Turgenev's later novels, with their antiquated language and stilted situations, are considered inferior to his earlier efforts. Smoke (Дым) was published in 1867 and his last work of any length, Virgin Soil (Новь), was published in 1877. Aside from his longer stories, many shorter ones were produced, some of great beauty and full of subtle psychological analysis, such as (Вешние воды), , Asya and others. These were later collected into three volumes. His last works were Poetry in Prose and Clara Milich, which appeared in the European Messenger. Turgenev is considered one of the great novelists, ranked with , , and , though his style was much different from these American and British writers. Turgenev has often been compared to his Russian contemporaries, and , who wrote novels about some of the same issues. A melancholy tone pervades his writings, a morbid . Turgenev portrayed realistically the peasantry and the rising intelligentsia in its attempt to move the country into a new age like that of the Western world.
At the beginning of the 19th century much of Western Europe viewed Russia as hopelessly backward--even Medieval. It was considered more a part of Asia than an outpost of European thought. During the first half of the century, indeed, peasants (called "serfs") were still treated as the property of their feudal masters and could be bought and sold, though they had a few more rights than slaves. Russian serfs gained their freedom only in 1861, two years before the American Emancipation Proclamation.
However, the nobility of Russia had looked to the West for ideals and fashions since the early 18th Century, when Peter the Great had instituted a series of reforms aimed at modernizing the country. Russian aristocrats traveled extensively in Western Europe and adopted French as the language of polite discourse. They read French and English literature and philosophy, followed Western fashions, and generally considered themselves a part of modern Europe.
St. Petersburg was created the new capital of Russia in 1721, and remained the most Westernized of Russian cities. Indeed, Dostoyevsky was to consider it an alien presence in the land, spiritually vacuous compared to the old Russian capital of Moscow.