Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. Specifically it will discuss what the reader can learn about Russia's past by reading this novel. This novel has consistently divided critics, who cannot agree in their analysis of this epic Russian work by novelist Ivan Turgenev. Some find it in the ilk of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, while others found his novel fanciful -- not a decisive look into Russian history at all. However, as time passes, more critics agree, Fathers and Sons is a fascinating glimpse into an unsettling and cataclysmic time in Russia's past. It is an accurate look at families of the 1860s in Russia and the turmoil the country faced on the brink of social and radical change. While the novel may be fanciful at times, it is an excellent look into a country on the brink of revolution, and the people who agreed, disagreed, and so passionately believed in the importance of change and adaptability -- even if it meant revolution.
Ivan Turgenev was born in October 1818 in the Russian town of Oryol. His family was wealthy and aristocratic, which may explain his turn toward a more liberal outlook in his later life. One of his biographers notes that his mother epitomized the rise of aristocratic Russians over the Serfs they ruled and often despised. Biographer Mikhail Ivanov writes, "As a result, the young Turgenev developed an active hatred of oppression in general and serfdom in particular."
He was well educated and graduated from Moscow University Pension and then went on to graduate from the St. Petersburg State University Philosophy Faculty with a specialty in linguistics. From his first published novel, Turgenev showed a distinct fondness for the Russian peasantry. Biographer Ivanov continues, "Turgenev's sincere compassion for the Russian peasant - who he saw as talented, kind, open to harmony and the beauty of the universe, but oppressed and humiliated like a slave for centuries - raised havoc with reactionary critics and with the tsar's government."
As he continued to write about the plight of Russian serfs, he drew the wrath of Russian Tsar Nicholas I, who exiled Turgenev.
By the 1860s, Turgenev lived permanently in Paris, writing about his beloved homeland as a liberal who believed revolutionary changes were the only way his country could survive successfully in the future. Ivanov notes, "Turgenev shared the revolutionary ideals of France and the progressive ideas of its writers, yet his love for French culture could not weaken his love for Russia."
Throughout his literary career, he always wrote in Russian, and longed to return to his homeland before his death. This was not to be. He died in 1883 outside Paris, and later his body was moved to St. Petersburg and interred at the Volkov cemetery.
Fathers and Sons is known as one of his greatest novels, and perhaps one of the greatest novels of any Russian writer. Historian Glyn Turton writes, "Honoured by Oxford University in 1879 and extravagantly praised in obituaries, Turgenev personified Russian literature to most English men of letters at the time of his death in 1883."
The magazine Russian Herald published the manuscript in 1862 -- it was published in book form the same year.
Historically, the novel is an excellent source for the student of Russian history. Not only does it describe the feelings of the people at the time, the very fabric of the novel creates a sense of Russian culture and society at the time. Throughout the novel, Turgenev gives detailed descriptions of the people's dress, their mannerisms, and how they lived their lives. He writes of Arina Vlasyevna, a hostess to Bazarov and Arkady, "but she was great in housewifery, preserving, and jam-making, though with her own hands she never touched at thing."
Immediately he shows the gap between the rich and poor, and the reader understands the status of a Russian gentlewoman who never really had to work a day in her life. The author gives glimpses into the lives of the servants, the peasants, the wealthy, and the middle-class in an attempt to show the many facets of Russian life and how the many different social classes interacted with each other at the time. For example, when the author introduces the young servant Piotr, he writes only two short sentences, but they indicate how the gentry looked at servants and their position in society. The father says, "Hey Piotr, do you hear? Get things ready, my good boy; look sharp.' Piotr, who as a modernized servant had not kissed the young master's hand, but only bowed to him from a distance, again vanished through the gateway."
The father is a bit condescending to the servant as he issues orders, and the servant knows his place and who he must honor as he does his duties. Today, this exchanged seems dated and old-fashioned, but at the time, it was the common way of life. This is one reason the novel is such a rich source of Russian history. It is more than a fable; it shows the texture of Russian life in fine detail, giving the reader a far greater understanding of why the Russian people were ripe for revolt and revolution.
Another interesting detail that adds credence to the novel is the character of Bazarov, Arkady's good friend who accompanies him to the Petrovitch home after the two students graduate. Bazarov is a doctor, and the author-based him on a real country doctor he knew who told the author stories of anthrax. Turgenev was so take with the doctor and his ability to rise through the social classes to the level of doctor that he based his story on him, and used him as one of the main characters.
Bazarov is a young revolutionary, and in that, he is an important character in another sense. He illustrates the ages old problem of differences between the generations. In the 1960s, it became known as the "generation gap" in America, but it seems to be present in most cultures and most generations throughout time. It seems a commonality of society that a gap will develop between old and young. That is how society changes and grows, and that is what essentially happens to the Russian people after the time of this novel. Critic Rudolph Binion comments on the generation gap in the novel. He writes, "Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons had posited the generation gap as a perennial difference in outlook and values between oldsters and youngsters [ ... ] that is in no way limited to the family system and that the generational cycle itself smoothes away in the end."
The young revolutionaries eventually take over Russia and oust the Tsar, forging the foundation of Soviet dominance of Russia and her people. It was the young people who banded together and rose up against the wealthy and the ruling class, and this novel shows Bazarov as a model of the youth who finally had enough and said "no more" to what they saw as tyranny and oppression.
One of the important historical details of Bazarov's character in the story is his devotion to nihilism, a term Turgenev uses extensively throughout the story. Early in the novel Bazarov attempts to explain the nuances of nihilism. Turgenev writes, "We decided not to undertake anything,' repeated Bazarov grimly. He suddenly felt vexed with himself for having, without reason, been so expansive before this gentleman."
Nihilists were known for not believing in anything -- authority, principle, or faith -- and yet Bazarov did have an undying belief in science. Therefore, he is not a model nihilist, and that may be one reason so many young people found his character a caricature of the revolutionaries of the time. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche originated the term, and it became quite popular by the time Turgenev wrote this novel. In fact, after Turgenev wrote his novel, the nihilist philosophy became increasingly popular with young people, especially students on university campuses across Russia. This helps illustrate how Turgenev's book not only is a solid foundation on Russian history, it even helped establish some historic principles among Russian students of the time. Bazarov then helped create history as well as document it.
As the book portrayed the nihilists and their movement, it also showed the perpetual hopelessness of lasting influence by the individual. At the end, Bazarov dies from carelessness as he administers typhoid immunizations. Historian Turton alludes to this aspect of hopelessness and how it relates to Bazarov's nihilistic beliefs. Turton notes, "The only antidote to the uncertainty of the future is the certain fact of death; that only time as mortality can be invoked to neutralize time as historical change."
Thus, Bazarov was doomed, just as his nihilists were doomed. Death is the only certainly in life, and death is the only thing that can truly occur to create history and historical change. Bazarov and the nihilists were naive and influenced by their youth and their naivete. They believed they could change the world for…