Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born into a family of Russian land-owners in Oryol, Russia, on November 9, 1818 (October 28 Old Style). His father, Sergei Nikolaevich Turgenev, a colonel in the Russian cavalry, was a chronic philanderer. Ivan's mother, Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, was a wealthy heiress, who had an unhappy childhood and suffered in her marriage. Ivan's father died when Ivan was sixteen, leaving him and his brother Nicolas to be brought up by their abusive mother. Ivan's childhood was a lonely one, in constant fear of his mother who beat him often. 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 from 1834 to 1837, focusing on Classics, Russian literature, and philology. He then studied, from 1838 until 1841, at the University of Berlin to study philosophy, particularly Hegel, and history. He returned to Saint Petersburg to complete his master's examination.
Turgenev was impressed with German society and returned home believing that Russia could best improve itself by incorporating ideas from the Age of Enlightenment. Like many of his educated contemporaries, he was particularly opposed to serfdom. In 1841, Turgenev started his career in Russian civil service and spent two years working for the Ministry of Interior (1843-1845).
When Turgenev was a child, a family serf had read to him verses from the Rossiad of Mikhail Kheraskov, a celebrated poet of the 18th century. Turgenev's early attempts in literature, poems, and sketches gave indications of genius and were favorably spoken of by Vissarion Belinsky, then the leading Russian literary critic. During the latter part of his life, Turgenev did not reside much in Russia: he lived either at Baden-Baden or Paris, often in proximity to the family of the celebrated opera singer Pauline Viardot, with whom he had a lifelong affair.