Turgenev was the most liberal-spirited and unqualifiedly humane of all the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, and in Virgin Soil, his biggest and most ambitious work, he sought to balance his deep affection for his country and his people with his growing apprehensions about what their future held in store. At the heart of the book is the story of a young man and a young woman, torn between love and politics, who struggle to make headway against the complacency of the powerful, the inarticulate misery of the powerless, and the stifling conventions of provincial life. This rich and complex book, at once a love story, a devastating, and bitterly funny social satire, and, perhaps most movingly of all, a heartfelt celebration of the immense beauty of the Russian countryside, is a tragic masterpiece in which one of the world’s finest novelists confronts the enduring question of the place of happiness in a political world.
Every class of society, every type of character, every degree of fortune, every phase of manners, passes through his hands; his imagination claims its property equally, in town and country, among rich and poor, among wise people and idiots, dilettanti and peasants, the tragic and the joyous, the probable and the grotesque. He has an eye for all our passions and a deeply sympathetic sense of the wonderful complexity of our souls.
— Henry James
Turgenev’s Russia is but a canvas on which the incomparable artist of humanity lays his colours and his forms in the great light and free air of the world….All his creations, fortunate and unfortunate, oppressed and oppressors, are human beings, not strange beasts in a menagerie or damned souls knocking themselves out in the stuffy darkness of mystical contradictions. They are human beings, fit to live, fit to suffer, fit to struggle, fit to win, fit to lose, in the endless and inspiring game of pursuing from day to day the ever-receding future.
— Joseph Conrad