Ivan Turgenev (1818)
It was on this date, November 9, 1818 (NS), that Russian Realist novelist, poet and playwright Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (Ива́н Серге́евич Турге́нев), was born in Orel. He attended both Moscow and St. Petersburg Universities and received a Master’s Degree in philosophy. He developed some sympathy for democracy in Russia, but made the mistake of articulating his views in a letter to Nikolai Gogol. The authorities arrested him and, after some prison time, banished him from the capital. He finally settled in France.
Turgenev is chiefly noted in the West for his 1862 novel, Fathers and Sons (Отцы и дети). In it, he wrote, “Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four.”
Turgenev influenced Henry James and Joseph Conrad. His humanitarian ethic shines through all his works. Unlike Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Turgenev was uninterested in religion; indeed, he was great friends with Gustave Flaubert, an Atheist.* Isaac Pavlovsky’s 1887 biography says Turgenev “was a freethinker and detested the apparatus of religion very heartily.”**
* Flaubert and Turgenev: A Friendship in Letters: The Complete Correspondence (edited and translated by Barbara Beaumont), 1985.
** Isaac Pavlovsky, Souvenirs sur Tourguéneff, 1887, p. 242.
Originally published November 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.