by Ivan Turgenev
Virgin Soil is Turgenev's longest novel, and it only goes roughly 300 pages. Reading Virgin Soil after tackling other classics of the mid to late 1870s like Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, and The Hand of Ethelberta and Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy makes it well clear why Russian novelists created such a sensation in the 1870s.
First of all, Turgenev's story about Russian intellectuals abandoning their class to "help" the working class is exciting and (relatively) novel. Second, Turgenev's male characters are the restrained, effete heroes of the Victorian British period novel, they are emotional, histrionic spectacular literary disasters
Coming after Daniel Deronda, Virgin Soil was a refreshing breath of air, and I tore through it, eager to read a novel about something OTHER then the problems of the British middle and upper classes with marriages and wills. Seriously, what happened to the novel in England that led it to get so dull and obsessed with marriage and wills. Literally every single novel written by Eliot, Trollope, Hardy and Dickens involves some combination of an impossible/troubled marriage or a disinherited heir or both in fact, looking back through the British novels I've read this year, the only exceptions are the so called novels of sensation, children's books, and the Russians.
It's not that I don't appreciate a good marriage/will derived plot, but enough already. It's been like 50 solid years of these stories and I'm yearning for a new look. ENTER THE RUSSIANS.
Virgin Soil also had the benefit of being timely:
In 1877 with the publication of Virgin Soil, his longest and most ambitious novel, he became world famous: a month after it was published fifty-two young men and women were arrested in Russia on charges of revolutionary conspiracy, and a shocked public in France, Britain, and America turned to the novel for enlightenment. Its effect on American readers was enormous: as powerful, in its way, as the effect of Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been. For Turgenev the novel was one more attempt to present the Russian situation with detachment, and above all he sought to show to his critics that he had not lost touch with the younger generation. (THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS)
Seriously though give me disaffected Russian intellectuals over anxious teenage British girls any day. The level of tediousness that creeps into mid to late Victorian novels can not be overstated. Can not.