Home of the Gentry
By: Ivan Turgenev
Format/Source: eBook; my copy
The novel’s protagonist is Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky, a nobleman who shares many traits with Turgenev. On one level the novel is about his homecoming, who, broken and disillusioned by a failed marriage, returns to his estate and finds love again – only to lose it. The sense of loss and of unfulfilled promise, beautifully captured by Turgenev, reflects his underlying theme that humanity is not destined to experience happiness except as something ephemeral and inevitably doomed. On another level Turgenev is presenting the homecoming of a whole generation of young Russians who have fallen under the spell of European ideas that have uprooted them from Russia, their ‘home’, but have proved ultimately superfluous. In tragic bewilderment, they attempt to find reconciliation with their land.
This is…I think the third book I’ve read by Ivan Turgenev. I was introduced to his work in my fourth year of undergrad when we had to read his infamous book Fathers and Sons. Unlike many books I had to read for class, this book utterly gripped me from the start and I did not put it down until I had finished it. To this day it remains one of my favourite novels. I was pretty excited to read this novel.
This novel pretty much solidifies all of the reasons why I love Ivan Turgenev. Like Leo Tolstoy, he has a way of presenting themes that were important during his day–of the gentry/social classes, of Russian national identity, of doing something to restructure Russia–while presenting a very character-driven story. On the surface, Home of the Gentry seems like a very straightforward tale of a man returning to his estate after experiencing a breakdown in his marriage and re-acquainting himself with his family and with life. It may seem like much isn’t going to come out of it but it’s really the characters’ journeys–especially that of Fyodor Lavretsky–that really makes it for this book. He seems like an odd fellow at first from what is learned through hearsay but once the reader is acquainted with the character, you can’t help but root for him. While perhaps not as fleshed out as Fathers and Sons or under the hand of Tolstoy, the inner psychology and feelings that Lavretsky goes through is nonetheless interesting to read and watch unfold.
Also, leave it to Turgenev also to throw in a good measure of drama into the story. Just when I thought things were pretty much smooth-sailing for the characters, wham! There’s a plot development that emerges that throws everything in a tailspin. It’s frustrating but exciting at the same time and guarantees that you won’t put the book down until you’ve reach the last paragraph.
Unlike Fathers and Sons (at least as I recall), Home of the Gentry touches a lot more on the subjects of forgiveness, Christian charity and, to some extent, Russian identity. It’s no surprise that these themes are presented in this novel together as official identity during this period was very much defined by the pillars of Orthodoxy and Nationality–whatever that nationality was (it’s still being debated on today). Liza believed that the only way for Lavretsky to move on with his life is to forgive, accept forgiveness and move forward with that knowledge. It may seem blatant in its presentation but it represents one aspect of Russian society and thought at the time.
Overall, Home of the Gentry was an interesting read. While not as multi-faceted as Fathers and Sons, the themes and the character drama were engaging and I like the slight vagueness and melancholy that the epilogue elicited. Readers of Russian literature would definitely enjoy this novel!