Ivan Turgénieff

OF the novelists now living, Turgénieff is probably not the one who is most widely known, but in the estimation of those who are familiar with his writings he holds a place above any rivals. There is nothing strange in either his comparative obscurity or the warmth of the admiration which more than outweighs the calmer interest that might be felt in a writer who contented himself with a more superficial view of life and a less profound consideration of the problems which await us all, demanding some solution, or, more truly, some attempt at solution on our part. Of the novelist in general it may be said that he has two parts to play in order thoroughly to succeed: he has to entertain the listless, and at the same time, in order to be a great writer, in order to leave a mark on the history of his time, he has to bring to the treatment of the main questions of our existence a wise comprehension of their meaning, and a sympathetic power of interpreting as well as of narrating the events he imagines and puts before us. In his own way, with somewhat different materials, he works at the same task as did the old dramatists, or as do musicians and artists of any sort. The first essential condition is that we be entertained; no useful information unaided by imagination, no mere statistics, will draw spectators to see a play or get readers for a novel; we might as well set the report of the State Board of Health to music. Entertainment, in its less ignoble sense, is what we demand of all artists, whether they work in marble, in colors, or with pen and ink. And of them all we ask for aid, not in the way of alms-giving, of formal philanthropy, but such as we feel in the sympathy of a friend, or when we are encouraged by the sight of a noble example. The novelist differs from the others in the fact that he is more of a realist in his workmanship. A tragedian can have the aid of poetry; the characters in his play, if it be necessary, need only be affected by a single dominant feeling, which may raise them above the petty criticism of those details that are considered requisite in a novel, in which the characters, like people in real life, are under the influence of rules of etiquette forbidding the statuesque posing which is allowable in tragedy-. In stories the tension of passion is relieved by the description of external peculiarities such as the eye notices even at times of the greatest solemnity; men’s and women’s faces are described, the motley sequence of feelings is told us; in a word, our imagination is aided in every way in forming a picture complete in all the details. How much the predominance of novel-writing at the present day is due to this curiosity for detail is an important question which this is not the time to discuss. But at any rate it. is interesting to notice how much that feeling, whatever may be its origin, is hostile to the broad handling required by tragedy, and favors the mechanical exactness to be found in the novel.

But in spite of this difference in external form, the novel is a work of imagination, although drawn with lighter and more varied touches. The more serious the nature of the problem it discusses, the higher its position as a work of art. Many novels are written which claim to do no more than help the reader to forget the monotonous routine of his daily life. Some, like The Initials, are the classics of this kind; they always amuse and have thereby won warm admiration from old and young. Certainly it would be a harsh and futile sort of criticism that should seek to decry such innocent and agreeable work. But while there is a persistent demand for novels of this sort, which succeed more or less well in their business of entertainment, there are always certain writers of higher and more serious aims who take the same form for their writing, since thereby they reach their readers more easily, and it is a form more congenial to themselves in proportion as they are influenced by that mysterious thing, the spirit of the age. That these writers should choose this mode of expression need not cause us any regret, nor is it in any way necessary to open any discussion of the relative positions of a novel and other forms of artistic work. We should here as elsewhere take what we have set before us, with as much gratitude as possible; and when we have novels to read, we should not weep for epic poems. Nowadays novels are written; the authors sometimes dignify their task by the treatment of human life in a thoughtful way, and it is of a writer of whom this remark is exceptionally true that we wish to speak here.

Ivan Turgénieff was born in the district of Orel, in the centre of Russia, November 9, 1818, and there he passed his boyhood; from 1834 to 1838 he studied at Moscow and St. Petersburg.1 Then, in his twentieth year he went to Berlin, and at the university in that city he studied especially history and philosophy for two years. Hegel’s philosophy, although it had lost somewhat of its earlier glory, still had a controlling influence in Germany at that time, as indeed it had until 1848; but on Turgénieff’s mind it seems to have made, or at any rate to have left, an unsatisfactory impression, for we often find in his writings irreverent mention of the German philosopher. After returning to St. Petersburg he for a short time occupied a position under government in the Ministry of the Interior, but this he soon left in order to devote himself to literature. He first tried his hand at poetry, but without success. We have never seen a line of his verse, but if, as we are told, it was written in the style of Pouschkine and Lermontoff, who were themselves imitators of Byron, its failure need not be wondered at. His first success was in the prose sketch Khor and Kalinitsch, which our readers will remember in his Récits d’un Chasseur. This appeared in 1846. Soon afterwards he went to Paris, and there he wrote the greater part of the Récits, which appeared from time to time in a Russian magazine. It was in 1852 that they first appeared in book-form, after eluding all opposition from the censors of the press, who, according to Mr. Otto Glagau, did not detect the hidden purpose which lay under what seemed to be merely a collection of pictures of Russian life, — the purpose, namely, of portraying the sufferings and degradation caused in that country by the existence of serfdom. Afterwards, however, when they were collected and published together, the censors avenged themselves in the following way. They took for their pretext an article which Turgénieff had written on the death of Gogol in the same year, and had him banished to his estate for two years, Nothing but the intercession of the Czarovitch, the present Czar, freed him from this sentence. After that time he lived in Russia, France, and Germany until 1863, when he chose Baden-Baden for his home. In that pleasant little town, which was the resort, at one time or another, of almost all the interesting people of Europe, he has since for the most part lived, having for neighbors his friends Louis Viardot and his wife, the celebrated Pauline Garcia - Viardot. At times, too, we hear of his presence in England.

Before discussing their literary merits, it should be said of the Récits d’un Chasseur that they were in a great measure the cause of the abolition of serfdom by the present Czar. In this respect they may be compared with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but there is no further likeness between these books. Turgénieff’s method, here as everywhere, is so quiet, he is so careful to avoid anything like an expression of his own feelings, that the censor’s mistake seems very natural. He writes, not with an avowed purpose which is to be read between the lines by the most indifferent, but as if his aim were entirely of another sort, simply to describe certain Russian peculiarities, and the inference about serfdom were almost something which had escaped his own observation.

What we find in the Récits d’un Chasseur is a number of sketches by a hunter, who evidently, in fair weather and foul, morning and evening, has wandered about the country with his gun on his shoulder, making the acquaintance of all his neighbors, learning to know all the serfs he meets, spending the night in their huts or camping out with them when they have no roof over their heads. In almost every one of the sketches we find some wonderful description of the beauties of nature, which, too, has the merit of being appropriate and readable. Too often even the best of descriptions has an air of having been done under some other inspiration than that by which the story was written, into which it is inserted with more or less cleverness; but Turgénieff’s enjoyment of nature, and his keen observation, make him a truthful painter, while his Sensitive avoidance of anything that might fatigue the reader saves him from the most frequent error of the landscape-painter who works with pen and ink. The sketch Le Bois et la Steppe especially deserves mention, for it is all description, and all natural. Among so many that are good it is hard, as well as, perhaps, unnecessary, to say which is the best, but among the most impressive, to our thinking, is the one called in the French translation La Prairie.

At the end of a hot July day which the writer has passed shooting grouse, he loses His way, when seeking to return home. At last he finds himself at the top of a precipice overlooking a wide plain; beneath him he sees two fires, around which are collected some human beings. He makes his way down to them, and on approaching; he sees they are peasant boys who are guarding horses; they call back the large dogs who are barking violently and threatening to attack him. By their fire he prepares to pass the night. He watches the spreading darkness, and the ever-increasing brilliancy of the fire ; every now and then a horse comes into its light, bites a twig from a small bush, and trots away. There is scarcely a sound to break the silence; occasionally the splash of a fish in the river near by is heard as it springs out of the water, and the little waves it has made break softly against the shore. The boys, five in number, gather about the fire; the oldest is only fourteen, the youngest not more than seven. Soon they begin to talk about all the uncanny beings which still exist in the imagination of uneducated Russians. A vague sound, such as often fills the night, is heard, and all, for their nerves are set on edge by their talk, are frightened except Paul, who laughs at them and bids them sup. They still go on with their anecdotes, with every now and then a little alarm at tlie cry of some nightbird breaking the deep silence. Paul is seen comforting them, and trying to explain away their terror at their ghostly stories, not with the aid of any superior knowledge, but as if he were anxious to silence his own alarm. Soon he determines to go to the river to draw some water; his companions warn him to be careful, listen to his retreating steps, and are telling stories of boys who were drowned, who were dragged into the river by the water-nymphs, when Paul returns safely. He has been frightened, however, for he has heard some one calling him by name; they are all much impressed by this, but soon they go to sleep. The writer, who bad been listening to it all, likewise falls asleep, and early the next morning he is off, nodding good-by to Paul. The sketch ends as follows: —

“ I ought to add that to my great regret Paul died that same year. he was not drowned, he was killed by a fall from a horse. I am sorry for him; he was a capital fellow.”

That is all; it is as simple a study as could be written ; there is not an incident in it, but it is a perfectly complete picture. Another, which is drawn with similarly slight materials, is the one called Lgove. In this, the author merely gives us an account of a trifling accident while duck-shooting, the sinking of the boat in which he is with some peasants, and their wading ashore; but the way in which he describes the conduct of some of the serfs, and his conversation with them, throws a great deal of light on his method. He gets talking, for instance, with an old fisherman whose leaky boat the others are putting in readiness: he asks, —

“ Have you been a fisherman long? ’

“ Seven years,” answered Soutchok.

“ And what were you before that ? ”

“ I was a coachman.”

“ Why did you give that up? ”

“ My mistress wanted me to.”

“ Who is your mistress? ”

“The one who bought us lately. Don't you know her? She is Elena TimofeÏevna — a stout lady who is no longer young. ”

“ Why did she make you a fisherman ? ’ ’

“ Heaven knows! She arrived one fine day from Tamboff, and bade us all assemble in the court-yard. Then she came out before us; some went forward to kiss her hand; that did not seem to vex her, and all the rest did the same thing. Then she began to ask us questions ; she asked each of us his name and occupation. When my turn came, she asked me, ' Well, and what are you? ’ ' I am the coachman,’ said I.

‘The coachman!’ said she, ‘a fine coachman you are; you must, be my fisherman. You must always keep the table supplied with fish.’ So that’s the way I became fisherman.”

“ To whom did you belong formerly ? ” “ To Serg Pektereff. We had been left-him by will, but he only kept us about ten years. I used to be his coachman in the country, but not in town.”

“ So you had always been a coachman? ”

“ Oh, no; ” and he goes on to tell that he had been cook, valet, and likewise an actor. “ Our mistress,” he says, “ had built a theatre.”

“ What parts did you take? ”

“ I don’t understand.” “ What did you use to do in the theatre? ”

“ Why, don’t you know about it? They took me and gave me some handsome clothes; and then I would walk about or stand or sit down, as it happened. They used to tell me what I had to say, and I would say it. Once I played a blind man; yes, they stuck peas under my eyelids to make me keep them shut.”

And then he mentions briefly his other occupations, showing us the absolute control held by masters and mistresses over their serfs, the degradation it caused in the victims of the tyranny, and the brutality in those in authority. This sketch we have chosen for the lightness of touch with which the author performs this task. When the boat fills and sinks, the fisherman is afraid of nothing but the writer’s wrath. He is always perfectly uncomplaining and humble, demanding nothing for himself. In some of the Récits, again, we are told of crueler sufferings, which it makes one’s blood boil to read; and of some of the serfs he says, “ They generally keep their eyes cast down, but yet one cannot infer anything from that, for it is almost impossible in our beloved country, as every one knows, to tell whether it is sleepiness or hatred that is prominent in a servant’s face.”

In short, Turgénieff has drawn here a series of pictures which he has hardly anywhere, if indeed he has at all, excelled. ln every one we notice the same keen observation, the same care in setting the scene before us, and the same self-control which distinguish him in all his writings. Nor is it to be said that he notices nothing but serfdom and the many misfortunes it causes; he has a keen eye for the ridiculous pomposity of petty proprietors, the eccentrics, who would naturally make their appearance in a state of society in which respectable social position could be maintained in spite of disgraceful ignorance and utter idleness, and for the young men who fall in love with the peasant girls. In short, he gives us nearly every element of Russian country-life in turn, although it is of the peasants that he prefers to write. On the whole, the impression the book leaves is a sad one, so much suffering is described, so hope less seems the condition of the wretched people who are put before us; and yet, we do not feel as if the writer had written it as an expression of his pessimism, which might be said of some of his later works, but as if he were merely setting before us, with exquisite skill, what had actually met his eyes. He draws from the life, and he gives us lifelike pictures, in which the art seems like the utmost simplicity. It is of a sort that may perhaps be defined, but it cannot be taught; it depends on what is in the writer, not on what is outside of him. Turgénieff sees what any one of us might see, although we are surer to do it when it is pointed out than of ourselves; and while he is more especially noticeable for the careful attention to detail by which he represents our idealized imagination, he directs it with that perfection of taste which in another fgnn is humor, and in this form is sensitiveness, not only to what is effective, but also to whatever might offend, with regard to which it knows no mercy. It is a clumsy system of classification, which leaves us no chance to call it anything but realism as contrasted with the display of the writer’s own feelings, which has acquired the name of idealism ; neither term does more than point in the direction of certain qualities; it does not define them. To call Turgénieff a realist is right enough as far as it goes, but the word, as we generally use it, needs to be interpreted. He is a realist in the sense of hiding himself, and in the painstaking accuracy he shows with regard to everything his pen touches. But one may be accurate and likewise confusing, in the same way that a catalogue is not a picture. By what arts a great writer invents characters, and gets a deep insight into his fellowmen, of course no exposition is to be found here; we can merely say that Turgénieff performs this difficult task with wonderful skill. The men and women really seem to live. This praise is by no means due to the shorter Récits alone; in his stories and longer novels he is equally admirable in this respect.

The short tales are numerous, and have been written at various periods within the last twenty-five years. Some of the gloomiest of them he wrote during the time of his banishment to his estate; such are Moumou, A Correspondence, The Antchar, and L'Auberge du Grand Chemin. We say some of the gloomiest, and yet there are none which do not partake of his deep-seated pessimism. What these characteristics are can be judged from the brief analysis of a few. In Moumou, for instance, we have nothing but the account of a deaf mute of gigantic size, who leads a lonely, friendless life, and whose vague attempt at love-making has been thwarted by his mistress; in despair he makes friends with a dog. At first all goes well; but after a while the lady of the house, who is delicate and nervous, takes a prejudice against the dog, and orders are given that it be sent away. This command is carried into effect; its master mourns its absence, but the intelligent little beast returns. The mute then tries to secure a longer life to his pet by keeping it in his room safe from observation, and taking it out by night for exercise; but by some unlucky chance the dog’s barking is heard, and the enraged mistress of the house orders it to be killed. This is told the mute, who undertakes the sad task himself; he washes the little dog with especial care, gives it one last meal, and then takes it out on the river in a boat. He fastens a stone by a rope to its neck and then throws the poor dog overboard, and rows swiftly back. That night he leaves the city and walks to the place in the country whence he came, and which he never leaves again.

In A Correspondence there is even less of a story. Two men had passed the summer in the country with two young girls, sisters, and had both fallen in love with them and become engaged. Neither engagement, however, came to anything; one of the men was already about to marry another girl, when the other wrote to her who had formerly been betrothed to his friend, giving this news and begging permission to correspond with her, which, after some reluctance, she grants. Their letters are only fifteen in number, but they picture wonderfully the state of the writers' minds. He is a man past his first youth, with plenty of idle time and his discontented self on his hands, and he writes to her in great measure out of ennui, to disburden his heart, which is wearied with contemplation of itself. He, as it were, makes his confession to her; she, for her part, is at first silent; but at length, moved by his frankness, she writes freely, in order to put before him the condition of a girl whose one romance has turned out ill, and who sees nothing before her but an uneventful life which is all disappointment and miscomprehension. He admires and pities her, and determines to visit her; she is pleased and makes ready to receive him; her letter urging him to come is full of delight; but there is a long silence; he does not appear, and the next letter she receives from him is one written on his deathbed some three or four years later, in which he explains his silence and bids her farewell. He had, it seems, fallen in love with, or rather been infatuated by, a dancer, and had followed in her train for years, all the time conscious of his degradation, and equally unable to break the chain which held him. He writes to his old friend a full confession. It may perhaps be objected that a man of the sensitive and refined nature that we can see in his letters could not make so decisive a step in the contrary direction; but we are told, it is to be remembered, that he is a man accustomed to follow every whim; indeed, that is but a natural result of his excessive idleness; and hence we need feel less surprise at his conduct, although even when this is borne in mind it is to a considerable extent remarkable. But in spite of this flaw, the story is very extraordinary on account of the pathetic interest of the letters. We know hardly so faithful a description of failure and the disappointment it is sure to bring to others There is not a superfluous word; we are not shown how to grieve; we have given us merely the materials of grief, and no one can read the story unmoved.

The Antchar, a translation of which appeared in The Galaxy rather more than a year ago, is another even gloomier talc. Faust, which has likewise been translated for the same magazine, is of higher merit, and, like A Correspondence, is told by means of letters. In it we read of a man who meets, after an interval of years, a woman with whom he had formerly been in love. Her education had been peculiar, and she had never read any poetry, in fact, no works of imagination, in obedience to the whims of her mother, whom she adored. The hero first makes her acquainted with this part of literature, but with a far more serious result than he had anticipated. They fall in love with one another; they meet, but she imagines she sees the ghost of her mother, and flees from him distracted. That is the beginning of the delirium in which she dies.

We need not give an analysis of any more. First, out of fairness to the author, who gets but feeble justice in this way, and, secondly, because these few examples may suffice to give an accurate impression of certain qualities which especially deserve mention. Still, by telling the story we do less harm than might be done if other authors were treated in the same way, because our appreciation of what is Turgénieff’s great merit, the power of setting the scene before us, is not diminished any more than is our delight in a picture by a written description of what is painted on the canvas. In both cases we are left free to enjoy the work of the artist.

What we observe in all is the unfailing melancholy which exists, not only in the turn of the plot, but also in the circumstances of many of the stories. This is natural enough in those which were written about the peasantry, but in all there is a dreary picture of superstition, affectation, pretense, half-eivilized polish, and idleness. They give us a very black picture of Russian life, which has, apparently, all the outside forms of civilization, distinctions of caste more marked by observance than by intrinsic difference, with a dreary formality wholly unrelieved by humor. In this respect there is a marked resemblance to the Southern States, and especially to them as they were before the war. Perhaps this lack of humor is to be explained by the necessity of preserving fanciful social distinctions which rest only on conventionality. Humor tends to overthrow any such formalities; it implies a certain equality, and so it is not likely to appear among those who feel uneasy about their position. In this country there is pretense enough, and this without invidious distinction of North and South, but there is also plenty of humor to temper it. Of course, our explanation of its absence in Russia is not intended to cover all cases; it is merely suggested for what it is worth.

Fully to explain it, we must take into consideration many other things, such as the repressing and degrading effect of the despotic government, the passible influence of the deep religious feeling of the people, etc. That this lack of humor is not due to any want of it in the author should be borne in mind. He himself has plenty of it, as any one who is familiar with his novels will recall; we need only mention, for instance, Pantaleone in The Spring Floods, and Uvar Ivanovitch in On the Eve.

Another characteristic, and one which like all of his is equally noticeable in the long novels, is his tragic treatment of love. And with this connects itself the quality just mentioned, the lack of humor in the persons about whom the stories are written. Not one of Turgénieff’s women ever laughs; there are plenty who giggle, but there is not one who fairly laughs. All the foibles, and indeed the faults of women, he exposes freely; but those whom he chooses for heroines, widely diverse as they are with regard to most of their qualities, are alike in never laughing even when ludicrous things take place before them. In this way, perhaps, they are more idealized, for there is a decided difference between the charm of good-natured bonhommie and the seriousness and mystery of halfpoetic reserve; and a writer who knows that his main strength lies in the delineation of exalted passion may well be excused for preferring that to the simpler pathos which Turgénieff disregards. But defense is idle where there is no attack, and no one would blame the author for this curious omission; it is more than outweighed by the skill with which these women are drawn.

Every novelist of modern times gives us more or less profound studies of women in his writings, and the more thoroughly he performs this task, the more sure he is of arousing the reader’s interest. He makes a completer picture of life, because to be accurate he has to introduce some man or men; and he has a better opportunity for keen analysis in discussing the feelings of a woman in their unselfishness and freedom from sordid motives, than would be the case in writing of men under similar circumstances, who, to make the representation of their lives complete, need an account of the numerous outside influences which occupy so much of their time and attention. Turgénieff gives us most thorough studies of men, but he is excelled by no one in the drawing of women. He knows them as well as a woman could; but his knowledge, if it be sometimes lacking in such sympathy as a woman writer might show for one of her heroines, is always accompanied by a certain reverence, a poetical half mystery, which women do not have when writing about their own sex, probably from their nearness to it, and which, it is hardly necessary to say, differs widely from the contempt which distinguishes some authors who may have made as thorough study, but with unworthy text-books. Another thing, which more than half follows from what we have just pointed out, is the way in which he gives the reader all the conditions of the problem and yet leaves him to solve it as best he may, just as puzzles are put before us in life without a key. Thus in Turgénieff’s Smoke we have the baffling character of Irene; and how far she was a flirt and how far a passionate woman it would be hard to say; she is at any rate wholly a riddle. Lisa, in the story of that name, is a less complicated character. Ellen, in On the Eve, is puzzling with regard to the way in which she loves Insaroff. We see him with all his peculiarities, and we see her fascinated by his strength of purpose, which is so conspicuous amid the weakness and negligence of his companions; but here, as in all the cases mentioned, Turgénieff never explains; he states the circumstances, and we guess at the cause as well as we can.

All of the novels introduce some complication of love-making, and this is of a tragic character. But the tragedy is of two kinds; in some, such as Smoke, The Spring Floods, and A Correspondence, to take the most prominent instances, we have the melancholy spectacle of a man yielding to a passion which he knows is degrading, but which he has not the strength to withstand. The plot is to a certain extent the same in these stories, but the treatment Is very different. In Smoke we have a man who is engaged to his cousin, and who, while awaiting the arrival of his betrothed at Baden-Baden, meets a woman, now a fashionable belle, whom he had formerly been in love with. This is the Irene mentioned above; and the novel tells us of her wiles, the way in which the web is wound about the wretched Litvinoff, her former lover, and pictures to us his gradual succumbing to the temptations which so fatally attract him, and his final release. Spring Floods is even more tragically drawn. We have in it the whole story of a young man’s first love for a charming girl, which is beautifully told. Circumstances compel him to leave her for a few days; he departs, sure of his love and his own strength, vowing to return soon — but he meets the wife of an old schoolmate of his, a thoroughly vicious woman, and he forgets everything in his degrading love for her; he hurls every duty and every noble feeling aside in order to make himself her slave. This baleful passion ruins his whole life. As may be seen, these are not stories for every one to read, but they do not err by making sin seem sweet. They contain no luscious descriptions of vice with a sermon tar - dily following like the “ applications of Æsop’s Fables. Far from it; they mention crimes which it is well to discuss, especially in public, as little as possible, but the moral goes hand in hand with the fault, the punishment is surer than it sometimes is in life. These books show —and herein is a wisdom that might well be followed by those who openly avow they are merely sugaring a moral lesson — that the wicked man suffers, not by mysterious accidents to life and limb which in fact do not inquire into the victim’s moral character, but through agonies of remorse and shame, by making vain regret the inevitable result of folly or wrong-doing.

In others the tragedy is of a different sort. Lisa, for instance, is gloomy enough in its incidents, but there is in it the description of so much loveliness of life that the sadness is more than outweighed. It is the story of a man who when a boy in heart, although older in years, fell in love with the first pretty face he saw, and this happened to belong to a very frivolous young girl, who, after marrying him, proved false to him. Thereupon he left her and returned to his home, where he made the acquaintance of a young girl, Lisa, the heroine of the story. She, by her dignity and lofty nature, gets great influence over him, and when lie hears of his wife’s death, he asks her to marry him. She consents, but to their great surprise the news turns out to be false; the wife returns and asks for forgiveness. Lisa bids him to receive her again, and to fogive her; as for herself, she withdraws to a convent, and the unhappy husband has to put the heavy load on his shoulders. The reader’s feeling is one of sympathy for those poor people who are defrauded of their happiness; and it is sympathy one need not be ashamed of, that is given them, for they bow to their fate without seeking to break higher laws for their selfish profit; the lofty resignation of Lisa, and her pathetic justice, which the husband of the other woman cannot help hoping will be less rigid, while they leave us sad, do yet console us by showing us how much better and higher it rightdoing than happiness. We pity and approve at the same time.

On the Eve, again, is a novel which, though full of beauty, although is contains a love-story told with even more wonderful art than any other we know, —_that is to say, even more wonderful in this respect than any of Turgénieff’s, —is deeply tragic, but in a way that we cannot help feeling is more the result of the willful determination of the author, than of those conditions of life which inevitably bring misery in their train.

We hope our readers are already familiar with the story: with Ellen’s preference for the young Bulgarian, and her impatience with her other lovers; with the way in which with mingled modesty and fearlessness she lets him know of her love for him; and with her sad fate. The very skill with which this is told us, the wonderful revelation of a young girl’s heart, the appeal to our sympathy throughout, all combine to give us so tender a love for the heroine that we yield entirely to our feelings, and mourn her story without stopping to consider that the poor girl is more the victim of the gloomy nature of the author, than of any fault of her own. There would seem to be a needlessness about her sufferings; we feel almost as if a girl had been sacrificed for our intellectual entertainment,. In life there is misery enough which strikes blindly right and left without bringing a satisfactory explanation for its existence; but in a work of art we have a right to ask, not necessarily for nothing but joyousness, for there may be a higher content to be derived from suffering, but for such an account of suffering as shall seem needful and necessary, and not the invention of mere wantonness; it should be the natural outgrowth of the circumstances of the case. In On the Eve, is Ellen punished for falling in love? is it for falling in love with a Bulgarian ? No, there is no proportion between the conduct of the girl and her sufferings; they are beautifully told, but this inconsequence mars what in some respects is the best of Turgénieff’s novels. Nor is the heroine’s affliction made use of as a means of amending her faults: she is not rendered less headstrong; she does not return to her feeble-brained, heartbroken mother; she determines to aid the Bulgarians as much as she can, and the novel ends leaving us to understand, apparently, that Ellen is lost at sea. At any rate, she is never heard of again.

But in spite of this serious drawback how delightfully is the story told! The different characters of Bersiencff and Shoubine, the one serious and timid, the other light-hearted and fascinating, and Ellen’s pompous father with his hollow affections, — no novelist equals Turgénieff in setting people before us.

It is especially as a study of character that Dimitri Roudine is remarkable. It has for its subject a few incidents in the life of a Russian, a man who began life with attractive talents, but whose nature is poisoned by an insuperable desire to shine by words rather than by deeds. The whole novel is nothing but a study of this man and his effect on other and different characters. His ready tongue and apparent enthusiasm make him win the heart of a young girl, but his feebleness, when their love is discovered and she is ready to fly with him, makes her utterly despise him. Her mother, a self-willed, affected old lady, who is very fond of admiration, is pleased at getting a new man who is ready to listen to her, but she is very unwilling to let her daughter think of marrying him. Then there is his old fellow-student, who is at first ready to condemn Roudine, but who, after his disgrace, takes a more generous view of him; and his modest rival, who at last turns upon him; and the young tutor, with his boyish, enthusiastic admiration. The upshot of the whole book is a sort of recommendation to our mercy of those persons whom it would be the easiest to condemn, those, namely, who excite general envy by their brilliancy, or who disappoint our confidence by letting fine speeches stand for fine actions; indeed, more fairly, it is a sort of warning to be generous in our estimate of others. Not that it is written to convey that moral lesson; but that is what one learns from it, as one learns from his own experience.

Then, too, we ought to observe the life-like way in which the novel is written; we are never granted any side views of the hero which are denied the people in the story; we are deceived or put on guard just as they are; we have to study him just as they do; hence it is that a novel so barren of incident, and in a way so clumsily put together, succeeds so well in interesting the reader, who finds his curiosity aroused and his sagacity baffled in a way that is not overcommon about the heroes of fiction. Too often these gentlemen are beings whose characters stand out strongly marked with this or that quality, which we either admire or condemn at sight; but in this novel we are perplexed as we are in real life, and this it is which gives the story its great charm.

Fathers and Sons, which appeared in 1860, besides its particular interest for the account it contains of the wave of materialism which was then at its height in Russia, has a general interest from its representation of the frequent conflict between the older and younger generations, which is never to be felt more acutely than in times of intellectual change. Russia, with its uneasy yearning for civilization, seems to have shown the same eagerness to adopt a theory which was to solve the universe without the necessity of long preliminary training, that one can observe among the Japanese, for instance; and to have given it the devotion which is found only among those who have not had to blush frequently for misplaced enthusiasm. But with all its wonderful power the novel is yet not perfectly satisfactory; Bazaroff, the young student of advanced opinions, without mercy for the softer graces as represented by the nobleman Kirsanoff, comes to an untimely end, not in a way that is at all connected with his peculiar views, but merely at the will of the author. Still, there is much to outweigh this defect; we need only mention the other student, Arcadi, who models his life on that of his friend, but who is soon brought around to conventionalities by his love for Katia. All systems of philosophy are pretty much alike to her. We first see Bazaroff’s views clashing with the world at large while he is staying with his friend, but it is later, when he reaches his own home, that the full force of the tragedy is felt. All families know more or less of it, but in this story it is peculiarly poignant, and there is little that even Turgénieff has written more touching than the confused efforts of the father to understand his son’s new ideas, and the young man’s vain efforts to convert his father. This it is which lifts up the novel from being a study of an exceptional phase of Russian society to being an account of something of wider interest through its truth, which rises above geographical distinction.

Such, in brief, are Turgénieff’s novels. Of books which go so far towards setting before us pictures of life, it is impossible to give a thorough impression in the narrow limits of a magazine article; the novelist has taken so large a field of human nature for his subject, that only detached points can be touched upon, but we have endeavored to indicate some of the most noteworthy of his qualities, which may tempt more novel-readers to the perusal of his writings. The foregoing analyses may show the serious nature of the problems he discusses, as well as the poetical idealization of everything his pen touches. This quality it was that made the Récits d’un Chasseur a book so dangerous to the Russian government; and in everything he has written he has known how to touch the heart, not always, to be sure, with equal success, but in a way that no novelist of the time has excelled. We cannot be too grateful to an author who brings the world

“To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.”

To his skill in drawing character, in setting the dramatis person&3339; before us, it would be impossible to give too much praise. He always makes us acquainted with the people by what in life is the only effectual means, by letting us see them face to face, so to speak, and not by merely telling us about them. In a word, his method is picturesque, not analytical. We see the pictures and analyze them by ourselves. And what more need be asked of a novelist than that he draw men and women as they are, with their faults and virtues ever merging into one another, and that he put these people into such relations as arouse our sympathy for some of the most serious matters of human experience? To do this is the constant aim of all creative writers, who are ever aspiring to represent the infinite emotions of life. Those who touch genuine springs of feeling are few, but among the few of the present day Ivan Turgénieff is prominent.

Thomas S. Perry.

  1. 2 Vide Glagau’s Die Russische Literatur und Iwan Turgenjew, pp. 43, 44, to which we are indebted for most of our stutistics.