Ivan Turgenev responded to Pushkin differently than Tolstoy. Turgenev stripped down the elements of the story while piling up the prose. He and Tolstoy were working towards similar goals, though - how to put what was real, the Truth, into fictional prose. Different ideas about what was true; different aesthetic satisfactions.
This is the title character of Turgenev’s 1870 novella A Lear of the Steppes:
Picture to yourselves a man of gigantic stature. On his huge carcase was set, a little askew, and without the least trace of a neck, a prodigious head. A perfect hay stack of tangled yellowish-grey hair stood up all over it, growing almost down to the bushy eyebrows. On the broad expanse of his purple face, that looked as though it had been peeled, there protruded a sturdy knobby nose… (Ch. 1)
And then his eyes and ears – “just like great twists of bread, full of bends and curves” – and so on. Martin Petrovich Harlov, the Russian King Lear, is another in the long line of 19th century strong men. At the story’s climax, he literally tears apart his house with his bare hands, like Samson, not Lear. Had Turgenev been reading Les Misérables or Toilers of the Sea? Of course he had, everyone read Hugo, but had they inspired this character?
Turgenev had the bad habit of introducing characters with long, instantly forgotten descriptions, as if he were writing not a story but a play. That objection does not apply to the above opening. A little bit of grotesquerie aids the memory.
Harlov only has two daughters, and when, after a dream urging repentance, he divides his kingdom among them, they both offer homage, so again this does not seem all that much like Shakespeare, except that the unmarried daughter Evlampia does not offer enough praise, is not sufficiently thankful for her early inheritance, and thus the trouble begins.
Anna at once dropped on her knees and touched the ground with her fore head; her husband, too, doubled up after her. “Well, and you?” Harlov turned to Evlampia. She crimsoned all over, and she too bowed to the earth ; Zhitkov bent his whole carcase forward. (Ch. 12)
Zhitkov is a mix of Edmund and Cornwall, a scheming parasite. I do not believe there is a Gloucester, or a Fool, nor does Harlov have three dogs, Blanche, Sweetheart, and Trey. In the game of adapted Shakespeare, one of the arts is to know what to abandon. The point of the story is not to identify correspondences between texts, although there are more in this book than in Turgenev’s 1852 story “Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District” or Leskov’s harrowing 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Three examples is enough to make a genre, yes?
It’s not Fathers and Sons, but it’s a good story. Everyone gets to keep their eyes, which is all right by me.
I am looking at Constance Garnett’s translation, published in Volume 12 of a 15 book “Novels of Ivan Turgenev.”