Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)

 

Introduction to Fathers and Sons (1862)

 

Ivan Turgenev was the son of a retired cavalry officer and a wealthy aristocratic mother. His childhood was spent on an extensive estate in the country, Spasskoye-Lutovinovo. Later in life, Turgenev described his home as Ďan island of gentry civilization in rural Russiaí but also as Ďa symbol of the injustice inherent in serfdomí.

 

Turgenev was educated at universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and then he Ďplunged into the German seaí from 1838-1841 at the University of Berlin. When he returned home, Turgenev had become a firm believer in the need for Russia to follow a course of Westernization.

 

In 1843, the critic Belinsky recognized promise in Turgenevís first literary efforts. He encouraged the young poet to commit himself to writing in a realist style by describing the world as it is. Belinsky also encouraged the young man to join the intelligentsia in its opposition to the injustices of the Tsarís regime.

 

That same year Turgenev fell in love with a famous singer, Pauline Viardot, who refused his advances yet remained his lifelong friend. That year Turgenev also fathered an illegitimate daughter with a peasant woman who lived on his parentsí estate. The child was raised by Viardot. This love triangle would be recalled twenty years later in the novel Fathers and Sons.

 

During the 1840ís Turgenev wrote epic poems imitating Byron, plays in imitation of Gogol, and short stories that studied the intellectuals of his generation. The most famous of his early stories was ďThe Diary of a Superfluous ManĒ which established a new type in Russian literature: the superfluous man. Isaiah Berlin describes the superfluous man as a

 

ďmember of the tiny minority of educated and morally sensitive men who is unable to find a place in his native land and, driven in upon himself, is liable to escape either into fantasies or illusions, or into cynicism or despair, ending more often than not in self-destruction and surrender. [The superfluous man] suffers acute shame or furious indignation caused by the misery and degradation of a system in which human beings, serfs, were viewed as baptized property, together with a sense of impotence before the rule of injustice, stupidity and corruptionÖ.Ē (265)

 

Turgenev went abroad to live in Paris in 1847 where he wrote The Hunting Sketches (published in 1852), a cycle of short stories portraying the landowners and peasants he had observed while living on his parentsí estate. Turgenevís skillful presentation of character evoked compassion for the peasants among his aristocratic readers and gave impetus to the movement pressuring the Tsar to emancipate the serfs. You can compare The Hunting Sketches with Harriet Beecher Stoweís Uncle Tomís Cabin, written at almost the same time, and observe the similar impact upon the debate over slavery.When Turgenev returned to Russia, he was arrested and confined for 18 months on his parentsí estate in the country.

 

During the 1850ís Turgenev wrote a series of novels which explored a growing rift in the Russian intelligentsia. After the defeat of the Tsarís armies in the Crimean War (1856), a new generation of activists arose who dismissed the liberal aristocrats of Turgenevís age as bourgeois, corrupt and weak. These new revolutionaries no longer believed in compromise with the Tsar. They had no faith in a policy of gradual, incremental social change. They were bent upon a radical solution. Even the emancipation of the serfs, which finally took place in 1861, did not satisfy these revolutionaries. They thought that the serfs had merely been fitted with a new set of chains, economic instead of legal. The new activists declared that the whole rotten system had to go; terrorist organizations were formed, and a sharper key informed the political rhetoric of the opposition.

 

Fathers and Sons (1862) was Turgenevís complicated response to these unsettling developments. On the one hand, he was stunned by the brutality and contempt of the younger generationís assault on their liberal forbears. He was frightened also by the revolutionariesí utopian convictions. At the same time he recognized that a new energy had seized the intelligentsia. This youthful movement was confident, clear-eyed, and committed to action. Their ideology was grounded in the firm belief that only the rational methods of natural science could create a more just society. (and that is a Western idea.) The nihilists believed that all abstraction, all dualism, all that could not be established by observation and experiment was useless romantic rubbish: literature, philosophy, art, nature, tradition, authority, religion, intuition, all of it was abstract nonsense. What mattered was reason alone- and having the strength, will-power, and intellectual courage to live a life based solely on useful knowledge. Bazarov, Turgenevís hero in Fathers and Sons is a nihilist, and this character shook Russia in the second half of the 19th century.

 

Fathers and Sons (1862) by Ivan Turgenev

 

Chapter One, pp. 1-6

 

Remember the first image of the novel: ďRussia in 1859Ē: the father, Kirsanov waits expectantly somewhere in the great Russian hinterland (with an insolent valet dressed in high fashion who sports a Ďsuperciliousí attitude) for the arrival of his son, newly graduated from the university in St. Petersburg.

 

How does Turgenev characterize the generation of the Ďgrandfathersí as exemplified by

Nicholas Petrovich Kirsanovís parents?

How has Kirsanovís life fallen well short of his parentsí expectations?

Why does Turgenev choose the year 1847 to end the idyllic phase of Kirsanovís life?

What has Kirsanov done with his life since the death of his wife?

 

Chapter Two, pp. 7-9

 

††††††††††† Describe your first impressions of Evgeny Vasilev Bazarov.

 

Chapter Three, pp. 10-16

 

††††††††††† What problems with the peasants has Kirsanov been experiencing on his estate?

How does Arcady respond to his fatherís scandalous admission that Fenichka, his concubine, now openly lives with him in the estateís great house? Why is Kirsanov not only embarrassed but slightly disappointed by Arcadyís reaction?

Note Turgenevís allegorical purpose as well: how does this relationship aptly characterize the relations between the upper class and the peasantry in Russia?

How has the estate deteriorated since the time of Catherine the Great? (14) What kind of reforms does Arkady think will be necessary? What have the peasants named this farm?

What symbolic comment does Turgenev make as the acrid smoke of Bazarovís cheap cigar fills the carriage?

 

Chapter Four, pp. 17-21

 

How does Turgenev characterize Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov?

Why doesnít he offer his beautiful hand with its perfectly manicured fingernails to Bazarov? How does the servant carry Bazarovís coat?

How does Arcady behave at the dinner table? Is he ready to assume responsibility for the farm?

How does Bazarov judge the Kirsanov brothers?

 

Chapter Five, pp. 22- 29

 

What is implied by Bazarovís observation that humans are no different from frogs? Why do the peasants instinctively respect Bazarov even though he is rude to them? (22-23)

How is Acadyís broadminded magnanimity about Fenechka condescending to his father? What response would have been preferable to Nikolai? What is Turgenevís political point? (24-25)

What is a nihilist? What philosophical beliefs does a nihilist espouse? How does Bazarovís intellectual practice differ from the liberal practices of the Kirsanov brothers? (26-27)

How does the appearance of Fenechka at this moment fit into Turgenevís purpose?

 

Chapter Six, pp. 30-33

 

Why does a nihilist have no interest in poetry? Which poets do the fathers admire? Who would Bazarov claim as his intellectual forbears? How would he approach the challenges facing Russia?

Why does Bazarov hold people like Pavel Petrovich in such contempt?

 

Chapter Seven, pp. 34-40

 

How is the sad life story of Pavel Petrovich emblematic of his whole generationís story?

Unpack Turgenevís political point about the class of liberal aristocratic reformers who flourished during the early years of Nicholas Iís reign as Tsar. When did Pavel Petrovichís life effectively end?

Despite his liberal principles, what does Pavel Petrovich think of the serfs?

Why does Bazarov consider men who live for love pathetic? (40)

How influential is the shaping force of history in Bazarovís philosophy of life? To what extent, according to Bazarov, can people shape their own destinies? What obstacles prevent us from assuming control of our lives?

 

Chapter Eight, pp. 41-48

 

Look around Fenechkaís room with Pavel Petrovich. Why has he waited until this moment to finally visit and met his nephew for the first time? How do the contents of this room suggest a possible future for Fenechkaís son Mitya and for Russia?

Describe how Nikolai and Fenechka came to be together. Is there a natural way that these two representatives of Russian society to overcome their shame and live together happily?

Unpack Turgenevís political point.

 

Chapter Nine, pp. 49- 52

 

What is Bazarovís first reaction to the discovery of Nikolaiís scandalous secret? How does Mitya behave when Bazarov takes him and examines his teeth? Turgenevís point?

How accurate is Bazarovís assessment of the Kirsanov estate?

Explain the significance of Bazarovís comment: ďWhatís important is that twice two is four and all the restís nonsense.Ē (51)

 

Chapter Ten, pp. 53- 66

 

What is Turgenevís impression of Bazarovís taste in reading?

Would he agree with Nikolai and defend Pushkin?

 

How does Pavel Petrovich use liberal ideology to defend the existence of a class system? (57-58)

How does Bazarov rebut Pavel Petrovichís argument that the aristocracy serves society by providing examples of self-respect and dedication to duty?

With what would Bazarov replace ďAristocratism, liberalism, progress and principlesÖĒ (59) ?

With whom would the Russian people agree, Pavel Petrovich or Bazarov? Who is closer to the Russian people?

Look carefully at Bazarovís harsh critique of liberal reform (62) and at Pavel Petrovichís ridicule of the belief in force as a method of social change (63). Can both critiques be accurate?

Perhaps Nikolai Petrovichís comment is true: these two arguments cannot be resolved because they are based on conflicting attitudes between two different generations.

 

Chapter 11, pp. 67- 71

 

What is Turgenevís response to the unresolved debate of the previous chapter? How does he show us his answer in his depiction of Nikolaiís melancholy thoughts as he tours the estate and responds to the beauty of the evening?

 

 

Chapter 12, pp. 72- 77

 

Matthew Ilich Kolyazin, the government inspector sent to the town which Arkady and Bazarov visit, is the son of the Kolyazin who had been the guardian of Nikolai and Petrov during their youthful days in St. Petersburg. (see p.4) (Their Ďbattleaxeí of a mother had also been a Kolyazin.) How does this deliberate genealogical connection fit Turgenevís purpose in the novel?

What makes Kolyazin typical of the generation of Ďliberalí fathers who came of age in the years after the Decembrist revolt in 1825? What are his great accomplishments? Turgenevís point?

 

Leaving their audience with the distracted town governor, Arkady and Bazarov encounter another of Bazarovís disciples, the foppish ĎSlovophileí Sitnikov. (He carries a French business card and loves champagne.) What does Sitnikovís father do for a living? Turgenevís point?

 

Chapter 13, pp. 78-84

 

How does Avdotya Nikitishna Kukshina represent another example of Turgenevís opinion of the fashionable liberal aristocrats of Russian society? Who has she been reading recently? What has she invented?

How does this devastating attack on the supposedly emancipated westernizing reformers of Russian culture square with Turgenevís own liberalism?

What does Bazarov think of these left leaning aristocrats? Might they become his allies?

 

Chapter 14, pp. 85-90

 

Contrast Arkady and Bazarovís reactions to meeting Anna Sergeevna Odintsova, the provinceís great beauty, at the governorís ball.

 

Chapter 15, pp. 91-95

 

What is Bazarovís attitude towards women and love? How are these radical ideas immediately tested by his encounter with Odintsova? How does her life story demonstrate strength of character?

 

Chapter 16, pp. 96-107

 

What sort of westernizing influence do the dťcor and architecture of Nikolskoe, Odintsovaís manor, suggest.

Consider Turgenevís method in this chapter. Here Bazarov, the nihilist, truly meets his match. Notice Turgenevís charming characterization of Odintsovaís unpretentious, yet decidedly upper class home and family. How does this characterization challenge Bazarovís radically materialist ideas about human nature?

If Bazarov were describing this scene, how would he word it?

 

Look at Turgenevís description of Odintsova (p. 105). What does she want from life? How has she grown past the romantic and idealistic expectations of youth? Explain why she prizes Ďtidinessí in everything.

What about Bazarov interests her?

 

Chapter 17, pp. 108-119

 

Contrast the developing relationship between Arkady and Katya with that of Bazarov and Odintsova.

What is Turgenevís point?

Look carefully at Turgenevís depiction of Bazarov struggle with love (pp. 110-111). How does Ďloveí contradict Bazarovís radical materialist philosophy? In Turgenevís understanding of human nature, love challenges the individual to surrender control and open the self to metamorphosis into a new form. Why does Bazarov resist this experience so strongly?

Look carefully at the way Turgenev dramatizes the Ďlove sceneí between Bazarov and Odintsova (pp. 113-119). Notice the marvelous natural touches (Bazarov opening and closing windows). What is unspoken in this dialogue? Why do they fail to connect?

 

 

Chapter 18, pp. 120-125

 

What kind of professional career does Odintsova hope Bazarov will pursue?

What is humiliating for Bazarov about his declaration of love?

Why does Odintsova reject him? Does she love him?

 

This is a very strange love scene! What conventions of the typical romantic novel is Turgenev

deliberately flouting?

 

Chapter 19, pp. 126-134

 

Will Bazarov be able to regain his previous rigorous objectivity after his experience with Odintsova?

 

How will Bazarovís reunion with his parents continue Turgenevís critique of nihilism?

 

 

Chapter 20 (135-146)

 

Describe Bazarovís reunion with his parents. How does Turgenevís characterization of Vasily Ivanovich and Anna Vlasneva contribute to his overall purpose, judging the pros and cons ofBazarovís radical political andphilosophical stance.

 

Describe Vasily Ivanovichís estate. What problems similar to those at Marino has he been experiencing as the landowners adjust to the coming liberation of the serfs.

 

 

Chapter 21 (147-165)

 

Why does Vasily Ivanovich work his own garden? Despite his rationalist discipline, how does Vasily Ivanovich respond to the Arkadyís praise of his son?

 

††††††††††† Carefully read the episode when Arkady and Bazarov are relaxing at mid-day by the haystack.

What do they argue about? How are Bazarovís points shaped by his feelings?

Does he realize how subjective his argument really is?

 

How do Bazarovís parents respond to the news that their son has abruptly decided to leave? Not Turgenevís loving presentation of the couple as they cope with their grief. (164-65)

 

Chapter 22 (166-172)

 

††††††††††† What is the point of Arkady and Bazarovís flying visit to Nikolskoe?

What has happened to the farm at Marino in their absence? Why is Nikolai experiencing such difficulty getting his farm into efficient working order?

To whom is Arkady running when he impulsively escapes one afternoon?

 

Chapter 23 (173-180)

 

What does Bazarov commit all his time to accomplishing?

Describe the kiss that Bazarov and Fenechka exchange. Who overhears their conversation and witnesses the illicit kiss?

What is Turgenevís political purpose in including this romantic story line in his story?

 

Chapter 24 (181-199)

 

What is Bazarovís response when he is challenged to the duel?

How does Turgenev characterize the formal fight?

Does he intend to cast Bazarovís actions as heroic?