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Synopsis

The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev lived in turbulent times. This fictional biography, solidly founded on historical and literary research, explores his life and work – from his childhood, dominated by his tyrannical mother, to his last years, in the tender care of Pauline Viardot, the Franco-Spanish diva who was the love of his life. Author Christopher Cruise offers insights into other affairs and flirtations, together with his ambivalent relationship with his illegitimate daughter Paulinette, the result of a half-hour liaison with a servant girl. The reader is transported to many parts of Europe, from the revolutionary streets of St Petersburg to the cultural salons of Paris. The intense generational clash of his era inspired his best-known work, Fathers and Children, while his mother’s cruelty ignited in him a lifelong horror of violence and injustice which found expression in A Sportsman’s Sketches, a book that contributed to Czar Alexander II’s decision to emancipate the serfs. The influence of the radical critic Belinsky transformed Turgenev from a ‘superfluous man’ on the fringes of society, to a probing writer and thinker. His relationships with some of his fellow Russian writers – Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Herzen and Bakunin – were often stormy, but in France he was admired and esteemed by many members of the French literary and musical worlds, including Flaubert, George Sand and Zola. Considered by his peers as a traitor to his class and by the radical left as a woolly liberal, by the end of his life he had won the respect – and even love – of the majority of young Russians seeking a democratic future for their tormented country.

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