It is set in the prior decade (by the end of the novel, the Crimean War (1853-56) has already broken out. It centers on the young Elena Nikolaevna Stakhov, daughter of Nikolai Arteyemvitch and Anna Vassilyevna Stahov. Misunderstood by both her parents (Nikolai Artemyevitch is at least as interested in his German mistress as in members of her family) she is on friendly terms with both the would-be professor Andrei Petrovitch Bersenyev and the rising young sculptor Pavel Yakovitch Shubin, both of whom might be — or might not be — in love with her. The appearance of Dmitri Nikanorovitch Insarov, a young Bulgarian revolutionary who seeks independence for his nation,, alters the balance of her relationships however. The book is praised, among other things, for the way in which Turgenev manages to describe the varying emotions of a girl on the verge of womanhood. But it is also a portrayal of a kind of youthful Russian society striving towards a modern cosmopolitanism, that will shake off the parochialism and narrowness of its elders.
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