised land lay before him. Panshin quickly learnt the
secret of getting on in the world; he knew how to yield with genuine
respect to its decrees; he knew how to take up trifles with half
ironical seriousness, and to appear to regard everything serious as
trifling; he was a capital dancer; and dressed in the English style.
In a short time he gained the reputation of being one of the smartest
and most attractive young men in Petersburg. Panshin was indeed very
smart, not less so than his father; but he was also very talented. He
did everything well; he sang charmingly, sketched with spirit, wrote
verses, and was a very fair actor. He was only twenty-eight, and
he was already a _Kammer-Yunker_, and he had a very good position.
Panshin had complete confidence in himself, in his own intelligence,
and his own penetration; he made his way with light-hearted
assurance, everything went smoothly with him. He was used to being
liked by everyone, old and young, and imagined he understood people,
especially women: he certainly understood their ordinary weaknesses.
As a man of artistic leanings, he was conscious of a capacity
for passion, for being carried away, even for enthusiasm, and,
consequently, he permitted himself various irregularities; he was
dissipated, associated with persons not belonging to good society,
and, in general, conducted himself in a free and easy manner; but at
heart he was cold and false, and at the moment of the most boisterous
revelry his sharp brown eye was always alert, taking everything in.
This bold, independent young man could never forget himself and be
completely carried away. To his credit it must be said, that he never
boasted of his conquests.”

The passage we have cited illustrates Turgenev’s method of so placing
in perspective the fine shades of worldliness that their social
significance is seen contrasted with the force of spiritual beauty
beyond, out of their ken. Panshin cannot but rise in the world, for his
polished astuteness is weakened by no feeling of mental integrity, his
coldness is impaired by no sympathy with merit which is unsuccessful.
In official life as in society Panshin is the type of the _arriviste_,
and his “Western” liberal sympathies, one knows, are part of the
flowing tide; otherwise Panshin would not be expressing them. In ten
years later the official tide will be flowing the other way, and
Panshin, more dignified and stouter, with the Vladimir Cross on his
frock-coated breast, will be emphasizing the necessity for severer
measures of Governmental reaction. The Panshins are legion.

To reveal Panshin’s essence in his actions Turgenev employs but a
single stroke–Panshin’s spitefulness to the old music-master, Lemm,
a musician of genius, but solitary, poor and despised because “he did
not know how to set about things in the right way, to gain favour in
the right place, and to make a push at the right moment.” Lemm has
composed for his pupil, Liza, a religious cantata. Panshin has seen the
score, inscribed “For you alone,” and for the pleasure of mortifying
the old man who has called him a dilettante, he twits Lemm about the
composition, thereby betraying the young girl’s confidence:

“… Liza’s eyes were fixed directly on Panshin, and expressed
displeasure. There was no smile on her lips, her whole face looked
stern and even mournful.

“‘What’s the matter?’ he asked.

“‘Why did you not keep your word?’ she said. ‘I showed you
Christopher Fedoritch’s cantata on the express condition that you
said nothing about it to him.’

“‘I beg your pardon, Lisaveta Mihalovna, the words slipped out
unawares.’

“‘You have hurt his feelings and mine too. Now he will not trust even
me.’

“‘How could I help it, Lisaveta Mihalovna? Ever since I was a little
boy I could never see a German without wanting to tease him.’

“‘How can you say that, Vladimir Nikolaitch? This German is poor,
lonely, and broken-down–have you no pity for him? Can you wish to
tease him?’

“Panshin was taken aback.

“‘You are right, Lisaveta Mihalovna,’ he declared. ‘It’s my
everlasting thoughtlessness that’s to blame. No, don’t contradict me;
I know myself. So much harm has come to me from my want of thought.
It’s owing to that failing that I am thought to be an egoist.’

“Panshin paused. With whatever subject he began a conversation, he
generally ended by talking of himself, and the subject was changed by
him so easily, so smoothly and genially, that it seemed unconscious.”

Thus delicately Turgenev indicates the impassable spiritual gulf
between Panshin and the pure, serious Liza. It is an illustration of
Turgenev’s genius in disclosing life as a constantly growing, changing
phenomenon. His artistic synthesis reproduces all the hesitating
inflexions in Liza’s feeling, and soon the interest that, as an
inexperienced girl, she takes in Panshin’s attentions will fade before
the mounting wave of Lavretsky’s love.

The sequel our readers have divined, if they do not already know
_A House of Gentlefolk_. We have seen above how Varvara Pavlovna’s
return from the void, blights Lavretsky’s future; and now through the
closing chapters, xliii. to xlv., of the worldly comedy of her social
rehabilitation, sounds the low, piercing note of Liza’s renunciation.
For her the convent, for Lavretsky henceforward his unavailing
memories. It is the idealistic girl, who at the Church’s behest,
immolates herself and the man she loves on the altar of her religion.
And Varvara Pavlovna is left softly smiling at Lavretsky’s inner
misery; and “the day after his departure, Panshin appeared at Lavricky,
the lofty apartments of the house, and even the garden re-echoed with
the sound of music, singing and lively French talk–and Panshin, when
he took leave of Varvara Pavlovna, warmly pressing her lovely hands,
promised to come back very soon–and he kept his word.”

It is life, and to those who rebel against the innocent bearing the
sorrow of renunciation, Turgenev addresses the beautiful Epilogue in
which we see Lavretsky, years later, revisiting the house of Marya
Dmitrievna now dead and gone, and sitting alone in the room where he
had so often looked at Liza, he hears the happy laughter of the young,
careless people, the young generation, ringing in the sunlit garden:

“Lavretsky quietly rose and quietly went away; no one noticed him, no
one detained him; the joyous cries sounded more loudly in the garden
behind the thick green wall of high lime trees. He took his seat
in the carriage and bade the coachman drive home and not hurry the
horses…. They say, Lavretsky visited that convent where Liza had
hidden herself–that he saw her. Crossing over from choir to choir,
she walked close past him, moving with the even, hurried, but meek
walk of a nun; and she did not glance at him; only the eyelashes on
the side towards him quivered a little, only she bent her emaciated
face lower, and the fingers of her clasped hands, entwined with her
rosary, were pressed still closer to one another. What were they both
thinking? What were they feeling? Who can know? Who can say? There
are such moments in life, there are such feelings…. One can but
point to them–and pass by.”

_On the Eve_, not finished and published till 1859, but projected in
1855, and then laid aside for _Rudin_ and _A House of Gentlefolk_,
holds depths of meaning which at first sight lie veiled under the
simple harmonious surface. To the English reader _On the Eve_ is a
charming picture of a quiet Russian household, with a delicate analysis
of a young girl’s soul. For Russians, however, on the background is
cast the wavering shadow of Russia’s national aspirations.

Elena, the heroine, as Turgenev tells us, was “a new type in Russian
life,” when his idea of her first began to trouble his imagination;
but “I could not find the hero to whom she, with her vague but strong
aspirations for liberty, could give herself.” In comparing her with
Natalya and Liza the reader will remark that he is allowed to come into
even closer spiritual contact with her than with them. When Elena
stands before us we know the innermost secrets of her character. Her
strength of will, her serious, courageous, proud soul, her capacity
for passion, all the play of her idealistic nature troubled by the
contradictions, aspirations, and unhappiness that the dawn of love
brings to her, all this is conveyed to us by a simple and consummate
art. The diary (chap. xvi.) that Elena keeps is in itself a masterly
revelation of a young girl’s heart; it has never been equalled by any
other novelist.

How exquisitely Turgenev reveals his characters may be seen by an
examination of the parts Shubin the artist, and Bersenyev the student,
play towards Elena. Both young men are in love with her, and the
description of their after relations as friends, and the feelings
of Elena towards them, and her own self-communings are interwoven
with unfaltering skill. All the most complex and baffling shades of
the mental life, in the hands of Turgenev are used with deftness
and certainty to bring to light the complexity of motives and
instincts which is always lying hidden beneath the surface, beneath
the commonplace of daily life. In the difficult art of literary
perspective, in the effective grouping of contrasts in character
and the criss-cross of the influence of the different individuals,
lies one of the secrets of Turgenev’s supremacy. As an example the
reader may note how he is made to judge Elena through six pairs of
eyes–Stahov’s contempt for his daughter, her mother’s affectionate
bewilderment, Shubin’s petulant criticism, Bersenyev’s half-hearted
enthralment, Insarov’s recognition, and Zoya’s indifference, being the
facets for converging light on Elena’s sincerity and depth of soul.
Again one may note Turgenev’s method for rehabilitating Shubin in our
eyes; Shubin is simply made to criticise Stahov; the thing is done
in a few seemingly careless lines, but these lines lay bare Shubin’s
strength and weakness, the fluidity of his nature. The reader who
does not see the art which underlies almost every line of _On the
Eve_ is merely paying the highest tribute to that art; as often the
clear waters of a pool conceal its surprising depth. Taking Shubin’s
character as an example of creative skill, we cannot call to mind any
instance in the range of European fiction where the typical artist
mind, on its lighter sides, has been analysed with such delicacy
and truth as here by Turgenev. The irresponsibility, alertness, the
whimsicality and mobility of Shubin combine to charm and irritate the
reader in the exact proportion that such a character affects him in
actual life; there is not the least touch of exaggeration, and all the
values are kept to a marvel. Looking at the minor characters, perhaps
one may say that the father of Elena will be the most suggestive,
and not the least familiar character, to English households. His
essentially masculine meanness, his self-complacency, his unconscious
indifference to the opinion of others, his absurdity as _un père de
famille_, are balanced by the foolish affection and jealousy which his
wife, Anna Vassilyevna, cannot help feeling towards him. The perfect
balance and duality of Turgenev’s outlook are here shown by the equal
cleverness with which he seizes on and quietly derides the typical
masculine and typical feminine attitude in such a married life as the
Stahovs’.

Turning to the figure of the Bulgarian hero, it is interesting to find
from the _Souvenirs sur Tourguénev_ (published in 1887) that Turgenev’s
only distinct failure of importance in character drawing, Insarov, was
not taken from life, but was the legacy of a friend, Karateieff, who
implored Turgenev to work out an unfinished conception. Insarov is a
figure of wood. He is so cleverly constructed, and the central idea
behind him so strong, that his wooden joints move naturally, and the
spectator has only the instinct, not the certainty, of being cheated.
The idea he incarnates, that of a man whose soul is aflame with
patriotism, is finely suggested, but an idea, even a great one, does
not make an individuality. And, in fact, Insarov is not a man, he is an
automaton. To compare Shubin’s utterances with his is to perceive that
there is no spontaneity, no inevitability in Insarov. He is a patriotic
clock wound up to go for the occasion, and in truth he is very useful.
Only on his deathbed, when the unexpected happens, and the machinery
runs down, do we feel moved. Then he appears more striking dead than
alive–a rather damning testimony to the power Turgenev credits
him with. This artistic failure of Turgenev’s is, as he no doubt
recognized, curiously lessened by the fact that young girls of Elena’s
lofty idealistic type are particularly impressed by certain stiff
types of men of action and great will-power, whose capacity for moving
straight towards a goal by no means implies corresponding brain-power.
The insight of a Shubin and the moral worth of a Bersenyev are not so
valuable to the Elenas of this world, whose ardent desire to be made
good use of, and to seek some great end, is best developed by strength
of aim in the men they love.

* * * * *

And now to see what the novel before us meant to the contemporary
Russian mind, we must turn to the infinitely suggestive background.
Turgenev’s genius was of the same force in politics as in art; it was
that of seeing aright. He saw his country as it was, with clearer eyes
than any man before or since. As a critic of his generation little
escaped Turgenev’s eye, as a politician he foretold nearly all that
actually came to pass in his life, and as a consummate artist, led
first and foremost by his love for his art, his novels are undying
historical pictures. It is not that there is anything allegorical in
his novels–allegory is at the farthest pole from his method; it is
that whenever he created an important figure in fiction that figure is
necessarily a revelation of the secrets of the fatherland, the soil,
the race. Turgenev, in short, was a psychologist not merely of men, but
of nations; and so the chief figure of _On the Eve_, Elena, foreshadows
and stands for the rise of Young Russia in the ‘sixties. Elena is
Young Russia, and to whom does she turn in her prayer for strength?
Not to Bersenyev, the philosopher, the dreamer; not to Shubin, the man
carried outside himself by every passing distraction; but to the strong
man, Insarov. And here the irony of Insarov being made a foreigner,
a Bulgarian, is significant of Turgenev’s distrust of his country’s
weakness. The hidden meaning of the novel is a cry to the coming men
to unite their strength against the foe without and the foe within
the gates; it is not only an appeal to them to hasten the death of
the old régime of Nicholas I., but an appeal to them to conquer their
sluggishness, their weakness and their apathy. It is a cry for Men.
Turgenev sought in vain in life for a type of man to satisfy Russia,
and ended by taking no living model for his hero, but the hearsay
Insarov, a foreigner. Russia has not yet produced men of this type.
But the artist does not despair of the future. Here we come upon one
of the most striking figures of Turgenev–that of Uvar Ivanovitch.
He symbolizes the ever-predominant type of Russian, the sleepy, the
slothful Slav of yesterday. He is the Slav whose inherent force Europe
is as ignorant of as he is himself. Though he speaks only twenty
sentences in the book he is a creation of Tolstoian force. His very
words are dark and of practically no significance. There lies the irony
of the social picture. On the eve of what? one asks. Time has given
contradictory answers to the men of all parties. The Elenas of to-day
need not turn their eyes abroad to find their counterpart in spirit;
so far at least the pessimists are refuted; but the note of death that
Turgenev strikes in his marvellous chapter on Venice has still for
Young Russia an ominous echo–so many generations have arisen eager,
only to be flung aside helpless, that one asks, what of the generation
that fronts Autocracy to-day?[17]

[17] Written in 1895.

“‘Do you remember I asked you, “Will there ever be men among us?” and
you answered, “There will be.” O primæval force! And now from here
in “my poetic distance” I will ask you again, “What do you say, Uvar
Ivanovitch, will there be?”‘

“Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers, and fixed his enigmatical
stare into the far distance.”

This creation of a universal national type, out of the flesh and blood
of a fat, taciturn country gentleman, brings us to see that Turgenev
was not merely an artist, but that he was a poet using fiction as
his medium. To this end it is instructive to compare Jane Austen,
perhaps the greatest English exponent of the domestic novel, with the
Russian master, and to note that, while her picture of manners is as
indestructible as his, she is absolutely wanting in his poetic insight.
How petty and parochial appears her outlook in _Emma_, compared with
Turgenev’s wide and unflinching gaze. She painted most admirably the
English types she knew, and how well she knew them! but she failed to
correlate them with the national life; and yet, while her men and women
were acting and thinking, Trafalgar and Waterloo were being fought and
won. But each of Turgenev’s novels in some subtle way suggests that the
people he introduces are playing their little part in a great national
drama everywhere round us, invisible, yet audible through the clamour
of voices near us. And so _On the Eve_, the work of a poet, has certain
deep notes, which break through the harmonious tenor of the whole,
and strangely and swiftly transfigure the quiet story, troubling us
with a dawning consciousness of the march of mighty events. Suddenly a
strange sense steals upon the reader that he is living in a perilous
atmosphere, filling his heart with foreboding, and enveloping at length
the characters themselves, all unconsciously awaiting disaster in the
sunny woods and gardens of Kuntsevo. But not till the last chapters are
reached does the English reader perceive that in recreating for him
the mental atmosphere of a single educated Russian household, Turgenev
has been casting before his eyes the faint shadow of the national
drama which was indeed played, though left unfinished, on the Balkan
battlefields of 1876-77. Briefly, Turgenev, in sketching the dawn of
love in a young girl’s soul, has managed faintly, but unmistakably, to
make spring and flourish in our minds the ineradicable, though hidden,
idea at the back of Slav thought–the unification of the Slav races.

How doubly welcome that art should be which can lead us, the
foreigner, thus straight to the heart of the national secrets of a
great people, secrets which our own critics and diplomatists have
so often misrepresented. Each of Turgenev’s novels may be said to
contain a light-bringing rejoinder to the old-fashioned criticism of
the Muscovite, current up to the rise of the great Russian novel, and
still, unfortunately, lingering among us;[18] but _On the Eve_, of
all the novels, contains, perhaps, the most instructive political
lesson England can learn. Europe has always had, and most assuredly
England has been very rich in those alarm-monger critics, watchdogs for
ever baying at Slav cupidity, treachery, intrigue, and so on and so
on. It is useful to have these well-meaning animals on the political
premises, giving noisy tongue whenever the Slav stretches out his long
arm and opens his drowsy eyes, but how rare it is to find a man who
can teach us to interpret a nation’s aspirations, to gauge its inner
force, its aim, its inevitability. Turgenev gives us such clues. In
the respectful, if slightly forced, silence that has been imposed by
certain recent political events[19] on the tribe of faithful watchdogs,
it may be permitted to one to say, that whatever England’s interest
may be in relation to Russia’s development, it is better for us to
understand the force of Russian aims before we measure our strength
against it. And a novel, such as _On the Eve_, though now it is nearly
forty years old, and to the short-sighted out of date, reveals in a
flash the attitude of the Slav towards his political destiny. His
aspirations may have to slumber through policy or necessity; they may
be distorted or misrepresented, or led astray by official action, but
we confess for us _On the Eve_ suggests the existence of a mighty lake,
whose waters, dammed back for a while, are rising slowly, but are
still some way from the brim. How long will it take to the overflow?
Nobody knows; but when the long winter of Russia’s dark internal policy
shall be broken up, will the snows, melting on the mountains, stream
south-west, inundating the valley of the Danube? Or, as the national
poet, Pushkin, has sung, will there be a pouring of many Slavonian
rivulets into the Russian sea, a powerful attraction of the Slav races
towards a common centre to create an era of peace and development
within, whereby Russia may rise free and rejoicing to face her great
destinies? Hard and bitter is the shaping of nations. Uvar Ivanovitch
still fixes his enigmatical stare into the far distance.

[18] Passages written in 1895.

[19] Passages written in 1895.

* * * * *

Twenty-two years ago the above appreciation of _On the Eve_ was written
by the present writer, who, on re-reading it, finds it necessary to
alter only two or three sentences. The sentence “The respectful, if
slightly forced, silence that has been imposed by recent political
events on the tribe of faithful watchdogs” is an allusion to the first
attempt made by our diplomatists and our Court, on the accession of
Nicholas II., to reverse the traditional policy of England’s hostility
to Russia. The sequel, despite the surprising ups and downs of the
political barometer, was determined by Germany’s naval policy and the
Anglo-French _entente_.

While _On the Eve_ signalizes the end of the Crimea epoch and the
break-up of the crushing, overwhelming régime of Nicholas, _Fathers
and Children_ is a forecast of the new Liberal movement which arose
in the Russia of the ‘sixties, and an analysis of the formidable type
appearing on the political horizon–the Nihilist.

Turgenev was the first man to detect the existence of this new type,
the Nihilist. His own account of his discovery gives us such an
interesting glimpse of his method in creative work that we transcribe a
passage from his paper on _Fathers and Children_, written at Baden in
1869:

“It was in the month of August 1860, when I was taking sea baths
at Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight, that the first idea of _Fathers
and Children_ came into my head; that novel, thanks to which the
favourable opinion of the younger generation about me, has come to an
end. Many times I have heard and read in critical journals that I
have only been elaborating an idea of my own…. For my part, I ought
to confess that I never attempted to create a type without having,
not an idea, but a living person, in whom the various elements
were harmonised together, to work from. I have always needed some
groundwork on which I could tread firmly. This was the case with
_Fathers and Children_. At the foundation of the principal figure
Bazarov was the personality of a young provincial doctor. He died not
long before 1860. In that remarkable man was incarnated to my ideas
the just rising element, which, still chaotic, afterwards received
the title of Nihilism. The impression produced by this individual
was very strong. At first I could not clearly define him to myself.
But I strained my eyes and ears, watching everything surrounding me,
anxious to trust simply in my own sensations. What confounded me was
that I had met not a single idea or hint of what seemed appearing to
me on all sides. And the doubt involuntarily suggested itself….”

_Fathers and Children_ was published in the spring of 1862 in Katkoff’s
paper, _The Russian Messenger_, the organ of the Younger Generation,
and the stormy controversy that the novel immediately provoked was
so bitter, deep and lasting that the episode forms one of the most
interesting chapters in literary history. Rarely has so great an artist
so thoroughly drawn public attention to a scrutiny of new ideas rising
in its midst; rarely has so great an artist come into such violent
collision with his own party thereby; never, perhaps, has there been
so striking an illustration of the incapacity of the public, swayed
by party passion, to understand a pure work of art. The effect of
the publication was widespread excitement in both political camps.
Everybody was, at the time, on the alert to see what would be the next
move on the political board. The recent Emancipation of the Serfs was
looked upon by Young Russia as only the prelude to many democratic
measures, while the Reactionists professed to see in that measure the
ruin of the country and the beginning of the end. The fast-increasing
antipathy between the Old Order and the New, like a fire, required
only a puff of wind to set it ablaze. And Bazarov’s character and aims
came as a godsend to the Reactionists, who hailed in it the portrait
of the insidious revolutionary ideas current in Young Russia; and they
hastened to crowd round Turgenev, ironically congratulating the former
champion of Liberalism on his penetration and honesty in unmasking the
Nihilist. But we will quote Turgenev’s own words:

“I will not enlarge on the effect produced by this novel. I will
only say that everywhere the word Nihilist was caught up by a
thousand tongues, and that on the day of the conflagration of the
Apraksinsky shops, when I arrived in St. Petersburg, the first
exclamation with which I was greeted was, ‘Just see what your
Nihilists are doing!’ … I experienced a coldness approaching to
indignation from people near and sympathetic to me. I received
congratulations, almost caresses, from people of the opposite camp,
from enemies. This confused me, wounded me; but my conscience did
not reproach me. I knew very well I had carried out honestly the
type I had sketched, carried it out not only without prejudice, but
positively with sympathy…. While some attack me for outraging
the Younger Generation, and promise me, with a laugh of contempt,
to burn my photograph, others, on the contrary, with indignation,
reproach me for my servile cringing to the Younger Generation….
‘You are grovelling at the feet of Bazarov. You pretend to find
fault with him, and you are licking the dust at his feet,’ says one
correspondent. Another critic represented M. Katkoff and me as two
conspirators, ‘plotting in the solitude of our chamber our traps
and slanders against the forces of Young Russia.’ An effective
picture!… My critics called my work a pamphlet, and referred to my
wounded and irritated vanity…. A shadow has fallen on my name. I
don’t deceive myself. I know that shadow will remain.”

Politics is a game where the mistakes and admissions of your adversary
are your good character in public opinion–a definition which goes far
to account for the easy predominance of the political sharper,–and
so Turgenev, the great artist, he who, in creating Bazarov for an
ungrateful public, to use his own words, “_simply did not know how to
work otherwise_,” found to his cost. The Younger Generation, irritated
by the public capital made out of Bazarov and his Nihilism by “the
Fathers,” flew into the other extreme, and refused to see in Bazarov
anything other than a _caricature_ of itself. It denied Bazarov was
of its number, or represented its views in any way; and to this day
surviving Nihilists will demonstrate warmly that the creation of his
sombre figure is “a mistake from beginning to end.” The reason for this
wholesale rejection of Bazarov is easy to account for; and Turgenev,
whose clear-sightedness about his works was unaffected either by
vanity, diffidence or the ignorant onslaughts of the whole tribe of
minor critics, penetrates at once to the heart of the matter:

“The whole ground of the misunderstanding lay in the fact that the
type of Bazarov had not time to pass through the usual phases. At
the very moment of his appearance the author attacked him. It was
a new method as well as a new type I introduced–that of Realizing
instead of Idealizing…. The reader is easily thrown into perplexity
when the author does not show clear sympathy or antipathy to his own
child. The reader readily gets angry…. After all, books exist to
entertain.”

An excellent piece of analysis and a quiet piece of irony this! The
character of Bazarov was in fact such an epitome of the depths of a
great movement that the mass of commonplace educated minds, the future
tools of the movement, looked on it with alarm, dislike and dread.
The average man will only recognize his own qualities in his fellows,
and endow a man with his own littlenesses. So Bazarov’s depth excited
the superficiality of the eternally omnipresent average mind. The
Idealists in the Younger Generation were mortally grieved to see that
Bazarov was not wholly inspired by their dreams; he went deeper, and
the average man received a shock of surprise that hurt his vanity. So
the hue and cry was raised around Turgenev, and raised only too well.
Bazarov is the most dominating of Turgenev’s creations, yet it brought
upon him secret distrust and calumny, undermined his influence with
those he was with at heart, and went far to damage his position as the
leading novelist of his day. The lesson is significant. No generation
ever understands itself; its members welcome eagerly their portraits
drawn by their friends, and the caricatures drawn by their adversaries;
but to the new type no mercy is shown, and everybody hastens to
misunderstand, to abuse, to destroy.

So widely indeed was Bazarov misunderstood that Turgenev once asserted,
“At this very moment there are only two people who have understood my
intentions–Dostoevsky and Botkin.”

And Dostoevsky was of the opposite camp–a Slavophil.

II

What, then, is Bazarov?

Time after time Turgenev took the opportunity, now in an article, now
in a private or a public letter, to repel the attacks made upon his
favourite character. Thus in a letter to a Russian lady[20] he says:

“What, you too say that in drawing Bazarov I wished to make a
caricature of the young generation. You repeat this–pardon my plain
speaking–idiotic reproach. Bazarov, my favourite child, on whose
account I quarrelled with Katkoff; Bazarov, on whom I lavished all
the colours at my disposal; Bazarov, this man of intellect, this
hero, a caricature! But I see it is useless for me to protest.”

[20] _Souvenirs sur Tourguéneff_, 1887.

And in a letter addressed to the Russian students at Heidelberg he
reiterates:

“_Flatter comme un caniche_, I did not wish; although in this way
I could no doubt have all the young men at once on my side; but I
was unwilling to buy popularity by concessions of this kind. It is
better to lose the campaign (and I believe I have lost it) than win
by this subterfuge. I dreamed of a sombre, savage and great figure,
only half emerged from barbarism, strong, _méchant_ and honest, and
nevertheless doomed to perish because it is always in advance of the
future. I dreamed of a strange parallel to Pugatchev. And my young
contemporaries shake their heads and tell me, ‘_Vous êtes foutu_, old
fellow. You have insulted us. Your Arkady is far better. It’s a pity
you haven’t worked him out a little more.’ There is nothing left for
me but, in the words of the gipsy song, ‘to take off my hat with a
very low bow.'”

What, then, is Bazarov?

Various writers have agreed in seeing in him only “criticism, pitiless,
barren, and overwhelming analysis, and the spirit of absolute
negation,” but this is an error. Representing the creed which has
produced the militant type of Revolutionist in every capital of Europe,
_he is the bare mind of Science first applied to Politics_. His own
immediate origin is German Science interpreted by that spirit of
logical intensity, Russian fanaticism, or devotion to the Idea, which
is perhaps the distinguishing genius of the Slav. But he represents
the roots of the modern Revolutionary movements in thought as well
as in politics, rather than the branches springing from those roots.
Inasmuch as the early work of the pure scientific spirit, knowing
itself to be fettered by the superstitions, the confusions, the
sentimentalities of the Past, was necessarily destructive, Bazarov’s
primary duty was to Destroy. In his essence, however, he stands
for _the sceptical conscience of modern Science_. His watchword is
_Reality_, and not Negation, as everybody in pious horror hastened to
assert Turgenev, whose first and last advice to young writers was,
“You need truth, remorseless truth, as regards your own sensations,”
was indeed moved to declare, “Except Bazarov’s views on Art, I share
almost all his convictions.” The crude materialism of the ‘sixties
was not the basis of the scientific spirit, it was merely its passing
expression; and the early Nihilists who denounced Art, the Family and
Social Institutions were simply freeing themselves from traditions
preparatory to a struggle that was inevitable. Again, though Bazarov
is a Democrat, perhaps his kinship with the people is best proved by
the contempt he feels for them. He stands forward essentially as an
Individual, with the “isms” that can aid him, mere tools in his hand;
Socialist, Communist or Individualist, in his necessary phases he
fought this century against the tyranny of centralized Governments,
and next century he will be fighting against the stupid tyranny of the
Mass. Looking at Bazarov however, as a type that has played its part
and vanished with its generation, as a man he is a new departure in
history. His appearance marks the dividing-line between two religions,
that of the Past–Faith, and that growing religion of to-day–Science.
His is the duty of breaking away from all things that men call Sacred,
and his savage egoism is essential to that duty. He is subject to
neither Custom nor Law. He is his own law, and is occupied simply
with the fact he is studying. He has thrown aside the ties of love
and duty that cripple the advance of the strongest men. He typifies
Mind grappling with Nature, seeking out her inexorable laws, Mind
in pure devotion to the What Is, in startling contrast to the minds
that follow their self-created kingdoms of What Appears and of What
Ought to Be. He is therefore a foe to the poetry and art that help to
increase Nature’s glamour over man by alluring him to yield to her; for
Bazarov’s great aim is to see Nature at work behind the countless veils
of illusions and ideals, and all the special functions of belief which
she develops in the minds of the masses to get them unquestioning to
do her bidding. Finally, Bazarov, in whom the comfortable compromising
English mind sees only a man of bad form, bad taste, bad manners and
overwhelming conceit, finally, Bazarov stands for Humanity awakened
from century-old superstitions and the long dragging oppressive dream
of tradition. Naked he stands under a deaf, indifferent sky, but he
feels and knows that he has the strong brown earth beneath his feet.

This type, though it has developed into a network of special branches
to-day, it is not difficult for us to trace as it has appeared and
disappeared in the stormy periods of the last thirty years. Probably
the genius and energy of the type was chiefly devoted to positive
Science, and not to Politics; but it is sufficient to glance at the
Revolutionary History, in theory and action, of the Continent to see
that every movement was inspired by the ideas of the Bazarovs, though
led by a variety of leaders. Just as the popular movements for Liberty
fifty years earlier found sentimental and _romantic_ expression in
Byronism, so the popular movements of our time have been realistic in
idea, and have looked to Science for their justification. Proudhon,
Bakunin, Karl Marx, the Internationals, the Russian Terrorists, the
Communists, all have a certain relation to Bazarov, but his nearest
kinsmen in these and other movements we believe have worked, and have
remained, obscure. It was a stroke of genius on Turgenev’s part to
make Bazarov die on the threshold unrecognized. He is Aggression,
destroyed in his destroying. And there are many reasons in life for the
Bazarovs remaining obscure. For one thing, their few disciples, the
Arkadys, do not understand them; for another, the whole swarm of little
interested persons who make up a movement are more or less engaged in
personal interests, and they rarely take for a leader a man who works
for his own set of truths, scornful of all cliques, penalties and
rewards. Necessarily, too, the Bazarovs work alone, and are given the
most dangerous tasks to accomplish unaided. Further, they are men whose
brutal and breaking force attracts ten men where it repels a thousand.
The average man is too afraid of Bazarov to come into contact with him.
Again, the Bazarovs, as Iconoclasts, are always unpopular in their own
circles. Yesterday in political life they were suppressed or exiled,
and even in Science they were the men who were supplanted before their
real claim was recognized, and to-day, when order reigns for a time,
the academic circles and the popular critics will demonstrate that
Bazarov’s existence was a mistake, and the crowd could have got on much
better without him.

The Crowd, the ungrateful Crowd! though for it Bazarov has wrested much
from effete or corrupt hands, and has fought and weakened despotic and
bureaucratic power, what has its opinion or memory to do with his brave
heroic figure? Yes, heroic, as Turgenev, in indignation with Bazarov’s
shallow accusers, was betrayed into defining his own creation, Bazarov,
whose very atmosphere is difficulty and danger, who cannot move without
hostility carrying as he does destruction to the old worn-out truths,
contemptuous of censure, still more contemptuous of praise, he goes his
way against wind and tide. Brave man, given up to his cause, whatever
it be, it is his joy _to stand alone_, watching the crowd as it races
wherever reward is and danger is not. It is Bazarov’s life to despise
honours, success, opinion, and to let nothing, not love itself, come
between him and his inevitable course, and, when death comes, to turn
his face to the wall, while in the street below he can hear the voices
of men cheering the popular hero who has last arrived. The Crowd!
Bazarov is the antithesis of the cowardice of the Crowd. That is the
secret why we love him.

III

As a piece of art _Fathers and Children_ is the most powerful of all
Turgenev’s works. The figure of Bazarov is not only the political
centre of the book, against which the other characters show up in
their respective significance, but a figure in which the eternal
tragedy of man’s impotence and insignificance is realized in scenes
of a most ironical human drama. How admirably this figure dominates
everything and everybody. Everything falls away before this man’s
biting sincerity. In turn the figureheads of Culture and Birth, Nicolai
and Pavel representing the Past; Arkady the sentimentalist representing
the Present; the father and mother representing the ties of family that
hinder a man’s life-work; Madame Odintsov embodying the fascination
of a beautiful woman–all fall into their respective places. But the
particular power of _Fathers and Children_, of epic force almost,
arises from the way in which Turgenev makes us feel the individual
human tragedy of Bazarov in relation to the perpetual tragedy
everywhere in indifferent Nature. In _On the Eve_ Turgenev cast his
figures against a poetic background by creating an atmosphere of War
and Patriotism. But in _Fathers and Children_ this poetic background
is Nature herself, Nature who sows, with the same fling of her hand,
life and death springing each from each, in the same rhythmical cast
of fate. And with Nature for the background, there comes the wonderful
sense conveyed to the reader throughout the novel, of the generations
with their fresh vigorous blood passing away quickly, a sense of
the coming generations, whose works, too, will be hurried away into
the background, a sense of the silence of Earth, while her children
disappear into the shadows, and are whelmed in turn by the inexorable
night. While everything in the novel is expressed in the realistic
terms of daily commonplace life, the characters appear now close to us
as companions, and now they seem like distant figures walking under
an immense sky; and the effect of Turgenev’s simply and subtly drawn
landscapes is to give us a glimpse of men and women in their actual
relation to their mother earth and the sky over their heads. This
effect is rarely conveyed in the modern Western novel, which deals so
much with purely indoor life; but the Russian novelist gained artistic
force for his tragedies by the vague sense ever present with him of
the enormous distances of the vast steppes, bearing on their bosom
the peasants’ lives, which serve as a sombre background to the life of
the isolated individual figures with which he is dealing. Turgenev has
availed himself of this hidden note of tragedy, and with the greatest
art he has made Bazarov, with all his ambition opening out before him,
and his triumph awaited, the eternal type of man’s conquering egoism
conquered by the pin-prick of death. Bazarov, who looks neither to
the right hand nor to the left, who delays no longer in his life-work
of throwing off the mind-forged manacles; Bazarov, who trusts not to
Nature, but would track the course of her most obscure laws; Bazarov,
in his keen pursuit of knowledge, is laid low by the weapon he has
selected to wield. His own tool, the dissecting knife, brings death to
him, and his body is stretched beside the peasant who had gone before.
Of the death scene, the great culmination of this great novel, it is
impossible to speak without emotion. The voice of the reader, whosoever
he be, must break when he comes to those passages of infinite pathos
where the father, Vassily Ivanovitch, is seen peeping from behind the
door at his dying son, where he cries, “Still living, my Yevgeny is
still living, and now he will be saved. Wife, wife!” And where, when
death has come, he cries, “I said I should rebel. I rebel, I rebel!”
What art, what genius, we can only repeat, our spirit humbled to the
dust by the exquisite solemnity of that undying simple scene of the old
parents at the grave, the scene where Turgenev epitomizes in one stroke
the infinite aspiration, the eternal insignificance of the life of man.

Let us end here with a repetition of a simple passage that, echoing
through the last pages of _Fathers and Children_, must find an echo
in the hearts of Turgenev’s readers: “‘To the memory of Bazarov,’
Katya whispered in her husband’s ear, … but Arkady did not venture
to propose the toast aloud.” We, at all events, can drink the toast
to-day as a poor tribute in recompense for those days when Turgenev in
life proposed it, and his comrades looked on him with distrust, with
coldness and with anger.

_Smoke_ was first published in 1867, several years after Turgenev
had fixed his home in Baden, with his friends the Viardots. Baden at
this date was a favourite resort for all circles of Russian society,
and Turgenev was able to study at his leisure his countrymen as they
appeared to foreign critical eyes. The novel is therefore the most
cosmopolitan of all Turgenev’s works. On a veiled background of the
great world of European society, little groups of representative
Russians, members of the aristocratic and the Young Russia parties, are
etched with an incisive, unfaltering hand. _Smoke_, as an historical
study, though it yields in importance to _Fathers and Children_ and
_Virgin Soil_, is of great significance to Russians. It might with
truth have been named _Transition_, for the generation it paints was
then midway between the early philosophical Nihilism of the ‘sixties
and the active political Nihilism of the ‘seventies.

Markedly transitional, however, as was the Russian mind of the days
of _Smoke_, Turgenev, with the faculty that distinguishes the great
artist from the artist of the second rank, the faculty of seeking out
and stamping the essential under confused and fleeting forms, has once
and for ever laid bare the fundamental weakness of the Slav nature, its
weakness of will. _Smoke_ is an attack, a deserved attack, not merely
on the Young Russia party, but on all the Parties; not on the old ideas
or the new ideas, but on the proneness of the Slav nature to fall a
prey to a consuming weakness, a moral stagnation, a feverish _ennui_,
the Slav nature that analyses everything with force and brilliancy,
and ends, so often, by doing nothing. _Smoke_ is the attack, bitter
yet sympathetic, of a man who, with growing despair, has watched
the weakness of his countrymen, while he loves his country all the
more for the bitterness their sins have brought upon it. _Smoke_ is
the scourging of a babbling generation, by a man who, grown sick to
death of the chatter of reformers and reactionists, is visiting the
sins of the fathers on the children, with a contempt out of patience
for the hereditary vice in the Slav blood. And this time the author
cannot be accused of partisanship by any blunderer. “A plague o’
both your houses” is his message equally to the Bureaucrats and the
Revolutionists. And so skilfully does he wield the thong that every
lash falls on the back of both parties. An exquisite piece of political
satire is _Smoke_; for this reason alone it would stand unique among
novels.

The attention that _Smoke_ aroused was immediate and great; but the
hue-and-cry that assailed it was even greater. The publication of the
book marks the final rupture between Turgenev and the party of Young
Russia. The younger generation never quite forgave him for drawing
Gubaryov and Bambaev, Voroshilov and Madame Suhantchikov–types,
indeed, in which all revolutionary or unorthodox parties are painfully
rich. Or, perhaps, Turgenev was forgiven for it when he was in his
grave, a spot where forgiveness flowers to a late perfection. And yet
the fault was not Turgenev’s. No, his last novel, _Virgin Soil_, bears
splendid witness that it was Young Russia that was one-eyed.

Let the plain truth here be set down. _Smoke_ is not a complete picture
of the Young Russia of the day; it was not yet time for that picture;
and that being so, Turgenev did the next best thing in attacking
the windbags, the charlatans and their crowd of shallow, chattering
followers, as well as the empty formulas of the _laissez-faire_ party.
It was inevitable that the attack should bring on him the anger of all
young enthusiasts working for “the Cause”; it was inevitable that “the
Cause” of reform in Russia should be mixed up with the Gubaryovs, just
as reforms in France a generation ago were mixed up with Boulanger;
and that Turgenev’s waning popularity for the last twenty years of his
life should be directly caused by his honesty and clear-sightedness
in regard to Russian Liberalism, was inevitable also. To be crucified
by those you have benefited is the cross of honour of all great,
single-hearted men.

But though the bitterness of political life flavours _Smoke_, although
its points of departure and arrival are wrapped in the atmosphere
of Russia’s dark and insoluble problems, nevertheless the two
central figures of the book, Litvinov and Irina, are not political
figures. Luckily for them, in Gubaryov’s words, they belong “to the
undeveloped.” Litvinov himself may be dismissed in a sentence. He
is Turgenev’s favourite type of man, a character much akin to his
own nature, gentle, deep and sympathetic. Turgenev often drew such a
character; Lavretsky, for example, in _A House of Gentlefolk_, is a
first cousin to Litvinov, an older and a sadder man.

But Irina–Irina is unique; for Turgenev has in her perfected her type
till she reaches a destroying witchery of fascination and subtlety.
Irina will stand for ever in the long gallery of great creations,
smiling with that enigmatical smile which took from Litvinov in a
glance half his life, and his love for Tatyana. The special triumph
of her creation is that she combines that exact balance between good
and evil which makes good women seem insipid beside her and bad women
unnatural. And, by nature irresistible, she is made doubly so to the
imagination by the situation which she re-creates between Litvinov and
herself. She ardently desires to become nobler, to possess all that
the ideal of love means for the heart of woman; but she has only the
power given to her of enervating the man she loves. Can she become a
Tatyana to him? No, to no man. She is born to corrupt, yet never to
be corrupted. She rises mistress of herself after the first measure
of fatal delight. And, never giving her whole heart absolutely to her
lover, she, nevertheless, remains ever to be desired.

Further, her wit, her scorn, her beauty preserve her from all the
influences of evil she does not deliberately employ. Such a woman is
as old and as rare a type as Helen of Troy. It is most often found
among the mistresses of great princes, and it was from a mistress of
Alexander II. that Turgenev modelled Irina.

Of the minor characters, Tatyana is an astonishing instance of
Turgenev’s skill in drawing a complete character with half a dozen
strokes of the pen. The reader seems to have known her intimately all
his life–her family life, her girlhood, her goodness and individual
ways to the smallest detail; yet she only speaks on two or three
occasions. Potugin is but a weary shadow of Litvinov, but it is
difficult to say how much this is a telling refinement of art. The
shadow of this prematurely exhausted man is cast beforehand by Irina
across Litvinov’s future. For Turgenev to have drawn Potugin as an
ordinary individual would have vulgarized the novel and robbed it of
its skilful proportions, for Potugin is one of those shadowy figures
which supply the chiaroscuro to a brilliant etching.

As a triumphant example of consummate technical skill, _Smoke_ will
repay the most exact scrutiny. There are a lightness and a grace about
the novel that conceal its actual strength. The political argument
glides with such ease in and out of the love story, that the hostile
critic is absolutely baffled; and while the most intricate steps are
executed in the face of a crowd of angry enemies, the performer lands
smiling and in safety. The art by which Irina’s disastrous fascination
results in falsity, and Litvinov’s desperate striving after sincerity
ends in rehabilitation–the art by which these two threads are spun,
till their meaning colours the faint political message of the book, is
so delicate that, like the silken webs which gleam only for the first
fresh hours in the forest, it leaves no trace, but becomes a dream in
the memory. And yet this book, which has the freshness of windy rain
and the whirling of autumn leaves, is the story of disintegrating
weakness, of the passion that saps and paralyses, that renders life
despicable, as Turgenev himself says. _Smoke_ is the finest example in
literature of a subjective psychological study of passion rendered
clearly and objectively in terms of art. Its character–we will not
say its superiority–lies in the extraordinary clearness with which
the most obscure mental phenomena are analysed in relation to the
ordinary values of daily life. At the precise point of psychological
analysis where Tolstoy wanders and does not convince the reader, and
at the precise point where Dostoevsky’s analysis seems exaggerated and
obscure, like a figure looming through the mist, Turgenev throws a ray
of light from the outer to the inner world of man, and the two worlds
are revealed in the natural depths of their connection. It is in fact
difficult to find among the great modern artists men whose natural
balance of intellect can be said to equalize their special genius. The
Greeks alone present to the world a spectacle of a triumphant harmony
in the critical and creative mind of man, and this is their great
pre-eminence. But _Smoke_ presents the curious feature of a novel (Slav
in virtue of its modern psychological genius) which is classical in
its treatment and expression throughout; the balance of Turgenev’s
intellect reigns ever supreme over the natural morbidity of his
subject.