A writer, Mr. Robert Lynd, has said: “It is the custom when praising a
Russian writer to do so at the expense of all other Russian writers. It
is as though most of us were monotheists in our devotion to authors,
and could not endure to see any respect paid to the images of the
rivals of the gods of the moment. And so one year Tolstoy is laid prone
as Dagon, and another year, Turgenev. And no doubt the day will come
when Dostoevsky will fall from his huge eminence.”

One had hoped that the disease, long endemic in Russia, of disparaging
Turgenev, would not have spread to England, but some enthusiastic
explorers of things Russian came back home with a mild virus and
communicated the spores of the misunderstanding. That misunderstanding,
dating at least fifty years back, was part of the polemics of the rival
Russian political parties. The Englishman who finds it strange that
Turgenev’s pictures of contemporary Russian life should have excited
such angry heat and raised such clouds of acrimonious smoke may imagine
the fate of a great writer in Ireland to-day who should go on his
way serenely, holding the balance level between the Unionists, the
Nationalists, the Sinn Féin, the people of Dublin, and the people of
Belfast. The more impartial were his pictures as art, the louder would
rise the hubbub that his types were “exceptional,” that his insight
was “limited,” that he did not understand either the politicians or
the gentry or the peasants, that he had not fathomed all that was in
each “movement,” that he was palming off on us heroes who had “no real
existence.” And, in the sense that Turgenev’s serene and beautiful art
excludes thousands of aspects that filled the newspapers and the minds
of his contemporaries, his detractors have reason.

Various Russian critics, however, whom Mr. Maurice Baring, and a French
biographer, M. Haumant, have echoed, have gone further, and in their
critical ingenuity have mildly damned the Russian master’s creations.
It seems to these gentlemen that there is a great deal of water in
Turgenev’s wine. Mr. Baring tells us that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
“reached the absolute truth of the life which was round them,” and that
“people are beginning to ask themselves whether Turgenev’s pictures
are true (!), whether the Russians that he describes ever existed,
and whether the praise which was bestowed upon him by his astonished
contemporaries all over Europe was not a gross exaggeration.”

“Turgenev painted people of the same epoch, the same generation; he
dealt with the same material; he dealt with it as an artist and as
a poet, as a great artist and a great poet. But his vision was weak
and narrow compared with that of Tolstoy, and his understanding was
cold and shallow compared with that of Dostoevsky. His characters
beside those of Tolstoy seem caricatures, and beside those of
Dostoevsky they are conventional…. When all is said, Turgenev was
a great poet. What time has not taken away from him, and what time
can never take away, is the beauty of his language and the poetry in
his work…. Turgenev never wrote anything better than the book which
brought him fame, the _Sportsman’s Sketches_. In this book nearly the
whole of his talent finds expression.

* * * * *

“No one can deny that the characters of Turgenev live; they are
intensely vivid. Whether they are true to life is another question.
The difference between the work of Tolstoy and Turgenev is this: that
Turgenev’s characters are as living as any characters are in books,
but they belong, comparatively speaking, to bookland and are thus
conventional; whereas Tolstoy’s characters belong to life. The fault
which Russian critics find with Turgenev’s characters is that they
are exaggerated, that there is an element of caricature in them, and
that they are permeated by the faults of the author’s own character,
namely, his weakness, and, above all, his self-consciousness.

“… Than Bazarov there is no character in the whole of his work
which is more alive … (but he is) a book-character, extraordinarily
vivid and living though he be…. Dostoevsky’s Nihilists, however
outwardly fantastic they may seem, are inwardly not only truer,
but the very quintessence of truth…. (_Virgin Soil_) Here in the
opinion of all Russian judges, and of most latter-day judges who
have knowledge of the subject, he failed. In describing the official
class, although he does this with great skill and cleverness, he
makes a gallery of caricatures; and the revolutionaries whom he sets
before us as types, however good they may be as fiction, are not the
real thing.

“The lapse of years has only emphasized the elements of banality–and
conventionality–which are to be found in Turgenev’s work. He is
a masterly landscape painter; but even here he is not without
convention. His landscapes are always orthodox Russian landscapes,
and are seldom varied. He seems never to get face to face with
nature, after the manner of Wordsworth; he never gives us any
elemental pictures of nature, such as Gorky succeeds in doing in a
phrase; but he rings the changes on delicate arrangements of wood,
cloud, mist, and water, vague backgrounds and diaphanous figures,
after the manner of Corot.”–_Landmarks in Russian Literature_, pp.

It is obvious from the above criticisms of Mr. Baring and the Russian
critics whom he represents that what is the matter with Turgenev
in their eyes is his “vision,” his “temperament.” They admire his
language, his beautiful style: they pay lip service to him as “a
poet.” They even admit that he was “a great artist,” but they do
not suspect that his intellectual pre-eminence is disguised from
them by his very aesthetic qualities, balance, contrast, grouping,
perspective, harmony of form and perfect modelling, qualities in
which Turgenev not only far surpasses Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but any
nineteenth-century European. Further, it is evident that these critics,
having themselves never seen or felt in nature’s life those shades of
“truth” which Turgenev’s poetical vision reveals to us, imagine that
such have no “real” existence! Otherwise these critics would have laid
stress on these special shades and tones and not passed them by with
a perfunctory nod. One may go further and assert that it is precisely
this same “poetic vision” which irritates Turgenev’s detractors;
they resent it, because it conflicts with the more prosaic, everyday
point of view. They mean by “truth” something both more photographic
and commonplace, something more striking or more ordinary in the
“lighting,” something observed with less beautiful shades of feeling,
less exquisitely stamped and recorded in classical contours.

Let us examine some of these charges. “Turgenev’s characters are
as living as any in books, but they belong, comparatively speaking,
to bookland, and are thus conventional.” But why _conventional_?
Why damn all the great creations in _books_, from Don Quixote
downwards, as bookish? Are Turgenev’s women characters, say Maria
Nikolaevna, Zinaïda, Varvara Pavlovna, Irene, Elena, Anna Martinovna,
creations which are more highly individualized than are Tolstoy’s
women, conventional? No more than are Shakespeare’s women, Lady
Macbeth, Imogen, Juliet, Beatrice, Desdemona, Portia. Mr. Baring
cannot mean this absurdity. But he repeats the charge “Bazarov is a
‘book-character,’ extraordinarily vivid and living though he be,”
evidently thinking that because Bazarov is a figure synthesizing social
tendencies and a mental attitude peculiar to his time, he is inferior
as a creation to, say, Tolstoy’s Vronsky. On the contrary, that is why
Bazarov is both psychologically and humanly a much more interesting
figure, and one higher in the creative scale than Vronsky. Nature
denied Tolstoy the power of constructing a Rudin or a Bazarov. It is
because these types are personifications incarnate of tendencies,
traits, and a special mode of thought and action of a particular
period, and yet are brimming with individual life, that they are _sui
generis, and are irreplaceable creations_. This is Turgenev’s glory. We
have only to compare Rudin or Bazarov with such heroes as Lermontov’s
Petchorin or Herzen’s Beltoff to recognize that while these latter
have all the force of autobiography, they are not shown us in the
round. Mr. Baring has been seduced, one imagines, by our generation’s
preference for the “photographic likeness” in art, which nevertheless,
at critical moments, often leaves us in the air: for example, the
scene of Vronsky’s attempted suicide in _Anna Karenin_. Turgenev could
never have been guilty of this piece of banal, doubtful psychology.
And the latter-day school of Russian critics, when they ask with Mr.
Baring, “Did men ever meet the double of a Bazarov or a Rudin in flesh
and in blood? if not, then these characters are bookishly exaggerated
or have an element of caricature in them,” may be asked in reply,
“Did you ever meet Dostoevsky’s Alyosha or Prince Myshkin walking
and talking in life?” Again, are not three-fourths of Dostoevsky’s
people permeated by “the faults of the author’s own character”? Do
they not behave extravagantly or fantastically in a manner all their
own? Is there not a strong element of caricature in them? Of course
there is, and Mr. Baring and his Russian critics delight in it, and
for that very reason exalt Dostoevsky above Turgenev. They exalt the
exaggerated Satanic element in Dostoevsky’s work, even while they
declare “Dostoevsky’s Nihilists are not only truer than Turgenev’s,
but the _very quintessence of truth_”! We are more humble in our
claims for Nezhdanov and Marianna and Mashurina in _Virgin Soil_; we
do not assert that they are “the very quintessence of truth”; but we
know that these creations are not “caricatures” in the sense that
Stepan Trofimovitch and Karmazinov in _The Possessed_ are caricatures.
We know, on the contrary, that Turgenev’s Nihilists, in Kropotkin’s
words, are real representatives of “the very earliest phases of the
movement…. Turgenev had, with his wonderful intuition, caught some of
the most striking features of the movement, viz. the early promoters’
‘Hamletism,’ and their misconception of the peasantry.” How curious
it is that Stepniak and Kropotkin, who themselves lived with and
knew intimately these early Nihilists, bear witness to the truth of
Turgenev’s portraiture, while MM. Baring and Brückner and Haumant,
these critics of our own generation, tell us “Turgenev’s Nihilists are
not the real thing”! While admitting that Turgenev had his comparative
failures, such as Insarov in _On the Eve_, one observes that Turgenev’s
detractors demand from his social pictures what they demand from no
other of his contemporaries, “the whole objective truth and nothing
but the truth.” And this curious demand, fundamentally at the root of
the widespread misunderstanding about Turgenev’s work, has been spread
and caught up and re-echoed by the great tribe of partisan critics,
political propagandists, Slavophils, reactionaries, progressives,
for two generations. Necessarily Turgenev, this consummate artist
whose contemporary pictures synthesize many aspects of the social
and political movements of his time, colours and tones his work with
his own personality, as do all the other great creators. Just as the
hero, Olenin in _The Cossacks_, Levin in _Anna Karenin_, and Pierre
in _War and Peace_, are projections of Tolstoy’s individuality, so
Lavretski, Litvinov, Sanin, and other characters, are projections of
Turgenev’s personality. It is the same with Fielding, with Balzac and
Maupassant, with Dostoevsky and Gontcharov, whose characters also “are
compacted of the result of their observation, with all their own inner
feelings, their loves and hates, their anger and disdain.” But only
in Turgenev’s case, it appears, it is a sin that the creations should
contain a certain amount of “subjective reality.” It must therefore
be the case that it is precisely Turgenev’s “temperament” which is at
fault in the eyes of critics who assert that “his vision was weak and
narrow compared with that of Tolstoy, and his understanding was cold
and shallow compared with that of Dostoevsky.” How curious that the
vision which created _Fathers and Children_ and _The Poems in Prose_
should have been relatively weak and narrow! and that the understanding
which created _A House of Gentlefolk_ and _A Sportsman’s Sketches_
should have been cold and shallow! And yet in the same breath we are
instructed that Turgenev “dealt with his generation as a great poet and
a great artist.” A great poet with a relatively weak and narrow vision,
a great artist with a relatively cold and shallow understanding! This
is an enigma to us, but not to Turgenev’s detractors.

No! One must fall back on other explanations of Turgenev’s comparative
unpopularity. The first is that beauty of form, a master’s sense of
composition, an exquisite feeling for balance are less and less prized
in modern opinion. Our age has turned its back on the masters possessed
of these classic qualities. Modern life flows along congested roads,
and modern art responds in bewilderment to an embarrassment of forces.
Corot’s example in painting is no longer extolled save by the true
connoisseur. The grace of beauty is more or less out of fashion. The
wider becomes the circle of modern readers and the more the audience
enfolds the great bourgeois class, the less are form, clarity and
beauty prized. The second explanation is that the inspiration of Love,
and the range of exquisite feelings of Love, so manifest in Turgenev’s
vision, are slightly _vieux jeu_. When Dostoevsky is sentimental, as in
_The Insulted and Injured_, he turns one’s stomach. It is impossible
to read him, so false, exaggerated and unreal are his characters’
emotions. But when Turgenev is sentimental, as he is in passages in
_The Diary of a Superfluous Man_, _A Correspondence_, _Faust_, one
finds oneself to be in the atmosphere of a faded drawing-room of the
“‘forties.” This perishable element undoubtedly exists in some of
Turgenev’s short stories: it was the heritage he received from the
Romantic movement of his fathers, and occasionally, here and there,
streaks of this romanticism appear and are detrimental to the firm and
delicate objectivity of his creations. But, apart from the question
of these streaks of sentimentalism, it is obvious that Turgenev in
his attitude towards love and women is nearer to Shakespeare than is,
say, Tchehov. Liza and Elena are almost as far removed from the range
of our modern creators as are Imogen and Desdemona. It is not that we
do not believe firmly in their existence, but that the changed social
atmosphere of our times does not so sharply develop and outline woman’s
spiritual characteristics: such heroines are now free to act in many
directions denied to Turgenev’s heroines. A girl might say, to-day, of
Elena, “Grandmother was like that! so father says, and grandfather saw
her like that! Isn’t it interesting?” And this change in our social
atmosphere, undoubtedly, is a bar to Turgenev’s popularity in the eyes
of the younger generation.

Again, despite the change of fashion in schools of landscape painters,
it is amusing to hear that Turgenev–“this masterly landscape
painter”–is charged with “never getting face to face with nature,
after the manner of Wordsworth–and Gorky”! But Mr. Baring is echoing
his French authority, M. Haumant, who in turn is modestly echoing, it
would seem, MM. Mihaïlovsky and Strahov.[1] These eminent authorities
on nature are agreed in comparing Turgenev with Corot, “whose subjects
and methods scarcely alter.” Vogüé, who knew the province of Orel,
Turgenev’s country, however, does not agree. He says pointedly, “One
has to live in the country described by Turgenev to admire how on every
page he corroborates our personal impressions, how he brings back to
our soul every emotion experienced, and to our senses every subtle
odour breathed in that country.” This seems explicit.

[1] _Tourguénief, la vie et l’œuvre._ Par Émile Haumant. Paris, 1906.

Never getting face to face with nature! Could a more baseless charge
have been made, one falsified by the innermost spirit of Turgenev’s
work, and by countless passages in his writings, of the most intimate
observation?[2] We cite a specimen from _A Tour in the Forest_,
showing the penetrating freshness and warmth of his description:

“I fed my horses, and I too was ferried over. After struggling for
a couple of miles through the boggy prairie, I got at last on to a
narrow raised wooden causeway to a clearing in the forest. The cart
jolted unevenly over the round beams of the causeway; I got out and
went along on foot. The horses moved in step, snorting and shaking
their heads from the gnats and flies. The forest took us into its
bosom. On the outskirts, nearer to the prairie, grew birches, aspens,
limes, maples, and oaks. Then they met us more rarely. The dense
firwood moved down on us in an unbroken wall. Further on were the
red, bare trunks of pines, and then again a stretch of mixed copse,
overgrown with underwood of hazelnut, mountain ash, and bramble, and
stout, vigorous weeds. The sun’s light threw a brilliant light on
the tree-tops, and, filtering through the branches, here and there
reached the ground in pale streaks and patches. Birds I scarcely
heard–they do not like great forests. Only from time to time there
came the doleful and thrice-repeated call of a hoopoe, and the angry
screech of a nut-hatch or a jay; a silent, always a solitary bird
kept fluttering across the clearing, with a flash of golden azure
from its lovely feathers. At times the trees grew further apart,
ahead of us the light broke in, the cart came out on a cleared,
sandy, open space. Thin rye was growing over it in rows, noiselessly
nodding its pale ears. On one side there was a dark, dilapidated
little chapel with a slanting cross over a well. An unseen brook
was bubbling peacefully with changing, ringing sounds, as though it
were flowing into an empty bottle. And then suddenly the road was
cut in half by a birch-tree recently fallen, and the forest stood
around, so old, lofty and slumbering, that the air seemed pent in.
In places the clearing lay under water. On both sides stretched
a forest bog, all green and dark, all covered with reeds and tiny
alders. Ducks flew up in pairs, and it was strange to see those
water-birds darting rapidly about among the pines. ‘Ga, ga, ga, ga,’
their drawn-out call kept rising unexpectedly. Then a shepherd drove
a flock through the underwood; a brown cow with short, pointed horns
broke noisily through the bushes, and stood stock-still at the edge
of the clearing, her big dark eyes fixed on the dog running before
me. A slight breeze brought the delicate pungent smell of burnt wood.
A white smoke in the distance crept in eddying rings over the pale,
blue forest air, showing that a peasant was charcoal-burning for a
glass-factory or for a foundry. The further we went on, the darker
and stiller it became all round us. In the pine-forest it is always
still; there is only, high overhead, a sort of prolonged murmur
and subdued roar in the tree tops…. One goes on and on, and this
eternal murmur of the forest never ceases, and the heart gradually
begins to sink, and a man longs to come out quickly into the open,
into the daylight; he longs to draw a full breath again, and is
oppressed by the pungent damp and decay.”–_A Tour in the Forest_,
pp. 105-107.

[2] “Their predecessors had lived more or less with Nature, but had
always looked upon her as something foreign to themselves, with an
existence separated from theirs. In Tourguéniev’s case this external
intercourse becomes a fusion, a mutual pervasion. He feels and
recognizes portions of his own being in the wind that shakes the trees,
in the light that beams on surrounding objects….”–_A History of
Russian Literature_, by K. Waliszewski, p. 290.

Anybody who has lived amid forests and woods must agree that in
the passage above Turgenev has seized with unerring exactitude the
character, the breath itself of a great woodland, and similarly all
his descriptions of nature in _A Sportsman’s Sketches_ are inspired
by profound sensitiveness and close fidelity. “Vague backgrounds and
diaphanous figures!” This is the accusation of townsmen.

Another and more insidious line of critical detraction has been
followed by M. Haumant in _Ivan Tourguénief, la vie et l’œuvre_, a
volume, painstaking and well documented, assuredly of great interest
to the student. Intent on his efforts to track down to their source
“the origins of Turgenev’s thoughts,” the French critic has forgotten
to applaud the aesthetic appeal, and the very perfection of these
creations! It is as though a critic of Keats, in trying to discover
“the sources” of “Hyperion” or “An Ode to a Grecian Urn,” had neglected
to appraise the imperishable essence of these masterpieces. Thus
M. Haumant, searching profoundly for “echoes” in Turgenev’s “inner
voices,” gravely informs us that in _The Brigadier_ Turgenev has
constructed “a Russian Werther”! while a passage in _Phantoms_, it
appears, is inspired by a passage in De Quincey’s _Confessions of
an Opium-Eater_. A page is devoted to the discussion of the latter
conjecture,[3] but nothing at all is said as to the unique spiritual
beauty and the haunting atmosphere of these tales. And _A Lear of
the Steppes_, that masterpiece, incomparable in its force of genius,
is dismissed in half a line! The effect of such “comments,” both on
those who know and those who do not know their Turgenev, is equally
unfortunate. For it really looks, but of course one may be wrong, as
though the French critic, like his latter-day Russian _confrères_,
did not recognize a masterpiece when he sees one. Has not, indeed,
a Russian literary teacher, A. D. Alfyorov, publicly declared that
“Turgenev’s work is, of course, only of historical importance.”

[3] Haumant, p. 174.

But enough! Indeed one may well be asked, Is it necessary to defend
so great a classic as Turgenev against modern criticisms of this
character? Perhaps it is not a mere waste of time, for certain reasons.
Turgenev’s supremacy, as artist, accepted by the _élite_ in France,
Renan, Taine, Flaubert, Maupassant, etc., and by the best European
critics, such as Brandes, was impaired in Russian eyes by his growing
unpopularity after 1867. Brückner says justly:

“To the intelligent Russian, without a free press, without liberty of
assembly, without the right to free expression of opinion, literature
became the last refuge of his freedom of thought, the only means of
propagating higher ideas. He expected and demanded of his country’s
literature not merely aesthetic recreation; he placed it at the
service of everything noble and good, of his aspiration, of the
enlightenment and emancipation of the spirit. _Hence the striking
partiality, nay, unfairness, displayed by the Russians towards the
most perfect works of their own literature when they did not answer
to the claims or the expectations of their party or their day. A
purely aesthetic handling of the subject would not gain it full

Indeed, to read the contemporary Russian onslaughts directed against
Turgenev’s successive masterpieces is to imagine one must be dreaming.
Nearly every popular critic of the periodical press, righteous or
self-righteous, is seen, tape-measure in hand, arbitrarily finding
fault with Turgenev’s subject, conception and treatment, disdaining or
ignoring its aesthetic force, beauty and harmonious perfection. It is
a crowd of critical gnats dancing airily round the great master and
eagerly driving their little stings into his flesh. Even before the
publication of _Smoke_ (1867) Turgenev was accused of being _out of
date_, and his frequent spells of residence abroad, at Baden, Paris,
etc. (though he returned to Russia nearly every year), and his “life
devotion” to a foreigner, Madame Viardot, helped to consolidate the
story that he no longer knew the Russia of the day. And indeed there
is truth in the dictum that Turgenev was pre-eminently a chronicler of
the Pre-Reform days, or as he himself said, “a writer of the transition
period.” But the bulk of his works, even those into which no tendency
could be read, such as _The Torrents of Spring_ or _A Lear of the
Steppes_, was never properly appreciated as aesthetic creations, so
deeply imbued was the intelligent Russian with the “war-like” criticism
of Drobrolubov, Tchernyshevsky, Pisarev, Mihaïlovsky, etc., critics
who, in Brückner’s words, “relegated aesthetics to ladies’ society, and
turned its critical report into a sort of pulpit for moral and social
preaching.” A strong reaction in Turgenev’s favour was manifested at
the Pushkin statue celebration in Moscow, 1879, and at his funeral
obsequies in Petersburg, 1883, when two hundred and eighty-five
deputations met at his grave. But, later, MM. Mihaïlovsky and Strahov,
and latterly MM. Haumant, Brückner and Baring, have declared that
“the general admiration” for Turgenev’s genius has greatly weakened,
and that Turgenev’s star has paled before the stars of Tolstoy and
Dostoevsky. This undercutting style of criticism–“They shadow you with
Homer, knock you flat with Shakespeare,” as Meredith puts it–seems
a little clumsy when one reflects that not merely in vision and
temperament, but in aesthetic quality, Turgenev is irreplaceable. The
spiritual kingdoms of Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are separated
as widely as are the kingdoms of Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley. It is
true that for our triumphant bourgeoisies, who, bewildered, grapple
with the rich profusion of facts, problems and aspects of our congested
civilization, _quality_ in art is little understood or prized. And
Turgenev, by his art’s harmonious union of form and subject, of grace
and strength, of thought and emotion, in fact belongs, as Renan said,
to the school of Greek perfection.

Since Turgenev is pre-eminently an intellectual force, as well as
an artist with a consummate sense of beauty, it is difficult for a
critic to hold the balance equitably between the social significance
of Turgenev’s pictures of life and the beauty of his vision. Far too
little attention has been paid to him as artist. This is no doubt
not merely due to the fact that while the majority of critics either
naïvely ignore or take for granted his supreme quality, the more
perfect is a work of art the more impossible is it to do it critical
justice. The great artists, as Botticelli, who are peculiarly mannered,
it is far easier to criticize and comment on than is a great artist,
as Praxiteles, whose harmony of form conceals subtleties of technique
unique in spiritual handling. The discussion of technical beauties,
however, is not only a thankless business but tends to defeat its own
object. It is better to seek to appreciate the spirit of a master, and
to dwell on his human value rather than on his aesthetic originality.
The present writer need scarcely add that he is dissatisfied with his
inadequate discussion of Turgenev’s masterpieces, but fragmentary as it
is, he believes his is almost the only detailed attempt yet made in the
English language.

“All my life is in my works,” said Turgenev, and his biographers’
account of his education and youth reveals how it was that from the
age of twenty-three Turgenev was to become both an interpreter of
the Russian mind to Europe and an interpreter of Western culture to
his countrymen. His father, Sergey Ivanovitch, a handsome, polished
officer of impoverished but ancient family, married an heiress, Varvara
Petrovna Lutovinov, and their eldest son, Ivan Sergeyevitch, was born,
October 28, 1818, at Orel, in central Russia. The natural loathing
of the soft, poetic and impulsive boy for tyrannical harshness was
accentuated by his parents’, especially by his mother’s, severity,
unmerited whippings and punishments being his portion in the “noble
and opulent country-house” at Spasskoe, where foreign tutors and
governesses succeeded one another quickly. That Turgenev had before
his eyes from his childhood in his capricious and despotic mother a
distressing object-lesson of a typical Russian vice, viz. unbridled
love of power, could only deepen his instinct for siding with weak and
gentle natures. Turgenev’s psychological penetration into hard, coarse
and heartless characters, so antithetic to his own, seems surprising
till we learn that the unscrupulous and cruel “Lutchinov,” the hero
of _Three Portraits_, was drawn from a maternal ancestor. From the
Lutovinov family, cruel, despotic and grasping, Turgenev no doubt
inherited a mental strand which enabled him to fathom the workings of
hardness and cruelty in others. The injustice and humiliations he and
his brothers, along with a large household of dependents, suffered at
Madame Turgenev’s hands,[4] early aroused in him a detestation of the
system of serfdom. The touching story of _Mumu_, in which the deaf and
dumb house-porter’s sweetheart is forced to marry another man, while
he himself is ordered to drown his pet dog by his mistress’s caprice,
is a true domestic chronicle. Though Madame Turgenev dearly loved
her son Ivan Sergeyevitch, whose sweet and tender nature influenced
her for good, her insatiable desire to domineer over others, and her
violent outbursts of rage kept the household trembling before her
whims. “Nobody had a right to sustain in her presence any ideas which
contradicted her own,” while her jealousy of her handsome husband’s
_affaires de cœur_ embittered her days.[5] She herself had been
the victim of her own upbringing, and remembered with loathing her
step-father’s lust and cruelty. Turgenev therefore was early inoculated
with an aversion for tyrannizing in any shape or form, as well as for
the prevalent forms of oppression, official or social, under Nicholas
I., and as his biographers tell us, the Turgenevs were a stock noted
for “a hatred of slavery and for noble and humane temperaments.”[6]

[4] See “La mère d’Ivan Turguenieff,” in _Tourguénieff Inconnu_, par
Michel Delines.

[5] See the story _First Love_, where Turgenev describes his parents’

[6] Brückner’s _A Literary History of Russia_, p. 338.

A second potent influence that turned the youthful Turgenev’s face
definitely towards the West was his lengthy tour in Europe, 1838-41.
His early education at Moscow University had been completed at the
University of St. Petersburg, where his family had removed after his
father’s death in 1835, and where as a shy youth he saw the two
great authors, Gogol and Pushkin, whose literary example was to have
a profound influence on his own work. German philosophy, especially
Hegel’s, was at this epoch fashionable in Russia, and Turgenev, after
setting out on his tour with his mother’s blessing, attended by a
valet, arrived in Berlin, where he drank deep of Goethe’s, Schiller’s
and Heine’s works, and where his ardent discussions with his circle
of students on life, art, politics and metaphysics crystallized his
aspirations for European culture. A tour on the Rhine, in Switzerland
and in Italy effectually widened his outlook, and he returned to
Spasskoe in 1841, bringing with him his narrative poem “Parasha.”

Undoubtedly conflicting influences, such as Byron, Pushkin and
Lermontov, are visible in Turgenev’s youthful, romantic poems,
“Parasha,” and various others (1837-47), which we shall not discuss
here, or his half-dozen plays (1845-52), which last, however excellent,
did not give his genius sufficient scope.[7] Much ingenuity has been
exercised, especially by French critics,[8] in ascribing Turgenev’s
literary debts to authors as diverse as Maria Edgeworth, Victor Hugo,
Balzac, Schiller, Goethe, Heine, Auerbach, Dal, Grigorovitch, Dickens,
etc. But it would be a waste of time to analyse Turgenev’s work for
traces of contemporary authors, though George Sand’s stories of French
peasant life had undoubtedly deeply influenced him. With Pushkin as
classical model for clarity of style, and with Gogol as his model for
direct painting from everyday life, Turgenev belongs to “the natural
school” of the ‘forties, the school of the realists championed by
the critic Byelinsky, then all-powerful with the rising men. It is
true that a vein of romanticism crops up here and there in various of
Turgenev’s tales, and that a definite strain of lyrical sentimentalism
in occasional passages may be credited to German influence. But in
almost his first story, _The Duellist_ (1846), we find a complete break
with the traditions of the romantic school, traditions which are indeed
here turned inside out.[9] Here it is evident that a new master is in
the field, “a painter of realities” as Byelinsky soon declared.[10] The
story is of much significance, as exemplifying Turgenev’s clear-eyed,
deep apprehension of character, and his creative penetration through
_beauty of feeling_. It is to be noted how the coarse bullying
insolence of the officer, Lutchkov (who out of envious spleen kills
in a duel his friend, the refined and generous Kister), is betrayed
_by the absence of any tender or chivalrous emotion for women_. Filled
with his own male self-complacency, and contemptuous of women, Lutchkov
comes to his interview with the fresh, innocent girl Masha, whom he
alarms by his coarse swagger. To cover his brutal egoistic feeling he
roughly kisses the shrinking girl, but she shudders and darts away.
“What are you afraid of? Come, stop that…. That’s all nonsense,”
he says hoarsely, as he approaches her, terribly confused, with a
disagreeable smile on his twisted lips, while patches of red came out
on his face.

[7] “Parasha” was warmly praised by Byelinsky in 1843, in an article in
_Annals of the Fatherland_. Of the six Plays, which were revived from
time to time, _The Bachelor_ (1849) is perhaps the strongest. In later
years Turgenev disclaimed any interest in his dramas, and declared that
towards his poems he felt an antipathy almost physical.

[8] Haumant, Delines, Waliszewski, etc.

[9] M. Haumant has been at great pains to show that Turgenev in his
early prose and verse “commenced by appropriating the form and the
subjects of the romantics of the ‘twenties and the ‘thirties, that his
‘half revolt’ against the romantic convention became accentuated later,
and that we find in the plays and poems a ‘degradation of the romantic
heroes’ of Pushkin and Lermontov” (Haumant, pp. 113-122). Although
there is not a little truth in his thesis, M. Haumant has forgotten to
add that the _social atmosphere_ of the preceding generation, as well
as of its literature, music and art, was “romantic,” and that the youth
of the period, as well as the heroes of Goethe and Stendhal, did act,
think and feel in a “romantic” manner.

[10] Byelinsky, in his criticism on _Hor and Kalinitch_, says: “His
talent is not suited to true lyrics. He can only paint from real
life what he has seen or _studied_. He can create, but only with the
materials given by nature. It is not a copy of the real; nature has
not given the author innate ideas, but he has to find them; the author
transforms the real, following his artistic ideal, and so his picture
becomes more living. He knows how to render faithfully a character or
a fact he has observed…. Nature has given Turgenev this capacity of
observing, of understanding, and of appreciating faithfully and quickly
each fact, of divining its cause and consequences, and, when facts are
lacking, of supplying the factors by just divination.”

Could anything describe better the brutal spirit of the man who, out
of spiteful envy, to revenge his slighted self-love, kills his own
friend, Kister, in a duel? Turgenev’s description of Kister must be
remarked, for the latter in his “good nature, modesty, warm-heartedness
and _natural inclination for everything beautiful_” is the twin-soul
of his creator. Turgenev’s lifelong readiness to lose sight of himself
in appreciation of others, even of the men who abused his good offices
and repaid him with ingratitude, was notorious.[11] One may assert that
Turgenev’s character was thus early expressed in four dominant traits,
viz. a generous tenderness of heart, an enthusiasm for the good,
sensitiveness to beauty of form and feeling, an infinite capacity for
the passion of love. These qualities are manifest in his first work of
importance, _A Sportsman’s Sketches_ (1847-51), an epoch-making book
which profoundly affected Russian society and had no small influence in
hastening the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861-63.

[11] For example, Turgenev warmly commended Dostoevsky’s works to
foreign critics, after the latter had perpetrated the spiteful libel on
him in _The Possessed_.

At this date, 1847, Russia, long prostrate beneath the drill sergeants
of that “paternal” autocrat Nicholas I.,[12] with the lynx-eyed
police rule, servile press and general atmosphere of bureaucratic
subservience stupefying the country, was slowly awakening to the new
ideas of reform. Grigorovitch’s novel _The Village_ (1846), which
painted the wretched life of the serfs, marked the changing current
of social ideas, but to Turgenev was to fall the honour of hastening
“the Emancipation.” There is perhaps a little exaggeration in this
eloquent passage of M. de Vogüé: “Russia saw its own image with
alarm in the mirror of serfdom held towards it. A shiver passed
through the land: in a day Turgenev became famous, and his cause was
half won…. I have said that serfdom stood condemned in everybody’s
heart, even in the Emperor Nicholas’s.” But we are assured by Turgenev
himself that Alexander II.’s resolution to abolish serfdom was due
in no small part to _A Sportsman’s Sketches_. The old generation in
fact was soon to pass away with Nicholas’s rule. As the sketch “The
Peasant Proprietor Ovsyanikov” demonstrates, to this old race of
landowners, frankly despotic in their manners, was succeeding a milder
class–one which “did not like the old methods,” but was ineffective
and self-distrustful. And it was to this younger Russia in silent
protest against the “official nationalism” prescribed by the ministers
of Nicholas, and against the stagnation of provincial life which Gogol
had satirized so unsparingly in _Dead Souls_ (1842), that Turgenev made
his appeal with his first sketch “Hor and Kalinitch” in the magazine
_The Contemporary_. Turgenev’s reputation was made, and Byelinsky, who
declared that Turgenev was “not a creator but a painter of realities,”
immediately predicted his future greatness. The other, _A Sportsman’s
Sketches_, as they appeared, one by one, were eagerly seized on by
the public, who felt that this new talent was revealing deep-welling
springs of individuality in the Russian nature, hitherto unrecorded.

[12] “The teaching of philosophy was proscribed in all the schools,
and in all the universities of the Empire; admission to which had
now been reduced in numbers. The classics were similarly ostracised.
Historical publications were put under a censor’s control, which was
tantamount to a prohibition. No history of modern times, _i.e._ of the
seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, was allowed to be taught in any
form whatsoever.”–E. M. DE VOGÜÉ.

Though Russian society was profoundly moved by Turgenev’s picture of
serfdom, it was in truth the triumph of the pure artist, of the writer
who saw man’s fugitive life in relation to the vast, universal drama
of nature, that made _A Sportsman’s Sketches_ acceptable to all. One
may compare the book’s atmosphere to some woodland’s tender morning
air quivering with light, which transmits the ringing voices of men
in all their meaning inflections. The voices rise, in joy or strife
or passion, then die away in silence, and we hear the gentle stir and
murmur of the leaves as the wind passes, while afar swells the roar of
the deep forest. Turgenev’s spiritual vision resembles this silvery
light and air which register equally the most exquisite vibration of
human aspiration and the dissonance of men’s folly and misery. The
sweet and tender depths of the author’s spirit served, so to say, as
a sensitive mirror which reflected impassively the struggle between
the forces of worldly craft and the appeal of all humble, neglected
and suffering creatures. “The Tryst” is an example of the artist’s
exquisite responsiveness both to the fleeting moods of nature and the
conflicts of human feeling. Thus the sufferings of the young peasant
girl, poor Akoulina, at the hands of her conceited lover, the pampered
valet, Viktor, are so blended with the woodland scene and our last view
of “the empty cart rattling over the bare hillside, the low sinking sun
in the pale clear sky, the gusty wind scudding over the stubble fields,
the bright but chill smile of fading nature,” that one can scarcely
dissociate the girl’s distress from the landscape. An illusion! but one
that great literature–for example, the _Odyssey_–fosters. When we
look over the face of a wide-stretching landscape each tiny hamlet and
its dwellers appear to the eye as a little point of human activity, and
each environment, again, as the outcome of an endless chain of forces,
seen and unseen in nature. Man, earth and heaven–it is the trinity
always suggested in the work of the great poets.

But the vast background of nature need not be always before the eyes of
an audience. In “The Hamlet of the Shtchigri District,” for instance,
where–through the railings of an embittered man against the petty
boredom of provincial life, together with a characteristically Russian
confession of his own sloth and mediocrity–we breathe the heated
air of a big landowner’s house, the window on nature is, so to say,
shut down. So in “Lebedyan” the bustle and humours of a horse-fair
in the streets of a small country town, and in “The Country House”
the sordid manoeuvres of the stewards and clerks of the lazy landed
proprietor, Madame Losnyakov, against their victims, the peasants on
the estate, exclude the fresh atmosphere of forest and steppe. But even
so we are conscious that the sky and earth encompass these people’s
meetings in market-place and inns, in posting-stations, peasants’ huts
and landowners’ domains, and always a faint undertone murmurs to us
that each generation is like a wave passing in the immensity of sea.
Sometimes, as in “The District Doctor,” a tragedy within four walls is
shut in by a feeling of sudden night and the isolation of the wintry
fields. Sometimes, as in “Biryuk,” the outbreak of a despairing peasant
is reflected in the fleeting storm-clouds and lashing rain of a storm
in the forest. But the people’s figures are always seen _in just
relation to their surroundings, to their fellows and to nature_.

By the relations of a man with his neighbours and their ideas, a
man’s character is focussed for us and his place in his environment
determined. Thus in “Raspberry Spring” the old steward Tuman’s
complacent panegyrics on the lavish ways of his former master, a
grand seigneur of Catherine’s time, are a meaning accompaniment to
the misery of Vlass the harassed serf. Vlass has just returned from
his sad errand to Moscow (his son has died there penniless), where he
has had his master’s door shut in his face, and he has been ordered
to return and pay the bailiff his arrears of rent. Whether under the
ancient régime of Catherine, or of Nicholas I., Vlass is the “poor man”
of Scripture whose face is ground by the rich. All the irony of poor
Vlass’s existence steals upon us while we hear the old steward’s voice
descanting on the dead count’s sumptuous banquets, on his cooks and
fiddlers and the low-born mistresses who brought him to ruin; while the
humble peasant sits still and hears, too, of the “embroidered coats,
wigs, canes, perfumes, _eau de cologne_, snuff-boxes, of the huge
pictures ordered from Paris!” It is the cruelty, passive or active,
innate in the web of human existence that murmurs here in the bass.

_The parts in just relation to the whole scheme of existence_, that
is the secret of Turgenev’s supremacy, and what a piercing instinct
for the relative values of men’s motives and actions is revealed by
his calm, clear scrutiny! Observe in “The Agent” how the old serf
Antip’s weeping protest against his family’s ruin at the hands of the
tyrannous agent Sofron is made in _the model village_ Shiplova, with
its tidy farm-buildings and new windmill and threshing-floors, its
rich stacks and hemp-fields “all in excellent order.” It is Sofron,
the man of “first rate administrative power,” so honey-tongued before
the gentry, who farms four hundred acres of his own, and trades in
horses and stock and corn and hemp, it is this petty despot in his
prosperity who “is harrying the peasants out of their lives.” “He is
sharp, awfully sharp, and rich, too, the beast!” says the Ryabovo
peasant. Behind the tyrannous bailiff Sofron is the owner of Shiplova,
the polished Mr. Pyenotchkin, a retired officer of the Guards, who
has mixed in the highest society. Mr. Pyenotchkin is a man _comme il
faut_, but when he finds that his luckless footman has forgotten to
warm the wine, he simply raises his eyebrows and orders his major-domo
to “make the necessary arrangements”–to have Fyodor flogged! Here
is progress on Western lines comfortably cheek by jowl with serfdom!
Of course the sting, here, for the Russian conscience lay precisely
in this juxtaposition of old and new, and in the knowledge that the
most progressive landowner could exercise his legal right to sell
his peasants, send a man away as a conscript, and separate him from
his family. But it is well to note that only three or four of the
_Sportsman’s Sketches_ expose typical cases of a landlord’s tyranny and
the anachronism of this mediaeval survival–serfdom.

One of these cases is “Yermolai and the Miller’s Wife,” a sketch
which for the calm breadth of vision in its exposure of serfdom is
flawless. In “Yermolai” note how Turgenev by a series of discreet
intermittent touches brings his people on the scene, and how the
tranquil description of the winding river, the Ista, with its stony
banks and cold clear streams and rugged precipitous banks, prepares
us for the story of poor Arina’s sorrows and of the self-complacent
master’s tyranny. Because Madame Zvyerkoff makes it a rule never to
keep married lady’s maids, poor Arina is disgraced, her lover sent
away as a soldier, and she herself is married to the miller, who has
offered a price for her. This distressing episode, though the central
theme, is introduced subtly by a side wind after we have accompanied
the narrator and the tall gaunt huntsman, Yermolai, to the Ista’s
banks, where the two sportsmen are benighted and seek sleep in the
outhouse of a mill. The bull-necked, fat-bellied miller sends out his
wife with a message to them, and this woman with her refined, mournful
eyes is none other than the unfortunate Arina, with whom Yermolai is
on old, familiar terms. The sportsman-narrator, who has been dozing in
the hay, wakes and soon gathers from the snatches of talk between the
pair the details of Arina’s listless melancholy days after her child’s
death. Her bitter situation is flashed upon us in Yermolai’s suggestion
that she shall pay a visit to him in his hut when his own wife is away
from home! She changes the subject and soon walks away, and Yermolai’s
peasant callousness is indicated in his yawning answer to his master’s
questions. Then this story of a woman’s sorrow is brought to a close by
one of those exquisite nature touches which brings us back again to
the infinite life of the encompassing earth and sky:

“‘And do you know her lover, Petrushka?’

“‘Piotr Vassilyevitch? Of course I know him.’

“‘Where is he now?’

“‘He was sent for a soldier.’

“We were silent for a while.

“‘She doesn’t seem very well?’ I asked Yermolai at last.

“‘I should think not! To-morrow, I say, we shall have good sport. A
little sleep now would do us no harm.’

“A flock of wild ducks swept whizzing over our heads, and we heard
them drop down into the river not far from us. It was quite dark, and
it began to be cold; in the thicket sounded the melodious notes of a
nightingale. We buried ourselves in the hay and fell asleep!”

By the descriptions of the landscape in “Yermolai and the Miller’s
Wife” Turgenev subtly introduces the sense into our minds of nature’s
vastness, of her infinity, of which the spectacle of man’s social
injustice and distress becomes indissolubly part. Here there is nothing
of the reformer’s _parti-pris_ in the picture. Turgenev’s fluid,
sympathetic perceptions blend into a flow of creative mood, in which
the relations of men to their surroundings, and the significance of
their actions, their feelings, their fate are seen as parts of the
universal, dominating scheme of things. And this flow of mood in
Turgenev is his creative secret: as when music flows from a distance
to the listener over the darkening fields immediately the rough coarse
earth, with all its grinding, petty monotony melts into harmony, and
life is seen in its mysterious immensity, not merely in its puzzling
discrepancy of gaps, and contradictions and confusions. Turgenev’s
work, at its best, gives us the sense of looking beyond the heads of
the moving human figures, out to the infinite horizon.

Although in Turgenev’s pellucid art each touch seems simple, the
whole effect is highly complex, depending upon an infinite variety of
shades of tone. Let us finish by examining his complex method in “The
Singers.” In the first twenty lines the author etches the cheerless
aspect of “the unlucky hamlet of Kolotovka, which lies on the slope of
a barren hill … yet all the surrounding inhabitants know the road
to Kolotovka well; they go there often and are always glad to go.” It
is not merely the tavern “The Welcome Resort,” but the tavern-keeper
Nikolai Ivanitch that attracts them, for his shrewd alertness and
geniality are an influence far and wide in the neighbourhood. Turgenev
now introduces his main theme by a variation _in tempo_. He describes
how the narrator on a blazing hot July day is slowly dragging his
feet up the Kolotovka ravine towards the Inn, when he overhears one
man calling to another to come and hear a singing competition between
Yashka the Turk and the booth-keeper from Zhizdry. The narrator’s
curiosity is stirred, and he follows the villagers into the bar-room,
where he finds the assembled company, who are urging the two singers
to begin. The men toss and the lot falls on the booth-keeper. Having
riveted our attention, Turgenev now increases his hold on us by
sketching the life and character of three village characters, “the
Gabbler,” “the Blinkard” and “the Wild Master.” We examine the village
audience till the booth-keeper at last steps forward and sings. For a
time the booth-keeper does not evoke the enthusiasm of the critical
villagers, but at last they are conquered by his bold flourishes and
daring trills, and they shout their applause. The booth-keeper’s song
is the triumph of technique and of training, and he carries away his
hearers, while “the Gabbler” bawls: “You’ve won, brother, you’ve won!”
But “the Wild Master” silences “the Gabbler” with an oath and calls
on Yashka to begin. And now follows an entrancing description of the
power of genius to sway the heart:

“‘Come, that’s enough; don’t be timid. For shame! … why go back?…
Sing the best you can, by God’s gift.’

“And the Wild Master looked down expectant. Yakov was silent for a
minute; he glanced round, and covered his face with his hand. All had
their eyes simply fastened upon him, especially the booth-keeper,
on whose face a faint, involuntary uneasiness could be seen through
his habitual expression of self-confidence and the triumph of his
success. He leant back against the wall, and again put both hands
under him, but did not swing his legs as before. When at last Yakov
uncovered his face it was pale as a dead man’s; his eyes gleamed
faintly under their drooping lashes. He gave a deep sigh, and began
to sing…. The first sound of his voice was faint and unequal, and
seemed not to come from his chest, but to be wafted from somewhere
afar off, as though it had floated by chance into the room. A strange
effect was produced on all of us by this trembling, resonant note;
we glanced at one another, and Nikolai Ivanitch’s wife seemed to
draw herself up. This first note was followed by another, bolder and
prolonged, but still obviously quivering, like a harp-string when
suddenly struck by a stray finger it throbs in a last, swiftly-dying
tremble; the second was followed by a third, and, gradually gaining
fire and breadth, the strains swelled into a pathetic melody. ‘Not
one little path ran into the field,’ he sang, and sweet and mournful
it was in our ears. I have seldom, I must confess, heard a voice
like it; it was slightly hoarse, and not perfectly true; there was
even something morbid about it at first; but it had genuine depth
of passion, and youth and sweetness, and a sort of fascinating
careless, pathetic melancholy. A spirit of truth and fire, a Russian
spirit, was sounding and breathing in that voice, and it seemed to
go straight to your heart, to go straight to all that was Russian in
it. The song swelled and flowed. Yakov was clearly carried away by
enthusiasm; he was not timid now; he surrendered himself wholly to
the rapture of his art; his voice no longer trembled; it quivered;
but with a scarce perceptible inward quiver of passion, which pierces
like an arrow to the very soul of the listeners, and he steadily
gained strength and firmness and breadth. I remember I once saw at
sunset on a flat sandy shore, when the tide was low and the sea’s
roar came weighty and menacing from the distance, a great white
sea-gull; it sat motionless, its silky bosom facing the crimson glow
of the setting sun, and only now and then opening wide its great
wings to greet the well-known sea, to greet the sinking lurid sun:
I recalled it, as I heard Yakov. He sang, utterly forgetful of his
rival and all of us; he seemed supported, as a bold swimmer by the
waves, by our silent, passionate sympathy. He sang, and in every
sound of his voice one seemed to feel something dear and akin to us,
something of breadth and space, as though the familiar steppes were
unfolding before our eyes and stretching away into endless distance.
I felt the tears gathering in my bosom and rising to my eyes;
suddenly I was struck by dull, smothered sobs…. I looked round–the
innkeeper’s wife was weeping, her bosom pressed close to the window.
Yakov threw a quick glance at her, and he sang more sweetly, more
melodiously than ever; Nikolai Ivanitch looked down; the Blinkard
turned away; the Gabbler, quite touched, stood, his gaping mouth
stupidly open; the humble peasant was sobbing softly in the corner
and shaking his head with a plaintive murmur; and on the iron visage
of the Wild Master, from under his overhanging brows there slowly
rolled a heavy tear; the booth-keeper raised his clenched fists to
his brow, and did not stir…. I don’t know how the general emotion
would have ended if Yakov had not suddenly come to a full stop on a
high, exceptionally shrill note, as though his voice had broken. No
one called out or even stirred; every one seemed to be waiting to
see whether he was not going to sing more; but he opened his eyes as
though wondering at our silence, looked round at all of us with a
face of enquiry, and saw that the victory was his….

“‘Yasha,’ said the Wild Master, laying his hand on his shoulder, and
he could say no more.

“We stood, as it were, petrified. The booth-keeper softly rose and
went up to Yakov.

“‘You … yours … you’ve won,’ he articulated at last with an
effort, and rushed out of the room.”

An artist less consummate than Turgenev would have ended here. But the
sequel immeasurably heightens the whole effect by plunging us into the
mournful, ever-running springs of human tragedy–the eclipse of man’s
spiritual instincts by the emergence of his underlying animalism.
Observe there is not a trace of ethical feeling in the mournful close.
It is simply the way of life:

“… When I waked up, everything was in darkness; the hay scattered
around smelt strong, and was slightly damp; through the slender
rafters of the half-open roof pale stars were faintly twinkling. I
went out. The glow of sunset had long died away, and its last trace
showed in a faint light on the horizon; but above the freshness
of the night there was still a feeling of heat in the atmosphere,
lately baked through by the sun, and the breast still craved for a
draught of cool air. There was no wind nor were there any clouds; the
sky all round was clear and transparently dark, softly glimmering
with innumerable, but scarcely visible stars. There were lights
twinkling about the village; from the flaring tavern close by rose
a confused, discordant din, amid which I fancied I recognized the
voice of Yakov. Violent laughter came from there in an outburst at
times. I went up to the little window and pressed my face against
the pane. I saw a cheerless, though varied and animated scene; all
were drunk–all from Yakov upwards. With breast bared, he sat on a
bench, and singing in a thick voice a street song to a dance tune, he
lazily fingered and strummed on the strings of a guitar. His moist
hair hung in tufts over his fearfully pale face. In the middle of
the room, the Gabbler, completely ‘screwed,’ and without his coat,
was hopping about in a dance before the peasant in the grey smock;
the peasant, on his side, was with difficulty stamping and scraping
with his feet, and grinning meaninglessly over his dishevelled
beard; he waved one hand from time to time, as much as to say, ‘Here
goes!’ Nothing could be more ludicrous than his face; however much
he twitched up his eyebrows, his heavy lids would hardly rise, but
seemed lying upon his scarcely-visible, dim, and mawkish eyes. He was
in that amiable frame of mind of a perfectly intoxicated man, when
every passer-by, directly he looks him in the face, is sure to say,
‘Bless you, brother, bless you!’ The Blinkard, as red as a lobster,
and his nostrils dilated wide, was laughing malignantly in a corner;
only Nikolai Ivanitch, as befits a good tavern-keeper, preserved his
composure unchanged. The room was thronged with many new faces, but
the Wild Master I did not see in it.

“I turned away with rapid steps and began descending the hill on
which Kolotovka lies. At the foot of this hill stretches a wide
plain; plunged in the misty waves of the evening haze, it seemed more
immense, and was, as it were, merged in the darkening sky. I marched
with long strides along the road by the ravine, when all at once,
from somewhere far away in the plain, came a boy’s clear voice:
‘Antropka! Antropka-a-a…!’ He shouted in obstinate and tearful
desperation, with long, long drawing out of the last syllable.

“He was silent for a few instants, and started shouting again. His
voice rang out clear in the still, lightly slumbering air. Thirty
times at least he had called the name, Antropka. When suddenly, from
the farthest end of the plain, as though from another world, there
floated a scarcely audible reply:


“The boy’s voice shouted back at once with gleeful exasperation:

“‘Come here, devil! woo-od imp!’

“‘What fo-or?’ replied the other, after a long interval.

“‘Because dad wants to thrash you!’ the first voice shouted back

“The second voice did not call back again, and the boy fell to
shouting ‘Antropka’ once more. His cries, fainter and less and less
frequent, still floated up to my ears, when it had grown completely
dark, and I had turned the corner of the wood that skirts my village
and lies over three miles from Kolotovka … ‘Antropka-a-a!’ was
still audible in the air, filled with the shadows of the night.”

In the above passage the feeling of the shadowy earth, the mist, the
great plain and the floating cries rarefies the village atmosphere of
human commonness. By such a representation of the people’s figures,
seen in just relation to their surroundings, to their fellows, and to
nature, Turgenev’s art secures for his picture poetic harmony, and
renders these finer cadences in the turmoil of life which ears less
sensitive than his fail to hear! _The parts in just relation to the
whole scheme of human existence._ Man, earth and heaven–it is the
secret of the perfection of the great poets.

The biographers tell us that Turgenev left Russia again in 1847, for
the sake of being near Pauline Garcia, the famous singer (afterwards
Madame Viardot), whom he adored all his life; that he left her in
Berlin, visited Salzbrunn with the critic Byelinsky, who was dying
of consumption, and then proceeded to Paris, Brussels, Lyons and
Courtavenel. In Paris he works incessantly, producing plays and short
stories and most of the series of _A Sportsman’s Sketches_; makes
friends with Hertzen and George Sand; studies the French classics
and avows his democratic sympathies, without any illusions as to the
good-for-nothingness of “the Reds.” In the autumn of 1858 he returns
to Russia, recalled by news of the grave illness of his mother, who,
however, refused to be reconciled with her two sons, whom she tried
to disinherit on her deathbed. Turgenev was henceforward a rich man.
In 1852 _A Sportsman’s Sketches_ appeared in book form, and in April
of the same year, for writing a sympathetic article on Gogol’s death,
Turgenev was ordered a month’s detention in a police-station and then
confined to his estate at Spasskoe.[13]

[13] “I am confined in a police-station by the Emperor’s orders for
having printed a short article on Gogol in a Moscow journal. This was
only a pretext, the article itself being perfectly insignificant. They
have looked at me askance for a long time, and they have laid hold
of this pretext at the first opportunity. I do not complain of the
Emperor; the matter has been so deceitfully represented to him that he
couldn’t have acted otherwise. They have wished to put a stop on all
that is being said on Gogol’s death, and they have not been sorry, at
the same time, to place an embargo on my literary activity.”–Letter to
M. and Mme. Viardot, May 13, 1852.

Turgenev notes that his imperious desire to escape to Europe indicated
“Possibly something lacking in my character or force of will.” But
he declares, “I should never have written _A Sportsman’s Sketches_
had I remained in Russia…. It was impossible for me to remain and
breathe the same air that gave life to everything I abhorred.” The
persecution of his literary forerunners and contemporaries by the
Autocracy was continuous. Pushkin’s humiliation and subjection to
official authority; Lermontov’s exile to the Caucasus; Tchaadaev
declared insane by bureaucratic order and confined to a mad-house;
Gogol’s recantation of _Dead Souls_ and relapse into feeble mysticism;
Hertzen’s expatriation; Dostoevsky’s and Petrashevsky’s exile to
the mines of Siberia; Saltykov’s banishment, etc., the list of the
intellectual and creative minds gagged or stifled under Nicholas I.
is endless. And Turgenev’s mild and generous spirit was designed
neither for political partisanship nor for active revolt. He has
indeed been accused of timidity,[14] and cowardice by uncompromising
Radicals and Revolutionaries. But his life-work is the answer to these
ill-considered allegations. Spiritual enfranchisement was impossible
in “the swamp of Petersburg with its Winter Palace, eight Ministries,
three Polices, the most Holy Synod, and all the exalted family with
their German relatives,” as Hertzen wittily put it later; and by faring
abroad and by inhaling deep draughts of free European air Turgenev was
enabled, in his own phrase, “to strike the enemy from a distance.”

[14] In an access of self-reproach he once declared to a friend that
his character was comprised in one word–“poltroon.”

His exile for a year and a half to his own estate was, however, by no
means a bad thing for his own self-development. Years afterwards he
wrote: “All was for the best…. My being under arrest and in the
country proved to my undeniable advantage; it brought me close to
those sides of Russian life which, in the ordinary course of things,
would probably have escaped my observation.” He consoled himself with
shooting, with music, with reading, with literary composition, and it
is to this enforced detention in Russia that, no doubt, we owe the
masterpiece _Rudin_ (1855), which he rewrote many times, declaring
to Aksakov that none of his other stories had ever given him so much
trouble. In fact this novel, in grace, ease and strength, has the
quality of finished statuary.

* * * * *

Though sixty years have passed since the appearance of _Rudin_, no
dust has gathered on the novel, so original is the leading figure.
The portrait of the hero who typifies the failure of the Russian
_intelligentsia_ of the ”forties’ to do more than talk, is as
arresting as the day on which it was painted. In him Turgenev creates
a fresh variety of idealist, the orator sapped by the love of his
own words. Rudin is Russian in the combination of his soft, wavering
will, his lofty enthusiasm for ideas, and his rather naïve sincerity:
in other respects, he might be a western European. Behind him we feel
generations of easygoing manorial gentlefolk regarding in surprise
this curious descendant, whose clever brain is aglow with a passion
for “eternal truth” and for the “general principles” of German
philosophy. One is haunted by a sense of Rudin’s cousinship to other
famous idealists in life and literature; he shows affinities both to a
contemporary, Coleridge, and to a famous successor, Ibsen’s _Brand_.

English idealism in general is both a covering for mundane interests,
and a spiritual compromise with those same interests. An English Rudin
would have gone into the Church, and as a Canon or Bishop would have
attained celebrity by his gift of lofty and magnetic eloquence. But a
Russian Rudin does not succeed in buttering his bread; it is both his
unworldliness and lack of will that bring his powers to nought. Rudin
can and does indeed, deceive himself; but the strands of hypocrisy in
his nature are too fragmentary to bring him worldly success.

Of Turgenev’s six novels, _Rudin_ is the most perfect in form, by the
harmony of its parts and absolute grace of modelling.[15] Everywhere
the master’s chisel has fined away his material to attain the most
delicately firm contours. The grouping of the character is a lesson in
harmonious arrangement. Note by what simple, natural steps one passes
from the outer circle of the neighbours of the wealthy patroness of art
and letters, Darya Mihailovna, to the inner circle of her household.
The cold, suave egoism of the lady of the manor is admirably set off
by the sketches of her dependents, the simple young tutor, Bassistoff,
her young Jewish _protégé_ Pandalevsky, and the cynic Pigasov. The
household is expecting the arrival of a guest, a Baron Muffel, but in
his place arrives his acquaintance, Dmitri Rudin, slightly shabby, but
of pre-possessing address.

[15] For a discussion of Turgenev’s debt to George Sand’s novel,
_Horace_, see M. Halperine-Kaminsky’s _Tourguéneff and his French
Circle_, p. 301.

A master of eloquent language, Rudin conquers his hearers by his
fine bearing and brilliant talk. But notice that the effect he
instantaneously produces holds in germ all the after development
of the story. Volintsev fears in him a rival for Natalya’s love;
Pandalevsky is on his guard against the clever stranger who may
dispossess him in the favour of the mistress of the house; Natalya
falls in love with the newcomer who has fired her girlish imagination;
while her mother, Darya Mihailovna, is planning to keep Rudin, this
coming lion, in her house to adorn her salon. The structure of the
story, beautifully planned, is a lesson in the directness and ease of
artistic development. Everything flows, simply and inevitably, from
the actions of the group of characters, quickened and watchful after
Rudin’s arrival.

As an example of Turgenev’s skill in drawing a man with a dozen
touches, and of exposing the mainspring of his nature by a few of his
words and actions, consider the Jewish-looking youth, Pandalevsky; with
the slight, exact strokes of his chisel Turgenev here graves a perfect
intaglio. Pandalevsky, in the opening pages, meeting the charming
Alexandra Pavlovna on her walk, offers her his arm, _unasked_. “She
took it.” After some flowery remarks, Pandalevsky, presuming further,
says, “Allow me to offer you this lovely wild flower.” Alexandra
Pavlovna did not refuse it, but “after a few steps, let it drop on the
path.” The sensitive woman is repelled by the young Jew’s familiarity
and his thickness of skin, and indeed Pandalevsky has scarcely turned
his back on her, when he transfers his interest to a peasant girl
working in the field, and so coarse is his talk that she stops her ears
and mutters, “Go away, sir; upon my word!”

Again, note how the characters all reveal themselves by their
unconscious behaviour. On the night of Rudin’s unexpected arrival,
while Bassistoff sits up, pouring out his soul in an eloquent letter
to a friend, and Natalya cannot sleep for thinking of Rudin’s glowing
eloquence, “Pandalevsky went to bed, and as he took off his daintily
embroidered braces, he said aloud, ‘A very smart fellow,’ and suddenly,
looking harshly at his page, ordered him out of the room.” By this
little revelation of his mean spirit the young Jew prepares us for his
furtive suspicion of Rudin, and for his playing the spy subsequently.
By a word, a gesture, a look, psychologically exact, Turgenev secures
thus in a sentence effects which it takes his rivals a paragraph or
a page to make clear to us. Thus his scenes always appeal by their
aesthetic ease and grace.

Remark again how swift, precise and final is Turgenev’s exploration of
Rudin’s character. Tired of wandering, Rudin, as Darya Mihailovna’s
guest, is glad to have found a congenial circle, perhaps indeed a home,
but while every one seems to listen eagerly to him, and he lays down
the law to the household, a cold undercurrent of criticism is already
felt threatening his position. One of the neighbours, Lezhnyov, had
been at college with Rudin in youth, and from his talk about their past
relations one learns why Rudin, despite his genius, has not succeeded
in life. He is a theorist and he has never really understood human
nature. So much so is this indeed that Rudin does not realize in time
that Natalya, this girl “of an ardent, true and passionate nature,” has
fallen in love with him, and exalts him as her spiritual teacher. And
when Rudin’s eyes are opened this fatal flaw in his character is seen.
He lives only for his ideas and for his audience; his great, his sole
power lies in the magic of his stimulating, flowing oratory. He is a
master of words, but he cannot act. Lezhnyov is right in declaring that
Rudin in his relations with others, even in his love affairs, “only
needs a fresh opportunity of speechifying and giving vent to his fine
talk, and that’s what he can’t live without.” Rudin, carried away by
the discovery of Natalya’s love, pretends and simulates love for her,
but his “passion” is shown to be hollow when the young girl comes to
warn him that Pandalevsky, spying on them, has betrayed their secret
meetings to her mother, who is angry and jealous that Rudin should be
paying court to her daughter. Rudin is in consternation at the news. He
has been so intent on his eloquent feelings that he has not faced the
practical difficulties. And he has made no plans to face the future.
But let us quote the scene:

“‘And what advice can I give you, Natalya Alexyevna?’

“‘What advice? You are a man; I am used to trusting to you. I shall
trust you to the end. Tell me, what are your plans?’

“‘My plans…. Your mother will certainly turn me out of the house.’

“‘Perhaps…. She told me yesterday that I must break off all
acquaintance with you…. But you do not answer my question?’

“‘What question?’

“‘What do you think we must do now?’

“‘What we must do?’ replied Rudin; ‘of course submit.’

“‘Submit,’ repeated Natalya slowly, and her lips turned white.

“‘Submit to destiny,’ continued Rudin. ‘What is to be done?… I
know very well how bitter it is, how painful, how unendurable. But
consider yourself, Natalya Alexyevna; I am poor. It is true I
could work; but even if I were a rich man, could you bear a violent
separation from your family, your mother’s anger?… No, Natalya
Alexyevna; it is useless even to think of it. It is clear it was not
fated for us to live together, and the happiness of which I dreamed
is not for me!’

“All at once Natalya hid her face in her hands and began to weep.
Rudin went up to her.

“‘Natalya Alexyevna! Dear Natalya!’ he said with warmth, ‘do not cry,
for God’s sake do not torture me, be comforted.’

“Natalya raised her head.

“‘You tell me to be comforted!’ she began, and her eyes blazed
through her tears; ‘I am not weeping for what you suppose–I am not
sad for that; I am sad because I have been deceived in you…. What!
I come to you for counsel, and at such a moment!–and your first
word is submit! submit! So this is how you translate your talk of
independence, of sacrifice which….’

“Her voice broke down.

“‘But, Natalya Alexyevna,’ began Rudin in confusion, ‘remember–I do
not disown my words–only—-‘

“‘You asked me,’ she continued with new force, ‘what I answered my
mother, when she declared she would sooner agree to my death than my
marriage to you; I answered that I would sooner die than marry any
other man…. And you say, “Submit!” It must be that she is right;
you must, through having nothing to do, through being bored, have
been playing with me.’

“‘I swear to you, Natalya Alexyevna–I assure you,’ maintained Rudin.

“But she did not listen to him.”

Natalya’s passionate answer: “I told my mother that I would die sooner
than marry any other man…. And you say ‘submit’!” passes through
Rudin’s self-esteem like a knife. He protests vainly again and again
his love. But he has exposed his ambiguous emptiness too fully. And now
he must leave Darya Mihailovna’s household, discredited in his own, in
Natalya’s and in everybody’s eyes.

Remark in the passage quoted above how the conflicting currents of
the girl’s passionate warmth and the man’s ambiguous reasoning–like
hot and cold springs mingling–flow in a form beautiful by its grace
of line. The scene is graven as lightly, yet as durably as an antique
Greek gem. One must emphasize this union of soft warmth and grace in
Turgenev’s work, for it is one of his special characteristics. While
the beauty of his feeling declares itself by its purity of tone, all
the mental shades of a scene or a conversation are unfolded with
flowing, flexible grace. Even a piece of mental analysis, a synthesis
of the internal life of character, and of pure thought, are stamped
with the spontaneous gestures of life. And calm and mellow tenderness
seems to emanate, as a secret essence, from his pictures. We cite a
little passage, famous in Russian literature, where Turgenev sketches
a portrait of Byelinsky, under the pseudonym of Pokorsky, Rudin’s

“‘… He took pity on me, perhaps; anyway, he took me by the arm and
led me away to his lodging.’

“‘Was that Rudin?’ asked Alexandra Pavlovna.

“‘No, it was not Rudin … it was a man … he is dead now … he
was an extraordinary man. His name was Pokorsky. To describe him in
a few words is beyond my powers, but directly one begins to speak
of him, one does not want to speak of any one else. He had a noble,
pure heart, and an intelligence such as I have never met since.
Pokorsky lived in a little, low-pitched room, in an attic of an old
wooden house. He was very poor, and supported himself somehow by
giving lessons. Sometimes he had not even a cup of tea to offer to
his friends, and his only sofa was so shaky that it was like being
on board ship. But in spite of these discomforts a great many people
used to go and see him. Every one loved him; he drew all hearts to
him. You would not believe what sweetness and happiness there was in
sitting in his poor little room! It was in his room I met Rudin. He
had already parted from his prince before then.’

“‘What was there so exceptional in this Pokorsky?’ asked Alexandra

“‘How can I tell you? Poetry and truth–that was what drew us all to
him. For all his clear, broad intellect he was as sweet and simple
as a child…. Pokorsky and Rudin were very unlike. There was more
flash and brilliance about Rudin, more fluency, and perhaps more
enthusiasm. He appeared far more gifted than Pokorsky, and yet all
the while he was a poor creature by comparison. Rudin was excellent
at developing any idea, he was capital in argument, but his ideas
did not come from his own brain; he borrowed them from others,
especially from Pokorsky: Pokorsky was quiet and soft–even weak
in appearance–and he was fond of women to distraction, and fond of
dissipation, and he would never take an insult from any one. Rudin
seemed full of fire and courage and life, but at heart he was cold
and almost a coward, until his vanity was touched, then he would not
stop at anything…. And really when I recall our gatherings, upon
my word there was much that was fine, even touching in them…. Ah,
that was a glorious time, and I can’t bear to believe that it was
altogether wasted! And it was not wasted–not even for those whose
lives were sordid afterwards. How often have I chanced to come across
such old college friends! You would think the man had sunk altogether
to the brute, but one had only to utter Pokorsky’s name before him
and every trace of noble feeling in him was stirred at once; it was
like uncorking a forgotten phial of fragrance in some dark and dirty

How perfect is the form of the novel! Rudin’s sudden appearance
at Darya Mihailovna’s house, from the void, his brief, brilliant
scintillation, his disappearance beyond the horizon like a falling
star, while the little circle he has quitted returns to its quiet
settled round, and is knitted closer, by and by, in two marriages. In
the final chapters Turgenev gives a wonderful feeling of the stormy
horizon of life in his glimpses of Rudin’s restless wanderings, of his
pathetic series of failures, of his useless death in a hopeless cause
on a Paris barricade. It is now the genius of Turgenev’s heart that
speaks, the head in absolute unison with the heart. For Turgenev’s
creative judgment, infinitely just, infinitely tender, is a court of
appeal from all hard, worldly arraignments. All that has been shown us
of Rudin’s Utopianism, of the “something lacking” in his character and
outlook is true. But it is not the whole truth. In Lezhnyov’s final
words, “Rudin has faith, Rudin has honesty. He has enthusiasm, the
most precious quality in our times. We have all become insufferably
reasonable and indifferent and slothful.” That is the point. The
Rudins, the idealists of the “‘forties,” were the yeast in the dough of
Russian fatalism and the nation’s stagnation. For one idealist there
were a thousand lethargic, acquiescent minds, clinging to the rock of
personal interest, staking nothing, but all subservient to the forces
of official despotism or worldly power. In Rudin burned clear the light
of humane, generous ideals, of the fire of the love of truth. Most of
the intellectual seed he scattered fell by the wayside or was swallowed
up in the morass of Russia’s social distress and mass impotence. But,
in Lezhnyov’s words: “I say again, that is not Rudin’s fault, and it is
his fate–a cruel and unhappy fate–for which we cannot blame him.”
And when we survey the figures of that gloomy reign of Nicholas, when
“a merciless Imperialism repressed the least sign of intellectuality,”
it was the Rudins who breathed on and passed on that living seed of
fire to the younger generation.

It is to be remarked that not a line, not a detail in the social
picture seems to have faded. The picture by its truth and art is
timeless in its plastic grace, like a Tanagra group, or a Velasquez
portrait. Nothing, indeed, can be added or taken away from the