Most of Turgenevs prose works are designated as povesti a category which does not fit easily into English. The povest is either a short novel or a longer short story. For our purposes, however, the seven works examined above may be classified as novels to distinguish them from such shorter povesti as First Love, Faust and Asia, which have not been examined here, in spite of their own considerable merits - not least the role played in them by nature.
The fact that Turgenev began his writing career as a poet is indicative of his primary interest in nature as a literary theme. In his long poem Parasha (1843) the depiction of the garden in stanzas 43-53 is the backdrop for love [1, 91-5], and prefigures similar settings in the novels. Significantly, perhaps, in his first published poem Vecher (Evening) (1839) the poet searches for meaning in nature: And I understood in that sacred hour/ Nature gives us a mysterious lesson [1, 11]. Yet his conclusion reminds us of the ending of Fathers and Children nature is silent: And I became sad that nothing in creation/ Was capable of knowing about the secrets of existence. The theme of the silence of nature, linked now to death, is carried on in a poem of 1844, Zametila li ty, o drug moi molchalivyi (Have you not noticed, O my silent friend) [1, 23].
In Evening an oak tree is described as the tsar of the forest, bending its curly head over the water, and in a poem of 1845 Otkuda veet tishinoi? (Whence comes this silence?) a poplar nods its head to the poet. Nevertheless, such embryonic personification of nature (also typical of Sportsmans Sketches) is merely a pledge of the more systematic use of similar imagery in the novels. We see this first of all in Rudin, where a more philosophical strand enters the novel with its references to ideas current in the Stankevich circle of the 1830s, and we learn of Rudins ability at that time to show that: every separate phenomenon of life resonated in a chord [6, 298] an idea which seems to challenge the ending of Evening. The next novel, A Nest of Gentlefolk, reveals yet a further source for a more systematic view of natural symbolism, in Lavretskys childhood fascination with Ambodiks Symbols and Emblems, and here there is an autobiographical element.
In a letter addressed jointly to M.A. Bakunin and A.P. Efremov, from Marienbad (September 1840), Turgenev describes how, as a young boy, with the help of a servant lad, he broke into a book cupboard in the old house at Spasskoe, and took a copy of Ambodiks Symbols and Emblems, which so obsessed his mind that, almost in a feverish state, he dreamed of symbols and emblems all night (I myself fell among emblems, I myself "took on significance"), and so much so that when a servant awoke him the following morning, he was almost on the point of asking him, what sort of an emblem he might be. The feverish dreams inspired by Symbols and Emblems seem to find an echo in dreams full of similar portents experienced by many of Turgenevs chief protagonists: Insarov, Elena, Bazarov, Litvinov, Sanin.
Although in his Marienbad letter he says that from then on he avoided the book like the plague, he records that, in later, life he came across it again at Spasskoe, and picked it up with a shudder [L1, 201-2]. Yet emblems obviously still fascinate him witness the drawing which stands at the head of this letter (a drop of liquid falling into a barrel), which he claims is an emblem of his life in Marienbad. It is this emblem which sparks off his reminiscences of Ambodiks book itself. Childhood reading of Symbols and Emblems, and his second encounter with it in later life, are autobiographical details he will reproduce for Lavretsky. Moreover, his Marienbad letter provides yet a further link with A Nest of Gentlefolk: the poem with which he concludes his letter (The moon floats above the drowsing earth) will be ascribed to Panshin in the novel, whilst the image he uses to introduce this poem, will be encountered again in Fathers and Children - it is hay, used to fill out a half-empty suitcase [L.1, 207].
Although the narrator in Asia asserts It did not enter my head at that time that a man is not a plant and cannot blossom for long [7, 71], it is nevertheless the case that many of Turgenevs protagonists are linked to the plant world, particularly trees. In this respect names are often suggestive Lipina, Lavretsky, Roselli, and trees themselves may have an emblematic role for his heroes, as in the recurring symbol of the apple tree, or the aspen of Bazarovs childhood. On another level trees are the markers of character and efficiency, as in Fathers and Children and Virgin Soil. It is a tree which Insarov has to climb in his dream, and tree imagery surrounds Sanins duel in Spring Torrents. It is against a background with trees, be it a bower, a garden or a forest, that the decisive moments in Turgenevs novels occur, and in such circumstances trees often provide an oblique commentary suggesting psychological unease, eavesdropping, or a brooding sense of omen. Flowers also play a symbolic role, particularly a rose in On the Eve and Spring Torrents, or the heliotrope in Smoke. Other aspects of the natural world also come into play birds and nests, butterflies, beetles and ants, and in the later novels, Smoke and Spring Torrents, water imagery assumes importance.
Another dimension of oblique reference and association is suggested through literary allusion. It is a constant in Turgenevs writing, but it reaches its most subtle development in its use to delineate character in Spring Torrents: naivety in the case of Gemma; self-absorption in Ippolit; complete command in Maria.
References to Hamlet in the novels are associated with the figure of the superfluous man, but here again a tree is also a symbolic indicator of the type the apple tree is his emblem; be it the overburdened one suggesting Rudins inability to sustain his own genius; the freshly grafted version of Sanin, or the fruitless tree of Nezhdanov, and in this latter case it is interesting to note that even when Turgenev sets his action in the 1870s, his hero is still basically a man of the 40s. Such a figure is of noble origin (even though in the case of Nezhdanov he is illegitimate), and this very fact raises the issue of noble virtues, and the question of pride. In Rudin, On the Eve, Fathers and Children Turgenev repeatedly addresses the dichotomy: self-esteem/self love (samoliubie versus sebialiubie), and in Spring Torrents another related dichotomy volia as will or freedom also comes to the fore.
In 1847 reviewing the stories of Vladimir Dal (a writer, like Turgenev himself at the time, associated with the so-called Natural School) Turgenev points out that for all Dals positive qualities: Like almost all our writers, even Gogol, he is entirely lacking in one respect [the portrayal of] women [1, 301]. It would take the writings of Turgenev himself to remedy this defect, and his portraits of emotionally strong heroines, set against well-intentioned but less resolute men would become the defining relationship in his novels, and a touchstone in his presentation of the superfluous man. Taken to its extreme the portrayal of the strong heroine becomes the wayward self-assertion of the femme fatale figures which may well have been influenced by the authors own experiences both as son and as lover.
Turgenev began his literary career as an apologist for the Russian peasant the people (narod). In the poem sequence The Village (Derevnia) (1847), his early attitude to the people seems almost identical to those romanticised views held by many of the participants of the Going to the People movement of the 1870s: Pensively you look at the faces of peasants - /And you understand them; you yourself are prepared to commit yourself/ To their poor, simple way of life [1, 67]. In many ways The Village may be seen as the poetic anticipation of the prose sequence, also begun in 1847 - Sportsmans Sketches with its depiction of the Russian countryside, its hunting theme and its strong championship of the Russian peasant.
In later years, however, Turgenevs attitude changed. He himself encountered difficulties with peasants on his own estate, when he attempted to bring in measures intended to improve their lot. He could no longer claim to understand them merely by looking at their faces. Yet there were those who, from a purely ideological standpoint, did lay claim to such understanding on the one hand the Slavophiles, on the other Herzen and Ogarev, with their doctrine of peasant socialism. Turgenevs brushes with the Slavophiles came early in his career, but the more dominant thread of polemics is with Herzen, who as a disillusioned Westerniser, Turgenev came to regard not only as a renegade, but as an ivory-tower philosopher out of touch with the realities of his own country.
At the same time there were bonds of friendship with Herzen, as there were with the chief representatives of Slavophilism - the Aksakov family. An early report which he wrote for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, when in 1842 he was thinking of a civil service career: A Few Observations on the Russian Economy and the Russian Peasant [1, 459-72] contains elements reminiscent of Slavophile thinking, and in his later writing critics have seen the influence of the Aksakov family in A Nest of Gentlefolk. Indeed, in her religious convictions and attitude to the people, Liza may be seen as something of a Slavophile heroine. Lavretsky, too, for all that he strongly refutes the superficial Slavophilism of Panshin, can still demand: Above all acknowledgement of the truth [justice (i.e. pravda)] of the people, and humility [smirenie] before it that humility, without which even boldness in the face of untruth is impossible [7, 232]. Smirenie is a loaded word; it smacks of the religious vocabulary of the later Dostoevsky. Its Slavophile ring stands in stark contrast to the assertion of Western superiority made some eight years later by Potugin in Smoke: Only we ought to humble ourselves [smiritsia] properly not in mere words and borrow from our elder brothers what they have thought up better than us and before us! [9, 170-71].
Turgenevs last novel, Virgin Soil, lays bare Turgenevs pessimism about the supposed sterling qualities of the Russian peasant, and the intelligentsias naivety in looking to them for Russias future. The epigraph opposes the turning over of virgin soil with a deeply penetrating (western) plough [plug] to the action of the crude (Russian) wooden plough [sokha], which merely scratches the surface. We may, of course, read into this a reflection of the authors own Westerniser convictions, but the question of superficiality is very much an issue in the novel. The activity of the revolutionaries is characterised by dressing up, acting parts and secret signs. Gestures are more important than words, and words themselves are more significant for their show than their content. These characteristics are not merely confined to the revolutionaries they mark out both political camps in the novel.
Turgenevs last novel may not be his best, but it has elements of a summation of his ideological and artistic stance. It is his most political novel, and a careful reading reveals the large role played in it by gesture and non-verbal communication, even to the point that gesture becomes an internalised, psychological process. In chapter 31, Marianna, after the visit of Mashurina, ponders on her own state of mind and the behaviour of those around her: But remembering the figure of poor Mashurina, she merely shrugged a shoulder and made a dismissive movement with her hand not in reality, but with an inner movement corresponding to this gesture [12, 240]. Similarly in Chapter 35, as Markelov is led away to prison by a mere gesture (The adjutant approached Markelov, clicked his spurs, and made a horizontal movement of the hand, as if to say "If you please!". Markelov turned, and went off out), Paklin can only react by a corresponding, but internalised, gesture: Paklin mentally, it is true, but with bitter compassion and pity shook his hand [12, 276]. Here are clear expressions of the way in which the psychological significance of the gesture may predominate over the actuality of the gesture itself its outward physical form has been completely absorbed into its inner meaning.
In Turgenevs writing after Virgin Soil we can also sense a similar movement away from the concrete and the real towards a striving to show significance beyond mere words towards a fuller dependence on the emblematic. The Poems in Prose written at the end of his life attempt to distill an inner significance from small events and observations, and the supernatural stories The Song of Triumphant Love (Pesn torzhestvuiushchei liubvi) (1881) and Klara Milich (1883) reveal the outward signs of the real world as penetrated by a sense of something beyond. Although they deal with the typical Turgenevan theme of love, they make explicit something that had only been adumbrated in the novels love as a magical, even demonic, force.
The Poems in Prose, the first part of which were published in 1882, Turgenev called his Senilia. One of these prose poems, The Visit (Poseshchenie), is particularly revealing. Sitting at his window, open to the resplendent nature of a May morning, the author is suddenly visited by a bird in the form of a woman, crowned with flowers and with a flower sceptre in her hand, with which she touches his head, only to disappear immediately into the beauty of the natural world beyond the window. The author recognises her as the goddess of fantasy, who usually flies to young poets, but has paid him a cursory visit.
It is almost as though a page of Symbols and Emblems has been brought to life. Yet if this is an emblem of his new style, it looks back to the poetic origins of his art. Nor is it an entirely new direction in his prose writing, such fantasy had already been made explicit in Phantoms (1864), and, as we have seen, threads of emblematic symbolism are strongly woven into the realistic texture of the novels. Turgenevs senilia may indeed link him to his juvenilia, but both cast their light on the mature writing that lies between.