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Top 8 Most Influential Novels by Ivan Turgenev

Updated on March 25, 2020
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Prachi is a voracious reader and a bibliophile. She has her own library with a collection of more than thousands of books of different genre

Statue of Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev in St. Petersburg, Russia
Statue of Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev in St. Petersburg, Russia

We sit in the mud... and reach for the stars.

— Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was a Russian novelist, poet, translate and short story writer. Because of him, Russian literature gained immense popularity in the west.

Amazing Facts about Ivan Turgenev

  • He was fluent in English, French, and German.
  • He was a philosophy graduate and also studied Russian literature.
  • Due to his inclination towards Western Europe, he’d rough relations with Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy.
  • He remained unmarried throughout his life and only had some affairs with serfs.
  • He was an agnostic and lacked religious motivation.
  • He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Civil Law by the University of Oxford in 1879.
  • He wrote an obituary for the Russian dramatist and writer Nikolai Gogol, in which he severely criticized Russians for not giving much attention to the news. Due to this, he was imprisoned for a month and later, exiled to the country land for two years.
  • He died on September 3, 1883, due to a spinal abscess.

Turgenev was less based on religious and moral aspects of his time in Russian society and more on his own ideas about society and its surroundings. Considered to be one of the finest novelists of the 19th century Russia, here are his most adored novel lists:

Rudin's film adaptation
Rudin's film adaptation

1. Rudin

  • Though Rudin is Turgenev’s least famous work, it’s still worth mentioning for its spectacular story. It was Turgenev’s first novel.
  • It is a love story between the protagonist and a young and intelligent woman, which is also a major conflict of the plot.
  • The protagonist named Rudin is intellectual but ineffective quite similar to the characters in Hamlet and Don Quixote.
  • As the story progresses, it is revealed that he is merely a show-off and is a pigmy in action. He can’t accomplish what he boasts about.
  • Rudin was later adapted by Konstantin Voynov for a 95 minutes long movie made in Soviet in the year 1976.

Home of the Gentry's film adaptation
Home of the Gentry's film adaptation

2. Home of the Gentry

  • Home of the Gentry is Turgenev’s least controversial and one of the most popular novels of the 19th century.
  • The protagonist is Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky, who is a nobleman and is quite similar to Turgenev’s own self.
  • Lavretsky’s father and the mother die when he was very young and thus, he is brought by a cruel and strict maiden aunt. These characteristics highly relate to Turgenev’s mother as well.
  • The story is about Lavertsky’s affair with a young girl that he meets at an opera and later marries her, but as the story progresses it is known that she is cheating on him.
  • He decides to leave her, seizes all the contacts and goes back to his family estate and meets another girl, but then the news of his former wife surfaces.

On the Eve
On the Eve

3. On the Eve

  • On the Eve is a semi-comical story of a girl named Elena Stakhova.
  • Stakhova lives with her hypochondriac mother and a father, who is a retired lieutenant.
  • On the eve of the Crimean War, Elena meets a Bulgarian named Dmitri Insarov and instantly falls in love with him, which is unacceptable to her parents.
  • The novel was noted for its structural weakness and thus, received a late universal approval, but gained immediate success in Russia. It is said by Turgenev wasn’t quite happy with this creation and decided to burn the manuscript, but was stopped by a friend and later it was successfully published.
  • The novel was adapted for a theatre play named “The Lover” by Elizabeth Egloff in the year 1996.


4. Smoke

  • Smoke is a love story of a young man, Grigory Litvinov, and a married young woman, Irina Osinin, living in Russia.
  • The story starts in a German resort where Litvinov has come to meet his fiancee Tatiana Shestov in a social gathering. On returning to his room, he finds heliotrope flowers gifted to him by a mysterious woman, which he suspects to be Osinin.
  • The story races back to ten years when Litvinov was in love with beautiful Osinin, but she left him to marry someone else.
  • As the story progresses, Litvinov falls into a dilemma of whom to choose, his fiancé Shestov or former lover Osinin.

Torrents of Spring's film adaptation
Torrents of Spring's film adaptation

5. Torrents of Spring

  • Torrents of Spring is Turgenev’s one of the greatest novels and is highly autobiographical, inspired by his own life events.
  • It is about a Russian landowner named Dimitry Pavlovich Sanin who falls in love for the first time while visiting Frankfurt in Germany. Unfortunately, the girl, Gemma Roselli, is already engaged to someone else.
  • The story revolves around intense love, betrayal, infidelity and deep remorse. It is a heart-touching story and quite relevant to contemporary society and how the modern love story works.
  • Based on the novel, Jerzy Skolimowski directed a film that received a nomination for the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival, 1989.

Virgin Soil
Virgin Soil

6. Virgin Soil

  • Virgin Soil is considered to be Turgenev’s most ambitious novel and longest as well. It is his final novel.
  • The story is about young people living in 19th century Russia, who are against the cultural rules and customs.
  • Many of them choose to leave their luxurious lifestyle behind and start a new venture by working with peasants and other workers.
  • The story has many central characters, one of these is Alexey Dmitrievich Nezhdanov, who wants to involve peasants in the political action. He is a baseborn son of an aristocrat.
  • Turgenev has discussed the culture of the Populist movement through this novel and how people adopted it in their everyday lives.

Fathers and sons' theatrical adaptation
Fathers and sons' theatrical adaptation

7. Fathers and Sons

  • Fathers and Sons is the most popular and well-acclaimed novel of the 19th century, also considered to be the most influential work of Ivan Turgenev.
  • The story starts with Arkady Kirsanov, who recently graduated from the University of Petersburg and comes back home with a friend named Bazarov.
  • Bazarov is a nihilist and Kirsanov’s father, Nikolay, soon get intimidated by him because of his notion of nihilism.
  • Besides this, Nikolay has fathered a son with his maid and Kirsanov doesn’t see it as a threat, rather is quite happy to have a younger brother.
  • Fathers and sons is the first Russian novel to gain immense popularity in the west and also responsible for increasing the popularity of the word “nihilism”.

A Sportsman's Sketches
A Sportsman's Sketches

8. A Sportsman’s Sketches

  • A Sportsman’s Sketches is a collection of short stories and also a very successful work of Turgenev.
  • The stories are inspired by Turgenev’s real-life experience of watching peasants’ atrocities and how they were restricted from justice because of that time Russian system.
  • Turgenev received huge recognition for his unique delivery of these short stories and also gained fame as a successful short story writer.
  • His work influenced many Russian short story writers of 19th and 20th centuries, including Ivan Bunin, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Kuprin, and Sherwood Anderson.
  • A Sportsman’s Sketches became a paradigm for writing short stories in the world literature.

Ivan Turgenev’s novels are highly known for being love-centric. Though not all of his novels received considerable acclamation, most of his work is considered to be the center of the Russian literature and also an inspiration for the world writers. He is among early few Russian writers who popularised the Russian literature in the West.

© 2019 Prachi Sharma


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