Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born on October 28th 1818 (Old Style) in the town of Oryol, the second of three sons of a somewhat badly matched couple. His father, an impoverished noble who had served in the Yelizavetgrad cuirassier regiment which was stationed in the town of Oryol, was thirteen years younger than his wife Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova on whose large family estate of five thousand serfs the family lived at Spasskoye. While his father was from the ancient Russian nobility, Turgenev’s mother’s family sprang from an unexceptional line of country gentry, and this disparity in backgrounds was mirrored by an equal contrast in temperament. Turgenev’s father was on the whole calm, reserved and controlled while his wife Varvara Petrovna was tyrannical and excessively possessive. It was she who administered the running of the estates, leaving her husband to a life of hunting, gambling and womanising which ended in an early death at the age of forty-one, at which point Ivan was only sixteen.

At four Ivan had accompanied his parents on a tour of Europe and, if we are to believe a short autobiographical sketch of 1875, only narrowly escaped death when he nearly fell into the bear-pit at the Bern zoo, saved only when his father caught hold of his leg as he was on the point of tumbling into the enclosure. However, the majority of his first nine years were spent living in a large manor house on his mother’s main estate in the midst of a large and beautifully landscaped park in which the young Turgenev loved to wander. It was at this time that the foundations were laid for his subsequent love and knowledge of nature and also his passion for hunting, both of which are famously displayed in his novels.

Turgenev’s mother ran her estates like an autocrat unhindered by outside laws. To her the serfs were little more than slaves and, embittered by her own unhappy childhood and the infidelities of her husband she found respite in the suffering of others. The serfs, like her three sons, were regularly cruelly punished by flogging, and were also often banished to far-off estates or put to work that denied their natural abilities.

The young Ivan hungered in vain for his father’s love and attention in the absence of that of his mother and found that his younger brother Sergei was too young to provide that companionship that he so desperately yearned for, while his elder brother Nikolai was too different in mentality to give him what he needed. It was therefore to the serfs that he turned for his early education in life. It was a serf who helped him to break in to the library next to his nursery and who introduced him at the age of eight to the reading and appreciation of poetry. It was also serfs who would have taught him to learn of the ways of nature, and of hunting and shooting and it was to a serf that he lost his virginity at the age of about fifteen. It is all the more understandable then that he should later in his novels show a concern for the moral and socio- political systems governing the lives of the Russian peasantry.

In 1827 the Turgenev family moved to Moscow where Nikolai and Ivan spent two years in boarding schools while their parents travelled in pursuit of treatments for the ailing father. On their return the family moved back to Oryol, where Ivan continued to study under a succession of tutors. At fifteen he returned to Moscow to enter the university, but spent only one year there, then moving to St. Petersburg with his family and continuing his degree at the university there. After finishing his degree in 1837, in 1838 he travelled to Germany and spent most of his twenty-seven months there studying classical languages and literatures, history and philosophy at the University of Berlin. On returning to Moscow in 1841 he studied for a Master of Philosophy, completing the oral and written examinations, but never finishing his dissertation. Turgenev himself later said that this was because he had been distracted by his overwhelming passion for hunting, but it has also been speculated that he at this point saw the futility of pursuing a career in philosophy in Russia, where the subject had become somewhat anathematised since the Decembrist rising of 1825.

However, the education he had received in Berlin and his experiences over two months spent travelling in Italy, coupled with his contacts with cultured Germans and with Russian ex-patriots in both Germany and Italy formed the basis for his subsequent emergence as the most highly-educated Russian writer of his generation.

In 1843 Turgenev met the influential critic Belinsky, a strong man who shaped to a great degree the development of Turgenev’s literary exploits, dealing harshly with his early dilettantism and childish lack

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