Tuesday, 19 May 1998

Ivan Turgenev: Home of the Gentry (1856)

Translation: Richard Freeborn, 1970
Edition: Penguin
Review number: 46

This is the novel which made Turgenev's name outside Russia. The Russian title, Dvoranskoye gnezdo, has connotations of "Nest" rather than "Home", but there isn't really an easy way to translate that into English. The novel is really about Russia, perhaps even more so than is the case with most Russian novels. It deals with the relationship between the aristocracy and the land, and the way that the true Russian returns to his native country, no matter how influenced he may be by the sophisticated Western culture that was the rage in fashionable Russian circles.

Home of the Gentry is mainly concerned with the young nobleman Lavretsky, who makes an unfortunate marriage with Varvara Pavlovna. She becomes addicted to the frivolity of Paris society, and he ends up leaving her and returning to his estate after discovering that she is having an affair.

On his return, he renews contact with a family of old friends, and rapidly finds himself falling in love with the young woman of the house, named Liza. Reading an old newspaper, he sees that his wife has died, and so begins to court Liza. But disaster strikes when Varvara Pavlovna turns up on his doorstep; the newspaper report was a mistake. Lavretsky cannot accept her back, and he cannot go on with his courtship. Liza finds consolation in her real religion, and becomes a nun.

This was one of the first Russian novels to become known outside Russia, and the sense of Russianness is really overpowering. It is also a really sad novel, where the characters are very well drawn. In fact, it has all the qualities of every good Russian novel!

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