Ivan Turgenev Biography


Ivan Sergeyevitch Turgenev was born of wealthy parents in the city of Oryol, central Russia, on October 28, 1818. He spent most of his childhood on the family estate under the instruction of tutors until he enrolled at the University of Moscow in 1833. Before a year had passed he transferred to the University of Petersburg, from which he graduated in 1837.

Turgenev traveled for some time in Europe, especially Germany, and chiefly studied philosophy. In 1843, he accepted a minor post in the Ministry of the Interior and also made the acquaintance of Pauline Viardot, a sophisticated French singer whom he would remain devoted to for the rest of his life and for whose sake he would often remain abroad for long periods of time.

After retiring from the service, he went to France, spending summers on the Viardot's estate and winters in Paris. This French period proved to be a very fertile one in his literary career, for it was here that he wrote most of the pieces which later (August, 1852) were to comprise his A Sportsman's Sketches. Turgenev had witnessed the February Revolution in Paris (1848) and his subsequent connection with reform groups in Russia and his eulogy of the recently deceased but highly "suspect" Gogol in 1852 led to his arrest and one-month imprisonment in Petersburg.

By the mid-1850's, he was spending as much time in Europe as in Russia, and in 1857 Pauline Viardot gave birth to a child allegedly Turgenev's. In August of 1860 on the Isle of Wight, he conceived the idea for his Fathers and Sons; he finished the novel in July of 1861 in Russia.

In 1863, he was summoned to answer charges of having aided a London group of expatriates, but was soon exonerated, bought land at Baden near the Viardots and settled there. In 1869, he ran into financial difficulties and had to sell his newly built villa, but remained there as a tenant while he prepared an edition of his collected works. Some of those finished to date were Rudin (1855), A Nest of Gentlefolk (1859), On the Eve (1860), and Smoke (1867), and several dramas.

During the next ten years, Turgenev worked on his novel, Virgin Soil, and several more plays, spending time in Baden, Paris, Great Britain, and Russia. In 1879, his brother Nikolai died, and upon Turgenev's arrival in Moscow, he was celebrated by the liberals. This same year he received an honorary degree from Oxford and began to prepare another collection of his works. Always a great admirer of Pushkin, he took an active part in the Pushkin festival of 1880. In 1882, he was taken seriously ill, but continued to work, dictating "Fire at the Sea" and "The End." He died in France on September 3, 1883, with Madame Viardot and her children about him. The year before his death, he published a sheaf of what he called "an old man's jottings" under the title of Poems in Prose.

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