A Novel by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-1883)
A Study Guide
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2005
.......The following summary is based on Richard Hare’s 1948 translation of Fathers and Sons, published by Hutchinson & Co., Publishers, Ltd. The U.S. copyright was later allowed to expire and the Hare version is now in the public domain in the United States.
.......Nikolai, about 40, has a limp, the result of a broken leg he suffered as a teenager. The injury kept him from pursuing a military career, like his late father, who had risen to the rank of major-general but retired early after receiving an unfavorable review. Nikolai instead earned a university degree and worked for a time in the civil service. After his father fell dead of a stroke and his mother died of boredom, Nikolai married the daughter of his St. Petersburg landlord, left the civil service, and later moved to the country, where his wife bore their son, Arkady. Life was happy. Ten years later, in 1847, his wife died. Nikolai then concentrated on developing his estate, Maryino, into a thriving farm. It currently has 5,000 acres of land he turned over to 200 peasants in return for rent and a share of the profits. The peasants lately have been behind in their rent.
.......When his son’s carriage arrives, Nikolai stands and shouts the young man’s name. Father and son embrace, and Arcady introduces a friend he has brought from the university: Evgeny Vassilyev Bazarov, a medical student scheduled to receive a doctor’s degree in another year. On the way to Maryino, 12 miles off, Nikolai brings his son up to date on news at Maryino: Arkady’s boyhood nurse has died, and Nikolai has hired a new bailiff at 250 rubles a year. In addition, he confirms what he believes Arkady already knows: that a girl, Fenichka, lives with him at the estate in two rooms set aside for her. Nikolai is embarrassed when he speaks of her. After all, he is not married to her, she is only 23, and she is lowborn—the daughter of an innkeeper. Arkady attempts to put his father at ease, saying he has no reason to be ashamed.
.......On the road, they pass emaciated animals and poor peasants dressed in tatters.
.......“We can’t let things go on like this," Arkady says to himself.
.......After their arrival, they walk through a long hall and settle in the drawing room. There, a servant, Prokovich, takes Bazarov’s coat and goes off to get supper. Nikolai’s older brother, Pavel—a handsome man with an aristocratic bearing—comes in and greets Arkady warmly, shaking his hand and kissing him. But when introduced to Bazarov, he merely nods. Pavel, about 45, who had served in the military, also lives at the estate. After Arkady and Bazarov leave the room, Pavel is dismayed when he learns that Bazarov will be visiting for a while. Pavel calls Bazarov an “unkempt creature."
.......The next morning Bazarov, the first to rise, explores the estate, which does not impress him, then tramps off to a swamp to find frogs to dissect in medical experiments. While out walking, he makes friends with two peasant boys.
.......At the house, meanwhile, Nikolai and Arkady have gotten up and gone out to the terrace, where a samovar boils tea. Fenichka is expected but does not appear, and Arkady guesses that his arrival at the estate has intimidated her. His father confirms his son’s observation, saying she feels as Nikolai does—ashamed. Arkady says,
.......“If you allow her to live under the same roof with you, she must be worthy of it; in any case, it's not for a son to judge his father--particularly for me, and with such a father, who has always let me do everything I wanted."
.......Arkady goes off and makes friends with her, discovering that she and her father have a baby. When he returns to the terrace, Arkady says, “But why didn't you tell me I have a brother? I should have kissed him last night as I kissed him just now!"
.......Pavel joins his brother and nephew. Shortly afterward, Bazarov returns and sits down. Over tea, Pavel inquires about Bazarov’s studies, and the young man replies that physics and natural science are his chief subjects. When Pavel observes that the Germans seem to be making progress in science, Bazarov says nonchalantly that they are superior to Russian scientists, as if it is an unarguable fact. His manner irritates Pavel. So do his ideas, one of which rejects all authority.
.......“If they tell the truth, I agree—that’s all."
.......It becomes clear as the conversation continues that Pavel and Bazarov are at opposite poles of Russian social and political thinking. Pavel is a conservative, adhering strongly to the old ideals, traditions, and czarist social policies. Bazarov is a nihilist, believing in none of them—patriotism, aristocracy, serfdom, the arts, the czar. Every old idea, every institution, is worthless, he says. When the conversation turns nasty, Nikolai changes the subject. Then the two older men leave to talk with one of the estate’s employees.
.......Arkady—though also espousing nihilism—tells Bazarov that he was too hard on Pavel, saying he was and is a better man than Bazarov thinks. Then he tells him Pavel’s story.
.......In his young adulthood, Pavel was handsome, athletic, industrious, accomplished—a fine soldier who made captain by age 28 and was the envy of all the ladies. There could be no doubt that he was destined for great things. Then he met a young woman, a princess, who had a boorish husband and no children. She had a wonderful figure, golden hair, and carefree, pentrating eyes. When attending social affairs, she dressed in the latest fashions, danced the latest steps, and attracted the attentions of many young men, one of whom was Pavel. He fell passionately in love with her, and they carried on a romance. The time came, however, when she tired of him, Arkady says. But Pavel pursued her everywhere. When she went abroad, he resigned from the military and followed her. For four years, he alternately pursued her and tried to forget her, then met up with her in Germany. They rekindled their affair, but in a month it was over again. Years later, a somewhat broken man, he was living an aimless bachelor life when he received news that she had died in Paris in mental anguish. Nikolai then invited Pavel to live at Maryino and, 18 months later, Pavel settled there and remained, helping Nikolai with finances and even doing things for the peasant—although, Arkady admits, “when he talks to them, he screws up his face and sniffs eau de Cologne."
.......So, Arkady concludes, Pavel is a good man at heart, a man Bazarov should not despise.
.......Bazarov denies despising him but says that a man who puts all his faith in one woman is not a man at all. In the end, Bazarov says, the “mysterious relationships between a man and a woman [are] all romanticism, rubbish . . . ."
.......By now, though Arkady endorses Bazarov’s beliefs, it is clear that he is not as steadfast as Bazarov in adhering to those beliefs. Arkady is malleable, changeable, able to open his heart to others. Bazarov, on the other hand, prefers beetles, frogs, and the hard objectivity of science.
.......That is not to say, however, that Bazarov is completely unresponsive to others. During his few weeks at Maryino, he gets along well with the servants, perhaps because they do not represent the institutions he despises, and they consider him a fine fellow—that is, all of them except Prokovich, the old head servant, who regards Bazarov as an "upstart." Bazarov also ministers to Fenichka’s child, Mitya, who is cutting teeth, and she is impressed with his doctoring ability.
.......“Children are always good with me," Bazarov says. “I have a way with them."
.......Could it be that Bazarov has feelings after all?
.......One day he and Arkady decide to visit a nearby town, where the local governor is giving a ball to honor Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin, a visiting government official who is an uncle of Arkady. After they check into an inn, Arkady sees his uncle while Bazarov remains at the inn. Then both young men pay a courtesy call at the house of the governor, who invites them to the ball. On their way back to the inn, they run into Viktor Sitnikov, one of Bazarov’s old acquaintances—a nihilist disciple of Bazarov, actually—who takes them to the home of an “emancipated" woman Sitnikov says they simply must meet.
.......Her name is Madame Evdoksya Kukshina. After they arrive, she orders champagne for them, speaks of women’s rights, and discusses American and French authors. Like Bazarov, she says, she has learned something about chemistry—that is, she can make a paste to keep dolls’ heads from breaking. During lunch, the conversation centers on “whether marriage was a prejudice or a crime, whether men were born equal or not, and precisely what constitutes individuality." The most significant topic that comes up—although Arkady and Bazarov don’t realize it at the time—is a name: that of a certain Madame Odintsov. Evdoksya speaks of her as one of the pretty women in town who are empty-headed and badly educated.
.......Two days later at the ball, the young men meet this woman. Before she arrives, Arkady dances awkwardly while Bazarov watches from the sidelines. Later, while they pass time idly in a corner of the room, Sitnikov comes over to inform them that Madame Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov has just stepped into the ballroom.
......."What a striking figure," says Bazarov. "She's not like the other females."
.......Tall and dignified in her black evening gown, Madame Odintsov indeed has a certain air that sets her apart. She is yet young, 29, and has brains, a mind of her own, and, as the widow of a rich man, money. Arkady dances a mazurka with her. At first, he is tongue-tied in her presence, as if he were a schoolboy. Later, he opens up and discusses various topics. When she asks about Bazarov, he talks at great length and with great enthusiasm about his friend. Madame Odintsov then invites Arkady and Bazarov to visit her. Of Bazarov, she says, “I am very curious to meet a man who has the courage to believe in nothing."
.......The following day, when they go to her hotel, Arkady is astonished that Bazarov seems uneasy before her. He talks more than usual, apparently in an attempt to impress her, about medicine, homeopathy, and botany. She listens politely and, when it is her time to speak, converses intelligently on these subjects, for she has read many books. Arkady, meanwhile, still feels inadequate in the presence of this sophisticated woman. After the visit—which lasts three hours—she invites them to her country residence, Nikolskoe, some thirty miles from the town, where she lives with her sister, Katya, and her elderly aunt.
.......Afterward, Bazarov raves about her, calling her a “grand duchess, a commanding sort of person."
.......Two days later, when they arrive for a two-week stay at the splendid manor house Anna Odintsov inherited from her husband, they meet her sister—a pleasant, shy, round-faced girl of eighteen—and her aunt, Princess Abdotya Stepanovna. But it is Anna, of course, who intrigues them. When they sit down to talk on the first day of the visit, she warns Bazarov that she is “dreadfully argumentative" and “impatient and persistent." They discuss art briefly, Bazarov condemning it and Anna defending it. Then Anna’s aunt comes down for tea, and everyone goes into the dining room, where Katya pours, the aunt talks while nobody listens, and a neighbor, Porfiri Platonich, a plump little man, comes in to play cards. While Anna, Bazarov, and Platonich begin a game, Anna asks Katya to play for Arkady. Dutifully, Katya goes to the piano. Arkady politely follows, although he would rather be sitting next to the stupendous Odintsov. After Katya finishes her piece—Mozart’s Sonata Fantasia in E Minor—she is quiet, although Arkady tries to draw her out. Meanwhile, Bazarov loses badly at cards and must pay up a small sum.
.......Later, Arkady and Bazarov discuss their host while getting ready for bed:
......."What a wonderful woman Anna Sergeyevna is!" Arkady says.
......."Yes," says Bazarov, "a female with brains; and she's seen life too."
.......For her part, Madame Odintsov enjoys Bazarov’s company because of his candor and unusual ideas.
.......The fortnight passes quickly and pleasantly, Bazarov becoming more and more fascinated—and infatuated—with Anna. After Bazarov announces to her one evening that he must leave to visit his parents, they have a long conversation, each probing the feelings of the other. The next day, they have a follow-up conversation in which Anna appears to show great interest in Bazarov and his career. The conversation tiptoes forward, with Bazarov containing what he really wants to say until he can old back no longer:
"Let me tell you . . . that I love you like a fool, like a madman . . . There, you've got that out of me."
.......He kisses her. After a moment, she breaks away, walks across the room, and says, “You misunderstood me." It is a shattering moment for Bazarov.
.......When the two young men prepare to leave for the house of Bazarov’s parents, Madame Odintsov makes no effort to persuade them to remain.
.......Bazarov’s parents—kind and gentle folks—greet their son and Arkady warmly in their six-room home on a small estate. Bazarov’s father, Vassily Ivanovich Bazarov, is proud that he has placed his farm workers on the rent system and turned the land over to them in return for 50 percent of the proceeds. Vassily himself is a doctor who has given up his practice, although he does minister to the peasants when the need arises. He talks medical science with his son, mentioning phrenology and a certain practitioner named Rademacher, but Bazarov dismisses Rademacher as passé. The elder Bazarov does not argue with his son—“What am I? A retired army doctor," he says.
.......During their stay, it is Bazarov's turn to be irritated, mildly—by constant pampering from his father and mother. What's more, he loses again at cards—two-and-a-half rubles—this time to a priest, Father Aleksei.
.......After only two days, Bazarov sayshe's bored and needs the peace and quiet of Maryino. So they leave for the Kirsanov estate, deciding to stop on the way to visit Madame Odintsov. But she treats them with such icy dispassion that they leave only hours after they arrived.
.......Upon their return to Maryino, there is a small celebration over porter into the late hours of the evening. In the ensuing days, Arkady vows to assist his father, who has been having trouble managing the farm and the peasants. Bazarov returns to what he does best: conducting experiments and irritating Pavel. He talks frequently with Fenichka, who feels comfortable with him because he does not look down on her. Early one day, while they are talking outside, Bazarov kisses her. Later, Pavel who happened to see the embrace, challenges him to a duel. Although Bazarov thinks dueling is a silly custom and that the kiss was just as silly—an impulse, that was all—he agrees to meet Pavel the following morning at six. It will be pistols at eight paces, with only Nikolai’s servant, Pyotr, acting as a witness.
.......When they march off their paces, they decide to add two more at Bazarov’s suggestion, then draw lines and choose weapons. All the while, Bazarov exhibits remarkable sang-froid, cracking jokes and calling the duel absurd. Pavel, though, says he means business. After they go to their marks and approach each other, Pavel fires first, whizzing a bullet past Bazarov’s ear. Bazarov fires without taking aim and wounds Pavel in the thigh. While blood trickles down Pavel’s white trousers, Bazarov rushes over and—to Pavel’s surprise—tends to the wound. Pavel objects, saying he needs no help, then faints. While Bazarov tends to him, Pyotr fetches Nikolai, who is pale with concern. When he asks what happened, Pavel, who has come to, takes the blame for the encounter.
.......Arkady, meanwhile, has been visiting at Nikolskoe again—but to see Katya, not Madame Odintsov. It seems that he has fallen in love with her and she with him. Previously, she says, Arkady seemed under the control of Bazarov. Now, however, he is a changed man who thinks for himself. She likes the new Arkady. They vow to marry.
.......Bazarov also visits Nikolskoe again, this time to apologize to Odintsov for his behavior. Then he leaves Nikolskoe and Maryino to return to his parents. They are thrilled to have him back. So are the peasants on his father’s farm, for Bazarov has begun helping his father minister to them. One day, he takes part in an autopsy on a victim of typhoid fever. During the procedure, he cuts himself and typhus germs enter his bloodstream.
.......Back at Maryino, meanwhile, Pavel has confronted Nikolai about Fenichka, who has been living on edge ever since Bazarov kissed her. She says the encounter was not her idea but Bazarov’s, then embraces Nikolai. Pavel then says Nikolai should marry her. Nikolai is surprised that his brother would favor marriage to a lower-class woman. But he is also very happy, for he loves Fenichka.
.......Bazarov becomes ill, requests to see Anna Odintsov one more time, and dies after she visits him. Six months later, Arkady marries Katya and Nikolai marries Fenichka in the same wedding ceremony. Pavel goes abroad to live, Odintsov marries a lawyer, and Arkady and his father work together to make a success of Maryino. Near his home, Bazarov lies at eternal rest in a grave visited frequently by his parents, who cry endlessly over it. They believe, as Turgenev says in the closing paragraph, that "However passionate, sinful or rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep at us serenely with their innocent eyes; they tell us not only of eternal peace, of that great peace of 'indifferent' nature; they tell us also of eternal reconciliation and of life without end."
.......The action takes place in the Russian countryside, not far from St. Petersburg, at the Kirsanov farm, the Bazarov farm, homes and inns in nearby towns, and on streets and roads. St. Petersburg is in western Russia, at the mouth of the Neva River, about 400 miles northwest of Moscow. Author Turgenev does not identify the small towns in the countryside where much of the action is set.
Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov Widowed, 40-year-old owner of a country estate worked by peasants who pay rent. Although he espouses conservative ideals, he has taken a mistress from the lower classes who bears him a child. He is proud of his son, Arkady, who has just graduated from the university in St. Petersburg. He is kind and accomodating with Arkady and his friend, Bazarov, in spite of their radical ideas.
Arkady Nikolayevitch Kirsanov Nikolai's son. He is pleasant and accommodating like his father. Early on, he appears immature and weak-minded without ideas of his own. He says says he subscribes to the nihilistic views of his friend, Bazarov. In time, he takes control of his destiny and rejects Bazarov's extremism, although he does not reject Bazarov himself.
Evgeny Vassilyev Bazarov Bazarov is a medical student scheduled to receive his physician's degree within a year. He is a thoroughgoing nihilist, rejecting all authority and all traditions, customs, and institutions. He believes only in what science can prove empirically—and in his own independent, sovereign ego. Deep feelings, such as romantic love, are for the weak, he maintains. But Bazarov betrays a human side: He seems to sympathize with peasants and, horror of horrors, falls in love.
Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov Older brother (age 45) of Nikolai. Handsome, aristocratic, he believes firmly in the old ways of Russia and clashes repeatedly with Bazarov. Eventually, the animosity between them leads to a duel.
Madame Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov Wealthy, sophisticated 29-year-old widow with whom Bazarov falls in love. She coldly rejects him but visits him when he becomes deathly ill.
Princess Abdotya Stepanovna Elderly aunt of Madame Odintsov.
Katerine Sergeyevna Lokteva (Katya) Madame Odintsov's 18-year-old sister. Though shy and socially backward, she realizes what really matters in life.
Fedosya Nikolayevna Savishna (Fenichka) Nikolai mistress and later his wife. The daughter of an inkeeper, she feels inferior to the personages who come and go at Nikolai's estate. But she makes up with Bazarov and eventually marries Nikolai.
Mitya Child of Nikolai and Fenichka.
Viktor Sitnikov Bootlicking follower of Bazarov and his nihilist philosophy.
Madame Evdoksya Kukshina Emancipated woman visited by Arkady, Bazarov, and Sitnikov.
Vassily Ivanovich Bazarov Father of Bazarov. He is a kindly, retired 62-year-old doctor who ministers to the peasants on his small farm. He is very proud of his son.
Arina Vlassevna Bazarov Mother of Bazarov. Like her husband, she is kindly and dotes so much on her son that she makes him uncomfortable.
Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin Visiting government official who is an uncle of Arkady.
Porfiri Platonich Card player who frequently visits Madame Odintsov's home.
Prokovich Head servant of Nikolai.
Pyotr Servant of Nikolai who witnesses the duel between Pavel and young Bazarov.
Dunyasha Servant of Nikolai who tends to Fenichka.
Father Aleksei Priest who visits the Vassily Bazarov home and beats young Bazarov at whist.
Timofeich, Anfisushka Servants of Vassily Bazarov.
Type of Work
.......Fathers and Sons is a realistic novel. It was completed in 1861 and first published in 1862 in the Russian Herald, a magazine. The literal translation of the title is Fathers and Children. The primary purpose of the book is to present an objective view of the generation gap that divides fathers and sons because of the ideas that the older and younger generations espouse. One of the ideas that divide the generations is nihilism.
Was Nihilism in 19th Century Russia?
The clash between ideas of one generation and the ideas of the next creates conflicts between parents and children—in this case, between fathers and sons. Bazarov rejects all the ideas and institutions of previous generations. Arkady also rejects the old ways for a while, in imitation of Bazarov. Then he becomes his own man, deciding that there are values worth preserving. Conflict between parents and their children continues to be a popular theme in today’s literature and will likely be so in future literature inasmuch as generational clashes—over politics, morals, religion, music, social customs, and so on—recur again and again.
No one can escape his or her humanity. As a nihilist, Bazarov rejects all systems, beliefs, and institutions handed down to him. He also rejects deep human emotions as silly and unscientific. However, he succumbs to these emotions when he ministers to sick peasants and when he falls in love with Madame Odintsov. Likewise, Pavel—Bazarov’s sworn enemy—accepts blame for the duel he provoked with Bazarov and acknowledges Bazarov’s generous efforts to save his life afterward. Madame Odintsov—that cool, unruffled sophisticate—takes the time to visit Bazarov when he is dying. Bazarov’s father, an old-school Russian, makes concessions to his peasant, as does Arkady’s father, Nikolai. Arkady, who was never really a nihilist although he professed to be one, realizes that what really matters in life is not what lives in a laboratory jar but what lives in the ordinary life of human beings in the form of love and compassion.
Exploitation of farm workers is unjust and inhumane. Turgenev completed Fathers and Sons in 1861—the same year that Czar Alexander II issued an edict abolishing serfdom, a system in which farm workers were bound to the land which they worked—and published it in 1862.
.......Father and Sons is generally regarded today as an outstanding novel—Turgenev’s finest work—because of its realistic depiction of the generational clash between parents and their children. However, it received severe criticism in Russia after it was published in 1862. Liberals argued that Turgenev’s presentation of Bazarov as an unremitting extremist was an attack on progressive ideas. Conservatives argued that Turgenev’s presentation of Pavel and other establishment characters as backward defenders of the status quo was an an attack on cherished traditions and institutions. Turgenev himself, in defending his novel, said his purpose was not primarily to condemn one system or another but to present human beings in conflict. In other words, he was more concerned with fathers at odds with their sons than with political conservatives at odds with political radicals. However, he could not ignore the political views of his characters, for they were the views of millions of Russians when he wrote the novel.
Style, Characterization, and Structure
.......Turgenev was a master craftsman who weighed his words carefully before assigning them to sentences intended to reflect reality as it was, not as he wanted it to be. Generally, he did not preach and did not resort to sentimentality.
.......Rather than reveal characters through lengthy descriptions of their thoughts, he revealed them through actions, interactions, and reactions. Thus, the reader knows Bazarov and the other characters primarily through what they do and say rather than through what Turgenev tells us they are thinking or feeling. Instead of judging the characters or suggesting how they ought to live, Turgenev simply tells their stories.
.......The novel consists of episodes in which characters reveal themselves through the ideas they express or the behavior they exhibit. Turgenev arranges these episodes, which form the structure of the novel, according to the ideas prevalent in particular locales. For example, in the episodes early in the novel, Bazarov is in a conservative environment, where he provokes anger. Next, he is in liberal environments—those of Kukshina and Odintsov—where he engenders favor or tolerance of his views. When he visits his parents, they express conservative views but show some sympathy to liberal causes—in particular those affecting the peasants.
.......The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Fathers and Sons occurs, according to the first definition, when Bazarov tells Madame Odintsov that he loves her, then kisses her, only to discover that she has no romantic interest in him. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Bazarov dies..
Use of Irony
.......Bazarov ridicules Pavel Kirsanov for falling hopelessly in love and spending years pursuing his beloved. Yet Bazarov also yields to the wiles of a woman, Madame Odintsov, confessing to her "that I love you like a fool, like a madman. . . ." Arkady and Katya, depicted as somewhat weak and pliant at first, turn out to be strong enough to control their own destinies and wise enough to realize what really matters in life.
.......Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-1883) ranks among the greatest writers of Russian literature. His life parallels in some ways the lives of characters in Fathers and Sons. For example, like the fictional Arkady, he lived on a family estate on which he observed the mistreatment of workers. And, like Arkady, he attended the university in St. Petersburg. Like Pavel Kirsanov and Bazarov, he fell in love with a woman who eluded him—the French opera star Michelle Ferdinande Pauline Viardot, a mezzo-soprano for whom he wrote the libretto of the opera The Last Sorcerer, published in 1869.
.......However, he contrasted with characters in Fathers and Sons in that politically he was neither a conservative, like Nikolai and Pavel, nor a radical, like Bazarov and Sitnikov. Instead, he was a liberal who favored gradual change. Turgenev spent considerable time in western Europe, studying in Germany and living in France and other western European countries to absorb prevailing ideas. He did much to popularize Russian literature in western Europe. Besides Fathers and Sons, his major works include the play A Month in the Country (1850) and the novels On the Eve (1860) and Smoke (1867).
Study Questions and Essay Topics