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Introduction and Notes

This exquisite novel, first published in 1859, like so many great
works of art, holds depths of meaning which at first sight lie veiled
under the simplicity and harmony of the technique. To the English
reader _On the Eve_ is a charmingly drawn picture of a quiet Russian
household, with a delicate analysis of a young girl's soul; but to
Russians it is also a deep and penetrating diagnosis of the destinies
of the Russia of the fifties.

Elena, the Russian girl, is the central figure of the novel. In
comparing her with Turgenev's other women, the reader will remark that
he is allowed to come into closer spiritual contact with her than even
with Lisa. The successful portraits of women drawn by men in fiction
are generally figures for the imagination to play on; however much
that is told to one about them, the secret springs of their character
are left a little obscure, but when Elena stands before us we know all
the innermost secrets of her character. Her strength of will, her
serious, courageous, proud soul, her capacity for passion, all the
play of her delicate idealistic nature troubled by the contradictions,
aspirations, and unhappiness that the dawn of love brings to her, all
this is conveyed to us by the simplest and the most consummate art.
The diary (chapter xvi.) that Elena keeps is in itself a masterly
revelation of a young girl's heart; it has never been equalled by any
other novelist. How exquisitely Turgenev reveals his characters may be
seen by an examination of the parts Shubin the artist, and Bersenyev
the student, play towards Elena. Both young men are in love with her,
and the description of their after relations as friends, and the
feelings of Elena towards them, and her own self-communings are
interwoven with unfaltering skill. All the most complex and baffling
shades of the mental life, which in the hands of many latter-day
novelists build up characters far too thin and too unconvincing, in
the hands of Turgenev are used with deftness and certainty to bring to
light that great kingdom which is always lying hidden beneath the
surface, beneath the common-place of daily life. In the difficult art
of literary perspective, in the effective grouping of contrasts in
character and the criss-cross of the influence of the different
individuals, lies the secret of Turgenev's supremacy. As an example
the reader may note how he is made to judge Elena through six pairs of
eyes. Her father's contempt for his daughter, her mother's
affectionate bewilderment, Shubin's petulant criticism, Bersenyev's
half hearted enthralment, Insarov's recognition, and Zoya's
indifference, being the facets for converging light on Elena's
sincerity and depth of soul. Again one may note Turgenev's method for
rehabilitating Shubin in our eyes; Shubin is simply made to criticise
Stahov; the thing is done in a few seemingly careless lines, but these
lines lay bare Shubin's strength and weakness, the fluidity of his
nature. The reader who does not see the art which underlies almost
every line of _On the Eve_ is merely paying the highest tribute to that
art; as often the clear waters of a pool conceal its surprising depth.
Taking Shubin's character as an example of creative skill, we cannot
call to mind any instance in the range of European fiction where the
typical artist mind, on its lighter sides, has been analysed with such
delicacy and truth as here by Turgenev. Hawthorne and others have
treated it, but the colour seems to fade from their artist characters
when a comparison is made between them and Shubin. And yet Turgenev's
is but a sketch of an artist, compared with, let us say, the admirable
figure of Roderick Hudson. The irresponsibility, alertness, the
whimsicality and mobility of Shubin combine to charm and irritate the
reader in the exact proportion that such a character affects him in
actual life; there is not the least touch of exaggeration, and all the
values are kept to a marvel. Looking at the minor characters, perhaps
one may say that the husband, Stahov, will be the most suggestive, and
not the least familiar character, to English households. His
essentially masculine meanness, his self-complacency, his unconscious
indifference to the opinion of others, his absurdity as '_un pere de
famille_' is balanced by the foolish affection and jealousy which his
wife, Anna Vassilyevna, cannot help feeling towards him. The perfect
balance and duality of Turgenev's outlook is here shown by the equal
cleverness with which he seizes on and quietly derides the typical
masculine and typical feminine attitude in such a married life as the
two Stahovs'.

Turning to the figure of the Bulgarian hero, it is interesting to find
from the _Souvenirs sur Tourguenev_ (published in 1887) that Turgenev's
only distinct failure of importance in character drawing, Insarov, was
not taken from life, but was the legacy of a friend Karateieff, who
implored Turgenev to work out an unfinished conception. Insarov is a
figure of wood. He is so cleverly constructed, and the central idea
behind him is so strong, that his wooden joints move naturally, and
the spectator has only the instinct, not the certainty, of being
cheated. The idea he incarnates, that of a man whose soul is aflame
with patriotism, is finely suggested, but an idea, even a great one,
does not make an individuality. And in fact Insarov is not a man, he
is an automaton. To compare Shubin's utterances with his is to
perceive that there is no spontaneity, no inevitability in Insarov. He
is a patriotic clock wound up to go for the occasion, and in truth he
is very useful. Only on his deathbed, when the unexpected happens, and
the machinery runs down, do we feel moved. Then, he appears more
striking dead than alive--a rather damning testimony to the power
Turgenev credits him with. This artistic failure of Turgenev's is, as
he no doubt recognised, curiously lessened by the fact that young
girls of Elena's lofty idealistic type are particularly impressed by
certain stiff types of men of action and great will-power, whose
capacity for moving straight towards a certain goal by no means
implies corresponding brain-power. The insight of a Shubin and the
moral worth of a Bersenyev are not so valuable to the Elenas of this
world, whose ardent desire to be made good use of, and to seek some
great end, is best developed by strength of aim in the men they love.

And now to see what the novel before us means to the Russian mind, we
must turn to the infinitely suggestive background. Turgenev's genius
was of the same force in politics as in art; it was that of seeing
aright. He saw his country as it was, with clearer eyes than any man
before or since. If Tolstoi is a purer native expression of Russia's
force, Turgenev is the personification of Russian aspiration working
with the instruments of wide cosmopolitan culture. As a critic of his
countrymen nothing escaped Turgenev's eye, as a politician he foretold
nearly all that actually came to pass in his life, and as a consummate
artist, led first and foremost by his love for his art, his novels are
undying historical pictures. It is not that there is anything
allegorical in his novels--allegory is at the furthest pole from his
method: it is that whenever he created an important figure in fiction,
that figure is necessarily a revelation of the secrets of the
fatherland, the soil, the race. Turgenev, in short, was a psychologist
not merely of men, but of nations; and so the chief figure of _On the
Eve_, Elena, foreshadows and stands for the rise of young Russia in the
sixties. Elena is young Russia, and to whom does she turn in her
prayer for strength? Not to Bersenyev, the philosopher, the dreamer;
not to Shubin, the man carried outside himself by every passing
distraction; but to the strong man, Insarov. And here the irony of
Insarov being made a foreigner, a Bulgarian, is significant of
Turgenev's distrust of his country's weakness. The hidden meaning of
the novel is a cry to the coming men to unite their strength against
the foe without and the foe within the gates; it is an appeal to them
not only to hasten the death of the old regime of Nicolas I, but an
appeal to them to conquer their sluggishness, their weakness, and
their apathy. It is a cry for Men. Turgenev sought in vain in life
for a type of man to satisfy Russia, and ended by taking no living
model for his hero, but the hearsay Insarov, a foreigner. Russia has
not yet produced men of this type. But the artist does not despair of
the future. Here we come upon one of the most striking figures of
Turgenev--that of Uvar Ivanovitch. He symbolises the ever-predominant
type of Russian, the sleepy, slothful Slav of to-day, yesterday, and
to-morrow. He is the Slav whose inherent force Europe is as ignorant
of as he is himself. Though he speaks only twenty sentences in the
book he is a creation of Tolstoian force. His very words are dark and
of practically no significance. There lies the irony of the portrait.
The last words of the novel, the most biting surely that Turgenev ever
wrote, contain the whole essence of _On the Eve_. On the Eve of What?
one asks. Time has given contradictory answers to the men of all
parties. The Elenas of to-day need not turn their eyes abroad to find
their counterpart in spirit; so far at least the pessimists are
refuted: but the note of death that Turgenev strikes in his marvellous
chapter on Venice has still for young Russia an ominous echo--so many
generations have arisen eager, only to be flung aside helpless, that
one asks, what of the generation that fronts Autocracy to-day?

'Do you remember I asked you, "Will there ever be men among us?" and
you answered, there will be. O primaeval force! And now from here in
"my poetic distance" I will ask you again, "What do you say, Uvar
Ivanovitch, will there be?"

'Uvar Ivanovitch flourished his fingers, and fixed his enigmatical
stare into the far distance.'

This creation of an universal national type, out of the flesh and
blood of a fat taciturn country gentleman, brings us to see that
Turgenev was not merely an artist, but that he was a poet using
fiction as his medium. To this end it is instructive to compare Jane
Austen, perhaps the greatest English exponent of the domestic novel,
with the Russian master, and to note that, while as a novelist she
emerges favourably from the comparison, she is absolutely wanting in
his poetic insight. How petty and parochial appears her outlook in
_Emma_, compared to the wide and unflinching gaze of Turgenev. She
painted most admirably the English types she knew, and how well she
knew them! but she failed to correlate them with the national life;
and yet, while her men and women were acting and thinking, Trafalgar
and Waterloo were being fought and won. But each of Turgenev's novels
in some subtle way suggests that the people he introduces are playing
their little part in a great national drama everywhere around us,
invisible, yet audible through the clamour of voices near us. And so
_On the Eve_, the work of a poet, has certain deep notes, which break
through the harmonious tenor of the whole, and strangely and swiftly
transfigure the quiet story, troubling us with a dawning consciousness
of the march of mighty events. Suddenly a strange sense steals upon
the reader that he is living in a perilous atmosphere, filling his
heart with foreboding, and enveloping at length the characters
themselves, all unconsciously awaiting disaster in the sunny woods and
gardens of Kuntsovo. But not till the last chapters are reached does
the English reader perceive that in recreating for him the mental
atmosphere of a single educated Russian household, Turgenev has been
casting before his eyes the faint shadow of the national drama which
was indeed played, though left unfinished, on the Balkan battlefields
of 1876-7. Briefly, Turgenev, in sketching the dawn of love in a young
girl's soul, has managed faintly, but unmistakably, to make spring and
flourish in our minds the ineradicable, though hidden, idea at the
back of Slav thought--the unification of the Slav races. How doubly
welcome that art should be which can lead us, the foreigners, thus
straight to the heart of the national secrets of a great people,
secrets which our own critics and diplomatists must necessarily
misrepresent. Each of Turgenev's novels may be said to contain a
light-bringing rejoinder to the old-fashioned criticism of the
Muscovite, current up to the rise of the Russian novel, and still,
unfortunately, lingering among us; but _On the Eve_, of all the novels,
contains perhaps the most instructive political lesson England can
learn. Europe has always had, and most assuredly England has been
over-rich in those alarm-monger critics, watchdogs for ever baying at
Slav cupidity, treachery, intrigue, and so on and so on. It is useful
to have these well-meaning animals on the political premises, giving
noisy tongue whenever the Slav stretches out his long arm and opens
his drowsy eyes, but how rare it is to find a man who can teach us to
interpret a nation's aspirations, to gauge its inner force, its aim,
its inevitability. Turgenev gives us such clues. In the respectful, if
slightly forced, silence that has been imposed by certain recent
political events on the tribe of faithful watchdogs, it may be
permitted to one to say, that whatever England's interest may be in
relation to Russia's development, it is better for us to understand
the force of Russian aims, before we measure our strength against it
And a novel, such as On the Eve, though now nearly forty years old,
and to the short-sighted out of date, reveals in a flash the attitude
of the Slav towards his political destiny. His aspirations may have to
slumber through policy or necessity; they may be distorted or
misrepresented, or led astray by official action, but we confess that
for us, _On the Eve_ suggests the existence of a mighty lake, whose
waters, dammed back for a while, are rising slowly, but are still some
way from the brim. How long will it take to the overflow? Nobody
knows; but when the long winter of Russia's dark internal policy shall
be broken up, will the snows, melting on the mountains, stream
south-west, inundating the Valley of the Danube? Or, as the national
poet, Pushkin, has sung, will there be a pouring of many Slavonian
rivulets into the Russian sea, a powerful attraction of the Slav races
towards a common centre to create an era of peace and development
within, whereby Russia may rise free and rejoicing to face her great
destinies? Hard and bitter is the shaping of nations. Uvar Ivanovitch
still fixes his enigmatical stare into the far distance.


January 1895.













In transcribing the Russian names into English--

a has the sound of a in father.
e , , .............a in pane.
i , ,
u , ,............. oo.
y is always consonantal except when it is
the last letter of the word.
g is always hard.

Ivan S. Turgenev