‘Two Landowners’ by Ivan Turgenev

Two Landowners by Ivan Turgenev, 1852

The magic trick:

A narrator whose initial descriptions don’t quite line up with the events he goes on to tell about

“Two Landowners” recalls the first story in A Sportsman’s Notebook, “Khor And Kalinich,” in both its focus on two character studies and its emphasis on description over plot.

Whereas the latter portrayed two peasants, this story – as I’m sure you might guess – introduces us to two men on the other end of the social spectrum.

The narrator uses an interesting technique here. Well, I suppose it’s the author who deserves the credit, not the narrator! But the narrator seems to contradict himself in his descriptions. He says something positive about each character, only to show contrary negative elements to the men later in the same paragraph, as he explains in more detail a certain aspect of their lives.

The reader, as such, begins to feel their own judgments more strongly, I think. It’s a curious trick of human nature. If the narrator questioned the landowners’s character along with us, we probably wouldn’t feel half as passionately about the situation as we do when we’re doing so as a kind of argument against the narration’s previously positive assertions.

It puts the reader in the mood to prove a point; a mood that only sharpens the author’s satire.

And that’s quite a trick on Turgenev’s part.

The selection:

He is very hospitable and jovial; lives, as the saying is, for his comfort; summer and winter alike, he wears a striped wadded dressing-gown. There’s only one thing in which he is like General Hvalinsky; he too is a bachelor. He owns five hundred souls. Mardary Apollonitch’s interest in his estate is of a rather superficial description; not to be behind the age, he ordered a threshing-machine from Butenop’s in Moscow, locked it up in a barn, and then felt his mind at rest on the subject.

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