Turgenev: The Man, His Art and His Age

Turgenev: The Man, His Art and His Age

Turgenev: The Man, His Art and His Age

Turgenev: The Man, His Art and His Age

Excerpt

For years Turgenev held a place among the world's greatest masters of the craft of fiction. Henry James was not alone in being inclined to pronounce him "the first novelist of his time." True, even in the nineteenth century there were disseng voices, but on the whole his reputation with the cultivated British public, and even more with the Americans, was extraordinary. More recently, the towering figures of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, as also the achievements of such probers and experimenters as Proust and Joyce, have cast a shadow over his performance. He lacks the massiveness and scope of these writers, neither diving as deep nor soaring as high as they do. The present generation is apt to find Turgenev's realism not searching enough and his reliance on "the homeopathy of science and civilization" somewhat naive. Nevertheless, he cotinues to be regarded with respect and affection. To an apprentice writer who wanter a reading list Hemingway recommended individual works by a score of authors, and all of Turgenev. At home his books, for all his outspoken Western sympathies, were not suppressed even when the orgy of a-Westernism was at its height. To judge by the size of the Soviet editions of Turgenev, his popularity there was growing in the postwar period. The appearance within the last few years of half a dozen new English translations of his major works points to a revived interest in him elsewhere. Perhaps public favor is swinging in his direction again.

Certainly there is much in his writings to engage the emotions and feed the mind. The reader who first encounters him or who returns to his work soon realizes that he is in the company of a clear-eyed, sensitive observer, a humane and free spirit. Here is a lucid, self-disciplined writer with an immense curiosity about men and women, young and old; kin, neighbors, friends, enemies. His stories and novels show a fine economy and an architecture, based on contrast, which . . .

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