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Ivan Turgenev one of the most critically acclaimed writers in Russian literature of the 19 th century was born in Orel, in 1818. Educated at home, he later attended the Universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 1839 he had a stint at the University of Berlin where he acquired the Western values and culture for which he was much criticized in Russia.
His first venture into literature was through his publication ‘Parasha’ a tale in verse. In 1852, Turgenev abandoned poetry and drama to devote his time to fiction. His first successful novel, ‘A sportsman’s sketches’ (1852) gave the contrast between the hapless peasants and unpleasant masters. During the next ten years, he produced ‘Rudin’ (1856), ‘A Nest of Gentle Folk’ (1858), ‘On the Eve’ (1860), ‘First Love’ (1860) and ‘Fathers and Sons’ (1862) some of which attracted the critics attention.
Ivan Turgenev through his novels transcended topical problems. His greatest novel ‘Otsy-ideti’ (1862: Fathers and Sons) dealing with the generation gap, set left-wing writers against him, and he never regained popularity with the young progressives. Deeply offended with the continued criticism by the radical press, Turgenev left Russia for France and became an associate of Flaubert and the French literary world.
‘Smoke’ (1867) and ‘Virgin Soil’ (1877) showed the depth of his bitterness and analyzed the Russian revolutionary movement. However his last visit to Russia in 1880 marked a triumphant return to the much-maligned writer. He died in 1883 at Bougival, near Paris.
Through his novels Turgenev enhanced his reputation as a liberal minded thinker and as one of the first prose writers of the day. He popularized the term ‘Nihilism’ through the figure of Bazarov, the nihilist. For western readers, Turgenev remains one of the most interesting of the Great Russian novelists.
The term ‘Russian literature’ is used to describe the literature of different areas, in different periods namely, the old Russian period which extends from the 11 th to the end of the 17 th century and the modern period which is sub-divided into the pre-Revolutionary period extends from the end of the 17 th century to 1917, and the post revolutionary period extends from 1917 onwards.
During the whole of the Old Russian period, literature was influenced by the connections between Russia and Byzantium and between literature and the Orthodox Church. The beginnings of modern literature were marked by growing westernization already noticeable in the 17 th century and increased by the reforms of Peter I, the Great.
From the beginning of the 18 th to the early 20 th century western influence was predominant especially that of France and England. Turgenev all his life, was considered a westerner by the Russian critics and towards the end of his days, he became practically an honorary Frenchman of letters.
Post-revolutionary literature shows tendencies to some extent in relation to political circumstances and to the close supervision exercised by the communist party on all aspects of life and culture.