Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov (1812-1891) was one of the leading members of the great circle of Russian writers who, in the middle of the nineteenth century, gathered around the Sovremmenik (Contemporary) under Nekrasov's editorship - a circle including Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Byelinsky, and Herzen. He had not the marked genius of the first three of these; but that he is so much less known to the western reader is perhaps also due to the fact that there was nothing sensational either in his life or his literary method. His strength was in the steady delineation of character, conscious of, but not deeply disturbed by, the problems which were obsessing and distracting smaller and greater minds.
Tolstoy has a characteristically prejudiced reminiscence: "I remember how Goncharov, the author, a very sensible and educated man but a thorough townsman and an æsthete, said to me that, after Turgenev, there was nothing left to write about in the life of the lower classes. It was all used up. The life of our wealthy people, with their amorousness and dissatisfaction with their lives, seemed to him full of inexhaustible subject-matter. One hero kissed his lady on her palm, and another on her elbow, and a third somewhere else.