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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Turgenev, Ivan Sergievich (1818 - 1883)
"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."

"Nature is not a temple, but a workshop, and man's the workman in it."

-- Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was a major Russian novelist and playwright. His novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as a defining work of 19th-century fiction.

Turgenev was born into an old and wealthy family at Orel, Russia, in the province of the same name, on October 28, 1818. His father Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev, the colonel of a cavalry regiment, died when he was sixteen, leaving Turgenev and his brother Nicholas to be brought up under the care of their abusive mother, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, who owned large estates and many serfs.

After the normal schooling for a child of a gentleman's family, Turgenev studied for a year at the University of Moscow, then the University of St Petersburg focusing on the classics, Russian literature and philology. He was finally sent in 1838 to the University of Berlin to study philosophy (mostly Hegel) and history. Turgenev was impressed with the more modern society he witnessed in Western Europe, and went back home a "Westernizer", as opposed to a "Slavophile", believing that Russia could improve itself by imitating the West and abolishing outdated institutions such as serfdom.

A family serf read to him verses from the Rossiad of Kheraskov, a celebrated poet of the eighteenth century. Turgenev's early attempts in literature, poems and sketches, had indications of genius and were favorably spoken of by Belinsky, then the leading Russian critic. During the latter part of his life, Turgenev did not reside much in Russia; he lived either at Baden-Baden or Paris, often in proximity to the family of the celebrated singer Pauline Garcia-Viardot, with whom he had a life-long affair.

Turgenev never married, although he had a daughter with one of his family's serfs. Tall and broad, Turgenev's personality was timid, restrained and soft-spoken. His closest literary friend was Gustave Flaubert. Turgenev occasionally visited England, and in 1879 the degree of D.C.L. was conferred upon him by the University of Oxford. He died at Bougival, near Paris, on 4 September 1883.

His brain was weighed in 1883 at an incredible 2021 gm.

Turgenev made his name with A Sportsman's Sketches, also known as Sketches From a Hunter's Album or Notes of a Hunter. Based on the author's own observations while sport hunting birds and hares in his mother's estate of Spasskoye, the work appeared in a collected form in 1852. In 1852, between Turgenev's Sketches and his first important novels, he wrote his now notorious obituary to his idol Gogol in the St. Petersburg Gazette.

The key passage reads: "Gogol is dead!...what Russian heart is not shaken by those three words?...He is gone, that man whom we now have the right, the bitter right given to us by death, to call great." The censor of St. Petersburg did not approve of this idolatry and banned its publication, but Turgenev managed to fool the Moscow censor into printing it. These underhanded tactics landed the young writer in prison for a month, and he was forced into exile at his estate for nearly two years.

His next work was A Nest of Nobles in 1859, and was followed the next year by On the Eve, a tale which contains one of his most beautiful female characters, Helen. On the Eve (of reform), with Turgenev's portrayal of Bulgarian revolutionary Dmitri, would have been very exciting politically to many contemporaneous readers. In 1862 Fathers and Sons was published, an admirably-structured novel in which the author famously described the revolutionary doctrines then beginning to spread in Russia. His lead character Basarov is heralded by many as one of the finest characters of the 19th century novel. 19th century Russian critics did not take to Fathers and Sons. The stinging criticism, especially from younger radicals, disappointed Turgenev and he wrote very little in the years following Fathers and Sons.

Turgenev's later novels, with their antiquated language and stilted situations, are considered inferior to his earlier efforts. Smoke was published in 1867 and his last work of any length, Virgin Soil, was published in 1877. Aside from his longer stories, many shorter ones were produced, some of great beauty and full of subtle psychological analysis, such as Torrents of Spring, First Love, Asya and others.

These were later collected into three volumes. His last works were Poetry in Prose and Clara Milich, which appeared in the European Messenger. Turgenev is considered one of the great Victorian novelists, ranked with Thackeray, Hawthorne, and Henry James, though his style was much different from these American and British writers. Turgenev has often been compared to his Russian contemporaries, Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoevsky, who wrote novels about some of the same issues. A melancholy tone pervades his writings, a morbid self-analysis.

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