Russian History in Turgenev’s Novels

Lionel Kochan writes how Turgenev's heroes serve to embody many different aspects of the rapidly changing scene in nineteenth century Russia.

In 1880 Turgenev prepared for the Russian public a collected edition of his novels; and he introduced them in the following words:

“the author of Rudin, written in 1855, and the author of Virgin Soil, written in 1876, are one and the same person. During this period I have aspired, to the extent that my powers and my ability have allowed, consciously and impartially to depict and incorporate in appropriate types both what Shakespeare calls ‘the body and pressure of time’ and the quickly changing physiognomy of Russians of the cultured stratum, which has been predominantly the subject of my observations”.

It is for this reason—in part at least—that such of Turgenev’s heroes as Rudin (from the novel of the same name), Lavretsky (from A Nest of Gentlefolk), and Bazarov (from Fathers and Sons), all serve to embody different aspects of the changing political, social and intellectual scene in Russia. The total effect of all Turgenev’s work is to create a broad spectrum mirroring the manifold themes that preoccupied cultured Russians during most of the second half of the nineteenth century.

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