Ivan Turgenev Biography

(Novelist, Short Story Writer, Poet & Popularizer of Russian Literature in the West)

Birthday: November 9, 1818 (Scorpio)

Born In: Oryol, Russia

Ivan Turgenev was a celebrated short-story writer, novelist, and poet from Russia. He was one of the principal writers who played a major role in popularizing Russian literature in the west. He was the only Russian novelist of his era who was believed to have a European outlook. His novel ‘Fathers and Sons’ was one of his most popular works; it is also considered to be one of the best novels of the 19th century. Both the Russian left-wing and right-wing political segments distrusted Turgenev as the left believed that he was being very critical of the young revolutionaries, while the right believed that he was not being critical enough. Most of his works portray a realistic version of the lives of Russian peasants. He was able to bring in a lot of love and concern for his native land Russia from the western world through his writings. Turgenev was often considered to be timid, restrained, and soft-spoken by his contemporaries even though he was physically well built with broad shoulders.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev

Died At Age: 64


father: Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev

mother: Varvara Turgeneva

siblings: Nikolay Turgenev, Sergei Turgenev

children: Paulinette Turgeneva

Born Country: Russia

Poets Novelists

Died on: September 3, 1883

place of death: Bougival, France

Diseases & Disabilities: Liposarcoma

Cause of Death: Abscess

More Facts

education: Moscow State University

Childhood & Early Life
Ivan Turgenev was born on November 9, 1818, to Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev and Varvara Petrovna Turgeneva in Oryol, Russia. Sergei was a colonel in the Russian cavalry and belonged to the Turgenev family which was of Tula aristocracy. His mother came from the wealthy Lutovinov house of the Oryol Governorate. He had two siblings, Nikolai and Sergei, and he was the second child in the family.
After his regular schooling, Ivan Turgenev went on to study for a year at the University of Moscow. He then studied Classics, Russian literature and philology at the University of Saint Petersburg from 1834 to 1837.
He then moved to Germany where he studied philosophy and history from the University of Berlin. He finally returned to Saint Petersburg where he gave his master’s examination.
In 1841, he started his career in the Russian Civil Service, probably to fulfill his mother’s wish of seeing him work in the government and spent two years of his career in the ministry of interior.
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Though Ivan Turgenev had written a lot of poems and short stories in his early career, the first work that brought him to fame was ‘A Sportsman’s Sketches’ which was a collection of short stories published in 1852. The stories were based on his observations of peasant life and nature during the days he spent hunting in the forests of his mother’s estate in Spasskoye.
When he was imprisoned for a month for writing an obituary of Nikolai Gogol, he wrote the famous short story ‘Mumu’ in 1854. This was a story about a deaf and mute peasant whose only source of happiness was his dog, Mumu, who he is forced to drown under unfortunate circumstances.
Between 1853 and 1862, Ivan Turgenev wrote some of his best works, including ‘Rudin,’ which was published in 1856; ‘A Nest of the Gentry’ in 1859; ‘On the Eve’ in 1860; and ‘Fathers and Sons’ in 1862. Most of these books were based on his love for Pauline and also his experiences with his mother, who was a strict authoritarian.
The story of ‘A Nest of the Gentry,’ which was published in 1858, brimmed with nostalgia and his love for the Russian countryside. The book also had ‘Liza’, who became one of the most memorable characters of Russian literature along with Tolstoy’s ‘Natasha Rostova’.
After Alexander II ascended the Russian throne, leading to the relaxation of the political climate, he wrote the novel ‘On the Eve’ in 1860. The novel was about the Bulgarian revolutionary Insarov.
In 1862, Ivan Turgenev came up with the masterpiece ‘Fathers and Sons,’ whose lead character ‘Eugene Bazarov’ is considered the ‘first Bolshevik’ in Russian literature. The novel was about the constant conflicts between the older generations and the younger generations who had different outlooks on life.
His last book, titled ‘Virgin Soil,’ was published in 1877. The book was about doing justice to the contemporary problems of the Russian society.
Family & Personal Life
Ivan Turgenev never married. However, he had a few affairs with his family servants. One of his affairs led to the birth of his illegitimate daughter, Paulinette.
He was also closely associated with the popular opera singer Pauline Garcia Viardot with whom he had a platonic relationship. He was acquainted with her husband as well, and he often travelled with the couple.
He did not have many friends. His closest literary friend was Gustave Flaubert with whom he shared similar views. They both had a non-judgmental and pessimistic view of the world.
Death & Legacy
During his later years, Ivan Turgenev’s health started to deteriorate, and in January 1883, a malignant tumor was removed from his suprapubic region. However, the cancer had already reached his spinal cord, which caused him intense pain during his final months.
He died on 3 September 1883, due to a spinal abscess, at Bougival near Paris. His remains were brought to Russia and he was buried in Volkovo Cemetry in St. Petersburg.
On his death bed, he was visited by Tolstoy to whom he said, “My friend, return to literature”. It was after this that Tolstoy went on to write the popular works ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ and ‘The Kreutzer Sonata.’
Ivan Turgenev was a favorite of many writers of the next generation, including Henry James and Joseph Conrad, who had similar ideologies. He was also praised by Vladimir Nabokov who was notorious for dismissing many authors as poor writers.
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