'Magnificent. Beautifully written, immaculately researched and thoroughly absorbing from start to finish. A tour de force that explains how Europe's cultural life transformed during the course of the 19th century - and so much more' Peter Frankopan
From the bestselling author of Natasha's Dance, The Europeans is richly enthralling, panoramic cultural history of nineteenth-century Europe, told through the intertwined lives of three remarkable people: a great singer, Pauline Viardot, a great writer, Ivan Turgenev, and a great connoisseur, Pauline's husband Louis.
Their passionate, ambitious lives were bound up with an astonishing array of writers, composers and painters all trying to make their way through the exciting, prosperous and genuinely pan-European culture that came about as a result of huge economic and technological change. This culture - through trains, telegraphs and printing - allowed artists of all kinds to exchange ideas and make a living, shuttling back and forth across the whole continent from the British Isles to Imperial Russia, as they exploited a new cosmopolitan age.
The Europeans is Orlando Figes' masterpiece. Surprising, beautifully written, it describes huge changes through intimate details, little-known stories and through the lens of Turgenev and the Viardots' touching, strange love triangle. Events which we now see as central to European high culture are made completely fresh, allowing the reader to revel in the sheer precariousness with which the great salons, premieres and bestsellers came into existence.
Figes (Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia) weaves this excellent, wide-ranging history of 19th-century Europe around three people: the opera singer Pauline Viardot (1821 1910); her husband, the art critic, theater manager, and translator Louis (1800 1883); and the writer Ivan Turgenev (1818 1883). The link between the arts, commerce, and railway travel in the creation of a holistic European culture is his central theme: according to Figes, "The railways enabled people across Europe to see themselves as Europeans' in ways they had not done before." As Figes chronicles Turgenev's writing and Pauline's performances, there is a veritable history of the opera and European literature of the period, with appearances from Berlioz, Chopin, Dicken, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Hugo, James, Strauss, Wagner, and Zola. With the discussion of the "new" relationship between the arts and capitalism in the 19th century, Figes not only gives the details of everyone's income and outlay but chronicles changes in publishing that birthed serialized novels, modern tourist guides, a market for translation, royalties, effective copyright protections, and literary agents. Wars (Franco-Prussian, 1870 1871; Russo-Turkish, 1877 1878) and assorted political upheavals are incorporated, and intrigues, rivalries, affairs, and gossip (Turgenev is "hopelessly in love" with Pauline; he and Dostoevsky feud) add spice. Figes's history masterfully summarizes this period, albeit sometimes in overwhelming detail, in a persuasive and consistently enlightening fashion. Photos.