Places: Smoke

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Dym, 1867 (English translation, 1868)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1862-1865

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Baden-Baden

*Baden-Baden. SmokePopular spa in Germany’s Black Forest area in which the novel is set. A Russian student and the son of a civil servant, Grigóry Litvinov, visits Baden-Baden, as was the wont of well-to-do Russians. Baden is a typical European spa of the mid-nineteenth century; it is pleasant, festive, with luscious green trees, pastel-colored houses, and orchestras playing in its gardens. This festiveness contrasts with Litvinov’s sadness, as he tries to drown his sorrows in foreign travel (a typical refuge of Turgenev’s failing characters) after an unsuccessful love affair with Irina, a daughter of an impoverished aristocratic family Osinin. However, just when Litvinov is ready to marry his new fiancé, Tatyana, Irina appears in Baden-Baden with her husband and professes still to love Litvinov.

Turgenev uses Baden-Baden because he himself was a frequent visitor to it and other European localities and therefore quite familiar with Western European spas, but also because the deep split among the Russian intellectuals made it natural to set the novel in a Western European location. He probably chose a German location because German philosophers and writers had a considerable influence on Russian thinkers and writers in the nineteenth century.


*Russia. Russia is often alluded to through the presence of Russian characters in Baden-Baden and by way of their arguments. Inevitably, Russia is prominently mentioned, but without dwelling on specific localities. Indeed, although this love story is one of the best written by Turgenev, it is overshadowed by endless discussions and tirades among the Russian visitors about Russian problems, centering on the relationship between Russia and the West and the attitudes of various Russians concerning that issue.

In the three years depicted in the novel, two kinds of Russian visitors to European cities, mostly spas, parade, as depicted by Turgenev: reactionary aristocrats–nobility, generals, and other well-to-do members of society–and the radical liberals. Russian intellectuals are also deeply divided into Slavophiles and Westerners. Turgenev, himself a Westerner, suggests through Potugin that his radical compatriots not look down on the West and idolize uncritically the Russian muzhik (peasant) and “the Russian spirit,” but, instead, learn from the West and adopt those features that are beneficial to Russia. Most important, they should apply themselves to honest and serious work, rather than wasting time and efforts in pursuing revolutionary and unrealistic goals.


*Moscow. In a flashback, Turgenev relates how Litvinov, then a student at Moscow University, meets and falls in love with Irina, who lives near Dogs’ Square, in a wooden house with a front porch, green lions on the gate, and other pretensions of nobility. The house resembles the wooden structures of Moscow that played an important part in the burning of the city before Napoleon’s invasion in 1812.


Train. Heart-broken and utterly disillusioned, Litvinov eventually returns to Russia to forget and to make something of his studies for the benefit of his people. While riding a train through Germany, he looks at the smoke emitted from its steam engine, and everything seems to him to be as ephemeral and transparent as the train’s smoke.

BibliographyMagarshack, David. Turgenev: A Life. London: Faber and Faber, 1954. An illustrated biography by Turgenev’s translator describing Turgenev’s life extensively and concentrating on the events shaping it, his relationships with Russian and foreign writers, and the factual circumstances surrounding his works, including Smoke.Matlaw, R. E. “Turgenev’s Novels: Civic Responsibility and Literary Predilection.” Harvard Slavic Studies 4 (1957): 249-262. An interesting view of Turgenev’s novels, including Smoke. Matlaw concludes that Turgenev was a superlative writer of fiction but was not successful as a novelist, having difficulties integrating social background and the characters appearing against that background.Seeley, Frank Friedeberg. Turgenev: A Reading of His Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Seeley analyzes Smoke both as a novel and as an episode in Turgenev’s fight with the critics and readers, seeing it as no less political than Fathers and Sons (1862). Through the novel’s main characters, Turgenev shows that personal and political life in Russia at that time were reduced to smoke.Woodward, James B. Metaphysical Conflict: A Study of the Major Novels of Ivan Turgenev. Munich: Otto Sagner, 1990. A fine discussion of Smoke, especially of the ideas preoccupying Russians in the mid-nineteenth century as they are reflected in the relationships of the characters.Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age. New York: Orion Press, 1959. Yarmolinsky sees Smoke primarily as a love story, but he does not neglect the nonliterary components and the impact the novel has had in Russian society, primarily among the intellectuals and social activists.
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