The District Doctor


Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born into a wealthy family of the Russian aristocracy in Oryol, Russia, on 28 October 1818. His father, Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev, a colonel in the Imperial Russian Cavalry, was a chronic philanderer. Ivan’s mother, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, was a wealthy heiress, who had endured an unhappy childhood and suffered in her marriage –  possibly the cause of her being tyrannical and abusive.

After the standard schooling for a son of a gentleman, Turgenev studied for one year at the University of Moscow and then moved to the University of Saint Petersburg, focusing on Classics, Russian literature, and philology. In 1838 he went to Germany to attend the University of Berlin where he studied philosophy and history. During his studies in Berlin, Turgenev had became convinced of the need for the Westernization of Russia. Lacking the interest in religious issues like his two great compatriots, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, he represented the social side of the reform movement.

In 1841 Turgenev started his career in the Russian civil service. For a short time, he worked for the Ministry of  the Interior. However, after the success of two of his story-poems, Turgenev devoted himself to literature, country pursuits, and travel. For the rest of his life, he had a relationship with the opera singer Pauline Garcia Viardot, living near her, or at times with, her and her husband.


by Ivan Sergeievich Turgenev

ONE day, in autumn, on my way home from the distant fields, I caught cold, and was taken ill. Fortunately, the fever overtook me in the county-town, in the hotel. I sent for the doctor. Half an hour later, the district physician made his appearance, a man of short stature, thin and black-haired. He prescribed for me the customary sudorific, ordered the application of mustard-plasters, very deftly tucked my five-ruble bank-note under his cuff,—but emitted a dry cough and glanced aside as he did so,—and was on the very verge of going off about his own affairs, but somehow got to talking and remained. The fever oppressed me; I foresaw a sleepless night, and was glad to chat with the kindly man. Tea was served. My doctor began to talk. He was far from a stupid young fellow, and expressed himself vigorously and quite entertainingly. Strange things happen in the world: you may live a long time, and on friendly terms, with one man, and never once speak frankly from your soul with him; with another you hardly manage to make acquaintance—and behold: either you have blurted out to him your most secret thoughts, as though you were at confession, or he has blurted out his to you. I know not how I won the confidence of my new friend,—only, without rhyme or reason, as the saying is, he “took” and told me about a rather remarkable occurrence; and now I am going to impart his narrative to the indulgent reader. I shall endeavour to express myself in the physician’s words.


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