It’s the birthday of writer Ivan Turgenev (books by this author), born in Oryol, Russia (1818). His parents were minor nobility, and he grew up on a huge estate with 5,000 serfs, presided over by his tyrannical mother. She forbid her serfs to marry, threatened them, and whipped them or sent them away if they made a small mistake like serving tea improperly. His parents’ marriage was unhappy, and his father consoled himself with other women and left the running of the estate to his wife. He died when his son was a teenager.
Turgenev went to the university and joined the civil service, but he was more interested in writing, so he dropped out. His mother was equally disgusted by his career path and his infatuation with a Spanish opera singer, Pauline Viardot, so she cut off his allowance, plunging him suddenly into poverty.
Turgenev loved hunting in the woods of his estate, and the book that made him famous was called A Sportsman’s Sketches or The Hunting Sketches (1852). It was a collection of stories in which the narrator travels around his estate, hunting — but instead of tales about hunting, the stories were about the serfs who lived there. The sketches exposed the abuse of serfs at the hands of landowners much like Turgenev’s own domineering mother. A Sportsman’s Sketches didn’t make Turgenev rich, but it made his name as a writer, and helped fuel the movement to abolish serfdom, which happened in 1861.