|Portrait of Ivan Turgenev, by Vasily Perov, 1872|
This magnificent collection (1852) of short stories by the great Russian Realist master Ivan Turgenev was the first work granting him fame and recognition. Based on personal observations on the hunting trails of the family's estate at Spasskoye, the writer depicts scenes of naturalistic sketches and everyday life, narrating the stories of peasants, serfs, and fellow land owners he comes across with, as well as the many injustices and contradictions of the social system of serfdom. Below we present a brief summary of each stories of the collection, along with the fully available version of A Sportsman's Sketches Full Text in English.
Hor and Kalinych: Story of two peasants, one idealist and the other very industrious, under the dependance of the same petty landowner.
Yermolay and the Miller’s Wife: Story of the narrator’s hunter friend, and a night they spent at a miller’s home; the miller, named Zvyerkoff, offers an insight on the injustices of serfdom.
Raspberry Spring: As the narrator encounters two peasants at a tiny spring, he learns about the many self-deprivations all peasants take upon themselves.
The District Doctor: Struck with fever in a small village, the narrator is visited by a district doctor who tells him the story of how he fell in love with a dying girl.
My Neighbor Radilov: The narrator meets with a widowed landowner named Radilov and dines at his house; the cordial neighbor dwells with his sister-in-law Olga—with whom he will soon disappear—, his elderly mother and a demented old nobleman.
The peasant-proprietor Ovsyanikov: A poor landowner talks about the social ills of serfdom, the old times and the new ones. Like all attentive observers, the narrator takes a step back and listens.
Lgov: The narrator and his trusted huntsman Yermolay set off ducks hunting in a nearby hamlet. They meet a pretentious local hunter named Vladimir and an old peasant who acts as the local fisherman, Old Knot. They go hunting in a swampy pond on a rickety punt, sink the boat and narrowly escape, wading ashore.
Bezhin Lea: Upon nightfall the narrator finds himself lost in the forest and comes across a clearing where he meets up, as they crouch by the fire, with five peasant boys guarding a drove of horses. As the narrator feigns to be asleep, the innocent boys recount dreadful and mysterious stories. The majesty of the sky and of the omniscient nature in a glorious Russian mid-Summer night breaths beautifully throughout.
Kassyan of Fair Springs: While the narrator and his coachmen Erofayis are off to a trip, the carriage's axle breaks and they venture off to a nearby hamlet for assistance; there they meet Kassyan, a fifty-year-old dwarf who lives there and who belongs to some unknown religious sect. To procure a new axle, he takes them to a clearing where a forest is being felled. A reflection upon established society and the ancestral relation with nature, traditions and religion.
The Agent: A vivid example of peasantry’s exploitation, the story recounts of how a shrewd bailiff takes advantages of his aloof and distant landowner, who is an acquaintance of the narrator. The peasants on a rent system are reduced to slavery by the cunning agent, without any intervention from the proprietor.
The Counting-House: The narrator comes across a run-down shack, the counting house of the local landowner, where he accidentally overhears the head clerk abusing his powers, and learns about the many vexations peasants are subject to.
Biryuk: At night, caught by a raging storm in the forest in a droshky, the narrator comes across a man, Biryuk, who watches over the landowner’s woods. He learns that man’s wife fled, leaving him and the children alone. When the forester hears in distance a peasant felling a tree, he sets out to confront him, catches him and threatens to turn him to the landowner. In the end Biryuk unexpectedly shows compassion and sets the peasant free.
Two Country Gentlemen: The presentation of two landowners which are neighbors of the narrator offers the opportunity, in the background, for a description of mistreatment of peasants and the wretchedness of their condition.
Lebedyan: The narrator comes across a town's horse fair and vividly describes the typical hustle and bustle of such lively rural events, while also resolving to buy a horse for himself.
The Forest and the Steppe: Epilogue of the sketches, whereby Turgenev offers a magnificent description of a hunter’s life.