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Smoke was published in 1867 and translated into English in 1896. It was written when Turgenev was based in Baden, amongst the resorts that were favoured by many Russians. The most cosmopolitan of all Turgenev’s works Smoke sketches the intricacies of the aristocratic and Young Russia parties at a time when Russia was changing from the philosophical Nihilism of the 1860s to the more politically active Nihilism of the 1870s. An attack on all political parties and on the Russian nature of analysing everything but doing nothing, Smoke‘s success was immediate and great.
Despite the pervasive politics in the book the two central characters, Litvinov and Irina, are not political figures. Litvinov is gentle, sympathetic and intelligent while Irina is one of the best examples of Turgenev’s creation of woman. A mixture of irresistibility and innocence, will she manage to distract Litvinov from Tatyana, his fiancée?
Smoke was described by Edward Garnett in 1896 as ‘the finest example in literature of a subjective psychological study of passion … [and] a classic for all time’.
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