Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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Robert Bird


Ivan Turgenev, the preeminent Russian European, maintained in his private life a precarious balance between aristocratic tradition and bohemian rootlessness. His father was of the landed gentry in Orel Province and encouraged his sons in their education, especially in their command of their native tongue. This paternal sense of historical roots was an important counterpoint to the overwhelming influence of Turgenev's mother, a ruthless landowner who preferred all things French. In 1833 he entered Moscow University, transferring to St. Petersburg University a year later. He soon gained entrance to the literary world of Petersburg, brushing shoulders with such luminaries as Pushkin and Gogol. In 1838 he traveled to Europe to continue his studies at the University of Berlin, where he became close to Russian thinkers of a liberal or socialist persuasion, and also to tour Germany and Italy. He spent 1841-45 in Russia, expanding his contacts with “Westernizer” circles, debating representatives of the nascent Slavophile movement, considering an academic or bureaucratic career, and fathering a daughter with one of his mother's serfs.

In 1845 he left Russia again, this time in order to be near the singer Pauline Garcia-Viardot, whom he had met in St. Petersburg in 1843; his strange, lifelong attachment to Viardot, who was married to the writer and director Louis Viardot, meant that for the rest of his life Turgenev was unable to remain in Russia for long, traveling home mostly to deal with publishing or financial matters. Through the Viardots he became active in French artistic circles. He was abroad again in 1847-50, witnessing the tumult of 1848 at close quarters in Paris, as he later described in memoir sketches. Returning to Russia in 1850, he experienced a painful break with his mother, who died shortly thereafter, but also a meteoric ascent to the summit of Russian literature after the publication of his Zapiski okhotnika (1852), which received more acclaim than any of his previous


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Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook
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