Figes has shown an unerring ability to weave together the political and the personal ... Figes tells the tale with his customary vigor and sensitivity but in counterpoint with a panoramic yet engagingly detailed survey of the creation of a pan-European culture suspended between the revolutionary moment of 1848 (for which Pauline composed an official cantata based on the 'Marseillaise') and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 (which forced the Viardots and Turgenev to leave the hitherto cosmopolitan environs of Baden-Baden). The two registers—the personal and the world-historical—intertwine and reflect back on each other ... Figes is acutely aware of the ways that material changes interacted to produce cultural change ... Turgenev was a living embodiment of the cosmopolitanism whose creation Figes is celebrating.
In the age of Brexit and social media, the contemporary relevance of The Europeans is obvious. But Figes wisely leaves his readers to draw their own conclusions about the parallels between then and now. By the same token, he takes a position on the cosmopolitan ideal of Europe, which he casts in inspiring terms ... In relating this efflorescence, Figes does not acknowledge its kinship with another foundational moment in the history of Western cosmopolitanism: the humanist Renaissance of the 14th through the 16th centuries...Even a condensed discussion of this context would have been useful in a work of this scope ... That said, Figes is impressively thorough when it comes to cataloging the railway era’s many notable achievements.
This running ledger, this constant transmutation of artistic endeavor into unabashed bookkeeping, forms the backbone of Mr. Figes’s work. That he has managed to accomplish it so lucidly and entertainingly is a remarkable feat in itself, but it also illuminates much about the very nature of art and society in 19th-century Europe ... His monumental work is the product of thorough and extensive research, largely in archival sources and in several languages. The author has a remarkable capacity to keep a huge quantity of factual material present in mind, and to bind it moreover into a coherent story. Woven through the biographical narrative is a detailed account of the transformations in technology, mores and law that created the new cosmopolitanism ... Mr. Figes’s magisterial work will surely come as a welcome vivification of a splendid if vanished way of life.
... a multitude of fascinating pieces of information ... magisterial and wide-ranging ... This trio and their interlinked lives form a kind of portal to a cultural history of 19th-century Europe and the way that the continent evolved and transformed itself, through new technologies, into the collective of countries that is still recognisable today ... What also emerges from Figes’s book is a beguiling biography of Turgenev ... Figes is able to depict a history of a continent in constant change ... relevant, trenchant and searching.
While Figes relies on his triumvirate’s ups and downs to propel a data-rich, gossip-packed narrative, he aims at more than potted biography ... In a sense, Figes’s book is all digressions ... consequently something of a grab-bag, albeit one filled with nothing but goodies ... Despite occasional repetition and a few minor mistakes, The Europeans makes for ideal winter reading. It is long, superbly entertaining and vastly informative. But just as important, it serves — in Figes’s closing words — 'as a reminder of the unifying force of European civilization, which Europe’s nations ignore at their peril.'
... massive ... [Figes'] central figures are an apt choice, because Pauline’s singing tours and Turgenev’s wanderings took them to every corner of the Continent ... Historians might quarrel with Figes’s relative neglect of politics, and of other kinds of globalization—colonialism, for instance. Other readers might wonder how some of his big-picture material connects with the group biography that structures the book, though Turgenev played a part in debates about copyright, Pauline Viardot was a skillful navigator of the changing music business, and Louis—an art critic, among other things—left his mark on the culture of gallery-going. Figes draws attention to Pauline’s achievements, but as you’d expect from a historian who’s best known for his work on Russia, his book’s presiding spirit is Turgenev’s ... It’s hard not to see a subtext here. Figes—who is British but took German citizenship in response to the Brexit referendum result—sees a lot to applaud in the Russian writer’s mild liberalism.
... an extraordinary account of the development of a continental cultured class told through three remarkable figures of the late 19th century ... Weaving into the spaces between these lives the vital stuff of culture in relation to money, Figes evidently feels that out of the fabric of grand, flawed, artistically dedicated and politically aware lives it is possible to define a continental culture ... Unlike the project for a continental civilisation associated with the Enlightenment Figes suggests a definable cosmopolitan European-ness focused on private life and the pleasures of theatres and tourism, of galleries and museums.
Figes artfully makes these individual lives into illustrative examples of the changing terms of nineteenth-century culture, and especially the ways in which a Russian writer and a Spanish diva, from the eastern and western margins of Europe, could emerge as fully European and cosmopolitan cultural figures. As history-writing The Europeans feels a little old-fashioned, but its argument is made with conviction and the characters come vividly to life. Figes also offers a set of insights into the question of what it meant to be and feel European in the nineteenth century ... Perhaps Figes’s most original contribution to the discussion of nineteenth-century European cosmopolitanism, however, derives from his expertise as a Russian historian, which allows him to discuss (with particular reference to Turgenev) the special complications of Russia’s relation to European culture – and there was probably no country in Europe from the nineteenth century to the present moment with a more tangled and ambivalent sense of its European identity. That said, readers may be most interested in Figes’s account of the unusual Turgenev-Viardot ménage, and most appreciative of his broad canvas of nineteenth-century cultural life, evoked in fascinating detail rather than by systematic analysis.
Figes returns with another astonishing work displaying his vast knowledge of art, music, literature, culture, and history. Wisely, he uses three people to embody much of his discussion ... In many ways, the text is a who’s who of the time period. Liszt, Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, George Sand, Chopin, Tolstoy, Flaubert—these and countless other icons move smoothly through the narrative, a rich mélange of tasty ingredients. There are some mild surprises, too: Mary Shelley briefly wanders in (we read Victor Frankenstein’s description of the Rhine), and Henry James makes some cameos ... A powerful and essential addition to our understanding of European history and culture.
... excellent, wide-ranging ... 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 ... Figes’s history masterfully summarizes this period, albeit sometimes in overwhelming detail, in a persuasive and consistently enlightening fashion.