Books That Endure: Classic Studies of Human Relationships

Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)

Fathers and Sons


  • Born in Orel [var. Oryol, Oriel], in the Ukraine region of Russia to a wealthy noble family. 
  • His father, a colonel in the cavalry; his mother, an arrogant and tyrannical women who spoke Russian only to servants and was deeply chagrined that he became a novelist.
  • Growing up, was more at home speaking French and German than his native language.
  • Introduced to Russian literature by an old serf, a long-time family servant.
  • Studied at St. Petersburg and Berlin Universities; completed his master's exam in St. Petersburg in 1841; started his career at the Russian civil service, where he worked for the Ministry of the Interior (1843-45)
  • Established a relationship with actress and singer Pauline Garcia Viardot, which continued for the rest of his life; followed her to France initially in 1845 and 1848 and, from then on, lived near or with her and her husband much of the time.
  • Lived most of his life in Paris and Baden-Baden, visiting Russia infrequently and briefly.
  • Died at Bougival, near Paris, of cancer of the spinal cord.  Buried with national honors at St. Petersburg.


  • First important writing, his initial  "sportsman's sketch," published before he left for Paris in 1848. Continued to write sketches, which were collected together in 1852 into a single volume, A Sportsman's Sketches. Remarkable for their sensitive depiction of the Russian peasant. The collection, said to have started Russia on the road to revolution and begun the movement for the emancipation of the serfs.
  • Imprisoned for a month during a short trip to Russia for an article he wrote on Gogol's death.
  • Credited with having invented the term nihilism (classically captured in Fathers and Sons' Basarov) to describe the thought then pervading Russian life, a philosophy of rebellion against the status quo. This novel also said to have divided Russia in half between the proponents of the Old Order and the New.
  • Wrote short stories subtle in their psychological analysis, among the best of which are "Rudin," "The Diary of a Superfluous Man," "A Lear of the Steppes," and "First Love."

Major Writings

A Sportsman's Sketches (1852)
A House of Gentlefolk (1859)
On the Eve (1860)
Fathers and Sons (1862), sometimes translated Fathers and Children
Virgin Soil (1877)

Biographical and Critical Information

  • Turgenev online
    Books and Writers site
    Brief biographical essay
    Critical biography and links to other Turgenev sites
  • Selected print resources
    Turgenev: A Reading of His Fiction, Frank Freideburg Seeley, 1991
    Turgenev: His Life and Times, Leonard Schapiro, 1982
    Critical Essays on Ivan Turgenev, ed. David A. Lowe, 1988
    Fathers and Sons: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. by Ralph E. Matlaw, 1966
    Turgenev, the Man, His Art, and His Age, Avrahma Yarmolinsky, 1959
    Politics and the Novel, Irving Howe, 1957 ("Turgenev, the Politics of Hesitation," pp. 129-133)
    A History of Russian Literature From Its Beginnings, ed. Francis J. Whitfield, 1958 ("Turgenev," pp. 193-208)

Retired Discussion Series

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