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Turgenev and the question of the Russian artist



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Sundkvist, Luis 


This thesis is concerned with the thoughts of the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (1818-83) on the development of the arts in his native country and the specific problems facing the Russian artist. It starts by considering the state of the creative arts in Russia in the early nineteenth century and suggests why even towards the end of his life Turgenev still had some misgivings as to whether painting and music had become a real necessity for Russian society in the same way that literature clearly had. A re-appraisal of "On the Eve" (1860) then follows, indicating how the young sculptor Shubin in this novel acts as the author's alter ego in a number of respects, in particular by reflecting Turgenev's views on heroism and tragedy. The change in Shubin's attitude towards Insarov, whom the sculptor at first tries to belittle before eventually comparing him to the noble Brutus in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", can be said to anticipate Turgenev's own feelings about Bazarov in "Fathers and Children" (1862) and the way that this 'nihilist' attained the stature of a true tragic hero. In this chapter, too, the clichéd notion of Turgenev's alleged affinity with Schopenhauer is firmly challenged — an issue that is taken up again later on in the discussion of "Phantoms" (1864) and "Enough!" (1865). Other aspects of Turgenev's portrayal of Shubin are used to introduce the remaining chapters, where the problems of dilettantism, originality, nationalism and Slavophilism — among the most acute problems which Russian artists had to contend with in Turgenev's eyes — are explored through various works of his, especially the novel "Smoke" (1867), as well as by reference to his observations of such contemporaries as Glinka, the painter Ivanov, Tolstoi, and the composers of the 'Mighty Handful'. The springboard for the final chapter on the tragic fate befalling so many Russian artists is once again Shubin, whose voluntary exile in Rome at the end of the novel allows for certain parallels to be drawn with Gogol'. Despite Turgenev's own 'absenteeism' from Russia, for which he was much reproached, it is emphasized in the conclusion that he always remained devoted to the cause of Russia's civic and cultural development, especially in the realm of the arts, whose national, and at the same time universal, value he upheld so compellingly in his Pushkin speech of 1880.





Turgenev, Russian literature, Russian music, Russian painting


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
This work was supported by a Domestic Research Studentship from the University of Cambridge.