The Forgotten Splendour of Turgenev's Art (55+)

Amid the high elevations of 19th-century Russian literature, Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883) stands as one of the tallest peaks next to his famous contemporaries. Reading Turgenev's descriptions of nature, his rival Tolstoy said they made him want to give up his own writing. Yet Turgenev was no mere aesthete. An advocate of European enlightenment for his country, a liberal who rejected the radicalism taking root in Russian society, a gentle and soft-spoken man who once landed in jail for his political views, Turgenev aroused fierce polemics with his novels. His lifelong devotion to French opera singer Pauline Viardot, which kept him away from Russia, only fuelled the anger of his detractors.

Together we’ll examine Turgenev’s major works in the historical and social context of their time.

Note: This course involves required reading.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: The Writer's Life in His Times

What was it like to grow up in the first quarter of the 19th century Russia? We will explore the lives of the landed gentry and serfs; the Russian landscape, geography and roads; life in a city and in a village; typical education and travels abroad; and love, courtship and marriage. We will also consider Russia’s 19th century social cauldron: radicals and revolutionaries versus liberals and reformists; Westerners versus Slavophiles; emancipation of serfs, the women's movement and nihilism. 

Week 2: A Gentle Giant

We will look at Turgenev's life, character and the evolution of his political views. We’ll read a selection of early stories: Living Relic, Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands (from Sketches from the Hunter's Album) and Mumu (published separately from “Sketches”).

Week 3: Living at 'the Edge of Somebody Else's Nest'

We will consider Turgenev's fatal and everlasting love for Pauline Viardo. We’ll read Turgenev's great stories on love: Asya, First Love, Spring Torrents and Klara Milich. We’ll see the emergence of a new literary type widely imitated in life, "the Turgenev maiden."

Week 4: Peripatetic Life

We will discover Turgenev's French circle, and look at the relationship of Turgenev and Flaubert; two masters' enduring friendship and correspondence. We will read Hamlet and Don Quixote, Turgenev's contemplation on the 1848 French Revolution.

Week 5: A Nest of the Landed Gentry

We will examine this novel of nostalgia for the vanishing class.

Week 6: Fathers and Sons

Considered to be the best novel of the six Turgenev wrote, yet widely criticized by his contemporaries, it still speaks to every new generation of readers. We will see why. 

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.
Any version of 

  • Ivan Turgenev, A Nest of the Gentry (also translated as A Nest of the Gentlefolk and  Home of the Gentry)
  • Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (also translated as Fathers and Children)

These books will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

The short stories will be provided in a course pack available on your first day of class.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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