Monday, August 30, 2010

A partial Turgenev reading list - busy readers can skip to the middle of the post

Books Many People Should Read.  In this case, books by Ivan Turgenev, early Turgenev.  This was my non-American, non-Melvillean, not-so-difficult, not-so-crazy reading for the last month or so:

A Sportsman’s Notebook (1847-1850, published as a book in 1852; stories)
The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850; story)
A Month in the Country (written 1850, published 1855, staged 1872; play)
Yakov Pasynkov (1855; story)
Faust (1856; story)
Rudin (1856; novel)
A Correspondence (1856; story)
A Journey to Polesje (1857; story)
The Home of the Gentry (1859; novel)
On the Eve (1860; novel)
First Love (1860; story? novella?)
Hamlet and Don Quixote (1860; speech)

This is the raw material for early Turgenev week.  Everything was good, but there was a lot of variation.  I’ve only just started The Home of the Gentry, but otherwise, I’ll give away my conclusion, allowing busy readers to skip the whole week:

Must read, for readers with any sympathy at all for 19th century Russian literature:  A Sportsman’s Notebook (or selections, at least) and On the Eve.

Must read, for the above and more: the bittersweet First Love.

Must read, for devotees of Chekhov’s plays: A Month in the Country.

The twenty-five stories in A Sportsman’s Notebook add up to 380 pages, so that book is almost long, but everything else is quite short.  The Home of the Gentry is the longest novel, all of 186 pages in the Penguin Classics edition.

The next item on the list should be Fathers and Sons (1862), which I have not read for a long time.  I am just going to take for granted that it is essential reading, a great masterpiece, blah blah blah.  After the success of and controversy over Fathers and Sons, Turgenev’s literary productivity decreased substantially, so I’m covering a more or less coherent phase of his career, not that I have anything interesting to say about that.

One reflex I’m going to try to avoid this week: knocking Turgenev up against Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky, or Chekhov.  Chekhov especially (see my recommendation of A Month in the Country).  It happens too often – I read a passage and think, boy, that’s as good as (Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky).  I don’t ever read (C, T, D) and think, boy, that’s as good as Turgenev.  Chekhov is the worst problem, because Turgenev was actually an important influence – that play is a model, in structure and tone, for Chekhov’s own dramas.  The line of connection is too clear.  I don’t want to fault Turgenev for not writing Uncle Vanya – he’s hardly alone there.  (Unstated assumption: Uncle Vanya – what a play! I love that play.)  So, no more of that.  Turgenev, on his own ground.

Why did I put my conclusion in the middle of the post?  Who will read this far?  Why am I still typing?


  1. I loved Turgenev in my teens - Fathers and Sons, First Love, Torrents of Spring - but I have to admit I haven't read a word by him for maybe 40 years. I'll see if I can root out my copies - randomly triple-banked in a garden shed...

  2. I love how your non-crazy reading for the month is like forty things. I only read that one little bit of Turgenev for my Russian mini-unit, one story that was included in another collection, but it put Sportsman's Sketches immediately on my list. I have a feeling I'll like him more than T & D, but probably less than C.

  3. Forty short things! And the month was maybe really six weeks. No hurry to get through The Sportsman's Notebook.

    Torrents of Spring - ah, that's a lovely book. Too late for this round. First Love would be a good book to put in the hands of impressionable teens. Warn them about what's coming up. Ha ha!

  4. I read a couple of Turgenev stories a few years ago and was bored to death. Then I read a few Chekhov stories and loved them and read the entire 400 page volume of his stories. So, while I know that I need to give Turgenev another chance, I suspect it will be hard to NOT compare.

    I'm with Nicole in thinking this sounds like a lot of Turgenev! But, as you point out, his works are shorter...

  5. Rebecca, this is a little more complicated than "bored to death"!

  6. lol yes, I guess I did have a bit more to say way back in my earliest days of blogging. Nonetheless, my reaction when I think of rereading Turgenev is "oh please, not yet..."