Russian Literature around the World: Fathers and Children

The History of its Creation 

Turgenev first thought of creating a new work describing reality when he was on the Isle of Wight, in England. There he conceived a major story, the hero of which should be a young doctor. The prototype of Bazarov came from a young doctor, who Turgenev met while traveling by train. In him, he saw the beginnings of Nihilism, which was just emerging at that time. This amazed Ivan Sergeyevich. He was simply fascinated by the views of this young man. 

Turgenev quickly planned the story, and began working on it directly in Paris, where he arrived with his daughter in 1860. Ivan Sergeyevich began to write in the winter, but by the spring he was overtaken by a creative crisis and work on the story ceased. According to the author himself, it was difficult for him to continue working due to his constant presence in Paris.

So he returned to Russia,and by 1861 he had finished writing the novel. Ivan Sergeyevich wrote the last few chapters in his native Spassky village. But Turgenev did not stop working. When he returned to Paris, he read it to his friends – Botkin and Sluchevsky. Having heard their opinions, he corrected the text of the future novel. However, the work did not end there either. The next step was to send the draft to Annenkov, in Russia. From there, additions and comments were made, and Turgenev again corrected the text. He very much doubted the success of the work, so in one of the letters he left the following line: 

“I don’t know how successful it will be. “The Sovremennik” (russian literary and socio-political journal) will probably shower me with contempt for Bazarov – and will not believe that all the time I was writing I felt an involuntary attraction to him…”

Turgenev’s statue in Moscow

Although the readers did not “shower him with contempt” , as soon as the novel was published, public discussion was not long in coming. Magazines and newspapers published various articles and reviews from critics, in each conversation they discussed Turgenev’s new work. A real struggle of opinions was born between both political opponents and among ideological like-minded people. People were especially interested in the image of the protagonist – Eugene Bazarov. A materialist democrat who completely denies and rejects the noble culture. But with this denial, Turgenev showed the high universal human content of these new ideals in the process of formation. The image of Bazarov is very controversial. He excited minds, challenging them. 

After the appearance of the novel in the “Russian Bulletin” , Turgenev was engaged in a more subtle processing of the text. It smoothed out some particularly harsh character traits of the protagonist, and made the image of Bazarov more attractive. Disputes about this character continued until after Turgenev’s death. Bazarov had both great influence on the self-awareness of democracy, and on its portrayal in literature. 

In Autumn of 1862, an edited version of the novel was published. On the title page there is a dedication to Vissarion Grigorievich Belinsky. Turgenev and Belinsky were very close friends, and thanks to the influence of Vissarion Grigorievich, some of Ivan Sergeyevich’s public views were formed. 

The novel “Fathers and Children” became a unique work that reflected the eternal confrontation between two generations, not only within a single family, but also at the level of the social and political life of an entire country.

Ivan Turgenev

Nihilism + Bazarov = An Inseparable Duet

At the beginning, let’s analyze this word a little – “Nihilism”. This worldview is a key characteristic of the novel’s main character. 

Nihilism is a worldview in which a person denies social norms, orders and values. We can say that this is both a philosophy and a way of human life. Nihilists themselves can easily be called sceptics, critics, egoists and cynics who focus only on the material and physical. Nobody and nothing is a decree for them. They deny the very structure of the world, keep a sober mind, and do not give vent to emotions and feelings. 

And Turgenev managed to depict a new trend of those times in his novel. Nihilism for I. S. Turgenev was closely associated with revolutionaries. That was how he wanted to show Bazarov.

The protagonist “doesn’t accept a single principle or faith, no matter how much respect this principle is surrounded by.” “Negation” is the main credo of Bazarov’s life: he denies the nobility, aristocracy, old traditions, and patriarchal society. Nothing concerning the political side of life was accepted by Bazarov. He believed that for the development of society it was necessary to “clear the place” and only then start all over again. 

Bazarov denies not only that which has an impact on the social system, but also things around him, adopted from ancient times for the true happiness of every person. Bazarov does not believe in love, he looks at women only from a medical and biological point of view – just an organism. Even nature does not inspire the hero like others. She does not calm, does not bring happiness with her views. For Bazarov, nature is just a workshop that cannot bring moral satisfaction. Only science, only studying.

The protagonist denies art, believing that “Raphael is not worth a dime”, that “a decent chemist” is several times better than any work of art. 

Turgenev in the novel guides the hero through the same places twice. The writer demonstrates how Eugene Bazarov’s views change, how life’s tests make the hero’s theory untenable. Real life itself destroys Bazarov’s position. He’s changing. The hero, who in the past did not at all understand such a concept as “love”, finds romantic traits in himself and falls in love with Anna Odintsova. The new character of the Russian novel passes a test of love, as a result of which the theory of the nihilist has failed. 

Death is especially difficult and unexpected for Bazarov, because Nihilism deprives him of any consolation. He cannot proudly say that he managed to do something. He leaves no disciples and followers who could keep the memory of him alive. He does not believe in God and cannot even complain about fate (because fate is also a concept from the Romantic lexicon).

The author does not expressly state his position on the dispute between tradition and innovation. However, the fact that he deliberately arranges tests for his hero, during which the theories of Nihilism are debunked, suggests that he believed that Nihilistic views had no value, that they were fake.

Ivan Turgenev

How complicated love is… 

Turgenev does not pass by romantic topics. The couple of Eugene Bazarov and Anna Odintsova is the central love line of the novel. Two rather complex natures – a Nihilist and a woman with a cold heart who is afraid to let anyone into her calm world. But how interesting is it to watch the development of their relationship, the complete negation of all feelings and constant doubt?

Having seen the female for the first time, Bazarov speaks of her in his usual manner. He calls her “the provincial lioness”, which are not few in the secular world. At the same time, he draws attention to her shoulders, “which he has never seen before.” This is the look of a biologist, but perhaps this was already the first spark of sympathy, only in the manner of Eugene. However, the hero is wrong. Behind the appearance of a socialite and a “rich body” is an independent, strong and intelligent nature, similar to Bazarov in the ability to subjugate and attract people.

The relationship between Bazarov and Odintsova can be described in stages like a duel between two strong, worthy people.

It all started with sympathy or mutual interest: 

“Yes,” answered Bazarov, “a woman with a brain. Well, she’s seen the sights.”

“Strange man, this doctor! – she thought, lying in her magnificent bed, on lace pillows, under a light silk blanket.”

Chapter 16

Then came various manifestations of the first feelings. The characters changed: 

“His blood caught fire as soon as he remembered her; he would easily cope with his blood, but something else possessed him, which he never allowed, which he always mocked at, which outraged his pride.”

“Meanwhile, Bazarov was not entirely wrong. He captured Odintsova’s imagination; he occupied her, she thought a lot about him. In his absence she was not bored, did not wait for him, but his appearance immediately revived her; she willingly remained alone with him and willingly talked to him, even when he angered her or offended her taste, her graceful habits. She seemed to want to test him, and to taste herself.”

Chapter 17

But in the scene of the decisive explanation, Bazarov’s passionate forced confession evokes not a reciprocal feeling, but apprehension and even fear:

“You misunderstood me, – she whispered in haste fright. It seemed that if he had taken one more step, she would have screamed”

Chapter 18

Odintsova makes the final decision, being left alone, looking in the mirror: 

“Or? – She said suddenly, and stopped and shook her curls … She saw herself in the mirror; her head thrown back with a mysterious half-smile on her half-closed, half-open eyes and lips seemed to be saying something to her that made her herself embarrassed…”

Here, in Anna Sergeyevna, something of her father, a card player, appears. She decides to ask for a lot somewhere in her head and use it to decide what she feels. And at the end, there is a quick and harsh conclusion: 

“No, – she finally decided. – God knows where it would lead, you can’t joke about it, calmness is still the best in the world”

Chapter 18

“Bazarov was probably right,” she thought, “curiosity, and love of peace, and selfishness…”

Chapter 26

Himself Eugene continues to work after parting. He was never able to destroy the barrier that he had fenced off from all feelings, and continued to assure himself of the correctness of the action: 

“In my opinion, it is better to hit stones on the pavement than to allow a woman to take possession though with your fingertip. (…) A man has no time to do such trifles; a man must be ferocious, says an excellent Spanish proverb.”

Chapter 19

The plot of the novel is thus a chain of trials and partings. Bazarov emerges victorious from them, but remains alone. And here the main test awaits him – death. 

“I did not expect that I would die so soon; this is an accident, very, to tell the truth, unpleasant.”

During his last meeting with Anna Sergeyevna, Bazarov finally allows himself to “loosen up” and display some “Romanticism”: 

“Goodbye,” he said with sudden force, and his eyes flashed with the last sparkle. “Goodbye … Listen … I didn’t kiss you then… Blow on the dying lamp and let it go out…”

The last phrase looks like a quote from a romantic novel. 

The fate of Anna Sergeyevna is also known. In the epilogue, Turgenev tells us that she is getting married. A man of “his own circle”, a liberal leader, “young and cold as ice”. However, like herself. Such a finale completes the image of Odintsova. Her own calmness and some selfishness for her is much more important than feelings. She does not want to let anyone into her little world, and Bazarov’s idea of ​​”life for life” turns out to be dangerous, risky and therefore impossible for Madame Odintsova. Odintsova was not created for true passionate love.

Ivan Turgenev

Questions:

  • Tell us about your general impressions of the novel!
  • Which of the characters caught your attention most throughout the novel? 
  • One of the main topics in the book is the conflict between “fathers and children”. Is this still relevant today or is it an outdated problem? 
  • In total, the novel tells the story of four couples. Which one did you enjoy or connect with the most? Were any unimpressive or uninteresting? 
  • If not for the tragedy at the end of the novel, could Bazarov and Odintsova be together? Is Odintsova worthy of love at all? 
  • How do you feel about Nihilism? Whose side would you take in the dispute between Pavel Kirsanov and Bazarov? 
  • Why do you think Turgenev “killed” Bazarov? 
  • What did the novel make you think about? 
  • What can you say about the Bazarov family? Does Eugene love his parents?
  • How does this book react to the legacy of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin? Is there a difference between the fathers’ and the sons’ perception of Pushkin’s masterpiece? How did you understand the pistol duel between Eugene Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov? Was it a metaphor? 
  • Which character did you like the most? Why? 
  • Which character did you dislike the most? Why?
  • Was Bazarov a hypocrite? Why? 
  • What is the main message of this novel? 
  • Would you recommend it? 

Vojta

Amy

Yujeong

Tell us about your general impressions of the novel!

I had been looking forward to reading this book the most because, in comparison to other books in our Russian literature series, Turgenev’s novel is the least famous one from a Czech point of view. I wasn’t disappointed at all! ‘Fathers and Children’ was a very readable book (not overly long) which explored numerous intriguing topics. The main theme is undoubtedly the conflict between the young and the older generation. However, in addition to this important topic, there are also many sub-topics which I found actually even more interesting. For example, the evolution of Russian society throughout the 19th century had a prominent role in the story.

The Crimean War

As I have researched, ‘Fathers and Children’ was published in 1862 – seven years after the coronation of Alexander II, six years after the end of the Crimean War, one year after the abolition of the Russian serfdom and five years before the sale of Alaska. Evidently, this was in many ways a very progressive and revolutionary epoch for the Russian empire. As a result, the young generation of Russians also became radically progressive. From Pushkin’s Romanticism, through the pungent satire of Nikolai Gogol, Russian society reached the stage of Turgenev’s generation with conflict with the older generation. Old liberal Romantic Russians, whose manners were based on Eugene Onegin as the fundamental work of 19th-century Russian literature, faced the young radical generation who wanted to change the world at all costs including violence. It was impossible to determine the direction Russia would follow since the generations were not able to understand each others’ reasoning. This was exquisitely described in Turgenev’s novel. As a result of this generational tension, the afore-mentioned progressive Russian Tsar Alexander II himself became a victim of young Russians’ increased radicalisation when he was murdered during a bomb attack in 1881. This had been organised by the left-wing terrorist organisation, Narodnaya Volya, which later helped to form the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Alexander III, his successor, abated the progressive tendencies of his father and continued to build Russian absolutism which later led to the Bolshevik Revolution under the reign of his son, Nikolai. Therefore, ‘Fathers and Children’ can be also understood as the bridge between the world of Pushkin’s Russia and the Soviet Union.

Alexander II

As the Russian people experienced a very limited liberalisation (mainly associated with the abolition of serfdom), many revolutionary anti-systematic groups demanding other (much more radical) changes were formed in Russia. Ideologies of these groups differed significantly but in general, they were related to certain forms of Anarchism or Nihilism. Nihilism, the philosophy based on the rejection of all religious and moral principles and authorities, in the belief that life is meaningless, was one of the main topics of Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Children’. Hence, it was very interesting to read the novel not only as a fictional story but also as a general study on Russian society in the 1860s. Like Gogol in Dead Souls’, Turgenev intentionally set his story in a fictional gubernia with no name to make the whole metaphor more universal. In this case, characters of the novel don’t represent just themselves but also certain parts of Russian society. This social typicality of characters is one of the most important features of Critical Realism which was dominant in world literature during the second half of the 19th century. Through reading the novel, readers can easily become acquainted with the bipolarisation of Russia and make their own opinion on the new theories and revolutionary philosophies. Personally, I really enjoyed reading the novel and if you want to form an opinion on how Russia changed from the country of Pushkin to the country of Lenin, this book will give you the explanation.

Ivan Turgenev

While “Fathers and Children” wasn’t my favourite out of the series so far, there were bits that I found truly compelling to read, and my understanding – and thus enjoyment – of it improved as I learnt more about its historical context. 

My original hesitation was, I think, partially brought about by the fact that Nihilism does not have much of a history in Britain. I therefore found it at times quite bizarre, and quite a lot to take in.

Fathers and Children

Even though sometimes I was a bit out of my depth in regards to the background underpinning the narrative, the book was an interesting insight into Russian society in the mid-19th century. Turgenev explores this well through the complex – and at times satirical – characterisation throughout. And even though the book is set very precisely in 1859 and exists in the particular context, it deals with universal themes that still exist today. 

It’s a commentary primarily on intergenerational conflict, which exists throughout history and presumably will continue to do so. It also examines the superficiality of people and their ideas, which is a constant with any idea that emerges, especially, perhaps, with more ‘extreme’ ideas, like Nihilism. Thus the book is relevant for today, and worth reading, despite the very specific context it seems to appear in.

Like Amy has said, it was not my favorite of the series but I liked the overall content of the book. I could see what Nihilism is through reading this book, even though up until then I didn’t know anything about it. 

This is a novel set in a period when Russia was rapidly changing in the 1860s. Korea also experienced rapid industrial structural changes in the 1860s and 1970s, so it was possible to read the book comparing it with the examples in Korea.

It seemed just a normal and ordinary Russian novel of the 1860s. As I started reading this book, I could notice there were big business, social and historical changes in Russia at that time so I was glad that I decided to read this book.

As I mentioned in other articles about Russian or Czech literature, Russian books and history don’t dominate the foreign literature market in Korea. But through this book, I became more knowledgeable about Russian novels. And that made me feel proud of myself.

Nihilism is quite an unfamiliar ideological term for Koreans. Reading this book, I found out that a lot of its plot was an exploration of Nihilism. So this became my starting point – trying to find information about it and the other ideologies that influenced Russian society.

Portrait of a Nihilist student by Ilya Repin

Which of the characters caught your attention most throughout the novel?

In my case, it was certainly Eugene Bazarov whose (d)evolution through the story was the most intriguing aspect of the novel. Bazarov is very self-confident at the beginning of the book and, in comparison to his younger comrade Arkady Kirsanov, he seems to be very experienced, wise and mature. He never doubts his own philosophy – Nihilism – and attempts to live by its rules. Although he tries to ignore his own emotions, he later finds out that it’s not possible since he falls in love with the wealthy widow Anna Sergeyevna Odintsova. However, this relationship-attempt fails and Bazarov tries to seduce innocent Fenechka, Arkady’s young stepmother. This leads to Bazarov’s duel with Arkady’s uncle Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov who secretly loves Fenechka as well. Because of that, Bazarov decides to leave the Kirsanovs and returns back to his parents whom he visited before. There, Bazarov is treated as a child and eventually dies from typhus in the circle of his family. There is a profound contrast between the initial self-confidence of Bazarov, who originally thinks that there’s nothing which he would be necessarily dependent on, and the ultimate immaturity of his death. This is aggravated by the fact that Bazarov himself finds out that Nihilism is just an abstract impossible philosophy which he can’t follow because he still loves Odintsova.

Hence, we can see Bazarov as a personification of Nihilism which looked very modern and revolutionary at the beginning but, eventually, people realised that they couldn’t ignore their own emotions and feelings. Bazarov becomes a victim of his own hypocrisy – Nihilism itself shares its fate with him.

Fathers and Children (Czech)

I think the characters of Bazarov and Anna Odintsova were most interesting to me, even though I disagreed with their outlook on life as, I suppose, Turgenev intended. Anna seems in many ways an admirable woman who is able to use the society around her to provide for her and her sister, while maintaining her own integrity and wishes. She seems intelligent and well-educated. Superficially, at least, she is a woman to be admired. 

However, like Bazarov, her interests almost amount to obsession, and she can not progress past them. But she is a materialist, and this is incompatible with Bazarov’s view on the world. Nevertheless, because they both hold their views so self-assuredly that neither are really able to find happiness, as they are effectively imprisoned by their own philosophies. 

Thus I found this analysis of the characters – and the philosophies which they embody – striking, and I thought that Turgenev did a good job in balancing the empathy that readers feel for them with the idea that they are there to be critiqued.

Fathers and Children

To me, Bazarov was an impressive figure. Of course, he may have caught my attention because he is the main character, but the primary reason for which I think he’s impressive goes beyond this.

A lot of events are unfolding around him and, from the moment he fell in love, his heart and spirit were captured by the power of fate. Although he tried numerous resistances to get out of that captivity, he eventually could not overcome the power of fate and died by it.

Through the story of Bazarov’s life, this book shows the importance of destiny – to be precise, how destiny affects people’s lives. The protagonist who lived an unselfish life met a woman, loved her, and was eventually rejected by her. Through the life of Bazarov, who lived in Russian society where inter-generational conflicts were severe, we can better understand concepts such as fate, love, death, the universe and the destiny of nature.

Fathers and Children (Korean)

One of the main topics in the book is the conflict between “fathers and children”. Is this still relevant today or is it an outdated problem?

It’s an eternal issue. Different generations have different priorities and different opinions. Young people tend to be more liberal, revolutionary, radical, idealistic and often naive. On the other hand, older people are often pessimistic, conservative and sceptical as they look back with their life experience. These distinct attitudes usually fuel tensions between different age groups. Therefore, the main topic of Turgenev’s novel will never be outdated. The author depicted this immortal conflict through the series of dialogue between Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov and Eugene Vasilevich Bazarov.

Considering the typical features of Critical Realism – such as the character development or a general characteristics of a certain social class through the literary characters’ dominant traits and opinions – it’s possible to read the novel in three ways: as a general treatise about the inevitable destiny of impossible abstract philosophies which should replace the old world order (the death of Bazarov is a personification of the death of Nihilism and Arkady’s wedding is a metaphorical return to the old world order), as a concrete critical reaction to Nihilism (Turgenev criticises this philosophy through Bazarov’s hypocrisy based on his love to Anna Sergeyevna Odintsova which denies the main principles of Nihilism) or as a social study of Russian society of the 1860s elicited from the afore-mentioned historical context. In conclusion, all these three ways of reading the book have one thing in common – the generation-gap issue. Nowadays, different philosophies and sub-cultures than in 19th-century Russia influence young people and outrage the old ones. However, the origin of the problems is still the same and hence, Turgenev’s book will never get too old.

I think a conversation at my family’s dinner table conveys successfully that the conflict between ‘fathers and children’ is one that persists to this day. With my grandma at one end, me and my sister at the other, and my dad somewhere in the middle, it quickly becomes clear that the age in which one grows up does affect the way you see things, and your point in life has some relation to how you argue it. 

The conflicts today tend to centre around different topics – race and gender are perhaps particularly prominent today, while there aren’t so many serfs left to be freed. It could be interpreted as a more general idea of social justice though, which is something that’s still worth thinking about. 

Intergenerational conflict is something that has always existed: we can see it in famous plays like Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare where the protagonists defy their ‘fathers’ and the authority they wield over them. The young, attempting to carve out a space for themselves, have the chance to assess the situation in which they emerge, hold those older than them (at least in part) responsible and react against it as they see fit. In 21st-century Britain we can see this in the anger of those who can’t afford the ever increasing house prices and blame it on those who do own property. As half their income disappears into the rent of a slightly unsatisfactory flat, they watch those older than them enjoying living in a semi-detached house with three spare bedrooms and two bathrooms. 

William Shakespeare

There’s always been conflict between the young and the old, especially with the strain on resources that comes as the young come of age and attempt to find their place in society. This material competition (and the resentment which derives from it) is only increased by the philosophical ideas that underpin and justify the conflict. As Orwell nicely summed up:

‘Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one before, and wiser than the one that comes after it.’

The conflict is particularly pronounced with more extreme ideologies – like the Nihilism that Bazarov espouses. It is entirely in conflict with the status quo, instead of picking one particular aspect to rile against. This is why Bazarov clashes far more with the ‘fathers’ than Arkady does, as ultimately Arkady turns out to be less distinct to those who came before him than he imagined himself to be.

I think it still happens and is relevant today. As the aging phenomenon intensifies around the world, the generational conflict between parents and children seems to have intensified. Especially in the case of Korea, the country is experiencing polarization among generations as the low birth rate and the aging population are getting worse. In addition, Korea is a country that has undergone major political upheavals and economic fluctuations following the liberation from Japan in 1945 and the Korean War in 1950. Therefore, differences in ideology and economic notions between generations who have experienced these upheavals and those who have not appear. In addition, in the younger generation, as the number of people who are unmarried and who do not want to have children increases, conflicts between the older generation and the younger generation arise. As globalization progresses, inter-generational conflicts arise in terms of clothing styles, economic ideas, and media consumption. Also, in terms of attitude toward life, the younger generation, the older generation, and the elderly generation have different ideas. So, although it is not identical to the trends in this book, it is clear that the issue of intergenerational conflict has not been resolved.

Conflicts between generations will continue to occur in the future. Should we accept it as a problem which is inherent to our society? No. In this conflict, we must find a point of compromise between generations and find a way in which we can live together.

South Korea today

In total, the novel tells the story of four couples. Which one did you enjoy or connect with the most? Were any unimpressive or uninteresting? 

Personally, I found the Bazarov-Odintsova relationship very interesting. I liked it the most since both Odintsova or Bazarov were very smart characters whose love-story didn’t end well. Thanks to this affair, Bazarov’s hypocrisy was revealed and Turgenev created fictional proof that Nihilism was nonsense. Just like in Eugene Onegin, Bazarov’s and Odintsova’s destinies weren’t fatalistically meant to unite. Despite the tragic end, I really enjoyed Turgenev’s description of their relationship and it is evident that these two characters, even though they contrasted in many ways, had the best chemistry in the whole novel. 

Eugene Onegin by Pushkin

On the other hand, the Arkady-Katya relationship was a romantic cliché in many ways. However, this was exactly Turgenev’s intention. Bazarov stated in the book: “It’s all Romanticism, nonsense, rottenness, art!” And this relationship could be defined with the common Romantic label. Arkady was a typical young man who longed to understand the world but who was also easily manipulatable as he was inexperienced. In the story, Arkady Nikolayevich Kirsanov represented the young generation and Bazarov was his Nihilist (revolutionary) temptation which he decided to follow temporarily. Having fallen in love with Katya, everything changed and Arkady joined the social majority. From a young inexperienced naive boy, he evolved into a very skillful landowner who was good both in theory or in practice. In comparison to Bazarov, Arkady was the one who made progress. Bazarov just found out that his life’s philosophy was an impasse and his death was inevitable. In the moment when Eugene Bazarov died, Arkady Kirsanov was about to start his real journey.

The relationship between Bazarov and Odintsova is interesting, and is an important part of the plot. However, the more subtle role that Thenichka plays is also intriguing. 

She maybe illustrates the changing class dynamics. She has started life as the daughter of a modest housekeeper and, through her eventual marriage, becomes part of the aristocracy. Prior to this, Nikolai has experimented with a less socially acceptable form of relationship with her. His relationship with her reflects his more progressive (but quietly demonstrated) attitudes and his Romanticism. His marriage to her also illustrates his conscience and brings closure to the story. 

Thenichka is generally quite enigmatic, with her thoughts and opinions not stated very overtly. However she is central to the plot and reveals various things about the other characters. She is perhaps an allusion to the type of characters in Eugene Onegin, especially since she is the catalyst for the duel between Bazarov and Pavel. However, unlike Olga in Onegin she is more sympathetic as she is just quietly getting on with life and is caught in the middle of other peoples’ issues. 

Bazarov kisses her against her will, illustrating that he is not above human emotion. He is even more unlikeable because he is evidently entitled as well as hypocritical. This also escalates the tensions between Bazarov and Pavel, who has observed this kiss and is secretly in love with her. As well as facilitating the allusion to Onegin in the form of the duel and the questions about honour that it asks, it makes the reader more sympathetic towards Pavel. He is quite a tragic figure, not only losing the duel, but also surrendering the women he quietly loves to his brother. 

While the story between Thenichka and Nikolai ends happily, Pavel, like Eugene Onegin, moves abroad, restless and unfulfilled. Through their interactions and relationships with Thenichka, various truths are revealed about the other characters.

Fathers and Children (Russian)

I was most impressed by the story of Bazarov and Odintsova. Turgenev developed the novel around this love story, trying to explore his philosophy of fate through the love story of the two. The first time he met Odintsova, Bazarov fell in love with her, and she became his ‘ruler’. She rejected Bazarov’s love, which led to him being engulfed in an unknown fear of death. But whenever he felt the power of such fate, he resisted. The duel between Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov was also a result of his resistance to the fate of death. Although Pavel Kirsanov knew he and Fenechka were talking in the pavilion, Bazarov’s attempt to kiss Fenechka was intended to provoke Pavel into a duel. I thought Bazarov was stupid and reckless in this respect. The part of Bazarov’s intention to resist the fate that surrounds him is implied by the author’s words and the characters’ inner monologues.

I think the sudden death of Bazarov due to an accidental typhoid infection during surgery also contributed to Bazarov’s intended action against fate. In the absence of disinfectants, his choice to dissect typhoid patients was a desperate resistance to fate, and as a result, Bazarov died at its hands.

As such, in Turgenev’s “Fathers and Children”, love seems to be working as a force to destroy people such as Bazarov who resist fate.

Ivan Turgenev

If not for the tragedy at the end of the novel, could Bazarov and Odintsova be together? Is Odintsova worthy of love at all?

In my opinion, a long-term relationship between them wouldn’t be possible. Even though Odintsova was a very clever woman, she preferred money and comfort over everything. Bazarov wouldn’t be able to provide her with anything like that and hence, she wouldn’t be able to live the sort of life she enjoys. Bazarov had totally different priorities – changing the world. The question is whether Odintsova would want to follow Bazarov’s philosophy and live in his new world. Honestly, I don’t think she would.

Whether she is or isn’t worthy of love – that’s a different question. Through the character of Odintsova, Turgenev criticises materialism. If you are OK with having a relationship with an absolute materialist, then she’s worthy of love. On the other hand, if you live by some principles, Odintsova doesn’t deserve Bazarov’s love from your point of view. I would choose the second option. However, this depends on personal priorities. Anyway, is Bazarov himself worthy of love?

Materialism

I don’t think the issue lies particularly with Odintsova. Both she and Bazarov are foolishly chained to their extreme worldviews which, mixed with their own significant egos, become recklessly inflexible. Hers isn’t particularly wise but I don’t think it makes her unworthy of love. They are simply incompatible because of the rigid polarisation of the ideologies which shape their entire identities. 

Bazarov is not dismayed by his love for Anna Odintsova because she is unworthy of love, but because he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of love: it is something (an illusion perhaps) that is fit only for lesser mortals. He’s a fool, as the ideology he binds himself to clearly lacks substance, and simply causes him pain. He gains nothing out of it, except a misplaced sense of superiority.

Ivan Turgenev

Even if the ending changed, Bazarov and Odintsova couldn’t be together. This is because they have different personalities and values and she has already rejected him. No matter how much Bazarov likes Odintsova, or even loves him to the point of giving his life, Odintsova has rejected Bazarov, so the probability of their love being fulfilled is very low.

Odintsova is already slightly repulsed by Bazarov; however hard Bazarov tries to court her, can his love come true? Do you think they could make a good couple? I think that’s a dire miscalculation.

I think the second question might be seen as being a bit sexist. Love is the work of two people, and evaluating Odintsova’s worth by her capacity to be loved is likely to be accepted as a question that overlooks Odintsova’s identity. We must also consider whether Bazarov deserves to be loved.

Ivan Turgenev

How do you feel about Nihilism? Whose side would you take in the dispute between Pavel Kirsanov and Bazarov? 

A kind of reconsideration of basic values, as it was (quite extremely though) depicted in Nietzsche’s philosophy, would be actually quite beneficial in some ways. Nevertheless, ignoring authorities, emotions and civilisation’s inventions such as art, culture or literature is totally stupid. As we can see by the end of the novel, Nihilism is just a step back in mankind’s history.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Regarding the feud between Eugene Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov, I would rather support the side of Arkady’s uncle, Pavel. Even though I didn’t feel any sympathy for him (especially because of his relationship with Fenechka), his opinions were much closer to mine – he was liberal, chivalrous and tolerant. Although he might seem very old-school and conservative from today’s point of view, Pavel Kirsanov was a very wise and honourable gentleman who was eager to listen to different opinions, including Bazarov’s, and discuss them.

Bazarov could be described as the annoying stranger who preaches water and drinks wine. He consumed a lot of food but, in contrast, he gossiped about his hospitable hosts and didn’t show any gratitude. He mocked love, emotions and Romanticism, but ultimately, he fell in love with Odintsova whom he decided to spend his final moments with. And even if we ignore Bazarov’s hypocrisy, the philosophy of Nihilism is still, in my opinion, absolutely pointless. Nihilists wanted to change the world but there was no plan for the actual change. Bazarov said: “What’s important is that twice two is four and all the rest’s nonsense.” If we decide to follow Bazarov’s path, we won’t be humans anymore as we’ll lose the ability to feel. Hence, Pavel Kirsanov is my champion although I don’t like him completely either. 

I don’t think Turgenev intended for the reader to agree with either of them. Pavel (who’s actually known as Paul in my translation) is a foppish layabout, who has achieved nothing in his life thus far and will continue to achieve nothing in the future. He is similar to (or an allusion to) Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, having a history of womanizing but ultimately being tired of what life has to offer and quite ineffectual. However, it is possible to feel some sympathy for him: he seems harmless enough, and distress at a world that is rapidly moving away from what he knows arouses pathos in the reader.

Alexander Pushkin

Bazarov is entirely a hypocrite. He’s self-absorbed and believes himself superior to virtually everyone, even though his philosophy lacks substance. The way he treats his parents seems utterly obnoxious, his personal (spurious) rejection of human emotion encourages him to cause others pain, when some basic empathy and patience could have averted it.  The only thing that makes him more sympathetic is the fact that he does gradually recognise his hypocrisy. As he goes to the duel – something that is itself quintessentially Romantic and in pursuit of honour, which he spurns – he sees some peasants on their way to work.

‘Like ourselves the peasant has risen early,’ though Bazarov, ‘But whereas he has risen to work we – !’ and then his thought is interrupted. In this instant it is hinted that he perhaps recognises that he is not entirely superior to the peasants around him. His labours cutting up frogs do not place him much above the other aristocratic layabouts, but do give him a fallacious sense of superiority. 

His adherence to Nihilism encourages him to feel enlightened and superior, despite the hypocrisy he does gradually become vaguely aware of. To an extent I can see why he is taken by the idea of Nihilism. Superficially, it seems like the logical conclusion of reasonable scepticism. In many ways it recognises the insignificance of everything on earth, which more Romantic ideas seem to overlook. If I didn’t have a Christian faith, I probably would be quite drawn to it. But instead I believe that the prospect of a relationship with God and his plan for each person in the world means that the world around us does have some significance, even if it pales in comparison to the eternal significance. Therefore I think that Bazarov’s view of life is fallaciously bleak, and it seems to me that life is about more than cutting up frogs. 

Nihilism, coming from  ‘Nihil’, which means ‘nothing’ in Latin, describes what the belief is. Nihilism in the strict sense means that nothing exists. This argument originated from the ancient Greek period and, in the modern era, Nihilism can be seen as a generic term for the position that there is no such thing as absolute truth, morality, or value. In this sense, scepticism and relativism can also be seen as a kind of Nihilism. In addition, anarchism, which argues that social progress lies in dissolving all social institutions, can be said to be a form of Nihilism. The ideology of Nihilism was reflected in the ideas of Nihilism et al. in the late 19th century, and spread rapidly in the 20th century.

Ancient Greece

One kind of Nihilism is desperate Nihilism, which denies any attention and argument, prescribes that there is no meaning in life, and advocates a life wholly indifferent to the pursuit of instant pleasure. Another kind of Nihilism is Existentialism which is significantly more moderate. 

Nihilism stems from a spirit that opposes defining the world as a single ideological system based on enlightened human reason. Therefore, it is necessary to understand that the spirit of “being” to create an organic whole paradoxically is embedded in the spirit of “nothing” that denies defining life and the world as a single system of ideas.

I’m not an extreme Nihilist, but we are all like anarchists in that I try to think carefully about the thought of ‘Isn’t there a Nihilist-like figure in our subconscious?’

I refuse to take either side. Pavel represents the generation of the 1840s, when people were obsessed with grandeur whilst failing to recognize the shortcomings of their surroundings. Bazarov could not agree with this, in accordance with his nihilistic view on life, because he considered Pavel’s beliefs to make no strides towards amelioration.

Why do you think Turgenev “killed” Bazarov?

As I have already explained, ‘Fathers and Children’ is a typical piece of Critical-Realist literature which is based on depicting certain social classes via the literary characters. Hence, the death of Eugene Bazarov was solely symbolic. In my opinion, Ivan Turgenev wanted to state that Nihilism wasn’t the path which humanity should follow. It’s possible that Turgenev found the Nihilist movement hypocritical and this novel was meant to criticise certain Nihilists as well. Another way I understood the tragic end of Bazarov’s life was the general impossibility to change the fundamental principles of the world through the type of revolution which Bazarov proposed. Instead he suggested that evolution was the solution. Turgenev chose Arkady to represent a combination of the progressive youth and the old manners. Ultimately Arkady’s story, symbolising the phased evolution of Russia, concludes with a happy ending, suggesting that this was Turgenev’s ideal. On the other hand, the sad end of Eugene Bazarov denotes the foolishness of Nihilism and the generic infeasibility of radical changes.

Even though this opinion was theoretically refutated a few decades later with the Great Bolshevik Revolution, I think that the communist regime in the Soviet Union perfectly complied Turgenev’s definition of hypocrisy and its inevitable end. In the same way as Bazarov was a hypocrite in ‘Fathers and Children’, the pigs were hypocrites in Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. Leaders of the Soviet Union violated their own rules based on the abstract philosophy of Communism. The main principles didn’t change at all either – the communist leaders became new tsars and the Russian Empire changed its name to the Soviet Union. As well as Bazarov, who represented Nihilism, deceased, even Communism died from its own hypocrisy. Therefore, Bazarov’s death metaphorically demonstrated that hypocrisy cannot last a long time.

The Great Bolshevik Revolution

As well as providing an element of tragedy to the novel, Bazarov’s death serves to illustrate Turgenev’s opinions about Nihilism. It’s a destructive philosophy, which can only lead to death, including it seems, its own. It also conveys poignantly the hypocrisy inherent in Nihilism. His dying wish is to see Madame Odinstova. This shows the power of the emotions he has tried to scorn, and demonstrates how at odds Nihilism is with the reality of life. 

As I explained in the previous section, in Turgenev’s “Fathers and Children”, love is a destructive force for characters like Bazarov who resist fate. By killing Bazarov, Turgenev gives the reader an understanding of the subject of ‘Turgenev’s fate’, which is the key to an integrated understanding of the imposing Bazarov and the helpless Bazarov. And within this subject of destiny lies love, death, and nature. It is intended to reveal that it is a subject connected with the power of fate that governs the universe and the way that people respond to this. 

What did the novel make you think about?

While reading ‘Fathers and Children’, I was mainly thinking about the eternity of intergenerational disputes, hypocrisy and Nihilism. My favourite quotes from the book are:

“A Nihilist is a man who doesn’t acknowledge any authorities, who doesn’t accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much that principle may be surrounded by respect.”

“It’s all Romanticism, nonsense, rottenness, art.”

“I look up to heaven only when I want to sneeze.”

The last quote is, in my opinion, very intriguing. It made me think about how revolutionary and radical the idea of Nihilism related to absolute Atheism had to be in the context of Russian conservative Orthodoxy.

Among other things, Turgenev encourages you to think about how flawed the philosophy of Nihilism is. The irony is that Turgenev, through this novel, was the first to popularise the Russian word for Nihilism (having originally entered the Russian language in 1829 and used synonymously with ‘scepticism’) to describe the disillusionment of the young which he saw around him. Although he described it in order to critique it, many of his readers then subscribed to the philosophy. 

Although this is arguably the primary theme, this is not the only thing Turgenev discusses. He deliberately set the novel in 1859 – two years before the emancipation reform act – to discuss matters about class and serfdom, and to comment on the changing attitudes of the aristocracy.

Russian aristocracy

This book helps you rethink the subject of fate in the light of love and death. In Turgenev’s work, nature is an ‘indifferent being’ to human tragedy, love is a destructive force that captures the human soul and at the same time overcomes the fear of death, while death is a force that swallows everyone. The protagonists of Turgenev’s novels, such as Bazarov, are rebels against fate because they seek an altruistic life, and therefore fate intervenes. The force of destiny invades their lives and attempts to reunite the disconnected relationship between the individual and the universe by driving them to the brink. If harmonious unification is not achieved, it drives towards it by causing death, and in doing so, eternal reconciliation is reached. This depiction of the relationship between nature, humans, and fate was very interesting in this novel. 

What can you say about the Bazarov family? Does Eugene love his parents?

Personally, I assume that Bazarov did love his parents, even though his love was hidden very deep under the Nihilist crust. I found Bazarov’s parents quite overprotective but very warmhearted. Their character traits contrasted with Bazarov’s personality. Honestly, I think that they should have been much stricter towards Bazarov in order to avoid spoiling him. In my opinion, Eugene’s indulged nature eventually formed his radical character.

Kyrgyz stamp with Turgenev

Bazarov’s parents offer him largely unreciprocated love. It’s quite a tragic picture, as they try to show their love to him while being aware that he finds it suffocating and fundamentally objects to it. Evoking pathos for the long-suffering parents, Turgenev offers another criticism of Nihilism, as it is Bazarov’s adherence to it that encourages him to spurn basic human affection and relationships. 

Deep down Bazarov surely does love them, but he only really displays this in the quiet way he goes to work with his father. It contrasts to the more Romantic picture of love painted by his parents, and the pathetic scene after his untimely death.

‘Upon that old Arina Vlasievna, suffused in tears, laid her arms around his neck, and the two sank forward on the floor. (…) There they knelt together – side by side – their heads drooping like those of two sheep at midday.’

They are able to support each other, accepting their own emotions and displaying love towards others. It is a universally recognisable picture of humanity and further demonstrates how brutally inhuman Bazarov’s attempt at life is. 

I think it can be said that Bazarov and his family are quarrelsome and have a passionately loving love-hate relationship like most families in modern society. Bazarov wasn’t actively expressing either, but he loved his family very much. They did their best to prevent Bazarov from deviating from the standards they set as Nihilist, and it can be seen that this sanction stems from love for him.

How does this book react to the legacy of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin? Is there a difference between the fathers’ and the sons’ perception of Pushkin’s masterpiece? How did you understand the pistol duel between Eugene Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov? Was it a metaphor?

I found this one of the coolest aspects of Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Children’. The old world order and its principles associated with the era of Alexander Pushkin are the main matter of the generation-gap dispute described in the novel. Nikolai Kirsanov, Arkady’s father, is a great admirer of Eugene Onegin and he quotes this work several times. Pavel Kirsanov, Nikolai’s brother and Arkady’s uncle, resembles an older version of Eugene Onegin because of the failed romantic affair from the time of his youth, his history of womanising, glamour, old manners and an emphasis on appearance. On the other hand, Bazarov criticises all of it and we can remember his well-known quote: “It’s all Romanticism, nonsense, rottenness, art.” Therefore, ‘Fathers and Children’ could actually be called ‘Eugene Onegin 2: The Rise of Nihilism’.

Lensky-Onegin duel

This theory would be confirmed by the pistol duel between Pavel Kirsanov and Eugene Bazarov which is a clear allusion to the duel between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky narrated by Pushkin forty years before. Pavel Kirsanov also wanted to solve his argument with Bazarov the old way – man against man. Nevertheless, there is one crucial difference between these two duels: Lensky and Onegin were men of a different epoch – they both fought to death even though they knew it was irrational. In the duel between Eugene Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov, Arkady’s uncle was the only one who was committed to fight at any rate. Instead, Bazarov realised how fatuous the duel was and, in order to avoid repeating the fate of Lensky from ‘Eugene Onegin’, decided not to kill his older and weaker opponent even though he had the opportunity to. Moreover, Bazarov, having hit Kirsanov, started treating him almost immediately. Hence, Bazarov’s strict (over)rationality ended the era of Onegin’s spontaneously emotional foolery as he refused to play pride games based on the old moral tenets.

However, neither radical Nihilism symbolised by Eugene Bazarov, nor old-mannered Romanticism exteriorized by Pavel Kirsanov won the feud. Bazarov with his philosophy died and Pavel Kirsanov symbolically moved abroad. It was Arkady Kirsanov who went on to hold Russia’s future in his hands.

There’s clear development between Eugene Onegin and “Fathers and Children”, and Turgenev draws this out cleverly. There is conflict between Pushkin and modern scientific works, and this is symbolic of the conflict between Romanticism and Scepticism. Arkady, influenced by Bazarov’s ideas, replaces Nikolai’s Pushkin for a German scientific book, demonstrating the tensions between the old and young, as well as the perceived incompatibility of Romanticism and modernity. 

This culminates in the duel. As well as being an allusion to Eugene Onegin, it is underpinned by the conflict between the opposing ideas of the old and young. Pavel is absorbed by Romantic ideas of honour, while Bazarov primarily sees himself as rational and in opposition to such things. In fact, the way he quickly reverts to his role as a man as science conveys some development from the time of Pushkin. 

The distinction between the writing of Turgenev and Pushkin themselves is perhaps particularly poignant in light of their own lives. While Puskin died as the result of a duel in 1837, Turgenev notably avoided one with Tolstoy in 1861. Seeing as this was the year before “Fathers and Children” was published, we can perhaps see this represented in the outcome of the fictional duel. 

Leo Tolstoy

Bazarov blindly denies the values ​​of the past, such as religion, philosophy, art, and liberal thought. However, this seems to be an irrational methodology in the light of his empirical ideas. For example, not reading Alexander Pushkin and criticizing him or stipulating that “Raphael’s piece is not worth a single coin” seems to reveal the contradiction of his principles and ideas. Not only that, it is ironic that he compared himself to “God” and “the giant,” while saying that all human spirits are equal, and wishing for good luck from his guardian deity when he visits Odintsova while denying religion.

It can be deduced that the duel between Eugene Bazarov and Pavel Kirsanov is Eugene Bazarov’s deliberate rebellion to provoke a fate of ruthless neglect of Bazarov himself. The ‘hand’ he said is an allusion to destiny, and the ‘finger’ is an allusion to ‘Pavel’ who is watching him. It can be seen as a symbol. He faced and rebelled against that fate while foreshadowing death, the dark shadow of fate pointing toward him.

Alexander Pushkin

Which character did you like the most? Why?

I really liked Arkady. He was young and impressionable. Moreover, he evolved the most in comparison with other Fathers-and-Children characters. Arkady initially represented the rebel naivety of adolescence.

“I feel particularly sorry for your mother.”

“Why? Has she won your heart with her strawberries and blackcurrants?”

Arkady looked down at his feet. “You don’t understand your mother, Eugene. She’s not only a fine woman, she’s very clever really. This morning she talked to me for half an hour, and everything she said was so to the point and interesting.”

“I suppose she was expatiating upon me all the time?’

“We didn’t talk only about you.”

“Maybe as a detached observer you can see more clearly than I do. If a woman can keep up a conversation for half an hour, it’s already a good sign. But I’m going all the same.”

Even though Arkady was an inexperienced outsider at the beginning of the novel, ultimately, he was able to undermine Bazarov’s philosophy and become a very successful farmer. In my opinion, he represented the new Russian generation that Turgenev hoped for – the generation inspired both by new progressive movements such as Nihilism or Anarchism, and by old Russian Romanticism – the generation of Critical Realism.

I didn’t especially like any of them. However Arkady and Nikolai are the least irritating, if a bit bland. They’re mundane, un-romanticised pictures of people who are living in society, and probably make up the bulk of it. They’re sensitive to other peoples’ feelings, but not perfect. They do what they think is for the best, and try to keep the peace even if the benefits aren’t immediate. They’re unremarkable, but likeable enough.

Arkady is impressionable but eventually ‘redeemed’ from his flirtation with Nihilism. Nikolai is patient, waiting for his son to come round while he quietly plays the cello and reads Pushkin. He’s freed his serfs but can’t manage a farm very well. He isn’t perfect but he’s good natured enough. 

Eventually father and son are happily joined in their fates. Nikolai is seen to give Thenichka what she is deserving of by marrying her, which parallels Arkady’s happy marriage to Katya. They manage the estate together, and Arkady in particular is grounded in reality –  a pleasant contrast to Bazarov who has symbolically died with his ideology. 

I liked Arkady the most. He was sensitive to understanding other people’s minds, and he had a gentle interest in people. He brings others into his consciousness and remembers all the details of others. While self-absorbed characters such as Bazarov and Pavel are interested in reflecting on themselves, Arkady is often lost in reminiscence about others. And I thought Arkady looked a lot like me. So I think I’m a little more interested in Arkady. In this novel, “Reminiscence” is considered an act that only people who conform to nature and care about others can do because it is a work that creates organic and profound bonds with others. Thus, Turgenev has the effect of further highlighting the theme of the story by contrasting the characters who recall and adapt to nature with those who do not, such as Pavel and Bazarov.

Which character did you dislike the most? Why?

Concerning the character traits, I didn’t like Eugene Bazarov because of his hypocrisy and hatred towards emotions and civilisation’s inventions. 

“I can see you’re still a fool, my boy. The Sitnikovs of this world are essential to us. I—I would have you understand—I need such louts. It is not for the gods to have to bake bricks!…”

“O ho!” thought Arkady, and only then in a flash did all the fathomless depths of Bazarov’s conceit dawn upon him. “So you and I are gods, are we? Or rather, you are a god while I’m one of the louts, I suppose?”

“Yes,” repeated Bazarov gloomily, “you’re still a fool.”

Furthermore, Bazarov’s behaviour was also really sociopathically abusive and I couldn’t imagine being such a man’s friend. 

Most characters – irritating though most of them are – have some redeeming feature that makes the reader feel some sympathy for them. With Bazarov it is not so. 

Although it is possible to some extent understand his underlying humanity through his half-baked romance with Odintsova, he is so in denial of it that it is only possible to feel contempt (and maybe some frustration) for him. He’s entirely arrogant and makes no attempt to understand others. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for someone who scorns anything resembling humanity while elevating his own intellect and, ultimately, hypocrisy.

For me, Eugene Bazarov was both one of the most interesting and my least favorite characters. Desperate for love, Eugene Bazarov resists it while feeling the catastrophic power of fate constantly coming toward him. However, he was not the subject of his life because he was reckless and skeptical as a Nihilist. Both the duel with Pavel and the infection of typhoid were caused by acts of rebellion against Eugene Bazarov’s fate, and these events and the death of Eugene Bazarov became the fatalistic penalty for Bazarov’s rebellion. Eugene Bazarov has an arrogant attitude, has no passion for life. So I don’t like Bazarov in this novel.

Was Bazarov a hypocrite? Why?

“And so you have no feeling whatsoever for art?” she said, leaning her elbow on the table, a movement which brought her face closer to Bazarov. “How can you get on without it?”

“Why, what is it needed for, may I ask?”

“Well, at least to help one to know and understand people.”

Bazarov smiled. “In the first place, experience of life does that, and in the second, I assure you the study of separate individuals is not worth the trouble it involves. All men are similar, in soul as well as in body. Each of us has a brain, spleen, heart and lungs of similar construction; and the so-called moral qualities are the same in all of us – the slight variations are of no importance. It is enough to have one single human specimen in order to judge all the others. People are like trees in a forest: no botanist would dream of studying each individual birchtree.”

Coming from this Bazarov’s statement, we would think that he saw all people the same and nobody was unique to him. Using his own words, I don’t think that Odintsova was just “a tree in a forest” for him. Although Bazarov tries to ignore individualism and emotions, later he finds out that it is not possible. Nihilism is hypocritical itself and so is Bazarov in believing in it.

Bazarov gradually becomes aware of his hypocrisy, especially when he is brought to his knees by death. 

‘Yet how curious it is that to each human being death, old though it is as an institution comes as a novelty… Nevertheless, it shall not make me quail.’ 

He finally recognises some of the individualism that is inherent to the human experience, but still sees himself as aloof. He also attempts to confess some love for Anna Odintsova, but rationalises it to such an extent that it seems like pointless wittering. 

His most satisfying epiphany is where he reflects upon the value of others, which stands in contrast to all his former arrogant bravado, and completes his character arc. 

‘Two mortals such as them (his parents whom he had formerly scorned) you will not find in all your great world – no, not though you search for them with a candle in daylight.’

It is too late, but he has progressed past his view that all of humanity is like a ‘forest’, with  individuals unworthy of study. His delusional comment as he nears death that ‘I seem to see before me a forest…’ could refer back to that, and demonstrate what a fantasy that idea was, despite how fiercely he argued it. 

Finally, his reflects:

‘Evidently she (Russia) does not need me. Whom, then, does she need? She needs shoemakers, tailors, butchers…’ 

His mind is weak, and his body is on the verge of death, yet he talks the most sense in a page and a half than he has in the entire book. Directly contrasting his former arrogance that he is a ‘God’ while others are ‘louts’, he recognises that his life is fading away and he has achieved nothing. In fact, Arkady declines to openly mention him at his wedding. He and his ideology have perished, and he has recognised their hypocrisy too late.

Soviet stamps depicting Turgenev

The debate about whether Eugene Bazarov is hypocritical or not will be over if you read this book, as everyone considers him a hypocrite. I believe my thoughts on why I think he’s a hypocrite is well explained in the section just above, since Eugene Bazarov was my favorite character in this novel.

As an excuse from Eugene Bazarov’s point of view, Bazarov would have been going through an inner wandering. His spirit of denying the traditional system of ideas established on the basis of rationalism and denying everything except useful entities from the point of view of scientific positivism is similar to Nihilism defined in the traditional context. Moreover, his tragedy extends to the fact that the spirit of negativity denies even the nature and instincts that are inherent in him. The reason why he has been excluded from the space of real life and is unable to escape from the ideological time and space in which only the negativity itself existed stems from his inner confusion when he falls love for Odintsova and tries to define the emotion as a desire. In the end, the only option left for him was death.

What is the main message of this novel?

Hypocrisy and generation-gap conflicts are immortal issues, even though they take different forms. 

Turgenev aimed to illustrate how shallow Nihilism was. He’s used inter-generational conflict as a means of doing this, and thus provides a commentary on this too. But primarily it’s a criticism of Nihilism, and thus it’s ironic that the novel promoted it. 

It is important to pay attention to the intergenerational conflict in Russian society at the time, but I think the main message of this novel is about humanity and fate, and the relationship between them. Turgenev’s ‘subject of human destiny’ is a naturalistic deterministic philosophy that human resistance in front of ‘indifferent nature’ is meaningless, but rather has been retaliated by fate, and that harmony and reconciliation with nature can avoid the terrifying power of that fate It can be seen as based on. In the end, I think Bazarov’s fate in ‘Fathers and Children’ is the subject of the tragic catastrophe of an ‘arrogant’ human being who constantly refuses to conform to his fate while struggling with his limits.

Ivan Turgenev

Would you recommend it?

Absolutely! It’s very readable and not too long. Don’t forget to read ‘Eugene Onegin’ first to better understand the allusions. Intertextual and historical knowledge will make reading the novel even more intriguing. Furthermore, in my opinion, the general topic itself will never be outdated. 

It wasn’t my favourite but it’s worth reading, as it explores some interesting themes. I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed it, but that’s just because Bazarov is annoying and it pains me to know that it reflects people that really exist. At the end of the day, it’s well written and the characters are successfully and vividly portrayed. Unfortunately my distaste is evidence of that.

This book is worth reading. ‘Fathers and Children’ is recognized as a quintessential Russian classic partly because of its excellent language that embodies lyricism as well as presenting a character that shows the Russian spirit of the times. I think this is because the author has beautifully portrayed the universal theme of the fate inherent in human love and death.

Vojta

MĚLNÍK / CZECHIA

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