Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862)




We will be reading the novel over the next week, and then you’ll be writing your next essay which is due on November 12th.


Same question:  “What is to be done?” What is Turgenev’s implied point in Fathers and Sons?  Except this time your task will be complicated by the emergence of a new voice among the intelligentsia of the 1860’s: the voice of the sons, of Bazarov, the nihilist. Fathers and Sons is one of those amazing works of fiction in which a character springs into existence who for a moment seizes control of the novel itself. He’s not even the central character until he muscles his way into the spotlight and threatens to dictate the direction the action will take. When Turgenev in desperation reminds Bazarov that he, indeed, is writing the novel, Bazarov sulks and sits there muttering about the absurd comedy in which he has found himself superfluous. To write this essay, you need to sort out this fight between the author and his creation and then derive what is implied about the path Russia should take into the modern world.


Build on the insights gestating in your imaginations about the potential socio-economic models Russia might follow. Don’t back track. All of you have recognized the ways that Pushkin and Gogol critique liberalism (liberty, natural rights, separation of church and state, free markets) Does freedom really work best for a people just emerging from feudalism? What might be wrong with liberty?


[Hermann and Akaky: Freedom encourages greed and ruthless opportunism which are bad enough in a middle class society, but in Russia, a country with a largely uneducated population, setting Hermann loose is like putting a fox in a hen house.]


Furthermore, Western freedom of the individual threatens the ancient, hard earned collective wisdom of the Russian people which has preserved the peasant village over centuries of invasion, oppression, and natural disaster.


YET,…. All of the Russian thinkers agree that some change is not only necessary, it’s imminent! It’s coming down the road, as unstoppable as history itself.


[Akaky’s old coat is falling off his back. The Countess X is doddering on the brink of extinction. In 1862 the moment is at hand.]


Remember, as you read, the daunting challenges facing the prospect of real reform in the 1860’s:


a) How will this vast multi-ethnic empire remain a genuine force in international politics despite the recent humiliating defeat in the Crimea (1855)?

b) How does Russia feed its growing cities despite its harsh environment and its backward and inefficient agrarian economy?

c) How does Russia get heightened production out of a huge, illiterate, oppressed, drunken, and increasingly belligerent peasant class only just emerging from centuries of serfdom?

d) How does Russia free the energy and innovation of its educated class yet still maintain enough control to blunt its revolutionary impulses?

e) Perhaps most significantly, how does Russia compete with the rapidly expanding industrial power of the West (England, France, and now a newly unified Germany): it’s military power, its higher material standard of living, and its ideologies of liberation?



Fathers and Sons, part one (Chapters 1-10)


How does Turgenev begin the novel? What is his image of Russia in 1859, on the eve of emancipation awaiting the arrival of the future. (Chapter 1) (3) What is coming? What will the future bring?  In what condition is the posting station itself?  Can the future really be represented by the preening, obnoxious servant (3) who waits with his master at the posting station?


[The real answer? Bazarov’s entrance (7)] Note that Turgenev dedicates his novel to the memory of Belinsky who died in 1848.


The Generation of the Fathers:


But first Turgenev portrays the generation of fathers, his generation, in his depiction of Arkady’s father and his uncle.


Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov (3-5).


What is the story of Nikolai’s own parents? (3-5) [Father: a general who lived in the provinces and used his rank for its social status. His mother was even more imperious. She conducted her home as if she were tsarina. In 1835 he suddenly died of an apoplectic fit and his wife dropped dead soon thereafter.]


How did Nikolai’s own military career fare? [Breaks his leg and spends a couple years afterwards in bed. Given up on by father. Limps for the rest of his life.]


Describe his first marriage with ‘the Prepolovensky woman’. [Masha]

How did that marriage end? When?



Nikolai Petrovich, during his parents' lifetime and much to their distress, had managed to fall in love with the daughter of his landlord, a petty official called Prepolovensky. She was an attractive and, as they call it, well-educated girl; she used to read the serious articles in the science column of the newspapers. He married her as soon as the period of mourning for his parents was over, and leaving the civil service, where his father had secured him a post through patronage, he started to live very happily with his Masha, first in a country villa near the Forestry Institute, afterwards in Petersburg in a pretty little flat with a clean staircase and a draughty drawing room, and finally in the country where he settled down and where in due course his son, Arkady, was born. Husband and wife lived well and peacefully; they were hardly ever separated, they read together, they sang and played duets together on the piano, she grew flowers and looked after the poultry yard, he busied himself with the estate and sometimes hunted, while Arkady went on growing in the same happy and peaceful way. Ten years passed like a dream. Then in 1847 Kirsanov's wife died. He hardly survived this blow and his hair turned grey in a few weeks; he was preparing to travel abroad, if possible to distract his thoughts . . . but then came the year 1848.



Since then, who has been the focus of Nikolai’s life? [Arkady]


What recent events have transformed Nikolai’s life? [During the past few years, he has developed a relationship with a beautiful young woman, and the two have a new son.]


Personal characteristics? [He has exquisite manners. He loves Pushkin and Mozart. He plays Schubert on the cello. He appreciates the beauty of nature.]


Combine Turgenev’s characterization of Nikolai Kirsanov with that of his brother,


Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. (See Chapter 7: 29-34)


What are the key moments in his biography?


How did his early career contrast with his brother Nikolai’s? [He was once the elite athlete and intellectual, the golden boy in whose future his parents invested all their hopes. At twenty-eight he was already a captain; a brilliant career lay before him. But suddenly all that changed.]


With whom did Pavel Petrovich fall in love? How is the Princess R. characterized? [Capricious, impulsive, thoughtless, and ultimately unattainable, she is a secret religious enthusiast who wears a ring decorated by the face of a Sphinx on which she has cut a cross.]


[She was reputed to be a frivolous coquette, abandoned herself keenly to every kind of pleasure, danced to exhaustion, laughed and joked with young men whom she used to receive before dinner in a dimly lit drawing room, but at night she wept and said prayers, finding no peace anywhere, and often paced her room till morning, wringing her hands in anguish, or sat, pale and cold, reading a psalter.]


The Countess R. rejects Pavel Petrovich and then dies in Paris. When? [1847]

[Tragic, eh? Bazarov’s reaction? In Chapter Seven he says, “I must say that a man who has staked his whole life on the one card of a woman's love, and when that card fails, turns sour and lets himself drift till he's fit for nothing, is not really a man.”]


So Pavel Petrovich is very unhappy, and his life has drifted into pointlessness… until the very day Bazarov arrives at Marino (which is also the day that Pavel acknowledges for the first time Nikolai and Fenetchka’s son, his nephew).


In what shape is Marino, the family farm (and by extension, the Russian economy)?


Arrival at Marino: the meadows ; emaciated peasants; (9) Home is called “Fieldless Farm” by them.


Anticipating the emancipation edict of February 1861, Nikolai made the decision to free his serfs. How is the estate responding to the new reforms?


Drunken peasants, who won’t pay their rent, are seen bombing around in wagons. (9-10)


The hired laborers don’t take care of the tools. (9-10)


The buildings surrounding the farm are in dilapidated shape. (12)


Who runs the place? [The new bailiff (11), who blames the peasants for the inefficiency of the new system.] (See Baliff in person) (chapter 8)


“The bailiff was, a tall, thin man with the soft voice of a consumptive and cunning eyes, who to all Nikolai Petrovich's remarks answered, "Indeed, certainly, sir," and tried to show up the peasants as thieves and drunkards.”


They passed by little streams with hollow banks and ponds with narrow dams, small villages with low huts under dark and often crumbling roofs, and crooked barns with walls woven out of dry twigs and with gaping doorways opening on to neglected threshing floors; and churches, some brick-built with the stucco covering peeling off in patches, others built of wood, near crosses fallen crooked in the overgrown graveyards. Gradually Arkady's heart began to sink. As if to complete the picture, the peasants whom they met were all in rags and mounted on the most wretched-looking little horses; the willows, with their broken branches and trunks stripped of bark, stood like tattered beggars along the roadside; lean and shaggy cows, pinched with hunger, were greedily tearing up grass along the ditches.”


How well has freedom worked for Kirsanovs?


“The estate had only just started to be run on the new system, whose mechanism still creaked like an ungreased wheel and cracked in places like homemade furniture of raw, unseasoned wood. Nikolai Petrovich did not lose heart but he often sighed and felt discouraged…”


What is Bazarov’s impression of the farm after his inspection? (44)


"The cattle are bad, the horses are broken down, the buildings aren't up to much, and the workmen look like professional loafers; and the bailiff is either a fool or a knave, I haven't yet found out which."


Even so, despite the inefficiency and corruption, the ploughing has gotten done the harvest will come in, and Nikolai still has faith that there will be enough flour to go around.


Nikolai’s Personal Life


Moreover, Nikolai’s own personal life is not so bad. What surprise has recently reinvigorated him? How does Nikolai feel about his relationship with the peasant woman, Fenechka and his new son, Mitya? What should we make of this autumn/spring romance?


Scandal! (11) He is surprised (and slightly disappointed) that his son Arkady refuses to judge him. Why does that reaction unsettle Nikolai? (20)


“Nikolai Petrovich gazed after him and sank into a chair overwhelmed with confusion. His heart began to throb . . . Did he realize at that moment the inevitable strangeness of his future relations with his son? Was he aware that Arkady might have shown him more respect if he had never mentioned that subject at all? Did he reproach himself for weakness? It is hard to say. All these feelings moved within him. though in the state of vague sensations only, but the flush remained on his face, and his heart beat rapidly.” (20)


Describe Fenechka: [Her entrance, at the first mention of nihilists, (18);


 “She was a young woman of about twenty-three with a soft white skin, dark hair and eyes, childishly pouting lips and plump little hands. She wore a neat cotton dress; a new blue kerchief lay lightly over her soft shoulders. She carried a large cup of cocoa and setting it down in front of Pavel Petrovich, she was overcome with confusion; the hot blood rushed in a wave of crimson under the delicate skin of her charming face. She lowered her eyes and stood by the table slightly pressing it with her finger tips. She looked as if she were ashamed of having come in and somehow felt at the same time that she had a right to come.” (18)


Fenetchka’s room (36):


“The small, low room in which he found himself was very clean and cosy. It smelt of the freshly painted floor and of camomile flowers. Along the walls stood chairs with lyre-shaped backs, bought by the late General Kirsanov in Poland during a campaign; in one corner was a little bedstead under a muslin canopy alongside a chest with iron clamps and a curved lid. In the opposite corner a little lamp was burning in front of a big, dark picture of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker; a tiny porcelain egg hung over the saint's breast suspended by a red ribbon from his halo; on the window sills stood carefully tied greenish glass jars filled with last year's jam; Fenichka had herself written in big letters on their paper covers the word "Gooseberry;" it was the favorite jam of Nikolai Petrovich. A cage containing a short-tailed canary hung on a long cord from the ceiling; he constantly chirped and hopped about, and the cage kept on swinging and shaking, while hemp seeds fell with a light tap onto the floor. On the wall just above a small chest of drawers hung some rather bad photographs of Nikolai Petrovich taken in various positions; there, too, was a most unsuccessful photograph of Fenichka; it showed an eyeless face smiling with effort in a dingy frame--nothing more definite could be distinguished--and above Fenichka, General Yermolov, in a Caucasian cloak, scowled menacingly at distant mountains, from under a little silk shoe for pins which fell right over his forehead.”


Bazarov’s first impression of her (23)


"Who's that?" Bazarov asked him directly they had passed by. "What a pretty girl!"
"Whom do you mean?"
"You must know; only one of them is pretty."
Arkady, not without embarrassment, explained to him briefly who Fenichka was.
"Aha!" remarked Bazarov. "That shows your father's got good taste. I like your father; ay, ay! He's a good fellow. But we must make friends," he added, and turned back towards the arbor.

How did she and Nikolai meet? [The spark (39)]


Why did Fenechka consent to this relationship and Nikolai’s love? [Anisa’s death



How does Nikolai feel about his new son, Mitya?


Nikolai Petrovich had made Fenichka's acquaintance in the following way. Three years ago he had once stayed the night at an inn in a remote provincial town. He was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the room assigned to him and the freshness of the bed linen; surely there must be a German woman in charge, he thought at first; but the housekeeper turned out to be a Russian, a woman of about fifty, neatly dressed, with a good-looking, sensible face and a measured way of talking. He got into conversation with her at tea and liked her very much. Nikolai Petrovich at that time had only just moved into his new home, and not wishing to keep serfs in the house, he was looking for wage servants; the housekeeper at the inn complained about the hard times and the small number of visitors to that town; he offered her the post of housekeeper in his home and she accepted it. Her husband had long been dead; he had left her with an only daughter, Fenichka. Within a fortnight Arina Savishna (that was the new housekeeper's name) arrived with her daughter at Maryino and was installed in the side-wing. Nikolai Petrovich had made a good choice. Arina brought order into the household. No one talked about Fenichka, who was then seventeen, and hardly anyone saw her; she lived in quiet seclusion and only on Sundays Nikolai Petrovich used to notice the delicate profile of her pale face somewhere in a corner of the church. Thus another year passed.

One morning Arina came into his study, and after bowing low as usual, asked him if he could help her daughter, as a spark from the stove had flown into her eye. Nikolai Petrovich, like many homeloving country people, had studied simple remedies and had even procured a homeopathic medicine chest. He at once told Arina to bring the injured girl to him. Fenichka was much alarmed when she heard that the master had sent for her, but she followed her mother. Nikolai Petrovich led her to the window and took her head between his hands. After thoroughly examining her red and swollen eye, he made up a poultice at once, and tearing his handkerchief in strips showed her how it should be applied. Fenichka listened to all he said and turned to go out. "Kiss the master's hand, you silly girl," said Arina. Nikolai Petrovich did not hold out his hand and in confusion himself kissed her bent head on the parting of the hair. Fenichka's eye soon healed, but the impression she had made on Nikolai Petrovich did not pass away so quickly. He had constant visions of that pure, gentle, timidly raised face; he felt that soft hair under the palms of his hands, and saw those innocent, slightly parted lips, through which pearly teeth gleamed with moist brilliance in the sunshine. He began to watch her very attentively in church and tried to get into conversation with her. At first she was extremely shy with him, and one day, meeting him towards evening on a narrow footpath crossing a rye field, she ran into the tall, thick rye, overgrown with cornflowers and wormwood, to avoid meeting him face to face. He caught sight of her small head through the golden network of ears of rye, from which she was peering out like a wild animal, and called out to her affectionately, "Good evening, Fenichka. I won't bite."

"Good evening," murmured Fenichka, without emerging from her hiding place.

By degrees she began to feel more at ease with him, but she was still a shy girl when suddenly her mother, Arina, died of cholera. What was to become of Fenichka? She had inherited from her mother a love of order, tidiness and regularity, but she was so young, so alone in the world; Nikolai Petrovich was so genuinely kind and considerate . . . There is no need to describe what followed…


Do Nikolai and Fenechka stand a chance at happiness? What is Turgenev’s political point?


Now look more carefully at the ways that Turgenev characterizes Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov:


How does Pavel Petrovich dress and bear himself?

- Pavel’s entrance: Aristocratic and affected (16) Melancholy, before his fireplace (16-17)


[A]t that moment there entered the drawing room a man of medium height, dressed in a dark English suit, a fashionable low cravat and patent leather shoes, Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. He looked about forty-five; his closely cropped grey hair shone with a dark luster like unpolished silver; his ivory-colored face, without wrinkles, had exceptionally regular and clear features, as though carved by a sharp and delicate chisel, and showed traces of outstanding beauty; particularly fine were his shining, dark almond-shaped eyes. The whole figure of Arkady's uncle, graceful and aristocratic, had preserved the flexibility of youth and that air of striving upwards, away from the earth, which usually disappears when people are over thirty.

Pavel Petrovich drew from his trouser pocket his beautiful hand with its long pink nails, a hand which looked even more beautiful against the snowy white cuff buttoned with a single large opal, and stretched it out to his nephew. After a preliminary European hand shake, he kissed him three times in the Russian style; in fact he touched his cheek three times with his perfumed mustache, and said, "Welcome!"

- He is the ultimate family authority, always bailing Nikolai out of financial difficulty. [Chapter 8 (35)]


- He even accepts his brother’s scandalous new love—in good time. (35-37)


What are Bazarov’s impressions of Nikolai and Pavel


 [these old world romantic types; those fingernails; not a man (17)]


"Your uncle's a queer fellow," Bazarov said to Arkady, as he sat in his dressing gown by the bed, smoking a short pipe. "All that smart dandyism in the country. Just think of it! And his nails, his nails--they ought to be sent to an exhibition!"


"It's something astonishing," went on Bazarov, "these old romantic idealists! They go on developing their nervous systems till they get highly strung and irritable, then they lose their balance completely.


Pavel Petrovich thinks Bazarov is rude, arrogant and uncivilized. Most of all, though, Pavel is offended by Bazarov’s rejection of enlightened principles: Universal laws and individual rights, ideals of truth, justice and beauty (23) (Chapter 10)  


We old-fashioned people think that without principles, taken as you say on faith, one can't take a step or even breathe. Vous avez changé tout cela; may God grant you health and a general's rank, and we shall be content to look on and admire your . . . what was the name?"

"Nihilists," said Arkady, pronouncing very distinctly.

Now step back and think/write about Turgenev’s characterization of the generation of the fathers and their liberal response Russia’s situation just after the historic emancipation of 1861. In what direction were things headed on the Kirsanov estate when Bazarov came on the scene?



The Generation of the Sons:


Arkady Kirsanov is an impressionable youth who has fallen in with Bazarov at school and is trying on his friend’s nihilism, yet says his prayers (18) despite himself.


- How does Arkady get along with his dad? [Fenechka (Scandal!) (11)]

[He loves his father and is happy to be home [first embrace (5) his emancipation (Chapter 2)], but he must hide those unfashionable sentimental attachments rejected by Bazarov’s hard use of reason.]


- To prove his intellectual toughness, Arkady even lectures his father on the backwardness of his morality: imagine being ashamed of his mistress! Look at how Arkady feels afterwards. [Pleased (11)] Then he does it again! Later, Arkady slips his copy of Pushkin’s poetry out of his hands and replaces it with Büchner's Stoff und Kraft. How’s that for obnoxiousness?  In the breakfast scene, Arkady boldly leaves the table to embrace his new brother and the baby’s mother.


"Of course, I ought to be ashamed," answered Nikolai Petrovich, turning redder and redder.

"Enough of that, Daddy, please don't . . ." Arkady smiled affectionately. "What a thing to apologize for," he thought to himself, and his heart was filled with a feeling of indulgent tenderness for his kind, soft-hearted father, mixed with a sense of secret superiority. "Please stop that," he repeated once more, instinctively enjoying the awareness of his own more emancipated outlook.


- What is a nihilist to Arkady? (22)


"What is Bazarov?" Arkady smiled. "Would you like me to tell you, uncle, what he really is?"

"Please do, nephew."

"He is a nihilist!"

"What?" asked Nikolai Petrovich, while Pavel Petrovich lifted his knife in the air with a small piece of butter on the tip and remained motionless.

"He is a nihilist," repeated Arkady.

"A nihilist," said Nikolai Petrovich. "That comes from the Latin nihil, nothing, as far as I can judge; the word must mean a man who . . . who recognizes nothing?"

"Say--who respects nothing," interposed Pavel Petrovich and lowered his knife with the butter on it.

"Who regards everything from the critical point of view," said Arkady.

"Isn't that exactly the same thing?" asked Pavel Petrovich.

"No, it's not the same thing. A nihilist is a person who does not bow down to any authority, who does not accept any principle on faith, however much that principle may be revered."

What is Turgenev’s point?


Evgeny Vasilov Bazarov:


What is a real nihilist?


Bazarov clatters into Russian history aboard a carriage, a tarantass, and dressed in his tessellated long coat. First impressions: His face? His manner? His taste in tobacco? introduction (13) [Note how his demand for a light interrupts Nikolai quoting Pushkin. Later he will dismiss Pushkin’s poetry as childish rubbish. (46)]


Who is his father? [surgeon in army]


Early morning inspection of Marino (chapter 5): The biologist dissecting frogs; Note how well Bazarov get along with peasants? [casual talk]; he also has the same touch with babies and young mothers.  (He stays up to watch Mitya and calm Fenethka after the baby has a convulsion.)


Bazarov issues withering criticism of the farm’s management,


"I've seen all round your father's place," began Bazarov again. "The cattle are bad, the horses are broken down, the buildings aren't up to much, and the workmen look like professional loafers; and the bailiff is either a fool or a knave, I haven't yet found out which…..And the good peasants are taking your father in properly; you know the proverb 'the Russian peasant will cheat God himself.'" (impression of the farm: Chapter 9)

How would Bazarov run the place if he had the power?


What is a nihilist


Bazarov says, "A decent chemist is twenty times more useful than any poet.” He says, “Nature is not a temple but a workshop, and man is the workman in it.” (44) What does he mean? He laughs at the idea of a grown man playing the cello. Pavel is right when he says that Bazarov puts more faith in frogs than in liberal principles. Turgenev’s comment? He has Fenetchka enter at the moment that the word enters the language. 


At breakfast, Bazarov infuriates Pavel who senses how quickly he has been dismissed.  (“Pavel Petrovich had grown to hate Bazarov with all the strength of his soul; he regarded him as conceited, impudent, cynical and vulgar, he suspected that Bazarov had no respect for him, that he all but despised him--him, Pavel Kirsanov!” (Chapter 10)  Pavel says the nihilists are merely the latest heirs to the Left Hegelians. (Pavel’s expertise in the humanities is also ridiculed.).


Even though Bazarov issues withering criticism of the farm’s management, (impression of the farm (44)) and argues that Nikolai’s time has passed, Bazarov still likes Nikolai, especially after seeing Fenetchka for the first time.


First mention of cholera (chapter 10)


Unlike Arkady’s conception of nihilism as some university trick he can use to belittle his father and begin the process of individuating himself from his father, Bazarov is the real deal: a brilliant, tough minded, positivist intellectual (a radical empiricist), Bazarov is a scientist, a doctor, the son of a doctor, interested in physics as well as the natural sciences, biology, Modern farming techniques. We also discover in his argument with Pavel Petrovich that he is also a political activist with radical views, perhaps even a member of a revolutionary cell.



Climax of the Debate Between Liberal and Radical (Chapter 10) (48-55)


Pavel stands up for “English liberalism”, for natural rights, progress, and class. (In a liberal economy, there are winners and losers. Progress is achieved when more of the poor learn to follow the ruling class’ example of personal responsibility: “Aristocratism, liberalism, progress, principles.” (49)


Bazarov believes in action in the public interest. He regards abstract principles as meaningless. He denies everything, but he pursues the legion of pragmatic, local reforms that correspond to the real needs of the Russian people.  He is beholden to no political philosophy.  Russia needs useful knowledge far more than lofty ideals.  He ridicules liberal attempts at reform and hints at belonging to a revolutionary cell. (52)

When Pavel accuses him of not being a Russian, Bazarov replies,

"My grandfather ploughed the land," answered Bazarov with haughty pride. "Ask any one of your peasants which of us--you or me--he would more readily acknowledge as a fellow countryman. You don't even know how to talk to them."

What would Bazarov have thought of the radical Slavophiles belief in the peasant commune as social model? “Hah! The peasants are drunken thieves.” (54-55)


Nikolai’s Memory


What does Nikolai think of Bazarov and Arkady’s new ideas?

He remembers a similar quarrel he had with his mother when he was young. It is a generational dispute, not an ideological dispute. (55)  As he appreciates the beauty of his garden and watches the sun set, Nikolai tearfully remembers the passion he felt for his wife and acknowledges the awkwardness of his own feelings for Fenetchka. (57)



Fathers and Sons, part two (Chapters 11-18)


Bazarov and Arkady’s Trip to Town!


A cross section of other political approaches to Russia’s situation, all of which discarded.


Matthew Illych Kolyazin, (61) the government inspector (right out of Gogol).


He of the impeccable manners and healthy laugh, who prides himself on having the most modern ideas yet delights in humiliating his subordinates.