Fathers and Sons


Fathers and Sons
The title page of the second edition (Leipzig, Germany, 1880)
Fathers and Sons  
Author(s) Ivan Turgenev
Original title Отцы и дети (Otcy i deti, IPA: [ɐˈtsɨ i ˈdʲetʲi])
Country Russia
Language Russian
Genre(s) Political, Romance, Philosophical
Publisher The Russian Messenger
Publication date February 1862
Media type Hardback and paperback
Pages 226 pp (2001 Modern Library Paperback Edition)
ISBN NA
Preceded by On the Eve
Followed by The Smoke

Fathers and Sons is an 1862 novel by Ivan Turgenev, his best known work. The title of this work in Russian is Отцы и дети (Otcy i Deti), which literally means "Fathers and Children"; the work is often translated to Fathers and Sons in English for reasons of euphony.

Contents

Plot

Historical context and notes

The fathers and children of the novel refers to the growing divide between the two generations of Russians, and the character Yevgeny Bazarov a nihilist who rejects the old order.

Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons as a response to the growing cultural schism that he saw between liberals of the 1830s/1840s and the growing nihilist movement. Both the nihilists (the "sons") and the 1830s liberals sought Western-based social change in Russia. Additionally, these two modes of thought were contrasted with the conservative Slavophiles, who believed that Russia's path lay in its traditional spirituality.

Fathers and Sons might be regarded as the first wholly modern novel in Russian Literature (Gogol's Dead Souls, another main contender, is sometimes referred to as a poem or epic in prose as in the style of Dante's Divine Comedy). The novel introduces a dual character study, as seen with the gradual breakdown of Bazarov's and Arkady's nihilistic opposition to emotional display, especially in the case of Bazarov's love for Madame Odintsova and Fenichka. This prominent theme of character duality and deep psychological insight would exert an influence on most of the great Russian novels to come, most obviously echoed in the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

The novel is also the first Russian work to gain prominence in the Western world, eventually gaining the approval of well established novelists Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, and Henry James.

Major characters

  • Yevgeny Vasil'evich Bazarov - A nihilist and medical student. As a nihilist he is a mentor to Arkady, and a challenger to the liberal ideas of the Kirsanov brothers and the traditional Russian Orthodox feelings of his own parents.
  • Arkady Nikolaevich Kirsanov - A recent graduate of St. Petersburg University and friend of Bazarov. He is also a nihilist, although he tries to be a nihilist for the love of Bazarov.
  • Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov - A landlord, a liberal democrat, Arkady’s father.
  • Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov - Nikolai’s brother and a bourgeois with aristocratic pretensions, who prides himself on his refinement but like his brother is reform minded. Although he is reluctantly tolerant of the nihilism, he cannot help hating Bazarov.
  • Vasily Ivanovich Bazarov - Bazarov’s father, a retired army surgeon, and a small countryside land/serf holder. Educated and enlightened, he nonetheless feels, like many of the characters, that rural isolation has left him out of touch with modern ideas. He thus retains a loyalty to traditionalist ways, manifested particularly in devotion to God and to his son Yevgeny.
  • Arina Vlas'evna Bazarova - Bazarov’s mother. A very traditional woman of the 15th c. Moscovy style aristocracy: a pious follower of Orthodox Christianity, woven with folk tales and falsehoods. She loves her son deeply, but is also terrified of him and his rejection of all beliefs.
  • Anna Sergeevna Odintsova - A wealthy widow who entertains the nihilist friends at her estate.
  • Katerina (Katya) Sergeevna Lokteva - The younger sister of Anna. She lives comfortably with her sister but lacks confidence, finding it hard to escape Anna Sergeevna's shadow. This shyness makes her and Arkady’s love slow to realize itself.
  • Fedosya (Fenichka) Nikolayevna - The daughter of Nikolai’s housekeeper, with whom he has fallen in love and fathered a child out of wedlock. The implied obstacles to their marriage are difference in class, and perhaps Nikolai's previous marriage - the burden of 'traditionalist' values.
  • Viktor Sitnikov - A pompous and somewhat stupid friend of Bazarov who joins populist ideals and groups.
  • Avdotya Nikitishna or Evdoksya Kukshina - An emancipated woman who lives in the town of X. Kukshina is independent but rather eccentric and incapable as a proto-feminist despite her potential.

Themes

Transgression and redemption

Bazarov (the prototypical nihilist) argues with Pavel Kirsanov (the prototypical liberal of the 1840s generation) about the nature of nihilism and usefulness to Russia in an episode which personifies the struggle between the fathers (i.e., the liberals of the 1840s) and their nihilist "sons". "Aristocratism, romanticism, liberalism, progress, principles," Bazarov says. "Just think, how many foreign…and useless words!" [1]

Bazarov tells Pavel that he will abandon nihilism when Pavel can show him "…a single institution of contemporary life, either in the family or in the social sphere, that doesn’t deserve absolute and merciless rejection." [2] But despite this utter scorn for all things associated with traditional Russia, Bazarov still believes that there is a purpose and a value in applied science.

Human emotion and love as redemption

Bazarov's nihilism falls apart in the face of human emotions, specifically his love for Anna Odintsova. His nihilism does not account for the pain that his unrequited love causes him, and this introduces a despair that he is not capable of contending with.

Bazarov returns to his family after Odintsova rejects him. Bazarov complains to Arkady that "…they, that is, my parents, are occupied, and don't worry in the least about their own insignificance; they don't give a damn about it… While I…I feel only boredom and anger." [3] His theory's inability to account for his emotions frustrates him and he sinks deep into boredom and ennui. [4]

And then there is the enigmatic Anna Odintsova, a beautiful young woman of lowly origin. By virtue of having married well and been widowed young, she has inherited an exceedingly comfortable and insular life on a palatial country estate. In a letter written the same year the novel was published, Turgenev revealed that he conceived of Anna as “the representative of our idle, dreaming, curious and cold epicurean young ladies, our female nobility.” [5] And yet, as with Bazarov, Turgenev’s fictional creation takes on a life of its own, superseding the author’s intellectual scheme to become a complex and perplexing figure.

Apparently content at the outset with her unattached life, Anna finds herself increasingly attracted to the blunt, unorthodox, highly intelligent Bazarov. She proceeds almost unwittingly to emotionally seduce the self-declared womanizer, luring him step by step in a pair of riveting, back-to-back passages to reveal his love. In the intimacy of her study, Anna confesses that she is very “unhappy,” that she has no desire to “go on,” that she longs for a “strong attachment” that is “all or nothing. A life for a life. You take mine, you give up yours, without regrets, without turning back.” [6]

And yet, a moment after Bazarov capitulates and confesses his love, Odintsova rejects him brutally. Afterward, she is tortured, alternately blaming and excusing herself while fearing she may have thrown away a chance for genuine love. Finally she decides, “No. God knows where it might have led; one mustn’t fool around with this kind of thing.” [7]

Conversely, Turgenev shows us Arkady and Nikolai's traditional happiness in marriage and estate management as the solution to Bazarov's cosmic despair and Anna's life of loveless comfort. (Arkady marries Anna Odintsova's sister Katya, though he was also originally in love with Anna). The height of the conflict between Bazarov and the older generation comes when Bazarov wounds Pavel in a duel. Finally, Turgenev also refutes Bazarov's "insignificance principle", i.e., the nihilist idea that life is utterly insignificant and that nothing remains after death: after leaving and then returning again to his parents, Bazarov dies of typhus. The final passage of the book portrays Bazarov's parents visiting his grave.

They walk with a heavy step, supporting each other; when they approach the railing, they fall on their knees and remain there for a long time, weeping bitterly, gazing attentively at the headstone under which their son lies buried: they exchange a few words, brush the dust off the stone, move a branch of the pine tree, and pray once again; they can’t forsake this place where they seem to feel closer to their son, to their memories of him… Can it really be that their prayers and tears are futile? Can it really be that love, sacred, devoted love is not all powerful? Oh, no! [8]

Their love causes them to remember Bazarov: he has transcended death, but only through the love of other people. Fyodor Dostoevsky, who read Fathers and Sons and apparently appreciated Bazarov as a character, explores a similar theme with Raskolnikov's religious redemption (via the love of Christ) in Crime and Punishment.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, 38.
  2. ^ Ibid., 42.
  3. ^ Ibid., 98.
  4. ^ Ibid., 142-3.
  5. ^ Ibid., 176
  6. ^ Ibid., 75-6
  7. ^ Ibid., 80
  8. ^ Ibid., 156-7.

External links


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