The Europeans: Three Cosmopolitan Lives and the Making of a European Culture in the 19th Century
The Europeans is both a highly original, panoramic account of how in the 19th century huge aesthetic, economic, technological and legal changes created, for the first time, a genuinely pan-European culture - and an intimate story of a great singer, Pauline Viardot, a great writer, Ivan Turgenev, and a great connoisseur, Pauline's husband Louis.
Their passionate, ambitious lives caught up an astonishing array of writers, composers and painters all trying to navigate through an ever more prosperous, demanding and international culture. This culture - through trains, telegraphs and printing - allowed artists of all kinds to create a precarious but real living, shuttling back and forth, from the British Isles to Imperial Russia.
The Europeans is Orlando Figes' masterpiece. Surprising, beautifully written, it describes huge events 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, premiers and bestsellers came into existence.