Russia Dispatch: Turgenev Dissed Russia but Is Still Lionized as Literary Star by Touchy Kremlin


MTSENSK, Russia — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has often reveled in the majesty of Russian culture, particularly literary giants like Ivan Turgenev, whose country mansion the Russian state recently renovated as a showcase of national pride.But Mr. Putin and his officials might want to take a closer look at the writer. Turgenev, a restless, cosmopolitan liberal who died outside Paris in 1883, had a decidedly dark view of his own country.“He never idealized anything and described the reality that he saw,” conceded Elena Levina, the director of the Turgenev family estate, which reopened to the public in January after lavish renovation work. “This was sometimes not pretty.”
Inside the writer’s now state-owned mansion 200 miles south of Moscow, celebration of Russia as a self-confident cultural power jostles uneasily with constant reminders of another, less secure country striving to join the West.ImageIvan Turgenev (1818-83)CreditJ. & L. Allgeyer/Hulton Archive, via Getty ImagesMany of the books in Turgenev’s library are in French and German, two of the seven languages he knew aside from Russian.Paintings and drawings on the walls recall the many years he lived outside Russia — attending college in Berlin and living in the German spa town of Baden-Baden and then in France, where he pursued a doomed love affair with Pauline Viardot, a married French opera singer of Spanish descent.His writings contain sometimes withering comments about his homeland, which he sorely missed when he was absent but also often deplored.“Russian people are lazy and slow, and not accustomed to thinking independently, nor acting consistently,” Turgenev wrote in an 1857 letter to a conservative Russian countess. “But necessity — that great word! — will stir even this bear up out of its den.”
ImageTurgenev’s mansion is 200 miles south of Moscow.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

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