Fathers and Sons (The Russians) ★★★★★

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Title: Fathers and Sons
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Ivan Turgenev
Translator: Unknown
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 295
Words: 80K

From Wikipedia:

Arkady Kirsanov has just graduated from the University of Petersburg. He returns with a friend, Bazarov, to his father’s modest estate in an outlying province of Russia. His father, Nikolay, gladly receives the two young men at his estate, called Marino, but Nikolay’s brother, Pavel, soon becomes upset by the strange new philosophy called “nihilism” which the young men, especially Bazarov, advocate.

Nikolay, initially delighted to have his son return home, slowly begins to feel uneasy. A certain awkwardness develops in his regard toward his son, as Arkady’s radical views, much influenced by Bazarov, make Nikolay’s own beliefs feel dated. Nikolay has always tried to stay as current as possible, by doing things such as visiting his son at school so the two can stay as close as they can, but this in Nikolay’s eyes has failed. To complicate this, the father has taken a servant, Fenechka, into his house to live with him and has already had a son by her, named Mitya. Arkady, however, is not troubled by the relationship; on the contrary, he is delighted by the addition of a younger brother.

The two young men stay over at Marino for some weeks, then decide to visit a relative of Arkady’s in a neighboring province. There, they observe the local gentry and meet Madame Anna Sergevna Odintsova, an elegant woman of independent means, who cuts a seductively different figure from the pretentious and conventional types of the local provincial society. Both are attracted to her, and she, intrigued by Bazarov’s singular manner, invites them to spend a few days at her estate, Nikolskoye. While Bazarov at first feels nothing for Anna, Arkady falls head over heels in love with her.

At Nikolskoye, they also meet Katya, Anna Sergevna’s sister. Although they stay for just a short time, Arkady begins to find himself and become more independent of Bazarov’s influence. Bazarov, in particular, finds falling in love distressing because it runs counter to his nihilist beliefs. Eventually, prompted by Odintsova’s own cautious expressions of attraction to him, he announces that he loves her. She does not respond overtly to his declaration, though she is drawn to Bazarov; she finds his devaluation of feelings and of the aesthetic side of existence unattractive. Anna cannot open herself to him because she does not see the possibility of a good future with him. After his avowal of love, and her failure to make a similar declaration, Bazarov proceeds to his parents’ home, and Arkady decides to accompany him.

At Bazarov’s home, they are received enthusiastically by his parents, and the traditional mores of both father and mother, who adulate their son, are portrayed with a nostalgic, idealistic description of humble people and their fast disappearing world of simple values and virtues. Bazarov’s social cynicism, invariably on display with outsiders, is still on display as he settles back into his own family’s ambience. He interrupts his father as the latter speaks to Arkady, still claiming the center of attention. Arkady, who has delighted Bazarov’s father by assuring him that his son has a brilliant future in store, reproves his friend for his brusqueness. Later, Bazarov almost comes to blows with Arkady after the latter makes a joke about fighting over Bazarov’s cynicism. Arkady becomes more openly skeptical of Bazarov’s ideals. After a brief stay, much to the parents’ disappointment, they decide to return to Marino, stopping on the way to see Madame Odintsova, who receives them coolly. They leave almost immediately and return to Arkady’s home.

Arkady remains for only a few days and makes an excuse to leave in order to go to Nikolskoye again. Once there, he realizes he is not in love with Odintsova, but instead with her sister Katya. Bazarov stays at Marino to do some scientific research, and tension between him and Pavel increases. Bazarov enjoys talking with Fenechka and playing with her child, and one day he kisses her, against her will. Pavel observes this kiss and, secretly in love with Fenechka himself and in protection of both Fenechka and Nikolay’s feelings for her, challenges Bazarov to a duel. Pavel is wounded in the leg, and Bazarov must leave Marino. He stops for an hour or so at Madame Odintsova’s, then continues on to his parents’ home. Meanwhile, Arkady and Katya have fallen in love and have become engaged. Anna Sergevna Odinstova is hesitant to accept Arkady’s request to marry her sister, but Bazarov convinces her to allow the marriage.

While back at home, Bazarov ceases to pursue his experiments, turning to help his father’s work as a country doctor. He cannot keep his mind on his work, though, and while performing an autopsy fails to take proper precautions. He cuts himself and contracts blood poisoning. On his deathbed, he sends for Madame Odintsova, who arrives just in time to hear Bazarov tell her how beautiful she is. She kisses him on the forehead and leaves; Bazarov dies from his illness the following day.

Arkady marries Katya and assumes the management of his father’s estate. His father marries Fenechka and is delighted to have Arkady home with him. Pavel leaves the country and lives the rest of his life as a “noble” in Dresden, Germany.

When I originally read this back in ‘15 (link below), I was quite favorably impressed. So much so that I seriously considered skipping re-reading this and just kind of letting it have a free pass. Plus, you never know with a re-read how things will go. But I fixed my gaze on the goal and read this and was very glad I did.

I was just as favorably impressed this time around, but for very different reasons. I noticed a lot of the cultural shift going on between the generations this time around that I hadn’t before because I didn’t have the same weight of Russian Literature under my belt like I do now. I’m no expert, but simply immersing myself since the end of ‘21 into all of this really has helped.

Nikolay not marrying the young woman who has his second son, because of class issues, not moral issues, and Arkady’s complete dismissal of such a reason, really stood out to me. It just goes to show that a Class Structure was prevalent world wide at this time and not restricted to one set of countries.

This time around, I was able to savor Bazarov’s destruction a bit more too. He wanted complete control over everything (hence his love of the Nihilist movement and its belief that power over something is ultimately the ability to destroy it) and when he falls in love and it is outside of his control, it ruins him.

The Fathers, just like last time, bothered me with their non-assertiveness. I could understand them not wanting to be in conflict with their sons, but their whole attitude was one of “because we’re older, we’re useless and our ideas are useless”. It comes from a worldview that is progressive (ie, we are constantly getting better through knowledge and self-knowledge) instead of one that prizes Wisdom above Knowledge. I definitely had more sympathy for them though. The older I get the less conflict I want with others too.

I just enjoyed this story. As awkward as some parts were and as much as I just didn’t understand certain things (why do russian serfs refuse progress and destroy themselves with drink?), something about it all resonates with me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been the young man part of the story and am now starting to transition to the next generation and thus can appreciate both sides of the story? Of the stories I’ve read so far, of any of the Russian authors, this is the one I’d choose above the others so far.


15 thoughts on “Fathers and Sons (The Russians) ★★★★★

    1. It is. You’re the one with the hat. That way you can moon King Charlie just by taking your hat off 😉

      Yes, that would be a MUCH better way to go. I’m actually working on it right at this very moment. Grape Rockstar to be precise.

      Liked by 1 person

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