Born in Orel in central Russia in 1818 Ivan Turgenev studied at the universities in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Berlin and worked briefly for the civil service before turning to writing. He wrote several novels that examined the social, political and philosophical issues of the time as well as many plays and short stories. Living mainly in Baden-Baden and Paris Turgenev was acquainted with a variety of influential writers and met Dickens and Trollope among others on his travels to England. He was widely perceived to be the first major Russian writer to achieve great success in Europe. Turgenev died in Paris in 1883. The subtitle of Richard Garnett's biography (reissued in Faber Finds) of his grandmother, Constance Garnett (1861-1946) is A Heroic Life. It couldn't be more apt. She remains the most prolific English translator of Russian literature: twelve volumes of Dostoevsky, five of Gogol, six of Herzen (his complete My Past and Thoughts), seventeen of Tchehov (her spelling), five of Tolstoy, eleven of Turgenev and so on. Many of these will be appearing in Faber Finds. In all she translated over sixty works. It is not, however, the sheer quantity that is to be celebrated, though that in itself is remarkable, it is more the enduring quality of her work. Of course there have been critics - translation is a peculiarly controversial subject, but there have been many more admirers. Tolstoy himself praised her. Of her Turgenev translations, Joseph Conrad said 'Turgeniev (sic) for me is Constance Garnett and Constance Garnett is Turgeniev'. Katherine Mansfield declared the lives of her generation of writers were transformed by Constance Garnett's translations, and H. E. Bates went so far as to say that modern English Literature itself could not have been what it is without her translations.This extraordinary achievement was accomplished despite poor health and poor eyesight, the latter being ruined by her labours on War and Peace ,a tragic if fitting sacrifice; hers indeed was A Heroic Life.
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ON the 10th of August, 1862, at four o'clock in the afternoon, a great number of people were thronging before the well-known Konversation in Baden-Baden. Read the first page
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Very readable, youthful Turgenev romantic/political novelApril 26 1998
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A very readable translation, although more can be gained with an elementary level of French to catch some of the untranslated idiomatic phrases of the faux aristocracy. This short novel is not as sentimental or melancholy as "Spring Torrents" or "First Love," and perhaps lacks the polish of his best-known work "Fathers and Sons," but the mixture of the setting (Baden Baden, Germany)with the characters from not only Russia, but also France, Germany et al., with a familiar plot device (love triangle) makes for not only an interesting love story but also an intriguing glance at the political history of Russia and western Europe. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a more complete understanding of Turgenev's works,the Russian novel in general, and the late 19th Century European literature. Personally, I have enjoyed all of Turgenev's novels and would recommend any of them. If you are new to Turgenev, however, I would definitely recommend starting with "Fathers and Sons." All of Turgenev's novels combined make for less reading than say Tolstoy's "War and Peace" or Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Sample some Turgenev!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Russians in Baden-BadenAug. 2 2005
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"Smoke," a novel mainly set among wealthy Russians travelling abroad, is not without its problems. The story takes a while to get under way, and Turgenev's effort to fit the plot developments into the broader issue of Westernization in Russia at times places a strain on the narrative.
However, a scene in chapter 26 (which gives the book its name) features one of the loveliest passages I have yet encountered in literature. It is a brief passage in which Litvinov, the main character, returning to Russia with his spirit crushed by the circumstances of his ill-fated trip to Baden-Baden, has a reverie prompted by the sight of the smoke he sees outside the train window. As is often the case with Turgenev's writing, it is a simple scene but one laden with humanity and warmth.
(BTW: It is also worthwhile to examine this book in connection with Leonid Tsypkin's "Summer in Baden-Baden" which discusses the meeting there between Turgenev and Dostoevsky.)
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Where's the Fire?Aug. 20 2001
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Turgenev devotees will be pleased to find a copy of this most seldom reissued and perhaps least known of his novels. Its tidy paperback sheath, studded with sepia snapshots from the historical time it depicts, makes a fine outer garment for the spare and slender frame of a tale we find within. For, at first glance, "Smoke" will not appear to have many of the winning features which normally draw readers into Turgenev's fictional realms and keep them there, so happily immured: absent are the legendary lyrical descriptions of the Russian countryside and its owners to be found in such novels as "Rudin" and "Home of the Gentry," and missing are the complex character development and more involved political reflections which are hallmarks of the somewhat lesser yet still impressive "On the Eve." And the discoverer of "Smoke" will be sorely disappointed should she or he hope to find in this work something to satisfy the voracious literary appetite engendered by the sumptuous meal which "Fathers and Children" invariably is. "Smoke," like "Virgin Soil" which immediately followed it, has no dearth of defects. Its plot moves too swiftly, for example, giving no time for characters to change and events to move in credible ways. Its tone is often mean-spirited and sour. Practically no one likeable, aside, perhaps, from the unhappy Tatyana, appears in its pages. Its plot and even dialogue are too often puzzlingly predictable. Yet, for all its lacks, "Smoke" does accomplish the astonishing novelistic miracle, achieved by so few: the creation of two characters, in Irina Ratmirov and Grigory Litvinov, who are utterly unforgettable. Unsavory from first bite to final slurp, an encounter with them will leave the reader longing for some equally ferocious flavor as purgative to the palate. No small feat! Though to a 21st century American ear, this translation will sound quaintly Victorian (Constance Garnett, whose translating career death has not hurt one little bit) and cozily English (check out curiosities like "phiz" and "fly"), it is well-worth not only buying but reading. What better way, really, to point out the always-to-be-remembered truth that even immortals like the divine Turgenev were not continually engaged in the manufacture of masterpieces.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
More a treatise than a novelJune 5 2011
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This novel is really only of interest to those with a strong, if not professional, interest in Russian literature. There is an intriguing story here, a love triangle in which not is all what it seems. But in its actual length, it's really only a novelette. The rest of the book is contemporary political commentary that is neither self-explanatory nor coached in universal terms that might make it of interest to people not personally invested in those debates (as opposed to Tolstoy's disgressions on peasant life in Anna Karenina, which deal with basic and inescapable questions of inequality amongst people). And the people personally invested in these political debates -- they've been dead for a hundred years. So this novel is mainly a historical footnote, known for ticking off Dostoevsky. It's a pity too, as the love triangle was getting engrossing when it abruptly was over.
It also bothers me that the publisher that reprinted, with more typos than you'd expect, a Garnett translation beyond copyright protection instead of hiring someone to do a more credible job. (I don't know how good of a translation this is, but Garnett's reputation is not one of fidelity.)