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London: Collins, 1917. Pp. xiv+ 206. 1

The Egoist, 4 (Dec 1917) 167

The cosmopolitan is not a popular type. The Conversations with Eckermann, though Sainte-Beuve hardly judges Goethe by anything else, are not much read; and it is in these, rather than in his better-read works, that Goethe most nearly approaches an ideal that he has been credited with realizing. 2 Turgenev, much more cosmopolitan than Goethe, is the least exploited of the Russian novelists; this book is perhaps the first serious study of him in English. The book has both the merits and defects of pioneer work. As the first book on the subject, it contains just the necessary information; taking up the novels one by one and sketching their genesis and accounting for the ideas which went into them. As is natural, Mr. Garnett is a little too conscious of Turgenev’s “critics and detractors”; 3 these have been mostly detractors rather than critics, and the chapter on them can be skipped. The rest of the book is very good: it enables a reader of Turgenev to see the novels in relation to each other, and the relation of the characters in different novels. It invites us (and its concise brevity is an added provocation) to consider the work of Turgenev as a single work, the art of Turgenev as steady and laborious construction, not a series of scattered inspirations.

Mr. Garnett has probably been impelled by the consciousness that his is the first book on the subject to impose certain limitations on his task. “The discussion of technical beauties,” he says, “is not only a thankless business, but tends to defeat its own object. It is better to seek to appreciate the spirit of a master, and to dwell on his human value rather than on his aesthetic originality” [22-23]. But a patient examination of an artist’s method and form (not by haphazard detection of “technical beauties”) is exactly the surest way to his “human value”; is exactly the business of the critic. Not that Mr. Garnett evades the duty of analysis; his appreciation of detail is keen; but he leaves us without attempting to settle the relation of Turgenev’s literary form to his human position as an incarnation of European culture.

Henry James, in one of his charming conversational portraits, says of Turgenev that

he carried about with him the air of feeling all the variety of life, of knowing strange and far-off things, of having an horizon in which the Parisian horizon . . . easily lost itself . . . He was not all there, as the phrase is; he had something behind, in reserve. 4

And this was after Turgenev had had many years of Paris. Turgenev was, in fact, a perfect example of the benefits of transplantation; there was nothing lost by it; he understood at once how to take Paris, how to make use of it. A position which for a smaller man may be merely a compromise, or a means of disappearance, was for Turgenev (who knew how to maintain the rôle of foreigner with integrity) a source of authority, in addressing either Russian or European; authority but also isolation. He has a position which he literally made for himself, and indeed almost may be said to have invented. It is not a position of popular appeal, as he neither aped French writing nor exploited the Russian backwater. He used Russian material naturally, with the simplicity of genius turning to what its feelings know best; he recognized, in practice at least, that a writer’s art must be racial–which means, in plain words, that it must be based on the accumulated sensations of the first twenty-one years. But he combined in the highest degree the insight into the universal sameness of men and women with appreciation of the importance of their superficial variations. He saw these variations–the Russian...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press