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Virgin Soil, written in 1877 and translated into English in 1896, was Ivan Turgenev’s last novel and an appropriate end to his career as a novelist. Its analysis of the future of Russia was prescient as it sketches out the historical justification of the Nihilist movement – why it was necessary – and then prophesises its failure. The book caused Turgenev’s final disgrace with the Government and, like many other Russian writers before and after him, he was exiled, although this took place after his death rather than during his lifetime. Denied a public funeral and honours the Government suppressed any public comments on his works and his influence on Russian literature.
As Edward Garnett writes in his introduction to Virgin Soil in 1896 ‘to examine the characters of the novel is to see how perfectly representative they are of Russian political life’. Turgenev’s genius was the ability to take a simple story line and create an intricate and in-depth look at life in Russia as seen through the eyes of ordinary Russians.
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